the philosophactivist

Monday, February 25, 2013

Food. Justice. Part 1: The Color of Food Justice

People's Grocery- West Oakland, CA

Working as a food justice organizer, one of the first actions I took was to scour the internet, libraries, bookstores and organizations for faces like mine. I knew there had to be brown faces in the food justice movement somewhere and it was vital to my survival as a person dedicated to food, health, and economic justice to find people of color who “got” it. Folks who didn't overuse “vote with your fork” and think that everyone has “time” and resources. Folks who saw the reality and spoke to systemic issues that made it all the more difficult to be “green” and “sustainable” and a “locavore.”

Which systemic issues, you ask? Not having enough money for some organic food. Not having access to healthy foods because you live in a neighborhood with only convenience stores and fast food restaurants and no grocery stores. Not having a backyard to grow food in or a community garden in your neighborhood. Not having time to buy and cook healthy food let alone grow your own food. Not being told that your ancestors diet was healthy and not being told the truth behind our behaviors today and the way that capitalism has bred our community's sickness and contributed to an obscene amount of preventable deaths....genocide.

The narrative that we frequently hear obviously comes from mostly privileged white folks who seem to omit race and class from their conversations. It's convenient and comfortable for them. All the work our ancestors did devoid of labels such as “local” and “organic” seems to also get left behind. Which predecessors? Great black agriculturalists such as George Washington Carver who may have been one of the first to have been concerned with sustainable agriculture. Great brown farmers and activists like Cesar Chavez who saw firsthand the toxic affects of what was being put on the crops farmworkers harvested (and continue to harvest).

In the dominant narrative it seems like black and brown folks are ignorant about health and healthy food. Perhaps we're “too lazy” to start a garden and grow our own food. We don't want to just spend the extra money on the “front end” instead of on hospital bills due to our eating “habits” on the back end. It seems much easier for food activists to focus on our behaviors and glaze over issues of time and employment (working two and three jobs), space (maybe we don't own land or don't have access to community gardens or live in food deserts full of fast food restaurants and corner stores with unfresh and processed foods). There's an overall assumption that we just don't want to be healthy and that we don't care about our family's health. Very little is said about discrimination within the health care system, decreased access to health care, limited access to healthy foods and land, and other issues that communities of color haven't had a lot of control over.

It's easier to play the blame game. It's easier not to check detrimental and erroneous assumptions and to be guided by stereotypes and biases. It's easier to be exclusive and not include brown folks into the food movement. Race talk just ruins things. There are tokens to report back about what's going on in the community. Even though the reports aren't needed because it's all the community's fault. Obviously they like to eat that food, live that way. Quick get together a brigade to get them all to Vote with their Fork...

even if they can't afford one.

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