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?