Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fair Food is Freshest

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.

16 comments:

SUEB0B said...

A couple weeks ago, I saw the documentary "The Garden" about the South Central acres of community garden. The corruption exposed in the film is literally breathtaking. It made me feel like LA is a dictatorship instead of a democracy, with the city council running things for their own pocketbooks instead of for the benefit of the people. You gotta see it & get people to watch it. You will be stunned.

http://www.blackvalleyfilms.com/

madness rivera said...

Hi Suebob, thanks so much for the recommendation. I hadn't heard of the doc, but can't wait to see it -- and be more sick to my stomach about it all.

Rozmin said...

I agree community gardens are part of the solution. Also great would be the sort of society where everyone has a small vegetable/herb garden, even if it's in containers on your porch. I've done this, and you can get creative and find some cheap containers to grow plants in (those big cans that tomatoes come in? great for herbs.) My BF is from Ukraine and there people are pretty poor financially, but it is common for a family to have a tiny plot of land in the countryside nearby, where they grow food. (Rich families have big luxurious places where not much is grown, but parties are had). Neighbors give/trade each other that which they have in excess. And there are plenty of markets where people can try to sell it, too. Part of why that can't happen in America comes down to how food safety regulations are organized. We need them to some extent, but they may be holding us back as well. I recommend the book, Everything I Want to do is Illegal, it's about this.

Melinda said...

This year is my first year EVER with a vegetable garden. The other night we ate a huge salad picked entirely from our back yard. I realize this is unremarkable to most everyone else, but it felt quite revolutionary to me.

Maven said...

Thanks for pulling all this together and posting it. America is supposed to be based on equal opportunity-- this is supposed to be a cultural value intrinsic to all Americans. But without education and access--whether it's health care or healthy food or something else--"equal opportunity" is pretty much just a catch phrase.

madness rivera said...

Hi Rozmin, thanks for the great comment and for the book suggestion. I'll definitely check that out, and become promptly be pissed off.

Melinda, I think a home grown salad is nothing short of extraordinary. I can't wait to be able to say the same.

Mav, amen.

Thea Coughlin said...

Great information!

Madame One Tree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madame One Tree said...

Forgive me for having to re-post.


This post is so timely. Thank you for share this and the beautiful posters.

As a woman of color, I am acutely aware of food injustice. From the grocery store to the corner store The food of the elite is in drastic contrast to what is available to the neighborhoods of the socio-economically depressed/suppressed. It has long been a standard to deliver the last food off the trucks, wilted, spoiled, ect. to the poorer neighborhoods. Corner stores replace grocery stores in the urban areas and are mostly comprised of high fructose and nitrate laden foods, and kids grow up believing that this is what it is. I count myself so blessed that my family has always had land to grow things on. I am so glad that people are growing things again and going back to the literal roots of the soil. I did not mean for this comment to become a manifesto, but passion rips through me when I think of the insidious injustice of segregated food. Its time for victory gardens.

madness rivera said...

So nice, I read it twice - thanks Madame for the insightful comment. I would love to hear what your family grew when you were coming up.

Marigoldie said...

Lovely, powerful posters and post. I believe in garden therapy for everyone and have just pledged to learn more and get involved.

hileldridge said...

SO true. SO SO SO SO SO true. (((Standing ovation))) Just yesterday I wrote about the socio-economic issues in my refrigerator-kool-aid is poor, juicy juice is middle class, and Ocean Spray means you've got money to throw away. REAL, HOMEMADE juice from actual fruits doesn't even factor into the equation, but I think that is changing. Maybe it's just the circles I run in, or is the world catching on?

nec said...

Your posts always speak to the heart - thank you...

My girlfriend and I were discussing the merits of buying organic and she brought up a good point. She said - well, eating organic certainly is better for your body but she buys organic for the farm worker who harvests her food... She could not conciously purchase food knowing that someone's child is playing in chemical saturated soil, as many farm workers live alongside the fields they are harvesting. Do they have clean, healthy water or is it poisoned as well... and the farm workers themselves - as they are immersed in insecticides daily.

I had to admit that I hadn't really given that aspect a lot of thought - shame on me!

madness rivera said...

Hey Hil, for sure. All that sugar juice the stores rob you with at the stores is like throwing money down the drain. Fresh squeezed juice from the store is way too expensive, but if you buy some bulk oranges and squeeze juice yourself now and again, it's the best. My poor kids get water most of the time anyway. HA.

Nec, not shame on you at all. Most industries keep that side of non-organics very quiet. Of course the spraying is detremental to workers, but if we consumers don't really know about it -- the way big biz wants it -- then it's hard to put it all together. I read an article a while back about nonorganic cotton industry out of Uzbekistan where it's a billion dollar trade; a huge bulk of world cotton comes from there. The article made me sick to my stomach. Firstly, they just banned child labor only last year and secondly the incidence and severity of illness over the straying of cotton was horrifying. Cotton soaks up pestisides more than any other crop. Anyway, after reading it I was like, holy shit, I'm gonna be wearing recycled bags and eating home-grown only by the time I learn about every industry.

LeS said...

i really do think that you are one of the most fantastic human beings on the planet. this has inspired me in so many ways...

Madame One Tree said...

Mz. Madness, You were asking what my family grew for their table. I can tell you that it was nearly everything that could bear a seed. My Gramma harvested the seeds of everything and carefully dried and labeled them for next season. Corn, and cucumbers beets and rutabagas, onions and squash, pole beans and green snap peas Tomatoes by the gazilloads, (have you ever tasted tomato bread pudding? OMG is it good!)All kinds of greens. She also grew and dried herbs for cooking and medicinal use, like poultices. We children were hardly ever sick around her. If we were we would not admit it because some of those herbals were pretty rough. Both sides of my parentage were farmers at heart. I acquired the passion for digging in the dirt honestly. I currently have a garden full of things and like one of your comentors said, It is the more special when you eat the things that you grow yourself.