Archive for June, 2010
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?