The Political Economy of Food

Edible Action
Food Activism and Alternative Economics

By Sally Miller  

Miller is a popular educator whose academic training in anthropology and environmental studies is complemented by her almost twenty years of experience in the alternative food, agriculture, and co-op sector. She is a gifted storyteller who teaches us about the ills of genetically modified seeds and foods for farmers and eaters and of the two-headed monster of scarcity and surplus. But the majority of her book is dedicated to delivering a cultural analysis of the multiplicity of food movements and enterprises designing and doing the messy work of implementing alternatives to the global capitalist agriculture/food system… For Miller, food is not simply sustenance, it is imbrued with many complex meanings and plays a key role in how people from various cultures see and talk about the world. Food is also an inspiration, catalyst, and ally for making social change. In Edible Action, Miller has two overarching interests. The first is to explore a number of the ways that food has inspired social change. The second is to explain why food is an excellent catalyst for social change. These dual foci direct Miller’s explication of thoughtful practice and critical reflection. A sort of map emerges of these alternative movements and enterprises, particularly those happening in Canada and the US, but also the peasant and landless people’s movements happening in Brazil and across much of the majority world. Miller offers some mournful reflections on the significant drop in the number of workers involved in agriculture in Western countries since 1950, the rising number of farmers who commit suicide or sell their land to developers, and the threats posed by genetically modified seeds and food. The majority of her book, however, is focused on the positive movements for change. But, she is not an uncritical cheerleader of food movements and alternative enterprises. It is obvious that she has learned a lot in her almost twenty years of experience in the alternative food, agriculture, and co-op sector. I appreciate her honest discussion of food democracy and the practice of democracy in coops. She describes participatory democracy as time consuming and a lot of work but ultimately worth it. She teaches us that democracy is not about pure agreement but negotiated agreement that is continuously in process. Miller writes about these issues and more in a highly accessible manner. Her book would work well in first and second year university and college courses on food, coops, social movements, environmental studies, and anthropology. The combination of her vast experience, her orientation to writing as a popular educator, and her gift for storytelling enables her to take us on a journey into farmer’s fields, farmer’s markets, community gardens, and membership meetings of various coops. –Excerpt taken from “The Political Economy of Food” by Ian Hussey, Socialist Studies: the Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies 5(2) Fall 2009: 133-136.

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