Food, The Delicious New Social “ism”

Pakistan has already said it wants Zero Hunger. Zero Obesity next?

Pakistan has already said it wants Zero Hunger. Zero Obesity next?

Food fails us when we see it just as an individual act of pleasure. While there may sometimes be nothing like the comfort of a delectable plate one makes to satisfy a particular craving — or perhaps to achieve a romantic end — for the most part food is at its best when consumers in the collective of others. Foodism, one might say, a taste, cultural and artistic adventure. (NOTE: Though an accidental alignment, you might want to take a click over to after you’re finished here!) 

Anyway, my assessment isn’t meant to imply something about crowd consuming in any kind of derogatory way; I guess at best I see it as an edible variation on the crowd (or cloud) funding scheme. The more people taking bits or bites or even bytes together, the better. My perspective reflects back on the fact that, whether we like it or not, family, friends and community members were the closet thing we would ever get to mass produced diets. And even then the goal wasn’t to grab and run; it was to sit, socialize, and celebrate all that it took to make and ready the menu.

Some would say the loss of this collectivity element is what has made us far more susceptible to any good we might otherwise find in the fun, variable, cheap and well-marketed food stuff of any of the convenience food outlets of today. We’re fat and unhealthy because those ingredients have been built in our drive-by diets, and part of the cost of this option has been the loss of past connections to the ways and means of consuming as locavores. We are what we eat applied then to social dining just as it does to commercial dining today — only back then few people (human or corporate ones) got billionaire rich off of our choices.

What reminded me of this was an article I saw recently about Bolivia and McDonalds. The country didn’t stop McBurgers from opening their mass-produced foods, they just simply refused to reward the company for trying to change the culture of foodism — for trying to make eating and the preparation of food stuff something less than what they thought it was supposed to be. Here is the opening paragraph of a great story on the topic. The article is worth taking a look at, as are others that review what happened to bring about this amazing collective outcome:

“In some parts of the world, good food is food prepared with care, attention, and a plenty of time. This sort of food philosophy, where meals are made with fresh ingredients and patience, doesn’t lend itself well to fast food where cheap ingredients are premade so they can be warmed and slapped together in record-time. This sort of food dichotomy is exactly why McDonald’s couldn’t thrive in Bolivia—the first Latin America country to essentially kick the fast-food-giant out by keeping them in the red. (”


What’s fabulous about it (from a dyed-in-the-wool activist’s perspective) is that for this to happen there were no organized campaigns or community protests. The social structure of the Bolivian society ran the burger-meisters out of town by refusing to acquits to the need for massive profitability. It didn’t make sense to Bolivia today to make food in the McBurger way just as it wouldn’t have in the past.
What’s also fabulous is that Bolivia is hardly the exception. I learned elsewhere that some 105 countries of the world get along without McBurger joints as well, even though the United Nations estimates that about 2 billion people a day eat in outdoor or even mobile food joints. You can see more about some of this at .
For US, though, our commercial trends went another way, down what we now realize is a much more challenging road to the food and cultural mix. And we’re dying bite by bite because of it, or at least one hell of a lot of our kids are — particularly if they happen to be poor and of brown or black skin. It seems our commercial choices were well loved even by those who need them the least. With over 100 million meals served this way daily, many families eat at least one of their important meals everyday of the week in a McWhatever business. And we’re all subsidizing this trend with large public resources.
This is beginning to change, however, in many ways. More and more healthy eating and dietary projects are trying to use collective organizing and an appreciation of locavore awareness and fresh, community food markets and celebratory events to steer area folks back toward the benefits of eating together. Nearly all of the motivation behind Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move and other food empowerment initiatives are about the social consciousness of good eating.
Personally, I like this trend but I believe that all in all, much too much of these efforts are focused on what we as individuals eat; the collective components and our ability to use the power of foodism are being lost along the way. We really aren’t using either government or nonprofit or socially responsible for-profit models well enough to get beyond blaming the victims. Many too many of the good efforts are motivated by the belief that if we all just ate better our food marketeers and profiteers would pull a Bolivia and move out.
I doubt this is going to happen. And so far we have not yet appreciated that there are very real world efforts to bring about dramatic and effective food change. Take Brazil, for example, another Latin culture bound to reclaim its healthy eating sense of togetherness. This case happened a few years ago and was designed to counter the fact that business, political and corruption practices were starving their people to death. This was true even though they produced more than enough agricultural calories to easily meet the needs of their population. Instead, they were selling these good elsewhere (or wasting them), and the result was opposite what our issue is now — millions were starving to death.
So they decided to set a collective foodism goal aimed at Fome Zero, or Zero Hunger. Here is what a great summary says of the results; it also gives us a taste of their tactics:
“As part of its activities, Zero Hunger in Brazil provided direct financial assistance to the most impoverished families. It also opened up government-run restaurants that provided low-cost meals three times a day to those in need. What’s more, Zero Hunger worked to address root causes of poverty and hunger. For a family to receive money for food, the children had to be enrolled in school. Better education has given these children a chance to break free from the vicious circle of poverty and hunger. …. Brazil’s Zero Hunger reaffirmed the responsibility of a government to ensure a basic human right – the right to food. And it proved that when a government is truly committed, hunger can be eradicated.” (
And the result was a nearly complete reversal of the malnutrition problem in just a very few years.
Unfortunately for US, we’re not heading down this path either. Initiatives like Slow Food and Slow Money are trying to bring about systemic change. National nonprofits are trying to feed children and make hunger and obesity awareness something that is on everyone’s plate. Yet it was not until this year that one of the founders of one agency, (Bill Shore, no relation to me) put together a piece for Stanford’s Social Innovation Review about how they finally decided that just caring wasn’t enough. They had to go beyond good to get way more of good enough. (Google When Good Is Not Good Enough.)
Take a look at these efforts and I’d appreciate knowing more about what you find. I’m a big advocate for turning the system of money transfer that feeds fast food into an advocacy funding machine. We can do it for just a nickel-a-meal, thus effectively turning Burgers Against Obesity, which is what this site is about — a model for small change change.
Sadly, this kind of away-from-the-bun thinking hasn’t gotten too far yet because I fear we have lost the deep connection to our collective eating roots. Hopefully, we can find a way to sit back down together. My personal believe is that even though it may drive some regressive conservatives crazy, some “isms” are worth their weight in togetherness. And now that we have some good mirrors of what life at the table can return to, I’m hoping someone with a guilty philanthropic push might well to serve up his own buffet of options! (What you say, Peter Buffett?)

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