The food system in the US is one that favors the wealthy, and this is by design. Karen Washington argues that our food system is not broken, but “working exactly the way it’s supposed to: as a caste system based on demographics, economics, and race” (Washington). There exists a deep structural racism that underpins the issues that marginalized communities face when it comes to accessing healthy and affordable food. The current food system is controlled by white men, and marginalized communities that are predominantly people of color have no ownership or control over the system, and Washington states that laws enforce this lack of control. This results in serious problems for those living in these neighborhoods. Ron Finley offers the perfect example of this issue, South LA: “This is South Los Angeles. Liquor stores, fast food, vacant lots” (Finley). The unjust food system results in a lack of access to healthy food and therefore high rates of obesity, and a severe lack of proper nutritional education.
The solution to solve these problems with the food system is to take back control over food ownership. As Finley says: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money” (Finley). By growing your own food, you are able to take more control over what you eat and circumvent the unfair food system. Finley’s vegetable gardens in South LA are evidence to the potential for this to succeed. Another example is 24th Street Elementary, and the work that Garden School Foundation has done there. As we learned from Tatiana, some of what the garden in the school does includes feeding families who need it through donations and giving children important food education on cooking and nutrition. It is clearly a bastion of food justice and community health. However, while growing food is a start, Washington elaborates that there exists a bigger need to change the dynamics of the power structure itself. Marginalized communities should own their food economy not just through growing food but learning about financial literacy, building social capital, and building wealth. She offers the example of the Black Farmer Fund, which helps put back the power in the hands of minorities.
Unfortunately, these solutions are still very difficult to implement. The apathy shown by the government towards these problems means that the communities are often entirely on their own or fighting against the government if they want to take back control. There is also the fact that the nature of many big cities discourages ownership of food systems. Alvarado writes about community gardens in Los Angeles: “El elevado costo de la propiedad, la falta de espacios y la escasez de agua son las principales barreras para que abran más aquí” (Alvarado). Such drawbacks mean that communities trying to take control of food systems are always fighting an uphill battle.
I went into this class knowing virtually nothing about Hispanic food, or the culture of food in LA. Although I am much more educated now having spent a semester learning about it, what I am happier about is the fact that I have now discovered an entire universe of food that is still mostly unexplored and that I enjoy immensely. I also greatly appreciated the field trips, because through those I was able to ground my learning in real life contexts to solidify it with concrete examples. Some of my highlights throughout the class include the octopus tacos I had at Holbox, eating ceviche while we were exploring Peruvian food, making our own Lomo saltado, and trying mole for the first time.
In terms of the themes of what we learned in class, two of my favorites to learn about were street vendors and the idea of cultural/culinary appropriation. These were two themes that I had limited knowledge of before, and exploring street vendors as some of the unsung heroes in the food system and the controversies around culinary appropriation really interested me. I was also surprised but fascinated that many of the themes we studied in class I could easily relate to my past experiences growing up in India and Indonesia. This really helped me with my understanding and gave me a personal connection to everything we learned.
I hope to take these experiences and what I have learned and continue exploring Latinx food and culture in the years to come. This was one of if not the best class I have taken at USC, and it was certainly the most unique and engaging.
Alvarado, Isaías. “Migrantes ‘Sanan’ En Jardines Comunitarios.” La Opinión, La Opinión, 6 Sept. 2014, https://laopinion.com/2014/09/06/migrantes-sanan-en-jardines-comunitarios/.
Finley, Ron. “A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central LA.” TED Talk. TED2013, Feb. 2013.
Washington, Karen. “Op-Ed: How Urban Agriculture Can Fight Racism in the Food System.” Civil Eats, 10 July 2020, https://civileats.com/2020/07/10/op-ed-how-urban-agriculture-can-fight-racism-in-the-food-system/.