But, because the audacious claim “greed is good” is too easy to rebut, let me focus instead on the more nuanced aspects of the Funk’s article.
Let’s start with Neo-Malthusianism – a panic in the 1970s and 1980s in reaction the supposedly universal formula of population growth against the growth of agriculture: exponential versus arithmetic. “Food security” in its original form arose from the terror that the (poor) “masses” were outgrowing our food growing capacity. This approach legitimized agribusiness and monopolies like Monsanto. It reinforced the western world’s supremacy, establishing an international food system upon surplus yields from the US and other industrialized countries being send abroad. It allowed no local control over food, and disregarded local knowledges. Further, we came to see that the inundation of foreign, cheap surplus food staples into underdeveloped communities undermined the existing food system in many areas.
So, why do I reel to read the term “food security” applied to Heilberg’s work? And how is this “food security” different from the community food security work we’re doing in the ninth ward?
Today, the Community Food Security Coalition defines CFS as “a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” This definition, unlike the 1974 one, acknowledges the importance of taking into account local particularities, both culturally and socially, for effective food security. This most recent poststructuralist model of CFS takes into account both third-world and first-world (like the Lower Ninth) food insecurity, though it takes distinctly different forms in each place.
Community food security rejects the universalized Neo-Malthusian analysis as ineffective. Food systems – how we grow and distribute and sell and eat food – must be understood on a local level. Food systems are, food oppression (if you may) is, intimately intertwined with the household, social, cultural, and political systems of oppression in our communities. So insofar as Heilberg – a rich, privileged, educated, white, North American male - is replicating instead of dismantling power dynamics in the communities in which he’s working, his supposed food security is ineffective. Oppressive.
Because, yes! “all oppression is connected,” as StacyAnn Chin yells. So here’s a less directly applicable, but more also poignant and powerful response that I am reminded of: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ofsVwH4O_k
 Community Food Security Coalition website. www.foodsecurity.org/views_cfs_faq.html.
says Heilberg: Capitalist’s of Chaos — Mckenzie Funk
This is “food security” as it arose from the Neo-Malthusian population panic. That was in the 1970s and 80s; it’s 2010. How does this global, capitalist, massive agribusiness, surplus-of-foodstuffs approach to food security still dominate our understanding?
I have been asking myself that recently, and I don’t know the answer. But I’ll address why we are.
So we left off last time with good food. With Michael’s Pollan’s seductive bestsellers and Will Allen being named among Time’s most influential people of the year, we gotta admit that food’s become pervasive part of public discourse. It’s a loaded word; it’s a political word. And for us here, food’s the thing most of us spend our days losing so (so!) much sweat over. Sounds simple, but it ain’t. Why not?
Let’s take, for instance, our volunteers as an illumination of food complexity. Currently we have 50 volunteers, all college students from around the country, self-organized, super inspired and hard-working. The goal of the summer is Food Justice; both the workshops and the work are oriented around making that a reality for this community. But the volunteers, who are in charge of their own shopping, inevitably fill the kitchen with high fructose corn syrup laden peanut butter and white pasta: not good food. And they get it. The initial reaction is, how ironic. Food Justice Summer, and we’re eating, for the most part, pretty terrible food. But then they see that no, it’s not ironic; it’s totally appropriate. Yes, we’re eating terrible food because terrible food is what’s available here, when you’re on any sort of reasonably realistic budget. Your options are 1) walking 6 or so blocks to the closest corner store, Magnolia, which offers about 5 fruits and vegetable options and 125 alcohol ones; 2) driving 10 min away from the levee down to Wal-Mart; 3) driving even further to Winn Dixie or; 4) driving towards the levee and hazard crossing the canal, which might entail a 25 minute wait at the bridge and then, quite frankly, I don’t even know where the nearest real grocery store is.
So, no, good food is not simple. Food in the lower ninth is not accessible, it’s not nutritious, it’s not local, it’s not diverse. And that’s just the food as a thing itself. That’s not even looking at the whole food system, which brings to light more layers of injustice: the depopulation and exploitation of farmers, the insane average distance your food travels and all the money that passes through all the hands who carry the food to you which in turn makes it more expensive once it gets there, Monsanto’s monopoly, and on and on. Those are just the factors that happened to come to mind right now.
Our food is no good. It’s not good for people and it’s not good for the earth. There are many Americans today who are able to ignore that reality, who are able to access enough good food to keep believing that our food is good. But this “good food” is as much a part of the bad US food system as the bad food is, because it’s enabling the growing gap between good nutritious, expensive and, well, what’s the opposite? – bad, empty, cheap food. That good food exists for some people alongside so much bad food for most people means we have a system of food injustice.
That’s my perfunctory 1 am analysis.
So absolutely we need to grow some more better food. I’m remembering again the Biblical words that I have heard in so many contexts, but that seem especially applicable here, imagining it as, (farmers) “go forth, be fruitful and multiply.”
Now you tell me – why’s everyone talking about food all of a sudden? And what of it is good food talk? And what will it take to make it more than just the talk?
Okay. Already got ahead of myself, problemitizing Our School before even describing it.
So, what is Our School at Blair Grocery?
Is it “a resource rich-safe space for youth empowerment and sustainable community development?” as we state? (schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com/). Is it a revolution? A food revolution? Or a place to get good cheap eggs?
