Por Jennifer De Anda Plascencia
Our food system has been, is, and will continue to be, at least in the near future, flawed and inadequate in offering equal food access to all. As mentioned by Ana Galvis in her Food First article, “El sistema alimentario es injusto e insostenible, pero no está roto – funciona precisamente como el sistema alimentario capitalista siempre ha funcionado; concentrando el poder en manos de una minoría privilegiada y distribuyendo desproporcionadamente las ‘externalidades’ sociales y ambientales a grupos raciales estigmatizados.” Like Galvis explains, our food system is rooted in capitalist and racist practices that concentrate access to healthy and nutritious foods in the hands of white and wealthy communities, whereas low-income communities of color are oftentimes categorized as food swamps. While one may see Whole Foods supermarkets and Trader Joe’s grocery stores in places like Westwood and Beverly Hills, there are few to none of these stores in places like South Gate and Boyle Heights. Instead, these low-income communities of color see an abundance of liquor stores and fast-food chains. For example, South Central is a historically under resourced and predominantly Black and Latinx region of Los Angeles and it was only until the USC Village was built that this community saw a store like Trader Joe’s with more healthy and organic food options. It took the expansion of a wealthy and predominately white institution to bring healthier food options into a community that would otherwise be ignored by our food system.
So how can we address some of the issues within our food system that further marginalize groups of people who are already struggling? One approach is urban agriculture and community gardens like the one at 24th Street Elementary School. Urban agriculture, according to Wikipedia, is “the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas.” Given the fact that many of those who live in low-income and under resourced communities are often concentrated around large metropolitan cities and lack access to unprocessed healthy foods, gardening and growing food is a great way to address the absence of nutritional foods in said communities. As Tatiana was mentioning to us during our visit to 24th Street Elementary School, not only do the students get to spend quality time outside while gardening but they also get to learn the basics of how to cultivate different foods that they then get to share with their families. If this were to be done on a larger level, the impact could greatly address some of the obstacles low-income communities of color face in relation to our faulty food system. However, it is important to note that “…growing food isn’t enough. We need to address the structural, industrial, and environmental determinants that reinforce racism in our society” (Washington). Although community gardens and growing food in urban areas are steps in the right direction, more must be done to rid society of the institutions and systems in place that allowed for our food system to function the way it does.
I have gone on a rollercoaster with this class. From having to get D-clearance because I’m not a Spanish major to the registration being closed and somehow, miraculously, ending up with a spot, this class has stood out among others and has easily become my favorite class at USC. Profe Portnoy and her SPAN 385 class have taught me about the cultural importance of food, how food impacts identity, the ways in which food and cooking are gendered, the absence of nutritious, healthy, and culturally appropriate food in low-income and under resourced communities, and many other topics. Through our deep and meaningful discussions about these topics I felt as though I was getting to understand my mother and her relationship with cooking a bit better, while also learning about street vendors, food justice, and Latinx food culture. One of the topics we discussed, which we read about in Professor Abarca’s book Voices in the Kitchen, was the kitchen as a space versus a place and this resonated with me because of my own experiences in the kitchen as a young Mexican woman and because of my mom’s love for the kitchen and cooking. Professor Abarca does a great job at differentiating between the kitchen as a place that limits women and enforces gender roles/norms and the kitchen as a space for women to have agency and creative liberty. While my mom views the kitchen as a space, given her love for cooking and experimenting with recipes, I oftentimes view the kitchen as a place meant to restrict me. Although I know cooking is an essential life skill and although I do sometimes enjoy it, I have seen the way the women in my life are forced to prep, cook, and clean at all times simply because of their gender. I want cooking to be something I enjoy and something I seek to do rather than something I must do because I am a woman. Overall, this class has made me reflect on my life and the role food plays in it. I hope to continue learning about food this summer as I explore Oaxaca and its cuisine with the Profe, can’t wait!
Galvis, Ana. “Desmantelando El Racismo Del Sistema Alimentario.” Food First, https://foodfirst.org/desmantelando-el-racismo-del-sistema-alimentario/.
“Urban Agriculture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 Mar. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_agriculture.
Washington, Karen. “Op-Ed: How Urban Agriculture Can Fight Racism in the Food System.” Civil Eats, 16 July 2020, https://civileats.com/2020/07/10/op-ed-how-urban-agriculture-can-fight-racism-in-the-food-system/.