Feb 8, 2009

National Climate Change Teach-in Day! OR Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ... Profit Margins?

The kids were great, some were quite punk-y, but they all had a great time! For the composting section we gave them food to eat and I don't know if you've ever seen a 6th grader eat, but they eat FAST.

Sixty-five middle schoolers and climate change makes for a pretty decent Thursday, I will say. I am on what can be best described as the Eco-Garden Planning Committee for my school's environmental club, EcoSense. One reason it is great is that I get a lot of great t-shirts, another is that I get to put theory into practice and see where improvements need to be made.

Other than planning the full-day event and training the other student-teachers, I got to teach the students about the importance of eating locally grown foods and organic foods. Despite getting briefed on the cultural differences between AU's students and the DC public school sixth- and seventh graders and despite my cross-cultural communications study background, I faltered time and again when group after group of kids had never heard the word "organic" and, most of all, had rarely shopped at a grocery store. The green movement is largely white upper middle class and for good reason - it's expensive to get organic food. Most of these kids come from neighborhoods where there are few, if any, grocery stores. These places they come from, where quality or healthy food isn't the easiest to access and money is tight, are called Food Deserts. Residents are now considered "food insecure" (which is really a politically correct and polished replacement for the word "hunger") and it's a pretty significant barrier to personal success.

That a physiological need like food is subject to the pursuit of profit margins is appalling to me.

Does it make sense that the people who can afford it best - those who live in the suburbs - have access to the least expensive food while those who need it most - inner city residents who may or may not even have access to a car or reliable substitute (I have no clue how reliable LANTA is) - have their food outlets few and far between? Of course, it makes sense if you simply look at the laws of supply and demand. It makes sense that a grocery chain is likely to situate itself in an area where most of the residents are not on food stamps and tend to do things like bring snacks in to their child's 3rd grade classroom and host dinner parties, but I mean from a social perspective. From an economic development perspective, would anyone really be interested in moving into an area where there's not a place to get food?

This phenomenon isn't limited to D.C. - Allentown and the Lehigh Valley has plenty of evidence to attest to this. In my experience, I can say that there are a heck of a lot more grocery stores with a much wider and more affordable selection in the suburbs than in the city, just drive from one end of Tilghman street to the other.

Food Security - no, let's just call it what it is, hunger- Hunger is one of the directions my studies are taking me. Hopefully, I'll learn some practical ways to combat this through my EcoSense-sponsored forays into teaching gardening and cooking to these middle schoolers (we've got an ongoing partnership with Brightwood school) and the Rooting D.C. community garden conference on the 21st.



j black said...

Cool, yet sad topic. IT is like this in Center City Allentown. Even the "wannabe" grocery stores are MORE expensive than the GIANTS and WEGMANS in Allentown. If you don't have a car, and forget grocery shopping with these local busses, your diet is bad, to say the least. Can you say 25 cent potato chips and 2 for a dollar honey buns for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ?

Alfonso Todd

Katie Bee said...

@alfonso- the potato chips and honey buns are exactly it! when you're hungry and don't have cash to burn, you're going to go for as many calories per dollar as you can and, sometimes, honey buns are it.