Food Fight

Do you know where this week’s pumpkin pie will come from?

That topping better be vegan...

That topping better be vegan...

And no, I don’t mean which store.

This Thursday, millions of Americans will gather to celebrate all we have to be thankful for. For most of us, that includes our daily bread and other sustenance. We all love a good meal, and we all need food. But some of us struggle every day to get enough cheap, nutritious food for ourselves and our families. The answer isn’t more soup kitchens and food pantries, though they help. The answer is using political will to address food security.

The ol' family farm

The ol' family farm, as seen in my youth

I first learned about the issue of food security a decade ago, when a friend recruited me to serve on the board of directors of the Hartford Food System (HFS). She knew I was a vegetarian (my prep for becoming vegan) and had grown up surrounded by orchards. I’m not sure she knew that one of those orchards had belonged to my grandparents. And even though I’d never wanted to be a farmer, knowing how hard they have to work, I had always felt a romantic (romanticized?) attachment to farmland and my family’s agricultural past.

HFS was and is a leader in the effort to promote food security. The food system, unfortunately, is part of the larger capitalist system, so sometimes the interests of agribusiness and grocery-store chains trump the needs of people looking for affordable, healthy food. We end up with the demise of local family farms, food “deserts” in inner cities, and health problems related to bad diet (and bad government policy influenced by the mammoth chemical and agricultural interests that dominate the production of food in this country).

I left HFS a few years ago, but the issues are always in my mind. Whenever I hear about community-supported agriculture, I think about Holcomb Farm, the organic farm HFS runs in Granby, CT. I think about the people on those farms who work long hours raising organic crops and getting them to a wide range of consumers. And living in Chicago, it’s hard not to think about food deserts and the high prices people have to pay for crappy food at the few mini-marts that might serve their needs.

I would join a CSA, except the amount of produce you get each week would overwhelm our family of two. We try to buy at farm markets, though, to help support local family farmers. And for two of the last three years, I’ve volunteered at the Family Farmed Expo. is similar to HFS, trying to address food security. The expo is one way it connects city dwellers with the local farmers around them.

farming-picThis year I worked the first day, when farmers and other people in the food industry attend seminars and meet with distributors. The last two days are for the public, and the number of vendors rises, offering samples and information. I did get a chance to taste a few local goods. Everything is organic or “responsibly farmed,” though it’s hardly all vegetarian- or vegan-friendly (I quickly walked past the grass-fed beef and other “healthy” meat and dairy products). Food security folks don’t lecture you on what you should eat, other than organic and healthy. They just want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to easily buy that kind of food. And they want to educate you about what corporate agriculture does and doesn’t do that maybe we really don’t want.

I know there is one huge problem with the whole organic/local thrust: the cost for these goods is often ridiculous. And that creates the image that the whole movement is really only for wealthy foodies. I’ll just say the farmers raising and selling most of this stuff are not making big bucks. They do it because they love being outside, connecting with nature, and producing something that is good for others. An increase in scale and maybe policy changes that stimulate demand and end breaks for agribusiness may bring down prices over time (at least I hope; I am no expert on that). Attending the Expo, and the annual Green Fest here in the city, I see how many people are drawn to the benefits of organic farming on a small scale, for both producers and consumers.

I will give thanks for this movement this Thursday, and hope it continues to grow. And I’ll wish that in a land as rich and abundant as ours, more people will work to end hunger and promote healthy agricultural practices. Ok, enough sermonizing.  Now, pass that Tofurky.


~ by mburgan on November 23, 2008.

One Response to “Food Fight”

  1. […] issue when I served on the board of the Hartford Food System (recounted a bit earlier at the Crisis here). Now, I would get a taste of the micro, at the West Haven Emergency Assistance Task Force […]

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