What does food justice, and a sustainable food system look like?
I don’t know how many times I’ve written about the lack of clear definition of the terms bandied about on the subjects I’ve chosen to write about, “organic” perhaps being public enemy #1. It’s enough to drive a good Frenchman like myself (le mot juste!) out of his cotton-pickin’ mind. But there’s a lot going on here that it’s time to debunk.
What do the most talked about elements of a sustainable food system do for us? By this I mean farmers’ markets, food hubs, and CSAs. I use all three of these. I think they contribute positively to the quality of food on our table, and the health of our local economy, if only through the application of common sense, not academic research. But these are not the best tools for creating food justice, even though they are often promoted as such.
Food Injustice S.Margot Finn wrote an article with the above headline for the Breakthrough Institute that I find very telling. She says of these places, “such markets might give people double the dollar value for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits if they shop at this inconvenient, once-a-week produce vending system where you can’t buy paper towels or toothpaste.”
Let’s not forget, it’s expensive to be poor. It costs a lot of time when you have to work two jobs to make ends meet. It costs a lot of time to travel everywhere on a bus, because as Weird Al Yankovic pointed out, the things are always stopping. Don’t get me started about making a transfer. If you’re fortunate enough to have a car, it’s liable to need constant repair.
According to Truthdig
“In many parts of the U.S., mass transit is vastly inferior to the systems in Europe, Australia or Japan. If the poor aren’t losing time and money waiting for buses that run irregularly—assuming their area even has public transit at all—they are driving older cars in need of costly repairs.” And this is just the beginning of the discussion. The banking and insurance industries are also called out for penalizing the poor in the above-referenced article.
In one of the most interesting developments, the city of Tulsa has required that dollar stores in some parts of town be at least one mile apart. Dollar General has gone on record as saying their customers travel no more than five miles to find them. I see why. It seems unlikely this kind of regulation is helping.
In continuing to read Finn’s article, she goes on to debunk every notion about the correlation between a poor person’s diet and health. They cook more often at home, not less. They eat less fast food, not more. They are less likely to be obese. The kind of food they’re eating isn’t killing them, assuming they can get any food at all.
Her conclusion is, it is all a matter of class. Poor people aren’t doing well because they’re poor. Breaking this cycle takes higher wages, safer workplaces, better access to both mental and physical healthcare–the kinds of things advocates for the poor talk about all the time. A sustainable food system might include all the things the rest of us find helpful, but there’s no such thing as food justice, until we’re willing to do the right thing.