This post is part of the Blog Action Day 2011: Food project.
Looking at the Internet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that North America is awash in gourmet food, sourced from farmers’ markets and CSA boxes. Many bloggers (myself included) like to write about experimenting with cooking, discovering new ingredients and techniques, and the pleasures of feeding family and friends. But for many people, the issue isn’t the best technique for zesting an orange, it’s whether they’ve access to oranges at all.
The issue of access of food isn’t as simple as distribution of donations, though food banks, once thought to be a temporary measure, have become a permanent part of the landscape in many communities. Food banks are structured as a stop-gap, unable to guarantee the components of the varied diet people need to thrive long-term. As food insecurity continues, more ways of fighting it have spread – like community kitchens and gardens, along with low-cost food organizations like Quest Food Exchange and affordable CSA programs like the one run by SOLEfood Farm. These initiatives move beyond stop-gaps and acknowledge something that often seems to get lost in discussions of food policy – that the poor are as much a part of their region’s food culture as are those with more resources.
So often the discourse around issues of income and access to food revolve around the choices low-income people make. Though the existence of issues like food deserts and affordability are more often acknowledged now, there’s still a moralizing aspect to these discussions. There’s also an underlying assumption that the poor don’t know how to feed themselves, at least not properly. The truth is that our culture condemns the poor for engaging in the same behaviours found in the middle and upper classes. Eating out is a vice or a virtue, depending on the name of the restaurant. Indulging oneself is okay when the chocolate is Scharffen Berger, but less so when it’s the drugstore variety. We need less judgement in our thinking about food and more justice.
It’s one of the things that resonates for me in the Occupy movements that have been happening recently. Relative access to resources gets read as relative worthiness and more and more people are finding themselves on the wrong side of this judgement. I hope it’s going to lead to a dismantling of some of the myths and inequities that exacerbate hunger.
It’s time to stop talking about local and organic food as though it’s an upper class phenomenon. After all, many of the components of today’s food movements are based on methods long used by low-income people. Back yard gardening, canning, and preserving used to be thought of as quaint or frugal. Better off folks were busy moving into apartments with vestigial kitchens and immersing themselves in restaurant culture. Most of us, regardless of income, are a generation or two away from true competence in looking after our own food needs. Let’s all work on creating healthy food systems that don’t depend on exclusivity for success.
Today is World Food Day, hence the focus on food for this year’s Blog Action Day. Conferences and discussions are taking place across the world, focusing on local and international food issues. Here in Vancouver, a youth-focused conference happened today called Food for All. I hope that the coming generation of food activists can overcome some of the stereotypes that prevent us from sustaining equitible foodways at home and abroad.