Food snobbery could signal shift in consumerism

By Lauren Kelly

It’s not difficult to point out the watershed moment for America’s new gastronomical consciousness, well, moments actually, when it was confirmed the food-renaissance had begun. When Budweiser unveiled its American Ale and McDonald’s started including pictures of vegetables in its commercials, it was clear the way Americans were thinking about consuming was changing.

Added to that, national grocery store chains are trying to wedge themselves into the “eat-local” conversation and are rushing to stymie the rising wave of awareness. But there was something validating about all of those nefarious behemoths jabbing their fat fingers into one-time grass roots movements.

Surely if big corporations are bothering to lie to us about it, then the food-awareness movement’s time has come.

It’s important that we not let the companies usurp this burgeoning trend. The biggest problem facing the U.S. is how disposable everything is. In any area of production, an erosion of quality and value can be seen.

The new trend of food and beer snobbery, however obnoxious it may sometimes be, is the first sign in 40 years that the population actually cares how it spends its money, what it’s putting into its bodies and what it’s feeding its children. To have that new investment crushed by McDonald’s or Anheuser-Busch would be devastating.

The still-growing popularity of craft beer in America is just one example of the food renaissance happening today. Along with the increasing market share of independently brewed beers is an increased awareness among consumers of what goes into a beer and just how diverse beer flavors can be.

The recent history of the craft beer popularity surge serves as a valuable microcosm for the food-renaissance, which includes the local and organic food movements.

The 1980s were the decade of independent-brewing pioneers who formed their own microbrews and homebrews in a direct response to the drastic consolidation and dilution in the beer industry in the decade before. For a few years, the pioneer brewers struggled to get a foothold in the beer market. They had to battle against an oppressive level of advertisement from the industry and an almost willful ignorance by American consumers. But since the 1990s, so-called “beer awareness” has grown by leaps and bounds, as shown by the ever-increasing production and consumption of craft brews and imported beers.

Similarly, the broader movement of conscientious food consumption began as a response to America’s shift in the ’60s and ’70s from the “farm-to-table” standard to processed foods and commercial farming. That modern infrastructure of food distribution and production is in large part responsible for America’s current obesity epidemic, and the pushback against it is both welcome and unsurprising. But the food-awareness movement also took time to develop. The American consumer is a slow-moving animal, but over time, discontent with the status quo has blossomed.

Experts say things are only going to get better. David Kamp, author of The United States of Arugala, has said in 20 years, more of America’s food will be organic than not. But he also concedes that processed foods will never go away, just like Miller Lite isn’t going anywhere. Why? Because America is set up for big companies to make big money, and the large bills can’t be found in doing things the right way.

This leads to the question begged by the opening of this piece—will corporations, for so long the enemy of any progress in this country, be able to grab the helm of the food-awareness movement and crash the ship? It is far from impossible, as hints have already been seen. Time and again, corporations have been able to commodify and subvert movements and there is a chance that it could happen again.

But sometimes change comes in small steps, and even though buying a “healthy” meal from McDonald’s is almost as depressingly ironic as buying a Gap T-shirt to support humanitarianism, it is a valuable step in the right direction to make corporations aware that we care about quality and health. Big food may be lying to us and not actually embracing the new movements, but if awareness continues to grow, someday they won’t be able to lie anymore.