Can Organics Feed the Masses?

The organic food movement faces a conundrum. If organic food is
available only to those who can afford to pay a premium for it,
then what good can it ultimately do for the planet and its people?
The next step, according to Anuradha Mittal, an expert on the
politics of food, is to address the issue of economic inequity
head-on. Otherwise, organics may be doomed to permanent status as
an upscale market niche.

Interviewed in Bioneers Letter (Spring/ Summer
2004), Mittal, director of the Oakland Institute, a human rights
think tank, poses her own question. ‘Why is it that when we see
organic foods in supermarkets, or food that is free of genetically
modified organisms, it costs so much more that the choice is very
obvious to a low-income individual?’ Being unable to afford organic
food is bad enough, she says, but ‘we’re living in a world where
the starving are food producers, which is the worst situation.’

Mittal, a former co-director of Oakland’s Food First, a group
that advocates making food a basic human right, suggests several
ways to make healthier foods available to low-income people. First,
farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farms
should all accept food stamps and coupons. A second step would be
establishing volunteer programs that would allow low-income people
to trade farm work for food. Inner-city neighborhoods should have
their own farmers’ markets, and even their own farms. Mittal would
like to see more urban farms and vegetable gardens established at
schools and other places.

‘Whether it’s youth at risk or prisoners or people in
hospitals,’ she says, ‘just having access to some earth and growing
food is very healing.’

Thinking about organic food just as a consumer is not enough,
she concludes. ‘We have to be concerned with who grows the food,
who gets to eat it, and how many miles it travels.’

In other words, buying food in the modern world is a political
act. To realize the full potential of the organic movement in
building a better world, we have to learn to think of healthy food
not as an exclusive luxury but as a basic human right.

Bioneers Letter, published twice yearly by the Collective
Heritage Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, features highlights
from the Bioneers Annual Confer-ence. This year’s conference will
be held October 15-17 at the Marin Center in San Rafael,
California. 877/BIONEER;

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