Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Food Access"

Tuesday I went to the Sonoma County Food Access meeting. I knew some of the folks there from working on our Food Connections conference last summer. I knew a few others by reputation or organization. Some I didn't know.

Things were heavy on the school garden, childhood obesity end of things. I know this is partly because that's where the grant money and the programs are these days. But it discourages me that the perspective of some of the folks involved is so narrow. What about food security generally? what about environmental concerns? what about the whole peak oil re-localization agenda? what about, if you are going to be part of a county-wide interest group, trying to take a broader perspective, not just advocate for your little project?

I also have some issues with some of the racism and classism I see around this obsession with the obesity epidemic. It feels a little judgmental, a little condescending. In some ways it parallels the stop smoking campaign. Since fewer of even poor and working class people smoke now, let's attack the fat.

I keep thinking about the woman I met at the gathering in November of Episcopal commissions and committees, the urban nurse educator from the Health Commission. She said, "We've been working so hard with our young black women, trying to build self-esteem, and now we have to tell them you're fat and that's bad."

I couldn't believe that one woman concerned with child health in this community did not know what Lola's was. We were talking local supermarkets and I mentioned Lola's. Lola (is there a Lola, or is she like Betty Crocker?) has two smallish supermarkets serving the Spanish speaking community. I can't get a non-profit job because I don't speak Spanish - but I know where Lola's is and what she sells. How can anyone concerned with Food Access in this community not know? (And now I am embarrassed to admit that I don't know if there really is a Lola - another research project.)

Limiting food systems policy development to the realm of health bugs me too. That seems to be the best banner in the county plan under which to place our concerns, but the food system is about so much more than personal well being. (My favorite edible symbol of American individualism and self absorption: the "personal watermelon".)

Clearly I probably shouldn't be attending these meetings. I'm sure I make almost everyone there crazy asking system questions and challenging them to take a wider perspective.

We also talked about a name for the group. People seem happy with "Food Access". It makes me uncomfortable. And toward the end of the meeting I realized why. It implies a consumer perspective. Now in one way we are all consumers. Consume food or die. And we live in a consumer culture. But I think one of the reasons our food system is such a mess is because of consumerism. So why are we looking at a consumerist solution? That's intervening in the system in a way that plays right into the problems and reinforces them.

As long as we are focused on an individualistic consumer solution to food system issues we are only going to reinforce the problems. We need some approaches that stress building relationships and community, and that respect people as participants and producers in the food system, not just shoppers.

1 comment:

William Bruneau, Publisher said...

I just love Phina's big picture thinking. We are all in a big mess, a very big mess, and we cannot afford to think small anymore. Thank God that someone is willing to bust their brains thinking systems. Not an easy task, even harder when no one else seems to care.