Thanksgiving / Black Friday: What about “food justice” in America?


 Soup kitchen
Gratitude and consumption are twin themes during the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving proper is the traditional day of gratitude and an abundance of food, followed the next day by the retail frenzy known as Black Friday.

At least that’s the way it is for the lucky ones. Many Americans are denied the experience of abundance. Many have trouble putting food on the table.

About one in four children in America go hungry on a regular basis. The prolonged recession has made things even worse. About 15% of U.S. households were “food insecure” in 2008, the highest level since 1995, the first year the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracked this measure. The number in 2009 will be even higher.

Food insecurity means that families don’t have enough money for food or have to cut the size of meals. Even when there is money for food, there’s not enough for balanced meals. Children raised in food-insecure families are at higher risk of health and development problems, compared to children who can count on a good meal.

Food insecurity isn’t limited to low-income households. Middle class American families have also reduced spending on food over the past several years and are experiencing rising levels of food insecurity.

The prevalence of food insecurity in Canada is about half that of the United States. The gap is even greater for households with children. These differences can’t be explained by the economic or demographic differences between the two countries. Rather, there’s something uniquely American about food insecurity in our nation.

One answer to food insecurity is “food justice.” What is food justice? Here’s how the People’s Grocery defines it:

“We believe everyone should have access to healthy food, regardless of income. We call this ‘food justice’—the belief that healthy food is a human right. The food system is failing to provide low-income people with the healthy foods they need to thrive. It is also failing to create good jobs and support local food businesses in urban communities. So People’s Grocery works toward creating a food system that centralizes the needs of the urban poor and develop programs and enterprises that produce and distribute fresh foods, provide nutrition education, promote urban agriculture and create local jobs.”
Peoples Market mobile market    

People’s Grocery was founded in 2002 to serve West Oakland, an inner-city, low-income neighborhood in Oakland, California. The neighborhood has plenty of bars and convenience stores, but no grocery stores. Residents of West Oakland suffer high food insecurity and all the problems that stem from that basic problem.

That’s where People’s Grocery steps in. The organization runs a greenhouse, urban gardens, and a small farm. Its Mobile Market—a grocery on wheels—provides fresh produce, packaged foods, and bulk foods at affordable prices. People’s Grocery offers cooking and nutrition classes, a monthly People’s Grub party that gives away food, community outreach, and training and employment opportunities for young residents.

(Watch a video of People’s Grocery here.)

Did you know about People’s Grocery? Do you know of similar efforts in your community?

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