Feeding Frenzy

From Celebrity Chefs to Gourmet Guerrillas, Americans Confront the Hazards of the Food World

It's easy to scoff at this new solemn fascination with food—a title like "Searching for Gold in Guacamole: California Growers Market the Avocado" might've come straight out of a Don DeLillo-esque satire of academic excess. Then again, what could be more crucial than what we put in our bodies? Food is a nexus where health, pleasure, ecology, global economics, and corporate power collide.

"In whose interest is it for people to eat healthily?" says Marion Nestle crisply. "I can't think of a single industry in the U.S. that would be better off if people ate healthily. Not the insurance industry, because prevention is expensive and treatment is less expensive. Certainly not the drug industry or the diet industry or the food industry. I can't think of a single one, and that's not good. So you try to change societal priorities, in the same way that in many circles it became socially unacceptable to smoke."

If this seems overly optimistic, just look at how much societal attitudes about food have changed since the '60s. Back then vegetarianism and sustainable agriculture were considered crank fringe movements; now meatless and organic products occupy a sizeable corner of our supermarket shelves.

Anuradha Mittal believes education is the key: "If people understand that the reddest tomato [grown on an industrial farm] is not necessarily the best . . . when they've tasted the difference and heard what pesticides have been sprayed on it and what damage it causes the farmworkers—it's basic common sense to say stop. Food is something that everyone depends on; I can't believe anyone would not want safe food and universal access to it. When people have the information, that's when they are mobilized to take action." Bon appétit and vive la révolution.

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