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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Home Canners Wield Pickles Against Food Giants

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: local food, sustainable food, slow food, organic food, farming, food preservation, home canning, farmers markets, agricultural policy, food policy, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Jars of homemade plum jam 

Is food preservation a political act? Many of the people surveyed by two social scientists for their academic study “Saving Food: Food Preservation as Alternative Food Activism” think so, according to The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles, the blog of the hard-hoeing young farmers known as the Greenhorns.

For their study (pdf), Melissa Click and Ronit Ridberg collected survey results from 902 respondents in 42 of the 50 states after reaching them through gardening and food networks. Here’s their “participant profile”:

Our survey respondents reported behaviors that are consistent with the rhetoric of alternative food activism, indicating that they frequent farmers markets (80.5 percent), buy local food (79.9 percent), buy organic food (77.6 percent), and maintain their own vegetable gardens (72.7 percent). Respondents’ answers to an open-ended survey question, “describe how your views about food have influenced the way you spend money on food,” consistently demonstrated that our survey respondents believe that the way they spend their money is a political act. For instance, survey respondents offered the following: “As consumers we have a voice and our dollars speak volumes”; “The way I spend my money is the best representation of my morals in this society”; and “We vote with our dollars, so I am OK with spending more money on food that I know was produced within my community with love and sustainable methods.” …

 Fewer survey respondents directly connected their views about food with behaviors considered more traditionally political, some arguing that they wanted government regulation out of food altogether … and some asserting that they did not see a connection between food and politics … . Other survey respondents saw a direct connection between food and environmental policy (e.g., “Food and the environment are inseparable, so I always vote for the candidate most likely to approve or make legislation to protect the environment”); between food safety and government regulation (“The federal government needs to provide adequate funding for regular and thorough inspections of food processing facilities in the USA and of imported food products to ensure public safety”); and between food and specific government policies (“I pay attention to the Farm Bill and to agricultural and food policy in general. I favor policy and candidates that support a diversified agriculture and more local and regional food systems”).

Of course, we’re quite close to this discussion at Utne Reader; after all, our current issue’s cover headline is “Food Fight: Kitchen Politics, Backyard Gardens, and the New American Diet.” While Rachel Laudan argues in her essay “In Praise of Fast Food” that “culinary Luddism” is making too many women slaves to their stovepots and canning jars, it’s clear from this survey that some backyard gardeners and home canners instead see their pursuit of the slow, the local, and the organic as empowering.

Sources: The Greenhorns, Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 

Image by vsimon, licensed under Creative Commons.