Monday, November 19, 2007

Food, poverty and social justice

A new Street Roots Special Edition is on the streets. The new issue explores food, poverty and social justice.

Feature articles include a look at the future of community gardens and rooftop agriculture, the challenges non-profits face providing healthy meals day in and day out, and a look at the world of gleaning.

Other features include a Q & A with Brian Tokar, Program Director with the Vermont Institution of Social Ecology, and columns from Jay Thiemeyer and Daniel Denvir with the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, and much more...

Street Roots editorial: Time to get off the industrial food grid

We are what we eat. We are dependent on an agricultural industry steered by politics and profit. We are processed through conditioning and ignorance to crave what is bad for us. We are the pesticide-riddled consumers of the globalized, multi-billion-dollar commerce of “foodstuff.” We are the corporations' cash cows.

Of course, we don't have to be, and many of us with the means have gone retro toward escaping this government-induced sustenance stupor. Community gardens, organic options and local sources are the hallmarks of the new food movement, but until they become sustainable standards that are universally accessible to the poor, we'll have to think further outside the proverbial over-packaged box of artificial flavorings.

Because of government subsidies and mass processing, the cheapest food is often the worst food. Sugar, high fructose corn syrup (subsidized) and hydrogenated fat (cheap and long-lasting) reign supreme on poor families' plates, creating the perceived irony of obesity among the most food-vulnerable in our community. But abundance of food isn't the problem in this town. It's the accessibility and affordability of the right food that is.

To add real irony to the situation, the solution could be hatched from the same sustainable, empowering and mutually rewarding ideal people apply to ending poverty. Get a garden.

The city of Portland is looking at ways of expanding its community garden program to include more low-income individuals and families. It should be a standard pairing with the efforts to create more affordable housing and green construction in Portland. Today, the city's largest concentration of people living in poverty and homelessness, those in the downtown core, remain confined to a concrete jungle.

We are programmed to think the needs of the poor span the very short spectrum of food, clothing and shelter, when the most overlooked elements are that which we all treasure; to be able to take care of ourselves, to feel a part of a society. People working in the city's community garden programs report an increase in not only good food, but of hope and productivity, and even a reduction in juvenile crime. We're beyond talking just food here, we're talking about people restoring a basic need in their lives: control.

Seattle is a model in our own backyard. The city to the north has made growing your own food a priority for all citizens, with a cooperative system of sharing abundance in knowledge and crops. P-patches are common, and garden plots can be purchased and donated to low-income families. Organic food collected is distributed to people in need who cannot grow their own.

Portland is following the lead, but as it plans for higher density residential and commercial districts downtown, it needs to be pushing more garden options in the early stages of planning and development. As we continue to push for more green construction, with entire structures operating off the grid, we should be building in the infrastructure for people to live off the industrial food grid as well.

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