By Maddie House
At 24th street elementary school community garden, the students in the school take gardening classes where they learn to grow and cook healthy, fresh foods. In a community that faces many inequities, particularly in access to food, the garden serves as a community center to promote long-term healthy eating and health. Families are able to pick up food when necessary, and pre-COVID, the garden was open to anyone in the community. The program also focuses on the well-being of the environment by having a compost system and a lunch system that prevents wasting of food. Saving trash from going to the landfill and taking action to mitigate the effects of climate change also contribute to long-term healthy changes in marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental health challenges like climate change. This type of urban gardening is a powerful way to combat food insecurity and food apartheid.
Many under-resourced communities are classified as food swamps (or food deserts) meaning there is an abundance of unhealthy food options like fast food and liquor stores with very few health options like farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Even when healthy options are available, they might be inaccessible to the community. For example, healthy food options in USC Village are expensive, which makes them unreasonable and effectively unavailable to many members of the surrounding community. Food swamps disproportionately impact communities of color and those with low socioeconomic status. Racist practices like redlining have led to lasting housing segregation in the U.S. and have facilitated drastic racial inequities in access to healthy food options, which has massive implications on health. In discussing the food injustices, Karen Washington says, “the food system is not broken; it’s working exactly the way it’s supposed to: as a caste system based on demographics, economics, and race,” meaning that the creation of food swamps has been the result of these purposeful racist systems in place.
One of the ways that’s been proposed to fight food apartheid is urban gardening because it provides healthy food options and also strengthens the community, socially and economically, while benefiting the overall environment and creating a space for safe physical activity. Washington talks about finding solutions that empower the communities and take advantage of their strengths and social capital. Food banks and charity organizations don’t do anything to give power and influence to the local community. In communities that face injustices as a result of lack of power, finding ways to make changes by altering the power dynamics that exist can provide much longer lasting and effective changes. Community gardens and farmers markets that provide economic and social opportunities contribute to positive change in many different aspects of marginalized communities. Professor Portnoy discusses many other benefits of community gardens saying, “gardening is not only a therapeutic act for those suffering from mental and physical illness. A 2014 study on the benefits of gardening and food growing for health and wellbeing discusses benefits like promoting social inclusion for excluded groups such as immigrants” (Portnoy, 161). Gardens like the one at 24th street elementary school can provide financial opportunities (and economic independence), outdoor space, and social support, along with healthy, affordable food options.
However, Washington says that, “growing food isn’t enough: We need to address the structural, industrial, and environmental determinants that reinforce racism in our society.” Our food systems and food injustices are inseparable from the racism that permeates throughout our society, so the only way to fully remove food injustices requires the removal of racism from all of our systems and institutions- in schools, the healthcare system, housing, and everything else.
Taking this class has been such a fun and interesting way to explore Latinx culture in Los Angeles. I really enjoyed exploring how gentrification, globalization, cultural appropriation, and family all connect to different food-related issues. I especially loved being able to learn about issues in-person from people with direct experience, like being able to talk to Merced Sanchez about her experience as a street vendor. She talked a lot about the power of community and the struggles of gathering people who are scared of legal issues due to immigration status and/or the harsh criminalization of street vending. I also appreciated the importance of family in her food story; family and culture were an important part of food throughout the course- from my own family food culture in the first blog to Villa’s Taco’s entrepreneurship out of his grandma’s house.
My favorite field trip was to Boyle Heights because we got to learn about gentrification and gentefication from people who actually own businesses in the neighborhood, while also eating incredible food! I loved talking to the owners of Café Café and learning more about the work that they do to help the community, like the fridge that anyone can take from and add to. It’s also been so much fun to support businesses that I now know a lot about and care about—I’ve been back many times with my friends to Café Café! Finally, my favorite topic of the semester was food injustices because it connects topics I’ve learned about in my major, Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, to Latinx culture in LA. It’s really powerful to learn simultaneously about the beauty of different food cultures and the diet limitations many face in the U.S. resulting from racist structures.
Portnoy, Sarah. «Urban Agriculture and Latino Roots in Los Angeles.» Food, Health, and Culture in Latino Los Angeles, Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Washington, Karen. «How Urban Agriculture Can Fight Racism in the Food System.» Civil Eats, 2020. https://civileats.com/2020/07/10/op-ed-how-urban-agriculture-can-fight-racism-in-the-food-system/.