Spring and the Food Revolution are Here

2010 April 3
by Aaron Knoll

Spring is here, or at least it seems so as one of the hallmarks of spring is Ramp season! Which means I’m looking forward to all the wonderful fresh produce I can get here in the city. For those of you who don’t know, I’m also working on my thesis which is on CSAs and how they can be part of a solution for resolving food equity issues. So naturally, I watched some of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution which seems to be an awkward take on food justice issues.

I won’t go into too much detail about the show, but basically Jamie Oliver went to Huntington, West Virginia and he’s attempting to overthrow the food system and help an entire city to eat healthy, but in true primetime fashion he is trying to do so while ignoring the realities of poverty and historic land use patterns which have led to this situation.

Although Huntington was declared the most obese city in the nation by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006, it seems odd that he chose Huntington over other cities which also scored highly in other years’ obesity polls. For example, Memphis, TN (#1, 2007) or Birmingham, AL(#2, 2007). In choosing Huntington, he was able to avoid the prickly issue of race. Huntington’s racial makeup is unrepresentative of other cities that rank high on these lists, and unrepresentative of the United States as a whole. Huntington: 90% white while Birmingham is only 25% and Memphis is 29%. (source: Wikipedia)

Historic land use has resulted in food deserts and the negative health related impacts associated with lack of access to healthy food disproportionately affecting African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and other non-white populations. Of all the cities that he could have chosen, Huntington is a city where the uncomfortable issues of historic racial inequities are not going to be at the forefront.

Although astute viewers may note class is also an issue, he also avoids the topic. In skirting the issues of class and race, he fails to explain how this inequity has arisen. Single mothers are not trying to feed their children unhealthy food at home, nor do people eat microwave pizzas because they prefer them. Its a matter of time, that the leisure time afforded to cook your food is not common among people multiple jobs. Its time not uncommon for residents in historic communities of color that have been historically isolated from their places of work to have significantly longer commute times, which again cuts into the traditional cooking/dinner time.

I think that food equity issues should be a the forefront, and while the idea of starting a dialog about food equity is a noble goal- to do so without addressing the fundamental inequities that led to this situation is unconscionable.

Its just a shame that Jamie Oliver- whose character on the shows has his heart in the right place- is coming in and trying to be the catalyst for those changes rather than the community itself. Community advocacy planning has come a long way since Jane Jacobs and Oliver’s show is doing a disservice to those who really want to see a Food Revolution in our country.

Last 5 posts by Aaron Knoll

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