We Be Grubbin'
Time to do some math, shall we? What happens when you take food that is organic, raised in a sustainable way, whole and locally grown, and add food that is produced fair from seed to table -- good for our bodies, communities and environment?
I know, it's a mouthful, and perhaps a tad bit bourgeoisie?
The answer is as simple as a one, two, three, four letter word -- grub -- poised to be the frame by which young progressives can begin to talk about that mouthful from the first paragraph. And it is most certainly not just for the aging affluent hippies of the world.
In "Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen," best-selling author Anna Lappe and chef Bryant Terry dish up the social, political and economic impact of our food choices with a side serving on how we can improve our health and the health of our communities. They do it all with mad flavor, the sensibility of artists, activists and healers -- coming from a green place of American Love.
"This is left of center, progressive at the least, at best radical -- to think that everyone -- not just food corporations and the government -- should be sitting at the table," says Terry. "No one sector should determine our food system."
The food revolution of grub is nothing new. If your mother was a food justice activist who just wanted to feed her kids right -- like Anna Lappe's mom -- who wrote the seminal "Diet for a Small Planet," or if perhaps you hailed from the former members of the Nation of Islam who read Minister Muhammed's "How To Eat To Live" or Dick Gregory's, "Cookin' with Mother Nature," then I know you know what I am talking about.
Or maybe not. Maybe you were a Kool-Aid kid through and through.
Still, there was a revolution of food access and analysis in the '60s and '70s -- an awareness of "food insecurity" fed to 10,000 kids a day nationally by the Black Panther Party's breakfast program. Or, perhaps you were snot-trolling patchouli-scented coops from Park Slope to Berkeley. If you had a mom like mine in the early '80s you were fed raw broccoli (for the crunch!) and tuna with just lemon on it for lunch -- and we loved it -- while living in the Vanderveer Houses (aka the projects) in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
The rise of diabetes, heart failure, and the not-so-cool-to-talk-about Irritable Bowel Syndrome is often linked to the overuse of industrial sugars or the proverbial high fructose corn syrup -- aka "the cake" that the "non-organic" food manufacturers use.
"Grub" is a savvy indictment of our food delivery systems and the choices that we make. Readers learn the alarming consequences -- hunger amidst plenty, the disappearance of the family farm, toxic pesticides and the illusion of "cheap" food, along with the ever-popular skyrocketing of diet-related diseases.
All right, put the Twinkie down, but don't frown. While some of the suggestions to agro-industrial complex were mapped out in Anna Lappe's previous book "Hopes Edge," which she co-wrote with her mom, Frances Moore Lappe, "Grub" starts like any good organizing tool and scares you to death about the state of things, but it ends hopeful for the new century -- there is, indeed, a revolution going on in food and farming that is healthy for all.
"When you choose grub," Terry said, when I caught him lounging in Oakland, "you don't have to give up anything but a mouthful of pesticides."
That's fresh, and good to know. Dick Gregory comments in "Cooking with Mother Nature" that there is an "American habit of putting 'garbage' in their stomach instead of in the disposal."
According to "Grub," organic farmers and advocates have "long argued that organic methods enhance resistance to diseases and insect pests, while synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can actually increase crop susceptibility to pests."
The agro-industrial complex is straight up not cool. It operates under illusions that are enumerated in the book and under the direction of a classic interlocking directorate -- a small number of people who swing the pendulum from the chemical, agricultural and food industries. They take consulting jobs, marketing gigs and enforcement positions in government agencies like the FDA, USDA and the EPA. Big Food is an old boys' network of companies whose yearly "take" is larger than the GDP of some small countries.
What's most compelling about "Grub" is that it's a marriage of movements. From the graying and thinning '60s radical tradition and the militant bootstraps of Black Nationalist food politics to the modern youth organizing movement fighting for environmental justice, prison reform and education reform -- it is a marriage of black, white, and immigrant, and makes a statement on gender and class. The authors place their work as a part of this continuum of food justice and sit on the shoulders of their afro'd and long-haired forebears.
"Grub" is essentially a "born in the '70s" food manifesto. Dispelling the notion that African-Americans are not connected to the issue of food justice, Bryant says that menus in the book like Lara's Cuban Comfort Meal and his Cajun-Spiced Tempeh Po' Boys "speak the language of the African Diaspora."
Bryant was raised knowing the healing properties of food and love transmitted by his grandmother and cites further influences by a man from the Nation of Islam who came to him when he was 15 and challenged him to "think about what you put in your body -- how it was processed and produced."
Those words had a profound effect. "People thought I was crazy," says Bryant who holds degrees in English, history and the culinary arts. "They would question my trajectory -- didn't think I was focused."
But Terry knew precisely what he wanted. The cookbook illustrates the "interrogation of my ever-evolving relationship with food." And he says, "We need to embrace our ancestral foods and find ways to modify those favorite family recipes."
That strange path from B.A. to M.A. to "Grub" went straight through B-Healthy Road.
In 2001, Bryant started B-Healthy: Build Healthy Eating and Lifestyles to Help Youth. The New York-based nonprofit works with adult and youth social justice activists, chefs and mothers to strengthen the food justice movement.
Bryant and Lappe wanted not only to educate people but also to "provide the nuts and bolts tools to make the transition happen,so people can stock their pantries with healthy food."
With that in mind, they have chapters titled "The (Not So) Great American Experiment" and "Seven Steps to a Grub Kitchen." "Grub" also offers the millions of people who buy organics fresh ideas and easy ways to cook whole foods. From the "Valentine's Day Decadence Dinner" to the "Straight-Edge Punk Brunch Buffet," "Grub" includes over a dozen menus paired with soundtracks to cook and party by, and artwork and poetry evoking the spirit of grub.
"Grub" comes on the heels of a family of books from the past six years. Not sure if you could call it a movement, but it sure is a significant documentation of the growth and maturation of the young progressive left in the United States. The significant fact is that this collective body of ideas of which "Grub" is the most recent were all written, researched, produced and/or published by a small group of like-minded radicals who see nothing revolutionary about their politics or approach. Each book also attempts -- with its name -- to frame the issues that it is tackling in a witty manner.
This "family" of books includes in chronological order:
(All books were written, edited, or researched by people under 35, the U.N.-defined maximum age for "youth.")
2000: "No More Prisons" by William Upski Wimsatt. This book's name was the guerilla marketing calling card of a national network of prison abolitionists in early 2000 who threw No More Prisons shows and events from coast to coast.
2001: "Another World Is Possible," edited by Jee Kim, et al. This collection of essays constituted the first progressive -- and not submissive -- response to 9/11. It was completed in a blistering six weeks immediately following the tragedy. Editors included Luis Sanchez from Los Angeles group Inner City Struggle and Beca Economopolous, currently the online director for Greenpeace.
2002: "Future 500: Youth Organizing and Activism in the United States." I was the research coordinator for this book and found a small unknown startup group called B-Healthy during my research. It was through reading the B-Healthy description in the Future 500 that Anna Lappe decided to contact its founder, Bryant Terry and the rest, as they say, is history!
2004: "The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism" by Vivien Labaton and Dawn Lundy Martin. This book articulated the third wave of feminist thought.
2004: "How to Get Stupid White Men Out Of Office." Editors included Adrienne Marie Brown (co-founder of the League of Young Voters, currently of Ruckus Society), Aya DeLeon (Youth Speaks), Piper Anderson (Blackout Artist Collective) and many others. This book is significant because it represents the foray of the "youth organizing" nonprofit sector's jump into electoral politics -- look out!!
2005: "Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation" by Jeff Chang.
2006: "Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen." A collage of cooking tips, poetry, music and politics.