Friday, October 23, 2009

The continuing conversation about the 'food desert'

Further thoughts re the generous and thoughtful responses to my ‘food desert’ post. 

I do very much understand that individuals have little/no control over headers, headlines, or photos used in media.  As a performer for many years I became used to being misquoted in even the simplest interview!  My sending my remarks directly to Common Good City Farm was not to find fault in any way with their work or the gardener being profiled.  I wanted to share my response to the article in general and let them know where I felt ‘flavor mag’ had miss-stepped with their introductory header.  
That being said I still have strong feelings about the term ‘food desert’ and a wish that we continue to search for a less problematic phrase.  I come at these feelings from a long life of interest in food.  For over 40 years I have gardened and taught home cooking.  During one decade my husband and I farmed 160 acres of South Dakota homestead land growing organic pinto beans and cultivating a 3 acre market garden. So I’ve raised a great deal of food, sold a lot of food, given away a lot of food, and even counseled WIC mothers on prenatal and breast feeding nutrition.  I really care about food. 
These days I supply eggs from our small flock of Buff Orpingtons to a micro-enterprise run by members of the Quality Community Counsel in Charlottesville. (www.cvilleqcc.com ) When I am wearing my historian’s hat I talk about the history of African American foodways, American culinary and agricultural history and, more and more, how those histories tie in to contemporary health issues in the African American community.  Over and over I have opportunity to talk to other black women who are active in this battle for food justice and I find I am not alone in my misgivings about the term ‘food desert.’  I think we are made uncomfortable by the almost flip way it rolls off the tongue.  Please understand, I am not accusing any one of actually being flip – it’s just that easy phrases sometimes have a way of sounding flip when such an interpretation is least meant.  The words have a pejorative ring to it them, and while meant to implicate and castigate the grocers and outside entities who ignore the urban poor, seems to include the urban poor in its sweep.  There’s just something bleak and discouraging about it.  On top of which it is not the dirt under the finger nails activists (black, white, urban, rural) who typically use this phrase.  Instead it is becoming easy media header language when addressing issues of food justice. Now if we do need a quick inclusive phrase to head an article, I personally would not be at all uncomfortable with ‘urban greedy bastard syndrome.’    But that’s just me.

Email Oct 22
Common Good City Farm
Hi Leni,
Thanks for your email.  I agree. I
'm not sure how much you have worked with
publications, but we don
't get to choose titles and headlines often, so
that part what not up to us.  Not that I am giving you an excuse, but we
don
't even get to choose the photos they use (or take).
Sounds like you have some interesting thoughts and passions.  I hope you
are involved or will get involved with the inner-city food communities
wherever you are. People need inspiration to continue the work they do.
They need neighbors and words of encouragement and positivity. If we spend
time nit picking terms people use, we are spending energy that could be
well spent making construction impact to people
's lives.  I agree with your
statements about the article, but nonetheless, it
's an article in a
publication that is being read by many people-far and wide in this
region-from all walks of life. If articles like this even spur a tiny new
thought of recognition to our cities less advantaged people, to changing
our industrialized food systems so they can be more equal and enable access
for all and support our small farms, then they are worthwhile.  We can find
wrong in everything.  And we can find right in most of those things as
well. We are feeding people who don
't have access to fresh food easily.  We
are teaching kids how tomatoes grow and teaching adults how to cook with
chard.  We are facilitating communication between kids and adults who share
stories and pass on culture.  Whether we are a "food dessert or not, the
nearest grocery store is almost a half mile away.  And the closest and most
convenient place for food is a corner store, without produce for sale.  We
have a long way to go to continue to improve the work we do and influence
it, but nonetheless, I believe we are making at least a tiny difference.
And that to me, is inspirational and worth waking up for.  The child who
planted a tree yesterday came back today to make sure it was alive and had
water.  Yesterday, she didn
't know trees needed water.

Warm regards for a brighter and healthier future for all,



RE: Email Oct 22
The FLAVOR editor sent me a very detailed and interesting article that will appear in their fall issue; it also contains a sidebar on the origins/uses of the term ‘food deserts.’   
I recommend it.
Flavor Magazine, oct./nov. 2009 • flavormags.com
A Desert in Our Midst - September was National Food Desert Awareness Month.
So just what is a food desert?
Zora Margolis
Zora Margolis has lived in Washington, D.C., since 1996. She wrote about the Dupont
Circle farmers market in the Aug./Sept. issue of Flavor and co-hosts the farmers market forum on www.donrockwell.com, D.C.’s popular food lovers’ discussion site.