Foodies and farmers
When I think about the social energy and curiosity around the present food movement, I believe it is fair to say that it tends to feel a bit more progressive in its leaning than conservative. People seem to shun large corporations and industrial farms and often seek out smaller growers and producers. I may also have this perception in part because environmental issues often are attached to it, which is of course a party-line issue.
This thought drew me to think about the farmers we meet at community markets or read about in food publications. As I thought about these growers of food and raisers of livestock it dawned on me that most are located in rural areas, which lead me to a political question, "Don’t most people in rural markets support Donald Trump?” Indeed one poll of farmers heading into the 2016 election found 55% planning to vote for Trump with only 18% in Hillary Clinton's camp. And there it was, the intersection of progressive urban foodies and conservative rural farmers. But rather than wishing for this to be a wedge between us, it is my hope it can open up a conversation. A symbiotic relationship exists between the two groups around the transaction, now it is about not only appreciating the hard work farmers put into their practices and product but also seeking to understand each other's point-of-view and experience around certain policies. Can we use our shared values around food as a starting point rather?
"Our mise en place doesn’t start in the kitchen. It starts on the farm and in nature"
Chef Alex Atala
If we marvel at dishes, flavors and experiences in today’s culinary world, the next step is to understand how it was created and from there to dig into understanding who created it. Why do they use this process? What is their life like? What makes life fun and pleasurable for them? What makes life difficult? A 2016 article by Modern Farmer laid out 5 political issues influencing farmers to vote for Trump over Clinton
Waters of the United States Rule
The Renewable Fuel Standard
The Affordable Care Act
Minimum Wage For Farm Workers
You can get into the details from the piece above but most at a high level are easy to spot as political lightning rods: environmental law, wealth protection, healthcare and fair wages. With the above poll and divisive issues in-hand the easy thing to do would be to call farmers uneducated hillbillies but the harder and more important thing would be to ask, “what experiences do they have on the farm or at home that might influence them to think this way?"
“People are hard to hate close up, move in”
Where it all should begin though is getting to know our farmers and learning their stories and about their lives. What better way to do that than by enjoying a meal with what they have grown.
One particular example comes to mind from a couple years ago. A former colleague of mine also oversaw a family cattle operation. One day I went out to lunch with him, an impassioned conservative, and an acquaintance of mine, an outspoken progressive. The conversation covered a number of things but at one point organic certifications came up and the stipulations for qualifying for it. As I remember the conversation, my colleague spoke of how important it was for him to raise healthy, comfortable and well-grazed cattle on his land so he could produce beef he took price in and while he would like to have been certified organic, the fence posts enclosing his land were treated lumber, which is not allowed under the regulations. My colleague would’ve had to spend more than a half million dollars in parts and labor to have the fencing changed of his property, which he simply could not afford to do. I remember my friend shaking his head and lamenting how silly that was.
I can say with near certainty knowing both of them that if my colleague had railed against the EPA in general as opposed to talking about the care and love he had for his animals and how what felt like a minor but expensive thing kept him from achieving that certification, a standoff would've been likely because abstract conversations tend to lead to us jumping into our political camps rather than keeping things as a dialogue.
We love to watch shows about food and share in novel and favorite dishes. The question is, "do we the consumers have the courage to learn from our growers about their lives and livelihood?” This is likely best done while sharing a meal.
Go Forth Boldly
“There is nothing more political than food”