“We must hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Ben Franklin
When I wrote Stand Together or Starve Alone in 2018, I chose Ben Franklin’s famous admonition to his compatriots as my epigram because it stood for what I felt was both wrong and right about America’s food movement. We—all the diverse and creative alternatives to the dominant food system—had demonstrated that it was within our power to literally change the way our food is produced, distributed and consumed. Yet, in spite of enormous gains over the past couple of decades, we often squandered the opportunities, or, at the very least, fell short of our goals.
Channeling my inner Franklin, I posited that our shortcomings didn’t lie with our methods and energy, it came down to our failure to work together—the only way that something as dramatic as wholesale food system change would happen. But there were two things that my 50 years of food system experience didn’t prepare me for. The first was the pandemic which previewed what a food system Armageddon—a meltdown of global proportion—might look like. However, in spite of what the purveyors of doom pronounced from every social media pulpit, government, communities, and the people stood together in an unprecedented manner to ensure that nearly all were fed.
The second thing that my once indefatigable wisdom failed to predict was the book’s outrageous price. No matter how much I whined at my publisher about the shocking sticker price, or compared them to Scrooge, the Grinch, or Putin, I could not get them to reduce the $46 sacrifice they were asking buyers to make. I am happy to report that there is good news on both fronts: the pandemic is history though I hope its lessons are not; and the original publisher was bought by Bloomsbury which felt Stand Together was worthy of a much cheaper paperback edition.
Here’s the deal: The paperback edition of Stand Together or Starve Alone is $29.95, but purchase it before January 31, 2024, and take 20 percent off for an eminently affordable $23.96. Buy a second book (nothing says, “I love you!” like giving your favorite person a copy of Stand Together), or at least $35 worth of books, and Bloomsbury will deliver them to you free. To make your purchase go to Stand Together or Starve Alone: Unity and Chaos in the U.S. Food Movement: Mark Winne: Bloomsbury Academic, enter the secret code STAND23 at checkout. Pretty soon, the keys to food system collaboration will be sitting in your mailbox. Want to become a Stand Together evangelist? Bloomsbury will give non-profit organizations an even bigger discount for volume purchases for their conferences and large meetings (I don’t know the details at this time, but I’m happy to assist if you might be interested).
What’s at stake with Stand Together, and why should you read it? The rapid growth and diversification of the food movement since the 1970s was what first caught my eye. What had once been an easily dismissed chihuahua nipping at the heels of the conventional, capitalist food system had become a formidable pack of mixed dog breeds snarling their way across the foodscape. I documented the movement’s growth, celebrated its successes and critiqued its failures, and proposed how it could become stronger. Yet, I didn’t fully appreciate at the time—not until the pandemic and January 6th—that the tiger we have by the tail is nothing less than democracy itself.
My reasoning goes like this: There are two complementary ways to secure an equitable and sustainable food system. There’s the DIY, alternative version—the one that has sown the seeds for millions of farmers’ markets, CSAs, mobile markets, farm to school programs, fair trade organizations, locally owned food businesses, etc. Secondly, there is the public policy version that, 1) uses regulation to control the worst abuses of a food system where the only measure of success is profit; 2) subsidizes the cost of food to promote food security and healthy eating, and 3) provides public funding that nurtures those alternative seeds that enable us to “take back” at least some of our food from the dominant food system. Public policy, in other words, is effectively the only force strong enough to rebalance a capitalist-directed marketplace that treats people like no more than consumers and food as just a commodity. Good public policy—and effective local food initiatives and businesses—need active democracy which in turn requires the kind of collaboration I extoll in Stand Together.
And there is good news on all these fronts. In Stand Together I had bemoaned the fragmentation and low funding levels for USDA programs that promoted equity and local food system development. I recently attended a USDA-sponsored conference in New Orleans that brought together hundreds of grantees from three different, but similarly purposed initiatives that were receiving hundreds of millions of dollars over their funding periods. USDA is also taking steps to address the impact of food systems on climate change, a connection it had previously refused to acknowledge when addressing the nation’s dietary guidelines in 2015. Programmatically and policy wise at the community level, the number of food policy councils, food coops, and Good Food Purchasing initiatives have continued to grow.
Do these beams of light breaking through the clouds imply an era of enlightenment, derived no doubt from a deep reading of Stand Together, is upon us? I’d like to think that the book has played a role, but either way I’m confident that it still has much to offer those of us who’d rather work together toward common goals than endure a slow and miserable demise. As Angie Tagtow, a long-time food activist and the former head of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion said about Stand Together in 2018, “This book is an essential tool in the food system toolbox, packed with critical inquiry, systems principles, and relationship-building strategies.” And better yet, it’s now a whole lot cheaper. Happy New Year!
I was privileged last week to join two colleagues, Tambra Stevenson and Darriel Harris for the videotaping of a segment on Black Health Now. Titled “Food for Thoughtful Change,” the segment is a moderated discussion of how food access and racism affect the health of today’s Black communities. You can catch it on YouTube with this link: #BlackHealthNow Presents: Food for Thoughtful Change (youtube.com)