Menu ‘Democracy’

A good friend and citizen of Australia showed me the enormous size of his ballot over the weekend. In Australia they have proportional representation and the single transferable vote, which means a larger number of smaller parties are on the ballot. It’s kind of cool in comparison to the UK where I vote, but it still reminded me of being offered one of those bloated menus you find at some food joints.

The main contrast of this menu in contrast to the UK being that instead of having to choose between either a roast dinner or steak pie (a vegan substitute sometimes available), you can also ask for pizza, tandoori, even avocado on toast. If enough people also order that voting option on the menu, then it will be served every day all day for the next few years until election time rolls around again.

This menu approach to politics is effectively what is called and understood to be democracy today: the idea of free elections every bunch of years within a nation-state to select representatives. Where free elections are premised on the idea of a free press and so forth. In other words what is understood as democracy is like when that friend of yours once asked you: ‘If you had to choose only one thing you could eat for the rest of your life what would it be?’ Some says eggs, some say avocados. But whatever it is, you are told to celebrate that as the will of the people. All hail the humpty dumpty people! Next decade be prepared to hail the hotdog will of the people instead!

That’s basically how politics, the thing that fundamentally impacts our lives and survival on earth, is sold to us. We are then expected to celebrate being able to pick the pizza or curry we will then have to eat every day all day for years. That’s food security for you! When you get tired you just need to wait half a decade and you might be able to switch to another menu item. Hurray!

The most obvious thing that is hidden by this utter bullshit claim to democracy is revealed by ideas such as food sovereignty. To be food sovereign means that you can be involved in growing and preparing the food and the decision making around it. The implications of this for better human and nonhuman health, wellbeing, innovation, knowledge, and resilience are far reaching. And it actually works. Here’s some primers on the global food sovereignty movement: What is food sovereignty? Transforming our food systems.

Hence, democracy like food, should mean being involved in the process of cultivating, discussing, preparing, and tasting political process. Not being dependent on a menu that tends to resemble a choice between eating an accountant’s vacant sighs and chomping on the corpse of a prison inmate, smothering the horrors of either in sugar sauce. If you don’t get that, I feel grief for you and the horror you take as a given.

And for those who claim apathy of those who don’t celebrate menu-democracy, can go look in the mirror. Menu democracy is the politics of apathetic court gossip. You only need spot something vaguely interesting on the menu for those who don’t celebrate menu-democracy to come out and vote. But political sovereignty like food sovereignty is much more than adding better options on the menu. It means stopping being dependent on a menu and building food sovereignty in its place, even if you are forced to make best use of the menu in the meantime.