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Who Owns Good Food?

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The amazing interest and outpouring of commentary from my last post, "Where are the Conservatives in the local foods movement?" has motivated me to continue asking questions aimed at the heart of the political divide over our food culture. I wrote the piece because I want to see the local and sustainable food movement grow. I've been saying for sometime that this needs to happen from all sides of the American electorate. All great and lasting social movements are bottom-up and people-powered. One need only consider American history and the examples set by the American Revolution and the Abolitionist and Civil Rights Movements. The local sustainable foods movement has the potential to join these great and lasting movements.

That being said, it should not come as a surprise that food is a battleground these days. But just who owns good food? This is the question that stood out as I read, and commented on the over 200 comments to my first Huffington Post blog. People questioned my conservative credentials, and made wildly inaccurate claims about conservatism as an intellectual tradition.

Here is a gem from AuntieGrav that equates conservatism with ignorance:

"It might have something to do with the circumstance that the conservatives tend to think the Earth is 6000 years old and the moon is made of green cheese we can have for free if we only let the banks freely distribute money to the corporations who will build hover cars for all of us to 'kiss Hank's ass' (look it up)."

KataVideo felt the need to draw stereotypes of conservatives as women-hating racists and homophobes:

"The modern conservative movement has nothing to do with conserving anything, least of all food. The modern conservative movement is based on resentment of education, resentment of other races "getting ahead", resentment of LGBT, resentment of women who won't toe the line. If an approved demagogue gets onto the radio and tells the resentment-class that the only way to stop "them" (gay black jewish spanish-speaking college graduates) from "taking over" is to drive hummers and to drink high-fructose corn syrup directly out of the can, they'll do it."

Is this the expected reaction when a self-identifying conservative contributes to the discussion on Huffington Post? I know that Huffington Post's readers skew leftward which is precisely why I wanted to post there. I hoped to generate a discussion with the goal of extending my hand across the aisle to let my fellow progressives know that there remain opportunities for conservatives and liberals to come together and do some good together. Is there really that much distance between two people picking up the same CSA box? As long as they don't bring up George Bush, the answer is a resounding "No!"

What the reaction to my post illustrates is that many progressives simply do not want conservatives in the local food world. There is a reluctance on the part of progressives, to permit conservatives into a space that they feel they "own" politically. This is a serious problem, and one that threatens to staunch the critical levels of growth necessary to grow the movement into a mainstream phenomenon.

It's also completely irrational, if you are serious about growing the movement beyond its current niche. If I were a progressive activist who had worked long and hard building the foundations of a movement, I would be thrilled when new converts, of any political stripe, decided to join the fight. I would feel so satisfied. Instead, many of the comments to my piece were derisive, hateful and dishonest. To be fair, many comments were supportive, encouraging and gracious, and I appreciate every single one of those. But it is my duty to trust that instinctual groaning that tells me I, as a conservative, am simply not welcome in the local foods movement.

I'd like to think that the movement has the potential to coalesce into a national grassroots association that transcends partisan differences. This may shock some, but there is a time and place for partisanship in American politics. Fights over Supreme Court justices or tax policy, for instance, are arenas in which legitimate differences over which direction the country should take require partisan squabbling. But when it comes to our food and the myriad issues that emerge from our complicated relationship to it, such as our national health, our economy, our environment, even our national security, there is less of a place for extreme factionalism. All Americans, regardless of political party, still eat thrice daily, and frequently more often than that, and because of our primal need for food, it remains an exalted subject that should be beyond mere partisan bickering.

As all of us continue to do the hard work that lies ahead of us, we should be mindful that the movement stands a greater chance of succeeding in its goal to repair America's broken food system when we work together. As the conservative movement continues to analyze its weaknesses, and begins the hard work of restoring Americans' trust in its policy goals and principles, the local sustainable food movement will become more of a focus for us. This is because the principles that underlie the good food movement, outlined in my previous post, are perfectly in line with true conservative ideals. Like it or not, more conservatives will be joining the fray. Progressives need to get comfortable with this, and with as little delay as possible. I would love to hear your thoughts but specifically I would like to hear from progressive activists what conservatives can do for them to make this inherently bumpy process a little bit smoother.

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