Mae Humiston & Sara Gardner | Let’s Talk About Food
Let them eatwhatever!
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 08:10
Last week we talked about distribution in the sense of how food travels from the field to the consumer. This week we will focus on another dimension of distribution: equity. “Food equity” refers to the idea that access to fresh and healthy foods should be universal. In this sense, proximity to a grocery does not determine or restrict the idea of access. People may be deprived of fresh and healthy foods because of a multitude of geographic, economic, cultural and educational factors. Because it is so multifaceted, food equity is a common goal for many groups in the food movements. We think it is important for you to understand food equity issues if you want to learn about today’s food systems.
A common term used by food movement groups to describe areas of limited access is “food desert.” There are issues surrounding the semantics of this phrase, but the general concept is widely agreed upon: There are places where people cannot get fresh and healthy food that is affordable, culturally appropriate and accessible through existing means of transportation. Sometimes, “food deserts” do not actually lack food — rather, they are devoid of food with substantial nutritional value or, as some members of the food movement would say, they only have food with “empty calories.” The food available in food deserts is typically either fast food or gas station snacks. While they stave off hunger, their nutritional content leaves much to be desired. This is why healthiness is an essential part of the definition of food equity.
Affordability and location are also important factors in determining whether a food system is equitable. Logically, any rational business looks to set up shop where people will spend money. However, this often keeps businesses that are championed for their fresh foods, such as Whole Foods and farmers’ markets, out of disadvantaged areas — specifically, those affected by structurally racist urban planning and zoning, disproportionately high levels of environmental degradation or weak or failing infrastructure and policies that perpetuate inequality and disparity. Clearly, the issues involved in food equity dilemmas are indicative of greater structural problems.
There are, however, many people and groups looking at the problems pertaining to food to help fix them. Some farmers’ markets have started accepting food stamps and offering “Bounty Bucks,” where, for example, $10 buys $20 worth of food. There are also mobile market models and community−supported agriculture shares that bring farm−fresh food to under−served areas. Some farms also donate their excess produce to food banks and kitchens to help out their community. While the fact that these models generally depend on excess production and therefore do not directly or sustainably address issues of economic disparity, they do provide a space for community engagement with these issues.
The Food Project of Boston goes even further to connect people in marginalized communities with fresh foods and the actual growing process. The Food Project built raised beds all around Dorchester and Roxbury for residents, and the head grower spends as much time acting as a community reference as she does farming. The Food Project and other programs like it work to empower people by giving them the resources needed to grow food they want and need. Such an approach begins to address issues of equity, but is certainly not a cure−all.
In order to advance toward securing food equity for all, we need to recognize the structures that perpetuate existing problems. When a household cannot obtain fresh, nutritious food, we need to examine why that is. By taking notice of economic, geographic and cultural gaps in access and distribution, we can also understand where changes can be made and whether they apply to policy, infrastructure or economic models.
Sara Gardner is a freshman who has not yet a declared a major. She can be reached at Sara.Gardner@tufts.edu. Mae Humiston is a senior majoring in anthropology. She can be reached at Mae.Humiston@tufts.edu.