On Proposition 37 and the natural-foods industry’s evolution

Ruthie says yes to three-seven.

Ruthie says yes to three-seven.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Ah, the push and pull of progress, or—more accurately—the push and pull of The Way It Is, capitalized because it’s that important.

With California’s Proposition 37 campaign finally making its way to a KCRA newscast, Auntie Ruth is struck by what a long, strange trip it has been.

Proposition 37 seeks to regulate how genetically modified organisms are labeled on the food you buy. Our local food co-ops in Davis and Sacramento support Prop. 37; the Yes on 37 folks have amassed maybe $2.6 million, from industry stalwarts such as Lundberg Family Farms, Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One!, Amy’s Kitchen, Eden Foods and the like.

The No on 37 people have amassed $23.5 million. It will be a bloody fight—and not a fair one.

Auntie Ruth remembers the day when food co-ops were small, and Whole Foods Market didn’t mega monopolize natural foods, and the battle was pure and could be won. And the word yuppie was still kind of funny, and people at Auntie Ruth’s food co-op would scrawl things on suggestion box forms like “Die, yuppie scum, die!” and mean it with their whole hearts, almost like the Facebook rants of today, but with less infantile nihilism. And back in the day—the issue of size was no issue at all.

Auntie Ruth is referring to the size of the natural-foods industry. The companies that sold natural foods wholesale were small. Some of them were operated out of garages, like alt bands with juicers. And these small to smallish brands—Cascadian Farm, Santa Cruz Organic, Kashi, Odwalla—emerged from the ’80s with similar tales of vision, integrity and commitment.

And then corporations bought them up.

And now their parent companies—General Mills, J.M. Smucker Company, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola Company, respectively—are the corporations lending major dollars to the No on 37 campaign. Certainly, this day was ever-destined, but the punch line isn’t a wag of the finger. More people are eating better food. They are spending more money to buy their food, because there’s a cost involved in making food with less chemicals. Could a smaller natural-foods industry whisked as many people into this way of life? Doubtful.

They say small is beautiful. Small is certainly simpler. And when small is over, a part of you always misses it. Always.