Food Propaganda

Post-election update:  Unfortunately, Francis Thicke got smoked on November 2nd (and not in the tasty way).   In the final result, Iowans voted 67% for Northey and 37% for Thicke.

As The Iowa Independent stated in their review of Northey’s win:  “…large and small farmers in the state…have found at least current compromise with larger agribusiness and now depend on those relationships to maintain the family income and property.”  Don’t we call that “hog-tied”?

Let’s find the silver lining:  The pounding in Iowa reminds us that there is still work to do.  It has been said — mainly by David Axelrod in Obama’s run-up towards his successful election — “Be wary of the echo chamber”.  That is, if we’re only talking to one another and wholeheartedly agreeing with every word, we’re in a closed communication loop.  We lose the broad view.  Now, coming up over the horizon in that view, can you see the Farm Bill of 2012?  Yeah, me too.


For people who eat, there’s a bellwether election underway in Iowa.  Voters in the nation’s food basket will soon decide between Bill Northey, the incumbent funded by large-scale commodity farming, and Francis Thicke, a regional dairy farmer backed by a PhD in soil science.  Thicke advocates for sustainability by encouraging farmers to generate their own energy onsite.  He also wants farmers to process their crops, thereby cutting out an unnecessary middleman.  And he’s in favor of giving local communities the right to vote up or down on any new CAFOs in their region.

In the days leading up to the vote, the two candidates are within the margin of error.  Here’s the full article from Joe Frassler in The Atlantic:

Conventional vs. Organic:

An Ag Secretary Race to Watch

Live from the Union Square subway:  A big food message that tips its hat to changing consumer perception.  When I saw this poster, the first thing I thought of was the film King Corn.  The filmmakers explain that grass-fed cows used to take 2-3 years to get fat and ready for our beef consumption.  Once we started feeding them corn, however, they got to the same weight in just 15 months.  By changing the diet of our cows, we’re forcing them into false maturation.  With this, and so many of our industrial food ways, we wrestle nature into the ground.

More and more, activist groups like Slow Food USA, are putting reason back on the table.  It takes time and thoughtfulness to make real food.  This Simply Orange ad isn’t all good, nor all bad.  But it’s interesting to think about its context.  Why would this be their message now?  The food revolution is making its way through the mass media channels.  What do you think?

Live from the Union Square Subway

Authenticity is an elusive concept.  Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu wrote, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”  In contemporary American culture, we say, “Trust your gut.”  As more people shift towards knowing our food sources, we also fine tune our reception to the voice of authenticity.  We hear it directly many ways; one easy example is in the phrase promoted by the USDA, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the new Triscuit brand marketing campaign.  The front of the box says “Join the Home Farming Movement!”.  Flip it over and there’s a small piece of cardboard in the box that holds basil seeds ready for planting.  Really?

Continued below

Green Sprout = Clue

Playing with the language of "garden" vs. "home farm"

I was recently talking to a fellow food blogger and he commented, “This isn’t so much a food revolution as it is a food evolution.  The big ag companies aren’t going anywhere.”

His words have stayed with me as I follow the marketing cues of these companies to the changing food consumer.  The Triscuit campaign press materials promote that they are starting 50 community gardens with this effort.  At the website,, there’s a map of these gardens, as well as posts by gardeners around the United States.  When I read the comments, it seems like the words could be from any one of my relatives across the country.

So, why is my gut off on this one?

I’ll never be so cynical to think that corporations can’t also be socially responsible, even though the history to date is often dismal.  Additionally, my dream for the sustainable food movement is that we create a dynamic industry that employs many people in long-term, well-paying jobs that bolster personal and environmental health.  This is precisely what we are starting now.

I’m reminded of the age-old question for activists:  Does change happen from within the current system or outside of it?

Who was it that said…?

“Speak to a man and his ears will listen. Laugh with a man and his heart will listen.”

Rings so true, doesn’t it?  Yeah, it’s good.  What can I say?  I like to make up proverbs.  I speak them slowly and deliberately, and in this case, clenching my chest at the word, “heart.”

This proverb came to life after watching the marketing campaign, “”  In the videos, young people speak of societal harassment when they try to eat their food on the run.  Soft piano music plays in the background.  I particularly liked, “Deep Dish,” the one posted here, that includes the line, “I can’t imagine life at a table.”

Don’t let me mislead you:  This is marketing for Hot Pockets, the disastrous processed food that goes from frozen to “boiling lava hot” (Jim Gaffigan’s words) in 60 seconds.  They are made by Nestle, the world’s largest food company.  I’m not dancing with the enemy here; the band isn’t even in the building.  But the biggest crime has always been taking ourselves too seriously, regardless of the message.  So, let’s look at the Nestle silliness.

In their mock food movement, the actors speak in revolutionary language and repeatedly advocate for “freedom.”  They portray the people who want to sit down and eat as old and crotchety.  In one clip, an elderly mob tries to chase down a proponent of Eating Freely, but they are too sluggish with their oxygen tanks.  There’s ample evidence to the contrary in the real food movement, but it makes for slapstick.  The campaign website even ends with dot org, as if it were a foundation with a noble cause.

To explain my regard for this campaign, all I can say is, “Play oft accomplishes more than toil.”  Now that’s two proverbs for today.

Remember when we were kids and Mom would make us a sandwich?  It consisted of two pieces of bread with something in the middle.  In fact, the bread part was fundamental to it being a sandwich.  Otherwise, it was just bologna on the counter.

Kentucky Fried Chicken introduces a new take on the sandwich.  Instead of a bun, they’re using a couple of pieces of fried chicken.  Yep, hands-on meat:

Hunker Down on the Double Down
Hunker Down on the Double Down

From my vantage point, it seems as if everyone is shifting to eating whole foods, in season and produced locally.  The movement is afoot and it involves a return to refrigerator ingredients that our grandparents would recognize.

Yet the food industry of the last 50 years isn’t going to leave quietly.  Take a look at this PR piece from the people who bring us high fructose corn syrup.  Or as I like to call it, Public Enemy #1.  According to the Centers for Disease Control in April of this year, 66% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. As Obama would say, “We can do better than that.”  I, too, was raised on mysterious red liquid in gallon jugs, but it’s time to reshape our ways.