“The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.” – Michael Pollan
Permit this vegan a beef.
I think the food movement axiom of “voting with your fork” is long past its prime. Popularized by folks like Michael Pollan, (who has more recently critiqued fork-voting as a one-trick strategy for social change), this narrative has had a remarkable degree of staying power within so-called “foodie” circles. What bugs me is not so much the premise that eating ethically produced food can – within the context of a commodity-based food system – generate demonstrable benefits. To the extent that people can exercise agency over such things, I heartily champion subscribing to a CSA, eating a plant-based diet, growing some of one’s own food, and so on.
What bothers me is that as an evangelizing maxim, “vote with your fork” is often adopted in ways that can obscure structural impediments in our society that make it difficult or near-impossible for people to exercise agency. Using the context of poverty as an example, writers like Linda Tirado have expressed this far more compellingly than I could.
This maxim can also serve as boosterism for a frighteningly shallow version of democracy, one in which our political clout is debased to our roles as individual consumer-eaters in a neoliberal capitalist system. Buying organic, heirloom tomatoes isn’t the same as participating in collective efforts to improve working conditions for tomato-growers. Stir-frying with locally grown mizuna greens isn’t synonymous with promoting conditions that would make it easier for local farmers to do what they do, such as taking the state to task in its apparent plans to cede decision making power over farmland to the oil and gas industry. Sipping homemade vegan eggnog doesn’t equate to working toward system-wide policy and cultural shifts that promote welfare for all creatures.
It goes without saying that food can act as a powerful, sensuous doorway for engaging with the food system in ways that address the roots of inequality, ecological degradation, and widespread oppression. Obviously, radical (and moderate) food movement activism should be complemented wherever possible with actually eating good and nourishing food. I just think it helps to be clear about where the differences and priorities lie between the peas on one’s fork tines and broader forms of political engagement.
Miso-maple lemon tahini dressing with poppy seeds
- 1 Tbsp dark miso (e.g. mugi)
- 3 Tbsp maple syrup
- Juice of 2 large lemons
- 2 Tbsp tahini
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp poppy seeds
- Freshly ground pepper
Use a whisk to thoroughly blend all ingredients together in a bowl.
Rainbow winter slaw
- 1 small red cabbage, thinly chopped
- 1 large green cabbage, thinly chopped
- 1 small bunch frost-bitten kale or arugula, thinly chopped
- Several radishes (watermelon radishes are especially pretty), sliced into coins
- 2 large carrots, grated
- 2 yellow peppers, chopped into small squares
- A few green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
Musical inspiration: Full Circle, Half Moon Run