Sunday, June 9, 2013

What the Old-Style Progressives Eat

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: I go to around 50 farm and food meetings a year—probably one a week. And at most of these, there’s food. You could blindfold and feed me what they’re serving and I could tell you the age of the people in charge. Young progressives are getting really picky about their food—fresh and local. When we meet, we go to independent restaurants where local food is served, which is the kind of place these kids want to work. Oldsters go for whatever the industrial truck delivers to the greasy spoon café. They’ll eat hot dogs, for god’s sake, smothered in canned chili. And they’ll complain like crazy about industry and the consolidation of the food system, but they patronize the baddies without a thought. It’s a bit of a shock to attend meetings of progressive organizations, gray heads all, and see that they don’t know what the youngsters are doing. Shocking, really, to see well-intentioned and philosophically brilliant social thinkers talking the talk but failing to walk the walk and cluelessly tucking into the products of industry. This happens time and again, and I end up realizing that I can eat healthy local foods all month long, unless I go to a meeting of yesterday’s farm progressives. Sad, when we could be building bridges, serving healthy and local food and patronizing the businesses that the next generation sees as necessary to make their issues work. One of the great joys of being a locavore is that you so often find yourself surrounded by people working to make their communities more sustainable. These are high-energy young people and they’re forcing us oldsters to choose: Will we be helpful elders? Or are we just in the way? Social movements always start at the grassroots level. Always. And they take generations to complete. It’s up to us powerful oldsters to reach to the next group and help. We can’t make progress without them, and we can’t make headway by ignoring their accomplishments. These kids don’t ask permission, they’ll do it on their own. They’re creating composting sites and recycling in their communities, forcing cities to create bike lanes, learning how to grow their own food and, of course, patronizing the restaurants founded by their friends. They’re coming up with an excellent system. Social movements always start at the grassroots level. Always. I think of the changes in my own lifetime—civil rights for blacks, workplace expansion for women, independence for African nations. None of these came from the top and trickled down.

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