Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, takes it apart:
The spoofs on the “God Made a Farmer” Super Bowl commercial are starting to go viral. Their takes on Dodge RAM’s two-minute homily suggest the automaker may have irked as many people as it pleased: God made a (factory) farmer, God made a (woman) farmer, God made a Farm (worker).
The commercial is based on a speech given thirty-five years ago to the Future Farmers of America—about the time half of the country’s family farmers were going bankrupt. It was the onset of “free” markets, giant feedlots, GMOs, global warming, obesity epidemics, the massive migration of Third World farmers and the unprecedented rise of the great global food monopolies. It was the dark dawn of the corporate food regime.
None of this, of course, is addressed in the commercial. Commercials are for selling products, not for educating us about the food system. Right?
Commercials are about winning hearts and minds in order to sell things. They tap in to our desires and our belief systems from a very early age. In this sense, they are part of our ongoing ideological education. They reinforce the mythologies that shape our understanding of the world.
In “God made a Farmer” Dodge RAM tapped into national agrarian nostalgia by wrapping its product in one of our society’s great mythologies: the Dominant Food Narrative.
The Dominant Food Narrative goes something like this:
Through rugged individualism, entrepreneurship, technological superiority and free markets, today’s industrial food system is the most productive in history. While not perfect, it is the best way to feed the world.
This set of assumptions contains an important, unspoken assumption:
Without the industrial food system, we’re all going to die.
The unspoken assumption is the most powerful of all because it holds all the others together with the sticky glue of fear. The Dominant Food Narrative allows a broad set of myths and claims to be presented as facts. (First exposed in Frances Moore Lappé’s “12 Myths About World Hunger.”)
The Dominant Food Narrative is good at selling products, and not just trucks. It sells GMOs, CAFOs, and agrofuels. It sells policies like the Farm Bill and global campaigns like the new Green Revolution and Feed the Future. It sells plenty of politicians…
The other important thing that the Dominant Food Narrative does is to make things invisible.
For example, “God made a Famer” makes farmworkers, women, land grabs and factory farming all invisible. It also makes alternatives to the industrial food system—like agroecology, CSAs, and urban farms—invisible by denying their achievements in hopes that no one will take them seriously. This reinforces the other unspoken assumption crafted thunderously into the Dominant Food Narrative: “There is No Alternative.”
Practices that deviate from industrial agriculture (read: do not consume its products), science that is not at the service of the industrial food system (agroecology), and experiences that contradict the dominant food narrative (Campesino a Campesino, Cuba, Rodale), must be dismissed as non-existent, impractical or even “elitist” in order to ensure the dominance of the industrial food system.
But the Dominant Food Narrative is crumbling. It is harder and harder to hide the superweeds, diet-related diseases, land grabs, racism and global suffering intrinsic to the corporate food regime. More and more people can see the Food Emperor had no clothes. The Dominant Food Narrative may sell trucks, but it is getting harder to sell GMOs, processed food and the beneficence of Wal-Mart,
Other food narratives are emerging from other practices that not only challenge the old narrative; they make us realize that there plenty of alternatives to the industrial food system. Around the world, communities are showing that the practices and the narratives can be changed to serve other purposes rather than food for monopoly profit.
The next step will be to change the rules and institutions governing our food system so that these “alternative” practices become the norm.