From the Change Food Editorial Team
The April issue of TIME Magazine announces The 100 Most Influential People of 2016-17. At Change Food HQ we gave it a look, because few have ever heard of this obscure magazine called TIME, and it probably needs publicity. Separated into Pioneers, Artists, Leaders, Titans and Icons, the list includes familiar names: Chance the Rapper, Margot Robbie, Pope Francis, Lebron James and Viola Davis. It also includes fantastic people who accomplish impressive things so far above our heads that this is the first time we’re registering their names. Then, there’s Vladimir Putin, Steve Bannon and Kim Jong Un; The Leaders section reminds us that “influential” says nothing about the positivity, morality or popularity of a person.
What each section does reveal, however, are the values of our society. Each member of the list is described in a short passage by someone who knows what the heck they are talking about – often, a TIME 100 alumnus, a colleague or friend. And through all of these testimonies run singular threads, and those threads trace for us the themes of our societal values. Editor in Chief Nancy Gibbs noted the prevalence of mental health and refugee activists in this year’s list. We noticed recurring character traits: truth, authenticity, rawness.
That truth is one of the qualities most praised throughout this issue is ironic: just last month (March 2017), TIME’s cover cried “IS TRUTH DEAD?” in bright red letters across a jet black background. It seems from the magazine’s selection of 100 influential people, the majority of whom suggest truth has a pulse, that we desperately hope not.
For example, Janet Mock admires Gavin Grimm for publicly fighting for transgender rights after his transition, knowing “how freeing and fraught it can be to live your truth.” Alicia Keys is dubbed the “Singer of Truths” by Kerry Washington. Padma Lakshmi calls seasoned chef Barbara Lynch “a great teacher and a true provider,” and George Takei says Bob Ferguson advocates for the disenfranchised “in order to ensure a better and truer democracy.”
Barry Jenkins best captures the theme through his review of Jordan Peele’s latest work, Get Out, in which he writes: “Rather than presenting us a mirror, this multi-hyphenate auteurist shows us more of ourselves than we ever wanted to see, a window through which America is left no choice but to recognize the purgatory of her own sunken place.” In other words, Peele shows us our truth. And the truth hurts. But it’s what we increasingly seek – especially in the good food movement.
Just as we respect and want our influencers to be honest, authentic and raw, we look for the same in our food. But when, in November 2016 at the NYC TimesCenter for the Change Food Fest, Annalyn Lavey asked the audience “Who here trusts the industrial food industry?” Not a single hand rose above the audience.
What does it mean for food to be honest? Once young and naive, we might have blindly believed “Natural” or “All Natural” – but we know better than that now. Even Organic labels provoke a healthy number of raised eyebrows. As consumers, we’re catching on and tired of the deceitful dishonesty. Looking at you, “Natural Flavor with Other Natural Flavors.” What does that even mean?
We want our food to be what it’s marketed to be. We want apples to be apples, not “14-month old balls of cellulose and sugar.” We want meat to be meat, not the remnants of an antibiotic-drowned, factory-farmed, lethargic heartbeat too overfed to support its own weight. We go to Starbucks for confirmation that we have “made it” in life (the $7 coffee still hurts) and for the chances of mating with scholarly men wearing Clark Kent glasses – not for chronic illness induced by a Grande with over 60 grams of sugar. When we see “Sugar Free” on the front of the can, we don’t want to see sucrose, barley malt, maltodextrin, treacle or 57 others on the back. A message for corporate junk food: We’re sleuthin’, and you’re not truthin’.
As well as truth, authenticity moves us: “For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or – most important – harming our own personal interests.” Those are qualities Jim Harbaugh attributed to Colin Kaepernick for the TIME 100, and they apply to our food system as well.
Our food system requires a break from the norm, for the norm we now know is rooted in short-sighted wastefulness and injustice. This means we need to throw away less food and more unhealthy conventions. We need to reframe our reliance on convenience and see it for the environmental killer that it is. We need to respect the authenticity of local producers and give recognition to the traditions of each interacting culture, because like Loren Cardeli said “Agriculture needs to bring back the culture – that’s the food movement.”
And even more than truth and authenticity, 2017 is about rawness. Not just in the literal sense, though raw vegans are probably the pharaohs of the foodies, but in shows of vulnerabilities and imperfections. That’s why we connect with Alicia Keys’ #NoMakeup movement: “Because Alicia doesn’t hide her truth, her flaws.” That’s why when Demi Lovato laid bare her mental illness, substance abuse and bullying wounds, we loved her all the more. And that’s the reason we identify with Pope Paul VI’s words as much as Pope Francis does: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers.” Though we think we want perfection, we’ll repeatedly find it easier to identify with vulnerable humans like ourselves.
Since, in our opinion, no analysis of the human condition is complete until it’s applied to food, we ask: How do rawness and vulnerability crop up in the good food movement?
The same values we draw from this year’s TIME 100 extend to our food choices. We’re willing to sacrifice cosmetic perfection, we’re sick of it in fact, now that we’ve seen the value in organic, local and ethical options. We’re leaving behind the perfectly manicured supermarket displays and internalizing that fruits and vegetables don’t all look as though they’ve been 3D-printed when they’re plucked from their roots (and that it might actually be really weird we assumed they did for so long?). We can’t relate to shiny, shapely, chemically-enhanced apples anymore
and we’re downright uncomfortable with the size of some industrially produced strawberries. These relationships have run their course; it’s not us, it’s them.
The good food movement is also accepting responsibility for its flaws, for our faults. As any emotionally unstable person or exploitative corporate food giant knows, it’s best to deny any and all shortcomings, big and small, and also to financially destroy anyone who insinuates their existence. But the good food movement is trying something new: We’re going to self-examine and acknowledge what we find. We’re going to say, hey, “all the food that we waste in the industrialized world in a given year is equivalent to all the food that is produced in Sub-Saharan Africa in one year,” and we are responsible. And we can change that.
On the cover of its March 2017, TIME asked us, IS TRUTH DEAD? We looked to the 100 Most Influential People, then we looked to the good food movement, and we deeply considered the question. Our answer? A resounding NO.
Carly Brand is studying Sustainable Urban Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She looks to Change Food for future generations and loves to hear your perspectives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change Food’s Editorial Team comments on current and timely events in the U.S. and beyond, with a lens on food and the food movement.