Saturday, October 5, 2013

Social Justice Saturday: Food Security

Since tomorrow is our area's CROP Hunger Walk, I thought I'd briefly focus on the area of food security or insecurity.  Since I've been doing work in Haiti and in our local community, I've become more aware of some of the reasons why people don't get proper nourishment.  Sometimes they don't have anything to eat and other times they have plenty to eat but it's the wrong kind of food.  In both cases, a partial solution is gardening.

In Haiti (and similar spots around the world), fewer and fewer people are able to grow their own food.  There are numerous factors that cause this situation, including environmental degradation, wars, political instability, and international policy.  In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard tells a story about being approached by a Haitian man who quietly told her that the US government was trying to "drive Haitians off their land and into the city to sew clothes for rich Americans."  She thought this was a crazy conspiracy theory until she spoke with a USAID representative.  This government worker said that the organization did not feel it was "'efficient' for Haitians to produce food.  Instead...they should participate in the global economy, leveraging their best resources, which apparently meant many thousands of people so near starvation that they would be willing to sew Sleeping Beauty pajamas from morning to night, endure physical and sexual threats, live in slums, only to be able to feed their kids half a meal a day."  He continued to tell her that "local food sufficiency was not desirable or needed...a better concept is 'food security,' which means that a population didn't need to grow its own food but should instead import food from the United States."  This program only makes sense to American farmers who get a new market for subsidized food, especially rice, and clothing manufacturers who are no longer bound by US labor requirements such as minimum wage and safety precautions.  It is certainly not helping the people.  We hear over and over again about the importance of industrial farming in the US because we "feed the world."  Shouldn't the world be able to feed itself?

Another reason gardening is important is that many low income individuals in the United States live in what is called a "food desert."  That is an area where residents do not have access to stores that sell healthy food.  Often in poor communities residents are forced to source their food from either convenience stores or fast food restaurants.  A few weeks ago my husband and I were driving into town and we passed some public housing that we've driven by many times.  It suddenly occurred to me that its residents were in a food desert.  There is a gas station/convenience store across the street and that is the only food source for several miles.   Since many low income individuals don't own cars, the only way to get to a grocery store is to walk or take a bus.  Neither option is conducive to transporting several bags of groceries home.  Having a community garden would help fill the void.  

On a side note, why was the housing built in a place that made it nearly impossible for residents to have access to food?  Many families live in this development.  For children, it is vital for their physical and mental development to get the nutrients only available through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, especially in the first 1000 days of life.  By putting housing in a place without access to healthy food, generations of children may not reach their full potential.

Being 100% dependent on others for food, especially for poor countries or individuals, doesn't make any sense.  And it certainly isn't just when policy, both local and international, force people into that position.

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