If something works, it’s worth replicating…right? At least it’s human nature to think so. Whether it’s Dairy Queen copying the quirkiness of Old Spice’s TV ads or the “Occupy” concept of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s easier to use someone else’s idea than to come up with something new.
For such an example I will point to the “Occupy our Food Supply” movement driven by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) that surfaced this week. Monday, Feb. 27 was billed as a global day of action “to fix our broken food system” and eliminate corporate control.
According to the website: “Occupy Our Food Supply is bringing together the Occupy, sustainable farming, food justice, buy local, slow food, and environmental movements for a global day of action…thousands will come together to creatively confront corporate control of our food supply and take action to build healthy, accessible food systems for all.”
Our food is under threat…don’t you know. Occupy our Food Supply’s specific targets include the likes of Cargill, Monsanto, ADM and Dupont, as they “have gained runaway control of our food systems.”
“Plain and simple, it is clear that getting Big Food giants like Cargill and Monsanto out of our food system is an idea whose time has come,” says Hillary Lehr, RAN’s organizer. Retailers like Wal-Mart are also on the list.
Replicates rarely get the same traction as the original. Despite RAN’s claims, the Feb. 27 event barely made a blip with the media. Perhaps that’s because real issues like Syrians literally being blown away by their own government garnered the attention.
At home, I suspect it could be hard to pull the attention away from income inequality-based Occupy movement, which touches everyone—the 99 percent and the 1 percent—but in different ways; versus the “injustice of Big Food” (their words not mine). When you’re worried about putting food on the table at all, you’re not likely to spend your energy disrupting a system that keeps food costs at 10 percent of Americans’ annual income. Sure, certain activists will fully commit, but the masses-- not so much.
Still, the organizers cite Monday’s event as a “resounding success.” It featured more than 100 events across the globe, involving more than 60 Occupy groups and 30 environmental, food and corporate accountability organizations, they say. It also included some of the same ol’ faces—musician Willie Nelson, author Michael Pollan, director Robert Kenner (Food Inc), actor Woody Harrelson. “Mommy bloggers” and social media were the other motivators of the day.
RAN singled out specific events as successes, including a 40-person seed exchange at the New York Stock Exchange, building a community garden in Oakland, Calif., placing stickers on genetically modified foods at more than 20 Safeway and Whole Foods grocery stores across the country. Wow, they even lashed out at Whole Foods—now, that shows you nothing is sacred. More than 100 people in Wayzata, Minn., convened a “Cargill call-in day” to the company’s chief executive officer, Greg Page, demanding changes in company practices and priorities.
One of this Occupy movement’s reoccurring themes is that today’s food system is “structured for short-term profit instead of the long-term health of people and the planet.” Wait a minute, I know that major food companies, associations, scientists and others are spending a lot of time, money and energy researching and looking for answers to the future challenge of feeding 9 billion people globally in less than 40 years. Where is that priority on Occupy our Food Supply’s list?
Forty people handing out seed packets in New York City is not a pathway to future global food security.
Still, don’t write off this Occupy effort just yet; it could start out small and grow. I would point to the recent efforts to further expose the Chinese labor issues that are linked with Apple's products such as the I-Phone, I-Pod and I-Pad. While sales of Apple products haven’t suffered yet, a widespread movement pushed by Internet, email and social media efforts has generated hundreds of thousands (or more) supporters and gotten serious traction. Supposedly Microsoft will make changes in its labor structure.
So Occupy our Food Supply’s lack of success (my perspective, not theirs) could mean that the topic isn’t right, the concept isn’t right or that the timing isn’t right. It does not mean that the activists and issues surrounding “Big Food” will go away. There are more plans in the works, including “Occupy the Midwest,” which is set for March 15-18, at Kiener Place in St. Louis.
Even if it doesn’t get big traction, the Occupy our Food Supply movement feeds the smoldering doubt about our food supply that much of the public carries today. John-Q Public lacks understanding regarding food production, the food chain, its many benefits, as well as the unintended consequences some of the proposed ideas would cause. What’s more, John-Q public en masse doesn’t want to grow food or process food, but wants to feel a certain way about the food he/she eats.
In the end, whether the label is Big Food or Big Ag, the image and challenges such a movement presents all trickle down to further discolor the face of agriculture, the farm -- and you as a farm business person.