Food and Class

By championing the environmental, cultural, and gastronomic
superiority of small-scale farming, the Slow Food movement offers a
flavorful alternative to the bland, nutritionless fare of America’s
agribusiness giants. The movement seeks to narrow the chasm between
food’s consumption and production, preserving biological and
cultural diversity along with taste. Unfortunately, the equally
wide chasm between America’s rich and poor has limited the model’s
reach: while locally grown food is available throughout the
country, it is significantly more expensive than its imported,
industrial competitors.

Things weren’t always this way,
Philpott writes in Grist
. For the bulk of human
history, people have lived on locally grown food; only the wealthy
few could afford to import exotic delicacies. Then cheap labor,
massive subsidies, and large-scale operations of modern
agribusiness pushed the price of food hauled long distances to
unprecedented lows. America is now hooked on industrial food, and
the consumption of small-scale agricultural products lands
primarily on the tables of well-heeled urbanites. Rural America,
caught in a long-term economic decline, consumes an overwhelmingly
industrial foods diet, and even people involved in the production,
preparation, and presentation of locally grown grub can scarcely
afford to purchase their own products.

The economic wedge between local and long-distance lies not in
inflated profit margins or deliberate snobbery, but in the high
cost of land near urban areas, Philpott writes. The demand for Slow
Food is concentrated in cities, but farmers setting up shop near
urban markets have to vie with suburban developers for farmland.
High demand for this land means high prices that are passed on to
the consumer. The Slow Food industry is caught in a
self-perpetuating paradox of inflated price: the urban market is
simultaneously its greatest asset and its greatest weakness.

Though the growth of the industry has the potential to lower
prices slightly, the solution to perpetual price disparity lies in
the reform of America’s land-use policy, both urban and rural. As
long as suburban developers and the agribusiness giants are allowed
to bully small farmers out of existence, the pleasures of
sustainable agriculture will be just another privilege of the
economic elite.
Brendan Themes

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