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When we first released “Driven by Flavor,” some listeners were rankled by Dan Barber’s assertions. In the video clip above, the Blue Hill chef argues that “elites” deserve recognition for catalyzing sweeping changes in our collective food consciousness:

“It has been a movement that’s pretty much started with the people who can afford to pay for this kind of food. Do I think that’s unfortunate? I really don’t … a lot of great movements in this country, including women’s suffrage, including the civil rights movement, started with elites and ended up becoming mass movements through powerful ideas.”

What do you think? Are elites the chicken or the egg here? Or is there another way of understanding how the food revolution Dan Barber is a part of became so widely embraced?


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10 Comments

The question of elite facilitation of social movements has been debated for decades. Sociologists who participated in student, civil rights, feminist and antiwar movements help contribute to the demise of a collective behavior tradition of social movements, which saw movements as a response to some sort of systemic "strain," and emphasized the irrationality of participants. The resource mobilization perspective that emerged focused on elite facilitation of social movements. An organization like Greenpeace, with a large subscriber membership supporting a handful of high profile activists fits the resource mobilization model best. Somewhat later, but nearly alongside this perspective, a "political process" view emerged which looked at the way in which indigenous organization seized moments of "expanding political opportunities." Both Aldon Morris and Doug McAdam hold that the civil rights movement is actually the poster child for a view of social movements as emerging from indigenous organization, based as they were on the triad of black churches, black colleges and Southern chapters of the NAACP.

Do elites sponsor social movements? Absolutely. Do they emerge from indigenous organization? Clearly. Is light a wave or a particle? Neils Bohr said that the opposite of a profound truth is often another profound truth.

The degree to which the local food movement is elite-sponsored is an empirical question. Perhaps, as with the Farm Worker's movement, we will find simultaneous roles for elite sponsorship (support for boycotts), indigenous organization (UFW), and expanding political opportunities (decline of the bracero program).

Does Dan Barber need to apologize for highlighting the role of elites and ideas in furthering local food? I don't think so. Do social scientists need to explore empirically the sources of "the food revolution," and the possibility that there are multiple antecedents? Absolutely.

Dan Barber was obviously, indirectly, speaking about himself and his Stone Barns situation. If that isn't elite, and over the top expensive, then I'll eat my hat.

eh.  Customers, maybe.  Depends what you mean by "elites".  Most of us worker bees try to shop frugally. With good reason.  But that's what led to the problem.  60 years ago I was told it was cheaper for Boston to get milk from Wisconsin than from Vermont.   I think transportation-enabled trade is good, but it has down-sides.  If some folks take the time, resources, and effort to try to encourage local production, I'd call that civic-minded.  But not everyone has the resources.  Don't see a need to get uptight about labeling those who do and use it for something worthwhile.

Locavores are born when there is no money..and we have to grow our own food, make our own clothes,bargain. When there is too much money and dislocation over a generation or two silly people (I don't think they are elite -implying superior)  like to think they invented what is ancient. 
Anyone with memories of a post WW11 childhood remembers vegetable gardens and the taste of simply prepared food.  Anyone for that matter can poke a stick in the earth and grow a lettuce.  Neighbours share. The Earth is bountiful. Many of us have lived this way for as long as we've had a bit of a backyard, and remember our parents and grandparents doing the same.

Eating what we can grow around us should not be costly That is an outrageous model to establish. I hope these elites "who can afford to pay" establish and serve in a Locavore Peace Corps in let's say, Afghanistan,Haiti, Somalia.  And put Humble Pie on the menu at the Farm. And encourage neighbourhood potlucks.  Then we can call it a Movement.....suffrage,civil rights...how could you compare yourselves....
but keep at it ...there's a world to feed out there.

Where do your photo's come from on your Facebook blurbs. Is the one up right now from the University of Mary ? The part that used to be a convent? Designed by Marcel Breuer/

What a good eye you have! Yes, this is an Instagram photo I recently took while attending a jubilee celebration of one of the nuns. I took hundreds while out there. I absolutely love the architecture and setting of the university, and become more enamored each time I visit after having attended college there. Breuer is a genius, a respectful one, and the Benedictine sisters were so avant-garde in their vision!

With regard to its connection with the post, there's absolutely no correlation; Facebook defaulted to the image and I forgot to uncheck the box.

I relate some of the locavore movement to elite consumption patterns in much the same way other "speciality" retail markets have grown. The more specialized we can get the better, right? Think about what "a cup of coffee" means to many upper middle / upper class folks these days. It reminds me very much of the PBS documentary, "People Like Us," in which a couple of segments highlight how consumptions patterns symbolize one's social class position.  

Both are needed for any sort of "movement". You need massive amounts of funds and smart PR to enact major changes in any culture these days. None of the movements Dan Barber mentioned were born with elites. However elites must support the idea and then act as major catalysts before movements can grasp the attention of those uninterested or unable to participate. First Lady Obama's focus on the "food issue" is as important of an endorsement as any, but the idea of buying local did not start recently with elites. We are not shifting consciousness into a new domain, we are merely returning to the actions and philosophies we had before interstate and global transportation changed the food game. We are learning from and correcting our own errors.

40 years ago the local organic food movement was started by hippies who were learning how to farm, and live off the land.  You can call them elite if you want too