"Food for All" was the mantra of a conference on food quality and equity that I attended this past weekend, the Sustainable South Sound Food Summit.
It was primarily a brainstorming session on the six topics that comprise the "Whole Measures Food Systems" concept. The six core ideas that comprise a Whole Food System are-
*Justice and Fairness
*Thriving Local Economies
Before breaking into groups to discuss the specific topics within the whole measures food system, we were provided some statistics about the current state of our county and state as related to family and individuals' access to wholesome food (farmers markets, grocery stores, food banks, meals on wheels, etc.), SNAP benefits (food stamps) and the WIC program. I was surprised and saddened to hear that in my wonderful, progressive community, that 1 in 10 people are still "food insecure", meaning that at any given time, they do not know where their next meal is coming from.
How can this be, in the land of plenty?
The other stat that literally sent gasps up in the room was that more than 50% of SNAP benefits are redeemed at convenience stores. I find that heartbreaking.
It would be a gross oversimplification, and indeed simply unfair to say that these convenience store shoppers are all frittering away their food budget on junk foods. The fact of the matter is, that many of the citizens that qualify for these benefits also face challenges with transportation, and therefore utilize convenience stores more often, simply because of their convenient location and 24/7 accessibility.
It can't be ignored though, that some do choose to use their food dollars on non-nutritive choices like soda, sports drinks and snack foods (as do an alarming number of non-food stamp users), and are thereby really not taking the best advantage of their food dollar.
So the challenge on this particular front is multi-faceted.
1 - How do we make better choices more accessible to everyone - our elderly, shut-ins, latchkey kids, homeless, working parents, students, etc.? Everyone.
2 - How can we make wholesome foods competitive with pre-packaged, ready-to-eat convenience foods like chips, hot dogs, lunchables, candy, etc., as far as ease of preparation, portability, price point and so forth?
3 - How do we cultivate a taste for good food in populations that have grown used to eating substandard, highly processed "foods"?
4 - (And this is one of my major pet peeves) How do we remove the stigma that organic and whole foods are upscale or unattainable luxuries?
Keep in mind that this is just one of many aspects of the emerging food crisis. If Fritos and Twinkies weren't made with federally subsidized GMO crops, they wouldn't be cheaper than their wholesome counterparts. So without going too crazy-political on you, I'd encourage you to think about, and learn more about our country's highly flawed farm bill, and how it has, after starting out with the best of intentions, become one of the smaller-scale, non-"big Ag" farmer's greatest enemies. Boiling it down to bare bones, our tax dollars are helping "Big Ag" turn out soulless, nutritionally inferior, cloned food. :(
I could probably go on forever about my feelings and ideas surrounding farming, food and food policy, but in the interest of getting this post up, after laboring over and pecking at it for nearly a week now, I'm going to hit publish post now, with the promise that I will be back to finish this thought/tirade another time. :)