Is it an after school “camp” for the students in the neighborhood, to use their words? A re-occupation of the old Blair Grocery Store? Is it “a community where empowered youth engage in reflective practice with others to actualize effective, replicable environmental justice based local solutions to global problems?” (blog). Is it a group of mostly white Yankees in a mostly black, Southern neighborhood?
Is it partner to the only black dairy farmer left in Louisiana? Is it a service-learning site for hundreds of youth organizers to envision and actualize the Food Justice Summer of 2010?
Is it an independent, alternative community school? Or is it a “social experiment,” as one of our students suggested. Is it a 501(c)(3)? A compost enterprise? An urban farm? A sprout business? A weekly fresh produce market for New Testament Church? A home?
It’s a constantly “renegotiated and recast,” enacted, evolving “identity in the making”  that is understood differently by different people. Our neighbors across the street who have been there every day since they moved in seeing us weeding and hauling yards of compost in wheelbarrows onto the top of a colossal pile probably have a radically different impression of us than the students from NYC who spend 10 days on site undergoing workshops on community organizing, and than the restaurants uptown who buy our delicate red amaranth sprouts but have never actually been to Our School at 1740 Benton Street.
But. Across all those disparate understandings, what’s common? What ought to be commonly understood about our purpose?
1) Education. Education is at the core of everything we do. Education with an agenda. Education with an explicit agenda of humanization, justice, and growing good communities. What do we need for good communities? We need equal access to good work and the fruits of that good work. Literally, good fruit, or…
2) Good Food – the second focus of Our School.
 Harris, Leila. “Irrigation, gender and social geographies of the changing waterscapes of southeastern Anatolia.”
 Sundberg, Juanita. “Identities in the Making: conservation, gender and race in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Guatemala.” Gender, Place and Culture. March 1, 2004.
Remembering the 12 feet of water that Katrina left us under, what is our right action for this imminent hurricane season? And the next? And 50 years from now? How can we participate in the growth of resilient communities knowing this is our future?
This question is especially crucial for the ninth ward, but more and more applicable to communities worldwide: “local solutions to global challenges.” (OSBG blog)
Standing in front of the levee, in front of this absurdly thin, weaker than the original, perfunctory rebuilding job of a levee. Founder of Our School is giving his levee tour our volunteers – an (infuriating) environmental justice framed history of New Orleans’ social, economic, and physical landscape. New Orleans’ (hi)story is overwhelming: industrialization of the economy, and similarly the schools, the burden of being a global shipping hub, the destruction of the wetlands, the pervasiveness of the oil industry, then at the very end of August 2005 Katrina. So think about all the families who because of all the aforementioned circumstances are on welfare, and how much money does a typical family on welfare have at the end of the month? and how you planning on evacuating with no gas money, really? And think about the fact that five years later the ninth ward “is (still) not back.” And the chances that another hurricane hit the Gulf Coast this summer is pretty high. Only this time it’ll be a flood of oil water. Oil water from the oil “spill” or more accurately oil eruption that’s still inundating our ocean with that thick gloppy earl, as we say here. Crisis? Crises.
Then he says, and it immediately made so much sense, it was stupid:
“New Orleans is the canary in the coal mine.”
Sitting under the shade structure. It’s already eighty-nine Fahrenheit here, whoo. Everyone talks about the summer with an ominous tone, especially to those of us who aren’t from here – “you ready for the summer?” I hear skepticism, but with a smile.
I’m beginning to suspect that even my 18 years of North Carolina summers aren’t even enough to prepare me for The New Orleans Summer. Evidently the okra has found a way to cope though. I’ll try to take some tips from the okra. Last summer season – the first year of Our School’s existence and so the first year of cultivation– we had okra coming out of our ears.
Our School at Blair Grocery.
That’s where I’m working; that’s the site of this internship.
To start, I’ll work on orienting you, bringing you up to speed. Although my CPGC internship only runs from May 14th until July 5th, I’ve been here since January. It feels like the dates of the internship are irrelevant in a sort of hilarious way. Does the fact that I am now here under the auspices of Haverford College change how I am here?
I certainly don’t have an answer for that yet. My instinct tells me it shouldn’t. That if I am acting and being here in a way that shows any integrity, my position here will not change. Yet, part of my knows it’s more complicated than that. That *College* has a power and an authority that comes with it. It certainly has a wealth that comes with it, in the literal sense.
I want to try to be as upfront and direct as possible with you, with this blog. Part of that is acknowledging the role of this internship and this blog in my work here. It feels like a foreigner. Right now, at least. I am unsure what place the internship and blog will have in an already working relationship with Our School and everyone here. More specifically and pressingly, I have no practice talking about Our School (at all, or for an academic audience). But it is all those same concerns that made me recognize the value of the blog: that gives me an incentive to process my experiences, and that it requires me to be accountable (to both schools, OSBG and Haverford).
The practice of bridging two worlds, two languages, two frameworks, is what makes this blog process seem worthwhile.
I will close with that, sit with that tension for another day.
Margo Schall ’11 is working with Our School at Blair Grocery, an alternative community school and urban farm in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans. She has been in New Orleans since January and her CPGC sponsored internship began in mid-May.