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Food and environment are cultural stalwarts. Picture the red barn and solitary farmer toiling over fruited plains; or purple mountains majesty reflected in pristine waters. Agriculture and environment are core, distinct, American mythologies that we know are more intertwined than our stories reveal.

To create policy at the interface of such centrally important and overlapping American ideals, there are two options. Passive governance fosters markets in which participants make individual choices that aggregate into inadvertent collective action. In contrast, assertive governance allows the public, mediated through elected officials, to enact intentional, goal oriented policy.

American mythologies of food and environment arise because each is important culturally and physically. Given their essentiality, we must demand more intentionality, must demand policies not only because they are possible, but because they are thoughtful, effective, goal oriented, and intentional. Food and the environment are both too important to do otherwise.

In today’s political climate, finding shared goals will be hard and accidental policy may be the best we can hope for in the short term. Progressive food advocates may settle for passive policies because these policies make fewer normative commitments. For three decades this has been exactly the strategy of environmental advocates. It is the wrong strategy. Without boldly speaking about our goals, even when we know we will fall short, we cannot imagine the big picture that we intend to paint, the new integrated mythology we intend to write.