Movements do not and cannot exist in a vacuum

The past year’s emotionally, politically charged election and the recent transition to a new presidential administration have illuminated this fundamental truth. 

Half a million people mobilized for the Women’s March in D.C., and another five million participated in nearly seven hundred sister marches throughout the U.S. and across all seven continents to stand together in support of equal rights for not only women but for communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQIA, and disabled people as well as other important issues of our time such as wage inequality, climate change and healthcare access. This moment felt familiar to me; I recognized the magnetism of collective responsibility that has drawn me to activism all my life. 

Two decades after I escaped China as a student organizer of the pro-democracy movement that was crushed in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, I found myself an unlikely active participant of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Amidst America’s political apathy—evidenced by our low voter turnout and lack of civic participation—the civic revival inherent in OWS’s mission and its core calling of systemic problems of money in politics captivated me. 

On the face of it, these movements may seem quite different. Yet each is rooted in the recognition that prosperity is not a zero-sum game. The wellbeing of an individual or a particular group is inextricably woven into the public good. Simply put, a rising tide lifts all boats.  It is this same understanding—and a desire to encourage the rising tide—that has led me to the heart of the Good Food Movement. Justice is fairness.

Good Food is everyone's business

In America’s ultra-individualist society, we’ve started to believe that food is a personal choice with uniquely personal consequences. For centuries, however, meals have united families and communities around a table; eating is fundamentally a unifying social act. The Good Food Movement can and should be, in its scope and impact, a social movement. 

Too often “good food” is written off as the pet project of the elite: access to healthy, sustainable food is a luxury. How wrong this is. Good food cannot be viewed as a “privilege.” It must be recognized as an inalienable right—one that we must fight for as a community, for the community. The effects of unsustainable, unhealthy food radiate out to every inequity facing humankind. Our food culture and agricultural system are central causes of climate change, the health crisis, the energy crisis, poverty, war, the list goes on. 

The epidemic is global. As countries begin to emerge from poverty, they start to shift to “the Western” meat-centric industrial food system—a paradigm our planet cannot support. Food is in crisis at an international level, and the political unrest precipitated by droughts and resource scarcity will only intensify. We must fix food before we are able to fix anything. 

Lucky for us, Good Food is gaining steam

The emerging Good Food Movement is rooted in cultural epiphany. From celebrity chefs, to food writers and fantastic storytellers, to a new generation of farmers and conscious consumers, we are experiencing an awakening worldwide. CSAs are cropping up everywhere from Little Rock, Arkansas to the outskirts of Shanghai. People have started to ask the all-important questions: What is in my food? Where is my food coming from? 

Driven by the passions of those fighting for agricultural sustainability and environmental responsibility, this movement is also a sweeping grassroots initiative for animal rights, food security, and social justice. People are joining the cause from every direction: in many ways, it is a leaderless movement with a patchwork theory of action leading to change. 

Increasingly, consumers in all corners of society are rejecting the old paradigm as they realize that our food choices have consequences. We must revolutionize the food system. However, unlike the pro-democracy movement in China and unlike the Occupy movement, we will do so not through political confrontation but through economic innovation. 

The Good Food Movement will succeed because consumers are hungry for change. Parents are no longer satisfied with school cafeterias where pizza sauce is considered a “vegetable”. Shoppers are confounded to learn that their “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” has been supplemented with wood pulp. Consumers of all socio-economic backgrounds representing a diverse cross section of the country are starved for a compelling alternative to the current food system. 

Entrepreneurs recognize this consumer demand; they spot the systemic inefficiencies, and they are carving out market opportunities. We’re seeing a groundswell of remarkable entrepreneurial energy to reinvent our food system. And this is what FoodFutureCo seeks to enable. 

Eating is a moral act

It is a political act.  Every time we eat, we cook, or we offer food to others, we cast a vote. In Tiananmen Square, we were trying to break through a police state. In the Occupy movement, our collective voice was filtered through a representative democracy. Yet, food is a direct democracy, and a functioning democracy does not only depend on the right to vote but on the existence of viable alternatives. 

In creating those alternatives, entrepreneurs have an opportunity for profit. In choosing those alternatives, consumers have a better meal and brighter future. And together, we improve our community at every point in the process. 

To eat well—and to enable others to eat well—is to challenge the unjust, unhealthy, unsustainable status quo. The Good Food Movement will succeed because it is founded in a cultural awakening but is bolstered by business innovation and economic opportunity. It is fundamentally expansive and inclusive. It is a joyful, delicious movement.  This is the beautiful promise of Good Food: we can do good by eating well.

Watch Shen Tong speak at TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat.” This one-day event explored the food system and what we are doing to shift to a more sustainable way of eating and farming.