Tag Archives: race

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week (1/19)

20 Jan

Some news from around the world of food this week…

Many of you may have already heard that Paula Deen has (SHOCKINGLY) revealed she has Type II Diabetes. Now, my little sister has been insulin-dependent with Type I Diabetes since just after her ninth birthday, so I will refrain from unleashing my vitriol at obesity-inflicted Type II Diabetes here. But here are some interesting observations about the Deen situation: how conveniently the announcement coincides with (rather than a change of heart or cooking style) Deen’s contract to shill for a new (and dubious) medication, and the mounting evidence correlating meat-eating habits with diabetes.

On a more creative note, my awesome writer-friend Amy Weldon has a really interesting essay up on her blog exploring the connections between food and Southern femininity.

The “Just Label It!” campaign against unknown genetically modified ingredients in our foods officially launched this week with a new video by Robert Kenner (director of Food, Inc.), and Ecocentric has a good blog post covering the basics of GMOs and the labeling campaign for those who want more information.

This is a bit of a food tangent, but some may have heard that Newt Gingrich is gaining ground in South Carolina with a new ad calling President Obama the “food stamp” president (accusing him of putting more people on food stamps — not because the economy has tanked — but because he just looooves government handouts to poor people, is my read). This reminds me of my recent post taking down Rick Santorum for similarly offensive racial/food political slurs.

The Daily Meal released its annual list of the 50 Most Powerful People in Food. If you click through from the bottom up, you’ll spend the first half cheering at the familiar food advocate faces (Bittman! Bourdain! Allen! Mahler!) and then notice a very distinct shift into the corporate world. Here’s hoping 2012 is the year the balance starts to shift

In good news along that front: Food Corps is open for applications for its next cycle, and is expanding this year after a successful pilot program. They need more people in more states, so if you’re interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, nutrition, education, cooking, gardening or advocacy, this is a great way to — literally — get your hands dirty.

Now before you head off for the weekend, make sure to stop by last week’s post and leave a comment to enter for a chance to win a copy of the new, illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, as We*Meat*Again celebrates our 10,000th site visit!

Inequality in Our Food System

12 Dec

A few events, some louder than others this week got me thinking about just how unequal our current food system is. The protestors on Wall Street are angry because income disparity leads to a disparity in political representation and access to education, improvement, etc. The food system, as it currently exists in this country, has the same results. The poor stay poor (and less healthy), and the small farms fail, so that the large corporate farms may survive.

In fact, the first event this weekend that reminded me of the parallels between food and finance was the first major gathering of farmers at Occupy Wall Street. Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Trader’s Organization, spoke to The New York Times last week about why he’d be making the journey from Maine to join the protests:

He said farm gate prices — wholesale prices for farm products, excluding transportation — were the lowest he had ever seen. “And the price of food in supermarkets is higher than it’s ever been. So, farmers are hanging on by their fingertips, and consumers are paying through the nose.”

“The money that gets made in between,” he continued, “is going to companies, and the government isn’t doing anything about it.

“And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”

*

Gerritsen’s quote is so valuable in that it reminds us that the current system of wholesale food distribution harms both producers and consumers. Just as big finance is constructed to continually insulate those in positions of power, to reward and encourage their risk-taking on the backs of a working class who suffers when these high-stakes maneuvers fail, so too is the food systm constructed to encourage consolidation and cheap growing methods that cause higher prices for less healthful foods.

And the people suffering most are the consumers with the least.

*

The second event was much more quiet, in terms of news coverage anyway, and much more disturbing. After a seven-hour stand-off last week, a woman in Texas shot her two children, and then herself, in the head. The reason? She was at the end of her rope, having repeatedly been denied food stamps by the state.

She and her children bathed in hoses outside of their trailer park. She begged at the back doors of restaurants for their food waste scraps. But her child support payments were greater than her expenses, so she was deemed able to care for her children without assistance.

Clearly, this was not the case.

*

Last Monday, at a campaign event in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum promised to significantly reduce federal funding for food stamps, citing the nation’s obesity crisis as evidence that the program was being fradulently misused.

If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?” Santorum asked.

I had to re-read the last part of the sentence a few times to fully understand what it meant.

Set aside for the moment the complete lack of understanding of the roots of the obesity crisis (a significant increase in the consumption of certain types of foods, such as refined sweeteners combined with a sharp increase in the prices of whole foods due to the above mentioned consolidations) that this quote shows. Set aside for the moment the reality that SNAP has actually been proven to help grow the economy by protecting the poorest consumers.

