Fri November 18, 2011
From Wall Street To Big Food, Occupiers Are Hungry For Change
Not all the people who have been protesting in New York's Zuccotti Park are trying to Occupy Wall Street. Some are trying to Occupy Big Food, and are ready to march. That includes boycotting that Thanksgiving icon, the Butterball turkey.
So far that group is tiny, with just two women: Kristin Wartman, who's a writer and nutrition educator, and Erika Lade, a graduate student in New York University 's Food Studies Program. But OBF has a blog and a Twitter feed and a goal: "To take our food back and out of the hands of just a few large corporations."
That goal echoes the aim of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who want to wrest control of the financial sector from large corporations.
The business interests of the meat, dairy, and countless other agricultural industries have shaped our food system, and many activists argue that our health, environment and local economies have suffered from that influence. As a headline in Mother Jones put it last month, "Big Food makes Big Finance look like amateurs." That same article by Tom Philpott listed four reasons why foodies should head to Zuccotti Park.
Wartman tells The Salt that she and Lade were among the foodies who heeded that call. They hung around Zuccotti Park until the protesters were evicted this week, and were inspired by the experienced organizers there. "We've been learning from them how to get people together," Wartman says. "We feel like there are a lot of people left out of the discussion in the food movement."
OBF plans to expand that discussion with a rally this Saturday. It will start at Zuccotti Park and features such speakers as Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and nutrition at NYU and the blogger behind Food Politics, and Bill Granfield, president of UNITEHERE Local 100, which represents 6,000 food service workers in the New York area.
Like the other Occupy movement, this one finds people bringing their pet issues to the table. For Granfield, it's a concern about the health of food service workers who have to eat a lot of "Big Food" on the job, and have developed diet-related diseases from it.
For Nestle, it's a budding interest in the farm bill. She's been teaching a class this fall on the topic, and told The Salt in an email that she thinks the legislation should really be promoting sustainable agriculture, conservation, and the revitalization of rural America. Instead, she writes, "the subsidies and most other benefits go to large agribusinesses that work hand-in-glove with Congress."
It is a bit late in the game for OBF to try to tackle the farm bill; Politico reported this morning that the legislation may already be in the hands of the supercommittee. But Nestle notes that another problem with the farm bill is that it's "profoundly undemocratic because it is so difficult to comprehend."
So we predict this is what she'll be pushing tomorrow at the OBF rally: learn the farm bill. Then start talking about it. The OBF organizers, meanwhile, want to talk about Butterball, the biggest producer of turkeys in the U.S. They don't have much to say about Butterball's specific misdeeds, but they are urging people to find a reason to Occupy Big Food on Thanksgiving all the same.