Elitism vs. Justice

There's a really fascinating article over at chow.com, Cheap Drama at Slow Food, about some in-fighting going on over at Slow Food USA, the nonprofit organization that has championed sustainable and organic foods for the past ten years.

What's at stake is money.  Isn't it always?

The article details the divisions that have emerged between the old guard and the new guard, around how much we should expect people to pay for food.

On the one hand, the old guard (which tends to be older and more affluent), thinks that we should expect people to pay more for food because, well, food is valuable. We should pay farmers a fair wage, they say, and pay more for the quality that's good for the earth, for the workers, and for our health.

On the other, the new guard (led by young Slow Food USA leader Josh Viertel) has begun to focus more on making good food less expensive, so that it's less "elitist," and can be accessible to people from a wide variety of class backgrounds. Some of this has come to a head over the organization's “$5 Challenge,” in which people were encouraged to make slow-food meals for the cost of a fast food meal (and idea launched by our own Slow Food UW Family Dinner Nights!)

Josh Viertel is trying to focus Slow Food on “food justice”: vegetable gardens in public schools, Farm Bill education, and “Eat-Ins” (national potlucks meant to build community around food).

The problem is that even as Slow Food membership has grown, the amount of donation money they have gotten in recent years has decreased, because so many of the older, wealthier members feel that this attention to cheap food undermines the core of Slow Food's commitment to high quality food and fairly-valued growers.

Many of the comments over at the article, though, point out that the argument is focusing on all the wrong issues. Sure, those who can pay more to buy good, fair, just food, should definitely do so. But for those who can't, we should work for their to be alternatives and options that allow them to buy non-processed, whole foods with the money they do have.


And what do you think? Go read the article, and then let me know whether you think this is a false dilemma, or whether this divide is really one worth taking sides over? Where is organic food headed in the U.S.? And who should we really be holding responsible?