I think it’s important to take a minute to address what Santorum meant by “among the people who we say have a hunger program.”

Maybe I’m wrong. But I’m pretty sure what he’s saying there is that poor minorities tend to be those receiving federal nutrition assistance, and also tend to have the highest rates of obesity. I think what he’s saying is, why do black people need food stamps when they are already so fat?

*

Santorum isn’t wrong. According to the most recent data, adult obesity rates for Blacks and Latin@s were higher than for Whites in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Why? Do we believe, as Rick Santorum seems to, that this is because black and Latin@ people eat more? Are lazier?

Or could it be this: 35.3 percent of adults earning less than $15,000 per year were obese compared with 24.5 percent of adults earning $50,000 or more per year.

Could it be that we need food assistance from the federal government not in spite of increased obesity rates among the poorest, but because of those rates?

Could it be that our government’s food system, as its finance system, rewards the lowest-brow, cheapest, poorest-quality investment, and that the customers for those shoddy investments — in this case, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and soda — are the least fortunate among us?

That those who have the least choice suffer the most loss.

*

Internet comments on stories about the Texas family are too cruel to replicate, but include standard lines about the selfishness, or laziness, or incompetance of a woman who would turn to such desperate (and indefensible) measures when faced with an 18-page form and proof of income and employment.

But of nearly $262 billion in farm subsidies paid by the federal government over the last fifteen years, the farms with the highest top ten percent in annual incomes raked in more than 74%. $165.9 billion. And no one is calling them lazy.

How Do We Fix Food Deserts?

23 Aug

No, not desserts — food deserts. For those unfamiliar with the term, a food desert is a place in which fresh, real food is hard to come by. There are more specific standards out there that include specific distances to grocery stores per capita, and others that measure the distance to grocery stores versus the distance to convenience stores or fast food restaurants, but all of those standards are controversial.

Suffice it to say that if  you live in a food desert, you know it. It’s tough for you to find fresh, healthy food, especially produce. If it is available, you probably have to travel far to find it. And since, for the most part, food deserts are extreme rural and urban phenomena, chances are good that if you live in a food desert, you’re less likely to be able to afford the healthy food or the travel it takes to get it.

The problem here is that the disparity in access to healthy food between the well-off and the working-class (which is also, frequently, a difference between races) has created a one-sided health epidemic in America.

The USDA has recently begun taking steps to repair food desertification, primarily so far by creating a food desert locator based on recent census data. Under this terminology, about 23.5 million Americans live in a low-income neighborhood with more than a mile to the nearest grocery store.

The issue is how to fix the food desert once you find it. And the answer may be in the exact place the USDA isn’t looking.

As the amazing writer Gary Paul Nabhan has pointed out, the USDA’s locator doesn’t quantify the existence of locally-owned Mom-and-Pop grocers, which may well have the best options for local produce in these neighborhoods. Instead, the USDA has chosen to focus all of its energy on recruiting big box stores — including Wal-Mart — to fill the food gap.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that Wal-Mart has never been good for the U.S. economy, for jobs and labor rights, or for the environment, particularly in low-income neigborhoods, it seems to me that a great opportunity is being missed. Hundreds of local, American enterpreneurs are on the ground right now, developing innovative and illuminating solutions to food deserts.

  • In Brooklyn, immigrants are getting small-business microfinancing to pay for leases on “Green Carts” — think corner hot dog vendors selling fruit.
  • Chicago’s Fresh Moves has developed an entirely new model now being followed country-wide, for a mobile produce market. Fresh Moves operates out of the back of an old CTA bus and travels a pre-planned route three days a week, going into the neighborhoods that need it most, and allowing residents to schedule it into their busy days.

In all of these projects, what we see is real innovation, real problem-solving, the kind that looks for solutions outside the existing system and finds solutions to multiple problems at a time. This is the kind of great American thinking that gets my blood pumping, the kind of thinking that made me want to eat meat again, to get invested in supporting a remarkable and creative new food system.

But as always, the USDA seems to be commited to supporting the big guy, who needs the financial support the least.

This is a time for new thinking, a time for new ways of constructing community, new ways of developing neighborhoods and fueling the people who live there. We need to be investing in this kind of creative thinking, if we are to survive the post-oil world, in which a local economy will be the only economy, if we actually want to thrive.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 40 other followers

%d bloggers like this: