Farmers markets, community gardens and other trendy food alternatives tend to “benefit mostly white, economically secure, and already healthy consumers”, complaims American “scholar-activist” Garrett Broad.
Well-meaning foodies might have recognised that low-income communities, especially those of colour, suffer “food deserts” of food insecurity and obesity, but they do little more than dream about boys and girls being transformed by tomatoes from the school garden…
According to Broad in More Than Just Food: Food justice and community change, such foodie advocates downplay or ignore “systemic injustice in the labor force and other barriers to community health”, leaving them to “reify a neoliberal philosophy of market-driven self-improvement, a strategy that unintentionally absolves the government of its responsibility”.
Elsewhere, he calls this the “magic carrot” approach.
Broad’s discussion is no doubt applicable to Australia, although I was remarking only the other day how the local, self-proclaimed “Organic Foodies” market entirely lacked yuppies and hipsters.
His own polemic also introduces apparently the U.S.’s largest grassroots food access initiative, run by the Black Panthers.
In the late 1960s, Panthers chapters across the U.S. turned from armed militancy to “survival programs” — survival pending revolution. The Party fed at least 20,000 children through a Free Breakfast program in the 1968-1969 school year.
His own interest was piqued by coming across Community Services Unlimited, Inc., founded by a chapter in the mid-1970s in South Los Angeles.
The trouble for me is that Broad, as a self-described privileged, vegan scholar, misunderstands the politics.
This blog is called Meals Matter because humans are the cooking animal, coming together to distribute food, and so labour, that is, to make meals.
Happier, healthier, more sustainable meals are certainly “more than just food”.
Broad argues for more community gardens, food co-ops, and so forth, because he wants More Than Just Food. However, in his case, he wants justice.
For him, food is expressly a mere “tool” or “means”. He had “set out to investigate the social justice potential of alternative food activism”.
The Black Panthers never wanted improved nutrition alone, he says. They used food as a conversation starter in favour of social and environmental justice. They built gardens, provided nutrition education, and improved access to healthy food “in the purpose of a much larger cause. They situated food as a vehicle for a more expansive, people-of-color-led social justice project”.
For him, food serves the struggle for social justice. However, what are the oppressive “political and economic systems”, if they are not the way we eat?
He fails to appreciate that justice is a higher cause, which means less basic, as argued by the sages. Fascinated how “ideologists turn everything upside-down”, Marx and Engels observed: “The judge, for example, applies the code, he therefore regards legislation as the real active driving force”. Like the legal eagles, Broad makes justice supreme.
But justice is merely a means, a vehicle for a much larger cause, meals.
His book’s opening epigraph quotes David Hilliard, former Chief of Staff of the Black Panther Party:
We’ve always been involved in food, because food is a very basic necessity, and it’s the stuff that revolutions are made of
Broad has to ask himself: what are revolutions for? Better meals. And better meals can be near at hand.
In their stirringly-titled essay, “Waiting for the Revolution, or how to smash capitalism while working at home in your spare time”, Gibson-Graham argued that, in terms of the numbers involved, and output, “the household sector can hardly be called marginal. In fact, it can arguably be seen as equivalent to or more important than the capitalist sector.”
They gave the piece another subtitle: “Why can feminists have revolution now, while Marxists have to wait?”
Alice Waters and other foodies have proposed school gardens and hands-on cooking, because better meals lead to better meals. Her “delicious revolution” is upon us.