We Need to Be "Food Citizens," Not Just Consumers, Winne Urges

Mark Winne
Mark Winne

Mark Winne P'00, food policy specialist and author, delivered a lecture to the Hamilton community on Oct. 17. In the lecture, presented by Hamilton College Slow Food and Bon Appétit, Winne drew on themes from his books Food Rebels and Guerilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas, exploring the challenges people face both nationally and globally in our ability to control the food we eat and to participate fully in the crafting of food policy.


Due to the modern day “holy trinity of convenience, fat and sugar,” according to Winne, the United States has reached an all-time high for obesity and health-related diseases. One in five American 10-year-olds is obese, and obesity is the top reason that Americans are not eligible to be drafted into the army. “I’m a big fan of world peace,” said Winne, “but being too fat to fight is not the way to get there.”


Furthermore, the issue of food insecurity goes hand in hand with rising income inequality in the United States. Food insecurity refers to the limited access to food or experiencing high unpredictability in where one’s next meal will come from. Sixteen percent of the population experiences food insecurity, and there are 47 million people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.


In addition, 23 million Americans live in a food desert, or an area where there are no affordable food outlets, such as grocery stores. There has been a huge increase in food pantries over the past 40 years to respond to this need, but Winne questions if this is the right answer to the problem. Policies should change, he argued, to prevent the issue.  In food planning there is the opportunity to become engaged now more than ever before, according to Winne.


An example of food planning is the phenomenon that more and more cities worldwide are announcing “food strategies” to deal with hunger and lack of nutrition. In addition, local food movements, such as farmers markets and including organic food in public schools, are growing rapidly. The number of food policy councils in the United States has increased from 100 to 200 in just the past two years.


There is resistance to these food movements, however. The fast food industry and the industrial food industry are fighting back to try to maintain their monopoly over food in the United States. The fast food industry, for example, spent 4.2 billion dollars in advertising unhealthy food geared towards children last year. The industrial food industry has been lobbying for protections such as prohibiting pictures from being taken of any factory farm operations, and is projecting the argument that the industrial food model, rather than organic, will be the only way to feed our growing global population in future generations.


Winne responded to this by urging us not to compromise. Through local action, he said, we have the potential to balance private and public interests. In a study done on 33 of the world’s most developed countries, the United States came in third for the highest level of income inequality, first for the rate of food insecurity, and at the bottom for life expectancy. This is evidence that we have a food problem, said Winne.


To combat these issues, Winne argued that we need to tax the rich to feed the hungry, invest in sustainable and regional farm systems, regulate the food industry in order to fight obesity and diabetes, and hold the government accountable by becoming more engaged. We need to be good “food citizens,” said Winne, rather than just good food consumers.

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