Twinkies don’t make you fat and other tales from the good food backlash

You had to know it was coming: the backlash to the good food revolution.

This weekend, The Washington Post looked at how some of the usual suspects (Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin) have been offering their oh-so-predictable opinions on the matter. Like, say, that the great Liberal conspiracy has been lying that Twinkies make you fat, and how it’s unconscionable to deprive young children of cookies, etc. etc. Apparently, the rising interest in healthy, sustainable food is all an elitist plot to steal that Double Down we all so richly deserve. If this kind of hokum weren’t so likely to spread and threaten the gains made on the food file, it might even be comical.

In Newsweek, Lisa Miller offered another twist on the issue—a welcome one, in my view—asking what all the interest in local/organic/homemade food tells us about class (a bad word in North America for so long, I was shocked to see it in Newsweek of all places). Apparently, food has become the main signifier of social class. No longer are fashion or cars the thing that distinguishes one from another—it’s artisanal cheese and organic milk and grass-fed beef (not to mention homemade cookies, multigrain bread and local carrots in lunchboxes).

She’s right, of course. There’s a huge element of snobbery when it comes to talking about good food. I hear it in the schoolyard when parents are talking about the high-fat, packaged snacks other parents provide for their children. I feel it myself when I’m talking to my own parents about their habit of buying meat at Costco. And it can be incredibly alienating for those who feel judged for their food choices (sorry, mom!). Still, most people who know anything about the issues also talk about concern for the environment and health—we’re doing it for the planet and our kids, etc. etc.

But Miller takes this argument to its logical conclusion and asks a question those in the food justice world have been asking for a long time: if all of this local/organic/handmade food is so good for your health and the environment, isn’t it also good for the poor?

The answer, as organizations like Growing Power in Milwaukee and Chicago, and The Stop here in Toronto have been saying for years, is that the poor are indeed the missing link in the good food revolution. And we’ll never have a truly healthy and sustainable food system unless the poor and marginalized have a place at the table.

I guess if it takes a backlash to start asking these kinds of good questions, we might all say, bring it on.

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