Food Democracy in North Texas
Jul 02, 2015 07:25PM
By Susie Marshall
While it is certainly true that we all can vote with our fork on issues of food sustainability, the concept of food democracy goes farther and deeper than that. It is the idea that we all play a role in the control and governance of our food system. Like any system that requires participation, people actually have to voice their opinions regarding food. How often do we really ask the questions about our food, such as where it comes from, how it was produced who produced it and where was it packed or processed?
The mainstream food system is a complex web of growers, shippers, packers, brokers, wholesale distributors and retail outlets, with products traveling 1,500 miles or more miles to get to the store. Consolidation and supply chain optimization are the standards impeding democratic participation, and place food producers in situations where they have little control over their own operations.
But the local food system provides an alternative to this mainstream paradigm, offering a diversity of producers raising food with integrity using methods that support a vibrant Earth. These small producers give us the opportunity to voice our preferences for a food system that promotes many participants, lots of diversity, ongoing conversations on issues, vibrant community and a system that is place-based—it is what the particular location needs it to be.
For the average person really plug into democracy in the food system, they need to find that local, alternative system in their area, buy from those producers and join the broader community of diverse businesses. Valuing this alternative system might also cause us to reevaluate our budget to spend a bigger percentage of it on local food. Doing that keeps money in the local economy instead of sending it off to a faceless corporation in another state. Stronger local businesses have been shown to create stronger local communities with vibrant activities and values.
Another important part of democracy in the food system is participating in local policy issues. Having adequate and appropriate municipal and community ordinances that enable local food producers to access direct-to-consumer venues such as farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) and produce co-ops is the way that the local food system will develop into the robust system we all want it to be. This requires community participation. It takes people involved in food production, as well as those that eat the producers’ food speaking up about what they want.
Grow North Texas, a diverse group of Dallas urban agriculture stakeholders, helped to change city ordinances to better support urban food production by working with city staff to share a vision for what is possible. The ordinance almost didn’t pass, partly because of some council member objections, but also partly because of the lack of consumer involvement. This is a place where eaters are needed for input to food system engagement. It’s up to all of us to participate in our food system if we are to have food democracy.