What concerns me about the organic, whole-food movement - a movement with which I am completely devoted to por vida -- is the food caste system that has been created. I know the exclusion of poorer people by the movement is unintentional by those driving the movement, but there has to be more recognition that the fairness of food is as important as its quality. And I don't mean just for the growers here and abroad, but for the inclusion of all people in the accessibility of fresh, healthy, affordable food. More and more visible is a fight for the smaller (and growing) local organic farms. Rightly so, but what about neighborhoods where Whole Foods Markets won't venture or farmers markets aren't organized? Can't we drive for all of these things at the same time so we don't have to come back and fight again for those left behind? The fight for all these issues together should go hand in hand since fresh healthy food should be a right not a privilege of a higher few, and historically every culture's poorer class were the ones originally connected to the land and who harvested the food for themselves and the community. California, the largest agricultural state, provides the entire country with produce on the backs of people who are told to get out of the country whether citizens or not -- but, y'know, after they pick the grapes and strawberries and lechuga for a tiny wage. . .this is a whole 'nother issue, but my point is fairness.
As an advocate of the movement, I don't find it enough to just ponder these social-organic divides as I spend a good chunk of my own money on fresh, organic foods for myself and my family. Awareness is important. It is the seed of action. Supporting those in action is the bridge to eventually digging into a solution personally. I want that for myself. I'm studying holistic nutrition, right? So I can volunteer all the information away at places like the Venice Family Clinic, right? And I imagine myself making suggestions to a single mom in regards to organics and whole foods, but then I can't always imagine her being able to manifest that information to her family affordably and conveniently. The information is important; the ability to apply it frustrates me.
My mother, like many single mothers, did her best to make a food stamp stretch and the cheapest foods that could go a long way were processed meats and cheeses and milk, all things that were/are believed to fill basic nutritional needs. I ate Plain Wrap hot dogs almost every night for dinner. (Do you remember Plain Wrap?) Eventually -- I'm sure I've told this story before -- I regularly started to experience symptoms where I would see spots, then lose my peripheral vision which ended in vomiting; at school, at the bus stop, at home. When my mother finally took me to the doctor I was diagnosed with migraines as a result of nitrate poisoning. I wasn't allowed to eat hot dogs regularly any more. This is why information is important, because how was my mother supposed to know that high levels of the preservative could become toxic? But with the exclusion of this convenience and no guidance to what could last cheaply and be healthier, especially with the long hours she worked and not being a cook, I could see how she would feel limited and frustrated. Something as cheap as hot dogs meant I didn't skip a meal at night and at least she could say I didn't go to bed hungry.
Last year I read an article in the LA Times about the Urban Farming efforts in LA. In general, Urban Farming works in cities across the country to take over abandon lots to cultivate community gardens that provide fresh food to the neighborhood and sometimes food banks. LA's history of city farming is a heated one especially when the owners of the land of the South Central Farms took it back in 2006 and evicted 14 acres of community farms so a Forever 21 warehouse could be built instead. The South Central Farms fed over 300 families with its harvest, mainly poorer families in the area. It was an outrage and the battle to Take Back the Farm continues. The South Central Farm still runs a CSA program. The food is grown in Bakersfield now, disconnected from the community, but at least it's still alive. So, I read this article on the Urban Farming Food Chain Project where architechs have designed gardens to be HUNG ON WALLS, concrete city walls especially welcome! LA is the pilot city for this experiment of no-space food production in fresh-food deprived areas. The project now has four thriving locations, most of which are grown on transitional housing walls and the residents learn to cultivate the garden themselves. I'm overwhelmed with the genius of the idea. Check out a before and after picture of the Skid Row Housing Trust's 'The Rainbow' at San Pedro & 7th. Some of the plants they grew during the first season: Bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, strawberries, spinach, parsley, leeks, edible lavender and a variety of herbs.More before and after photos here.
It's one thing to provide information, quite another to say here are some organic cucumbers off the vine from the parking lot, aren't they delicious? Here's a quote from the site: "During World War II twenty million people planted 'Victory Gardens' at their homes. They grew 40% of America's produce supply. They did it then. We can do it again!" I am so inspired and motivated by the project that I looked into how I could volunteer. They only really need experienced farming and irrigation-type people and I am far from that. The other thing they need is money, and I don't have a lot of that either, but I could raise some. I decided that in October I'm going to cycle a century (100 miles) to raise money for the Food Chain Project. I'll hit you guys up later for some collective, communal love so tuck away some pennies for me and the gardens.
The other thing I did was join the Slow Food movement, who's base philosophy is that fresh food is a right and they deal with this issue on a sweeping, grand level.
Lastly, I just want to acknowledge Bryant Terry again who sort of gelled together the idea of food justice for me. He is the chef who wrote Vegan Soul Kitchen and he is very much a food activist. Before digging all through his blog and discovering that there is an alive food justice movement, I couldn't seem to organize my thoughts and actions regarding this subject even though it's been on my mind since I was a kid. Terry recently collaborated with Oakland-based artist activist Favianna Rodriquez to create these posters. I think she's amazing.This one has to do with the balance of cooking by men; how men and boys shouldn't just learn to garden but to cook too and be self sufficient. She addresses men of color specifically, but I think it's true of all men.This one is about how the accessibility of fresh, healthy food is sparse or nonexistent in low-income neighborhoods and it affects the under-represented, the poor and people of color. Inside our bodies are chemicals, not real food. She calls it "a war on our bodies." And this last gorgeous one is self explanatory.I find the posters so relevant and beautiful. If you do too, you can buy them here.