Image credit: Eat the Cake, Ana Mae
Tom Philpott over at Grist is dismayed. He says that early signs of a conservative backlash against our industrial food system are under attack, and the right wing is moving back toward support of big agribusiness, and the crony capitalism and government subsidies that make it possible. From conservative values achieving liberal green goals, to thoughts on whether environmentalism is even really a movement, there's already been plenty of discussion here on TreeHugger over the idea that green is neither an issue of the left or the right, but rather it's an issue of survival. So I for one am not surprised that many conservatives might find our current food system deeply troubling—after all, everybody eats, regardless of political persuasion. In fact, I just can't fathom why right wingers, and particularly those of a libertarian bent, would jump to the defense of business as usual. Tom charts the phenomenon of conservative mistrust of the food system back to 2002 when Rod Dreher declared the rise of the "crunchy con"—political conservatives who had come to value alternative food systems—in an article in the National Review. It was, he said, a promising development—especially since libertarian think tanks like the Cato institute had long railed against government subsidies for agribusiness. "So why not a right-left coalition against Big Food and in favor of alternative food networks?" asks Tom.
Sadly though, these early signs failed to materialize into a movement, and there are strong signs that the right wing is increasingly supportive of the status quo. From a scathing attack on "agri-intellectuals" in The American, to Forbes declaring Monsanto "company of the year", the right wing media has been full of articles taking issue with the local food movement, sustainable agriculture, and just about anything else that seems to be pushing for change in the way we eat.
So what's going on? Surely this can't all be a reaction against Michelle Obama's status as "first locavore"? I suspect that the picture is much more complicated than a simple right wing swing back toward agribusiness. In my experience there have always been conservatives who champion corporate rights and big business at all costs, and there have always been conservatives more concerned about the little guy. A quick visual survey of the bumper stickers at my local farmers market, or in the parking lot of Whole Foods, tells me that safe, sustainable agriculture remains a bipartisan issue when it comes to what we choose to eat. Now it's just a question of taking those personal choices, and turning them into political action—and preferably political action that folks from all sides can agree on.