Por Bethany Lum
With all the movements against American obesity and a push toward healthy living, it may seem like the nation is on the right track in terms of good food practices. However, these movements completely ignore the fact that about 15.6 million households are food insecure, meaning that they have limited access to adequate amounts of food to survive (Odoms-Young & Bruce). What’s more, these movements also neglect to mention that food insecurity affects certain racial groups disproportionately. As seen in the graph below, black and latino families have consistently higher rates of food insecurity than white and non-hispanic households (Holt-Giménez and Harper). An article by Eric Holt-Giménez and Breeze Harper calls out this “good food” movement, stating that even “with its plethora of projects for organic agriculture, permaculture, healthy food, community supported agriculture, farmers markets and corner store conversions— [it] tends to address the issue of racism unevenly” (Holt-Giménez and Harper). Many times, access to these “good food” changes are only available to those privileged enough to afford it which unfortunately excludes many non-white minority groups. The food system is inherently capitalist and serves those who have the means to pay. This leads to structural racism that discriminates against people with fewer resources, typically racial minorities.
Structural racism, whether intentional or not, exists in all parts of our world, from the education system to the economy and beyond. At the university level, race affects the way that students are perceived in classrooms and the academic space. In the workforce, studies show that if two identical candidates are presented to employers, the candidate with a more distinctively black name is about 10% less likely to get a call back (Brancaccio et al). As a pre-health student, the stark gaps in care and good health outcomes between racial groups is very concerning. Studies show that «minority persons are less likely than white persons to be given appropriate cardiac care, to receive kidney dialysis or transplants, and to receive the best treatments for stroke, cancer, or AIDS» (Bridges). While it is one thing to have decreased economic opportunities or social mobility because of your race, having your lifespan affected solely due to race is out of the question for me.
It is easy to think that these things are only happening in other parts of the country, but structural racism clearly exists in the south central area purely based on the lack of access to healthy food. If I were a South L.A. resident, it would be very difficult to access fresh produce and healthy food options. Depending on whether or not I have a car, my transportation options would be severely limited. I would maybe have access to some fruits and vegetables through the Trader Joe’s, Target, Ralph’s, or Smart & Final stores near USC. However, produce tends to go bad quickly, requiring frequent trips to the store to keep them in stock at home. If I am not able to travel to these grocery stores frequently, it may be difficult to consistently have fresh produce as part of my diet. The only other option to shop at corner stores, where produce is in short supply if it is stocked at all. In addition, my ability to purchase fruits and vegetables would be limited by my salary. Unhealthy alternatives like chips and other processed foods are much cheaper and when it comes to getting the necessary calories to survive, you have to take what you can get. Growing food in my own garden may be the best solution, but without external support, it can take a lot of startup capital that I may not be able to afford. In addition, gardens require a lot of time and effort. If I am working long hours to support myself, I may not be able to produce a successful harvest if I am unable to give my garden the attention it needs. Even if all of these conditions are met, having the space to start a garden in an urban requirement requires a lot of space that may not be available to me if I live in a small apartment.
It’s hard to pinpoint any one particular solution when it comes to such system-wide problems like structural racism. It is wholly engrained throughout the fabric of our society. However, an op-ed in Civil Eats offers some advice. Author Karen Washington states, “The dynamics have to change so that people of color have wealth and power… In order for that to change, we have to change the way we look at ourselves and change the language of being called poor” (Washington). Some steps in this direction have included the promotion of minority leaders in politics and governmental positions. Having a voice in the room where policies are made is essential to creating spaces for minority businesses and allowing minorities to take ownership in the economy. The efforts of 24th St Elementary School contribute greatly to educating the newer generations about food insecurity and the importance of community gardens in providing people in food deserts with access to fresh produce. It was very eye-opening to see how much of a difference the garden makes in the lives of the students and how enthusiastic they are to learn more about these issues. Even working for half an hour in the garden, I was able to see how gratifying and unifying gardening can be, increasing the sense of camaraderie and pride in one’s community. It gives me great hope for the future, knowing that students are being made aware of these issues at such an early age so that they have the rest of their lives to start thinking of solutions. The further analysis of these issues continues with classes like SPAN-385, teaching undergraduate students to be cognizant of these issues and equipping them with the education they need to be able to make lasting change in the future.
Our class this semester was my favorite Spanish class by far. As a self-proclaimed foodie, it was awesome to be able to try all these different foods and learn more about the foodscape of Hispanic Los Angeles. My favorite food experience in particular was the trip to Milpa Grille. For me, it really drove home the connection between some of my favorite topics in class and the commercial food world. The way that Cafe Cafe and Macheen came together to support one another during the pandemic was reminiscent of the paisano network described in the Rosales reading on fruteros. The topics of authenticity and food injustice were brought up at Milpa Grille when we discussed their use of a traditional Mesopotamian milpa and their community fridge project. On top of that, coffee and tacos are literally two of my favorite things in this world, so getting to have high-quality versions of both was a glorious start to the trip. I also really enjoyed getting to make tortillas with Merced and her granddaughter. That was really such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and even though my tortillas came out a little funky, I know that they were made with love. Our visit to Tirsa’s taught me about the beauty of making food for others, which I felt when cooking food for my group’s cultural food presentations. I will always have fond memories of the fun videos of my classmates visiting restaurants and making food together. I learned a lot about country-specific cuisine and will be definitely trying those recipes out on my own sometime in the future!
Brancaccio, David, et al. “New Research Shows Racial Discrimination in Hiring Is Still Happening at the Earliest Stages.” Marketplace, 3 Aug. 2021, https://www.marketplace.org/2021/08/03/new-research-shows-racial-discrimination-in-hiring-is-still-happening-at-the-earliest-stages/.
Bridges, Khiara M. “Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care.” American Bar Association, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/the-state-of-healthcare-in-the-united-states/racial-disparities-in-health-care/.
Holt-Giménez, Eric, and Breeze Harper. “Dismantling Racism in the Food System.” Institute for Food & Development Policy, 2016, https://foodfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/DR6_final-3.pdf.
Odoms-Young, Angela, and Marino A Bruce. “Examining the Impact of Structural Racism on Food Insecurity: Implications for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities.” Family & Community Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5823283/.
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/.