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this nyt infographic

Megan Betz

So, about a week ago this New York Times infographic, combined with rewatching the documentary Food Fight and re-reading Julie Guthman's "Bringing good food to others" while preparing lesson plans, brought a few things to a head for me, and I wanted to share them briefly here. 

First, this New York Times graphic. Jeremy Ashkenas asked, "Can you live on minimum wage?" As one Facebook friend commenting on the article said, "In short, 'No.' In long, 'Noooooo.'" The interactive page allows you to set your state then enter bills to see what life would be like on the poverty line. After paying rent and my monthly bills--which for our apartment are only Internet and water--I had a bit of cash for groceries. Paying off credit card debt left me, well, far deeper in debt. Forget about student loan payments.

I recently watched Food Fight, a movie with the tagline, "Revolution never tasted so good." I was curious how the revolution would be framed. Who is asking whom to do what? Who's stirring up this revolution? Scattered in with the usual bashes at Earl Butz and the reminder to shop the perimeter of the grocery store was this burning story of revolution--one led by Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters, along with famous chefs of California and the organic farmers who supply them, remind viewers that seasonal tastes better. That we need to be teaching our students how to prepare and recognize real food. 

These aren't sentiments I disagree with. But what feels most urgent and important is what the documentary cast aside. More than midway through the documentary, Erika Allen of Growing Power commented that this call to eat seasonally is in some ways elitist. The documentary cuts to Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, laughing and admitting that the movement can be elitist. End scene. The film carries on, briefly commenting on the food deserts of low-income neighborhoods. The film closes with what has become the mantra of locavores across the nation: Vote with your fork. Change the system with your choices.

This false message of change through individual, isolated behavior and a casting off of the elitism that all sides of local food projects sense left a horrible taste in my mouth--a taste worse than tomatoes picked green and left to ripen in transit (by, most likely, migrant workers paid far below the minimum wages listed in that New York Times page). But it leaves us with a key question unanswered: If it takes more than a produce aisle to refresh a food desert, then how do we build projects that unite communities around larger-scale, systemic change?

In "Bringing good food to others", Julie Guthman suggests that the implicit whiteness of alternative food projects may be blinding us to other, more inclusive alternatives. I wonder how Food Fight could have addressed revolution or larger-scale change--and how local food advocates could push for larger-scale change--if those who are often cast as in need of saving have more power and voice. These are the conversations I'm most excited to have with my students in just a few weeks.