Por Anya Khurana
Food justice, or food injustice, is an issue often discussed in my public health classes. Too often, health problems such as diabetes and heart disease are blamed on unhealthy lifestyle choices, when the truth is, many people don’t have a choice in what food is available in their communities. Many people operate under the impression that diabetes and heart disease are preventable – and they can be, but only for people who have access to nutritious food, to gyms and green space, to doctors who catch these conditions early, and who can afford medication to treat them. In his TED talk Ron Finley said, “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys”. If we know what is causing the problem, why is this the case?
Like many “wicked” and “unsolvable” problems in our society, food justice is a multilayered issue that is simply a facet of the larger problems of unfettered capitalism and structural racism. Wealth inequality, which grows with each subsequent generation, means that there are many families that can’t afford to eat “healthy”. A happy meal is cheap and easy but cooking a balanced and nutritious meal requires time and money that not everyone can spare. Wealth inequality can be observed along racial and ethnic lines: here in LA and in most large cities, Black and Brown folks bear the brunt of these issues. People of color are more likely to live in areas with environmental hazards (due to redlining and discriminatory zoning) and are more likely to have low SES, preventing them from moving away. Racial discrimination and low SES contribute to chronic stress and decreased access to nutritious food. Low SES and racial discrimination in healthcare settings affect access to high quality healthcare. All these issues magnify each other and contribute the disparities in physical and mental health outcomes and the life expectancy of certain groups.
In Karen Washington’s article for Civil Eats, she discusses “tapping into social capital”. I wholeheartedly agree – capitalism is an inherently exploitative system, so it makes sense that something different would be needed to break this cycle of disempowerment. I believe that community gardens, as she mentions, are a great way to do this, in addition to putting more energy into other mutual aid initiatives such as community fridges and entrepreneurial aid, such as what Milpa Grille offers. Washington states, “We are trying to change the system so that the power of financial literacy and economic development is in the hands of people who have been oppressed”. As she mentions later in the article, systems that rely on charitable organizations such as soup kitchens are only band-aid solutions – true empowerment requires that people be in control of their own choices and lives.
I was very inspired by our trip to the Garden School Foundation; their mission, to work on “strengthening connections between food justice, environmental stewardship, and community health”, is an excellent example of communities empowering themselves and their children. In particular, I think working with children is so important, because they take these lessons with them into the world. It was clear that the students loved having the opportunity to participate in the garden and to learn about health, the environment, and nutrition.
I have greatly enjoyed taking this class. In my four years at USC, I have never taken a class that was specific to LA and being able to learn more about its culture and history (even as I’m about to leave) was very meaningful. I liked that we were able to explore places as a class – in fact, I had never been to any of the places we went to on field trips.
Food and food culture are complex topics, but we were able to explore a wide variety of topics in class. In particular, I appreciated our discussion about gentrification and our trip to Boyle Heights, and I enjoyed watching and talking the documentaries made by USC alumni. I am not a very artistic person, so I always am interested in seeing other peoples’ art and hearing their thought processes while creating. After taking this class, I will definitely be more mindful of how food and food culture affect the me, my community, and society at large. As I said in one of my previous blogs, we are what we eat – and it’s up to us to know what we are consuming.
Finley, Ron. “A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central LA.” Ron Finley: A Guerrilla Gardener in South Central LA | TED Talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerrilla_gardener_in_south_central_la?language=en.
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/.