Feeding Democracy While Serving Dinner by Gina Giazzoni

Feeding Democracy While Serving Dinner

by Gina Giazzoni

Food Sovereignty is a burgeoning movement transferring food production and distribution to those who are now literally starved for lack of control. Food should be grown with the primary purpose of eating – not sold as a commodity. Processing of food should allow people to store it in their homes – not ship in trucks or boats, or store it in a warehouse or on a grocery shelf for years. Distribution should ensure that hungry people get good food in their bellies. And the food that people consume should be connected to culture: to our grandparents’ food secrets and recipes.

Over the past few months, staff and members of Weaver’s Way Food Co-op, staff and students from Martin Luther King High School’s Seeds for Learning Farm met to form the Northwest Philadelphia Food Justice Alliance and organize food justice in West Oak Lane where the need is urgent. When grumblings of belly hunger become a chronic roar, a hamburger and a milkshake satisfy faster than a salad. Fast food industrial profits mushroom by relieving chronic hunger pangs with cheap fat and sugar. Yum Brands Inc., parent of the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC predicts $1.54 billion dollars in profits this year. After saturating low-income neighborhoods across this country, they began gobbling poor people worldwide—expanding first to China and now to India. The hidden health cost to chronically hungry people is more than $1 for a satisfying value meal. This is the food that eats people. Low-income people disproportionately suffer from diet-related diseases such as diabetes, resulting from obesity.

By contrast, Food Sovereignty builds a colorful and fragrant vision outside the industrial food system, challenging inequities that depress, sicken, and ultimately kill people and communities. More food is grown within regions and neighborhoods, reducing dependence on remote boardrooms. Seeds are saved to ensure vitality of small farms, and biodiversity. Scraps are recycled to build soil for organic cropping. Farmers and farm workers are honored and rewarded for civilization’s most essential labor.

The Food Justice movement recognizes that hunger is profitable to those few who buy our politicians, but hurts the rest of us. Though income is the widely accepted source of this disparity, Food Justice asserts that structural inequalities and power imbalances of our food systems underlie the racial inequities of hunger. According to The Food Trust, one in three poor adults in Philadelphia reports fair or poor quality of groceries in their neighborhood. Only 11 percent of white adults report having fair or poor quality groceries, compared to 31 percent of African-American adults, 24 percent of Latinos and 15 percent of Asians.  Broader than food security and public health, Food Justice regards class, race, and gender equity as core principles behind food access and linked to both environmental and health justice.

The Northwest Philadelphia Food Justice Alliance is partnering with West Oak Lane Senior Center, and Einstein Healthcare Network to plan a West Oak Lane Good Food Fest on February 20. The event will feature cooking demonstrations guided by senior citizens, who will pass their skills and cooking expertise to community members seeking community-led alternatives to fast food. Recognizing the influence that teens have among youngsters in the community, students who work at Seeds for Learning Farm will guide youngsters in preparing wholesome snacks and planting seedlings for their homes.

There is no magic pill, no Food Justice Headquarters, no single leader or perfect organization that will rise to create food democracy. Instead, the answers sprout from the rich cultures and traditions that already exist in our communities. Recognizing this, Food Sovereignty challenges not only the corporate profit motives that sicken and hunger people, but also the structural hierarchies, including an undemocratic government that has well-fed, wealthy leaders, legislating policies on behalf of hungry people. By collectively organizing in our communities we can demand the right to food justice and promote food sovereignty through projects that support people’s control of our food systems.

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