Roots of Change’s Michael Dimock: Food Movement Needs to Get More Political

Michael R. DimockHere’s a must-read interview with Michael Dimock of Roots of Change, in advance of the upcoming 1st Annual Farm Tank Conference in Sacramento, September 22 and 23, where Dimock will be a speaker. RR has had some fascinating discussions and significant disagreements with Dimock via social media during this campaign season, but on food and ag issues, particularly in California, Mr. Dimock’s work continues to inspire and encourage us.

Dimock concludes with a call for much greater participation on our part as citizens. We must demand that our representatives at every level of government understand the urgent need for, and work for a healthier and more resilient food and ag system. This is the great and necessary work of the food movement.

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The full interview is well-worth your time, but what follows are a couple of points RR has found most compelling. Special thanks to Food Tank’s Kate Reed.


FT: Can you share a story about a food hero that inspired you? 

I have many heroes and have been inspired many times over the years. But as of late, I was inspired by a brief and very pithy talk given by Dan Imhoff at the True Cost of American Food Conference in San Francisco last April. He set out some goals for U.S. agriculture policy that were crystal clear and, in my view, doable. But more importantly, he implored those listening to use inspiring language and poetic phrases and communicate in ways that move people. His speech modeled what he meant. It was beautiful and moving. Dan wrote the best book around on the Farm Bill, called Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill. Of course, he is right: if we want to build public action in the policy realm, we have to move people to see how new policy will make a better, more beautiful, and enjoyable world, one not threatened by climate chaos, toxic algae, pesticide poisoning, cruelty to workers and animals, and amputations due to diabetes. We must show how jobs will be created, people healed, and communities reinvigorated by a transformation of the food system.


FT: What drives you every day to fight for the bettering of our food system? 

MD: The clear understanding that the industrial food system is destroying nature and human health and must be stopped if we don’t want to face a huge collapse. It concentrates wealth, extracts resources, exploits humans and livestock, and fosters diet-related disease. It is out of sync with biological reality and that means death. A once simple principle given to us by Darwin clarifies it all: “specialization leads to extinction.” He wrote that in Origin of Species in 1854. This implies that diversity leads to resilience. We need a food system that is resilient and provides human beings and our communities with resilience. We don’t have that now and that is why I am committed to food system transformation.


FT: What’s the first, most pressing issue you’d like to see solved within the food system? 

MD: We need to switch the government subsidies from creating cheap calories and cheap ingredients for food processing through the commodity crop system. We need to redirect public investment to do three things:

1) We must pay farmers for ecological services like capturing carbon, building soil fertility, protecting water quality, and reestablishing animal and plant species diversity on agricultural lands. We must do this to restore the nation’s resource base in order to ensure a future food supply.

2) We must provide healthy food incentives to low-income Americans in order to effectively lower the price and increase the availability of organic, sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grass-fed meats so that every American may access these healthier foods. That is a moral and financial imperative for the nation. We are killing and maiming people with cheap, unhealthy food, and we are driving healthcare cost through the roof. Diabetes alone is costing California US$37 billion per year in treatment and lost productivity, and only about seven percent of us have diabetes. More than 40 percent of Californians are pre-diabetic. If we do not act, the cost of this disease alone will break Medicare and Medicaid.

3) Finally, we need to reinvest in the rural communities of this nation, where the food and resources upon which cities depend are managed and produced. We need to invest in the emergence of a massive sustainable food sector composed of regional food production networks that are distributed, not concentrated, across the nation; that are restorative rather than degrading to people and the planet; and that are focused on stimulating diversity in our diets, rather than diminishing it. This reinvestment action must be on the scale we undertook to rekindle the agriculture economy during the great depression and after the dust bowl, like we did for NASA’s moon shot or for the development of nuclear weapons. It must be massive and fast. People think I am talking pie in the sky, but the cascade effect of climate chaos, diet related disease, and a population of nine billion will force us to focus on the food system as never before in human history.


FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference? 

MD: Write to your representatives at the city, county, and/or state level demanding they take part in the work to make the food system more healthy and resilient. More and more people are voting for good, healthy, and sustainable food with their dollars, and you can see how that is impacting big food and industrial agriculture. Unfortunately, not enough are using their actual votes to elect officials who understand the food system and the changes required. The movement is not yet political enough. In California, we have been documenting and critiquing our legislators in Sacramento on their voting records as well as the Governor on what he is signing or vetoing. This is the best way to hold them accountable to the food movement. I wish other states would do that same. ROC has been aligning communities through the California Food Policy Council and the nonprofits active in Sacramento to produce the annual Report on California Legislation Related to Food and Farming and to pass legislation. We have passed two bills and won state funding for nutrition incentives using this method, and we have some big legislative policy goals in mind for the long-term. As we increasingly collaborate and align power and resources for strategic wins, the food movement will really begin to alter the policy dynamics.

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