Tomorrow night is the last meeting of my “Menu for the Future” discussion group. This discussion group was organized by Slow Food Tennessee Valley, and incorporates essays compiled by the Northwest Earth Institute (http://www.nwei.org). The short essays are written by well-known authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollen, Marion Nestle, Steven Hopp, Frances Moore and Anna Lappé amongst others. The purpose of the discussion group is to explore the connection between food and sustainability and to share our thoughts and personal experiences–not necessarily come to consensus. Some of the topics included the effects of our modern, industrial food system on the environment, our culture and our health; the economic and ecological impacts that go hand-in-hand with how our food is grown and prepared; and how we can make a difference through our food dollars. My favorite section was on food justice issues, including ways to incorporate healthy food choices into low-income and minority demographics and the politics of hunger in America. I was particularly incensed when reading an essay by Frances Moore Lappé on hunger and scarcity. The truth is, food scarcity today is a myth. There is enough food produced today to feed the world. The problem is a lack of resources and access to healthy food. Meanwhile, our industrialized food system contributes to abuse of our soil, water and air quality so that in the not-too-distant future our food scarcity fears may be very real. Additionally, the loss of crop diversity and consolidation of seed into fewer and fewer hands due to agribusiness self-interest is a real threat to food security.
Marion Nestle asks: who benefits financially when our diets cause sickness and disease? Who benefits when there is a cheap, abundant supply of unhealthy food occupying virtually every shelf in the grocery store and on every block of our city squares? Who benefits when the burden of obesity and health is put squarely on the shoulders of the consumer, while food processors and marketers laugh all the way to the bank? Food injustice is rampant in our society and I think its important to work together to recognize this and fight for fairness and accountability in our food system. My personal belief, and one that is shared by Slow Food–is that the access to good, clean and fairly produced food is a right and not a privilege.
I thoroughly enjoyed this compilation of essays and I am sad to have it end…although I am excited for our celebratory potluck dinner that will wrap up our discussion group meetings. Maybe I will incorporate this discussion into the UT Organic Crops Internship Program this summer! Manny, Casey, Geoffrey, Shannon, Jeff–are you up for some summer reading?