The Food Movement in 2012: Our Top 5 Learnings

From the incredible victories by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to the saddening loss of the Community Food Security Coalition, it’s been an up and down and altogether historic year for the food movement. We’re ready to hit the ground running again, but before we do, we’re taking a minute to reflect on our top learnings from 2012.

1. The food movement is alive, but it’s not necessarily well.

This year has been a tough one for the food movement. From the closing of the Community Food Security Coalition, to the defeat of California’s GMO-labeling Prop 37, from stalled progress on the expired Farm Bill to the failure of several proposed soda taxes, the movement’s recent stumbles have led foodie advocates nationwide to question whether or not we’ve lost our relevance and momentum.

As the food movement has organized and built power over the last decade, so too has the world of wealthy corporate agribusiness, which is increasingly determined to yield as little ground as possible. If we hope to effectively take back control of our food system, we will need to transition the food movement’s focus from simply ‘good food for as many as possible’ to a more radical ‘food justice for all.’ As we wrote earlier this year, “the refrain to ‘vote with our forks’ is no longer enough in a nation with relatively unequal access to those polls, and even more unequal ability to construct the ballot.”

2. The food movement may be soul-searching, but we still won big in 2012.

Despite significant losses, the food movement still made tremendous progress in 2012. Among many exciting victories, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers saw years of hard work pay off when both Trader Joe’s and Chipotle signed on to their Campaign for Fair Food, committing to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes to ensure fair wages for Florida’s tomato pickers; promising changes were implemented in public school lunch menus nationwide, with healthier portion sizes, less processed food, and more vegetables; and elsewhere in K-12 cafeterias, Real Food Real Jobs also scored a serious win for healthy food and improved working conditions in the Chicago Public Schools, reversing the city’s switch from cooking to warming kitchens.

3. Students and young people are where it’s at.

Student- and youth-led food organizations like Real Food Challenge (RFC) and Live Real are making serious waves in the world of institutional food service and beyond. Just over a year after the launch of the Real Food Campus Commitment, RFC students at eight major colleges and universities have secured their administration’s pledge to purchase at least 20% “real food” by 2020. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars shifting towards local, sustainable food economies in the next 7 years. Not too shabby guys.

4. Food chain workers matter.

And good food advocates are increasingly taking up food workers’ rights as a key issue for the movement at large. At Real Food Real Jobs, we experienced an overwhelming demonstration of support when we launched our Real Food Real Jobs pledge in September. Nearly 100 food movement leaders pledged as inaugural signatories, celebrating their commitment to a united struggle for both real food and real jobs. And, beyond the pledge, we’ve collaborated in exciting ways with leaders throughout the food system in 2012: from inspiring Food Day events in Boston and Washington, D.C., to farm visits between local producers and cafeteria workers, to a community-wide delegation to Bon Appetit food service management at American University.

In 2012, we also saw exciting progress for food workers’ rights by the Food Chain Workers Alliance (who published their impressive Hands That Feed Us report) and Restaurant Opportunities Center United (who are fighting for Darden workers’ rights nationally). Amazing work!

5. More voices at the table means better ideas and longer lasting power.

In order to succeed, the food movement needs to actively incorporate a lot more voices from throughout the food chain, particularly food workers and people of color. From April’s victory in the Chicago Public Schools to November’s Facing Race Conference, in 2012 we saw time and time again the importance of prioritizing the voices and leadership of the people most affected by the ills of our current food system. We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us, and we will only succeed if we think creatively about how to unite across traditional boundaries.

Here’s to a 2013 full of even more growing, challenging, collaborating, and bottom-up, system-changing, real food action!

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