“Food justice” is a wide and complex concept, involving everything from farming, environmentalism, nutrition, education, healthcare, housing, immigration, etc. This year I have been learning a lot about the intersection of environmentalism, hunger, and nutrition.
One of the big debates about food insecurity is the nutritional quality of what people are eating, especially those on SNAP (food stamps.) It is obvious to anyone who goes to the grocery store that healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention organic), ethically raised meat, whole grains, and anything fair trade is really expensive. And it’s really tempting for anyone trying to make dollars stretch to cut costs by also cutting nutrition.
This is especially true for people experiencing severe poverty and/or homelessness. They buy the cheapest food they can find that will fill them up, regardless of the salt and fat content. This usually means dinners of packaged noodles, chips, and cake. But there are other factors at play as well: many people do not have the knowledge, ability, time, tools, space, or choice to cook healthy foods like brussel sprouts, daikon radishes, or romanesco broccoli (three examples of veggies that we’ve gotten from our CSA.)
Another problem is that donations to food pantries and soup kitchens are usually cheap and processed, which is poison to people who have health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure.
The issue here is not that people do not have access to food, the problem is access to affordable healthy food. These problems stem from what crops get subsidized in the U.S. (hint- it’s not organic fruit and vegetables), to what our kids are learning about farming and cooking, to what grocery stores carry what kind of food.
All in all, this is a problem of social inequality and injustice and major changes need to be made, but here are a few things you can do to help:
-Support a local community garden.
-Get involved with what your local schools are doing in terms of gardening, cooking classes, and quality of food.
-Shop at farmers’ markets.
-Check expiration dates when donating food to soup kitchens and food pantries. A good rule of thumb-don’t donate anything that you wouldn’t eat.