From Andrew Martin of The New York Times
: As tens of thousands of people recently strolled among booths of the
nation’s largest organic and natural foods show here, munching on
fair-trade chocolate and sipping organic wine, a few dozen pioneers of
the industry sneaked off to an out-of-the-way conference room.
Although unit sales of organic food
have leveled off and even declined lately, versus a year earlier, the
mood among those crowded into the conference room was upbeat as they
awaited a private screening of a documentary called “Food Inc.” — a
withering critique of agribusiness and industrially produced food.
They also gathered to relish their changing political fortunes, courtesy of the Obama administration.
has never been just about business,” said Gary Hirshberg, chief
executive of Stonyfield Farm, the maker of organic yogurt. “We are here
to change the world. We dreamt for decades of having this moment.”
After being largely ignored for years by Washington, advocates of
organic and locally grown food have found a receptive ear in the White
House, which has vowed to encourage a more nutritious and sustainable
The most vocal booster so far has been the first lady, Michelle Obama,
who has emphasized the need for fresh, unprocessed, locally grown food
and, last week, started work on a White House vegetable garden. More
surprising, perhaps, are the pronouncements out of the Department of
Agriculture, an agency with long and close ties to agribusiness.
In mid-February, Tom Vilsack,
the new secretary of agriculture, took a jackhammer to a patch of
pavement outside his headquarters to create his own organic “people’s
garden.” Two weeks later, the Obama administration named Kathleen
Merrigan, an assistant professor at Tufts University and a longtime champion of sustainable agriculture and healthy food, as Mr. Vilsack’s top deputy.
Hirshberg and other sustainable-food activists are hoping that such
actions are precursors to major changes in the way the federal
government oversees the nation’s food supply and farms, changes that
could significantly bolster demand for fresh, local and organic
products. Already, they have offered plenty of ambitious ideas.
For instance, the celebrity chef Alice Waters
recommends that the federal government triple its budget for school
lunches to provide youngsters with healthier food. And the author Michael Pollan
has called on President Obama
to pursue a “reform of the entire food system” by focusing on a Pollan priority: diversified, regional food networks. www.nytimes.com