vegansaurus!

06/15/2011

Guest post: Food accessibility is a vegan issue  »

I was sitting at my desk, staring at my coffee, when my co-worker walked in with a bag of cherries and said, “God, organic fruit at the farmers’ market is fucking expensive.”

At least we have a farmers’ market nearby selling local, organic fruit and vegetables, I thought, and my co-worker has the resources to buy some. When discussions of veganism and privilege come up–as they seem to be doing with increased frequency—there’s some understandable defensiveness from vegans, and some valid concerns that the “veganism is for rich white people” trope is both wrong and insulting to anyone not rich or white. But there remain striking differences food access across communities. This should concern everyone, but especially us veganism advocates.

A recent survey [pdf] by the very rad Food Empowerment Project (FEP) lays out the data. Looking at Santa Clara County specifically, they found that:

“On average, higher-income areas have twice as many locations with fresh fruits and vegetables compared to the lower-income areas…14 times more locations with frozen fruit and six times more locations with frozen vegetables.… In addition to being generally less available in lower-income areas, the variety of produce is also limited in these locations.”

Some of these findings are helpfully laid out in chart form:

Other sections point out things that should be obvious to those of us who live, work, or generally exist in urban cores, but are worth stating plainly: there are fundamental differences between supermarkets and small corner groceries; meat and dairy alternatives are virtually nonexistent in many communities, despite high levels of lactose-intolerance in some of those populations; that, along with being “cash-poor,” many providers in low-income communities and communities of color are “time-poor,” way too overstretched by multiple jobs and responsibilities to travel to a distant shop for decent produce, return home, and prepare dinner. The FEP study calls this “environmental racism.” Check out the full thing, along with their recommendations, here [pdf].

Your ability to make healthy food choices shouldn’t depend on your address or income, and lack of access to fruits and vegetables amounts to a public health crisis in many places. The growing trend of farmers’ markets accepting food stamps is a welcome development: by expanding access to good food rather than restricting access to junk, it’s also a much smarter, and less paternalistic and classist way to encourage people to eat well. (Another option would be to eat all the locavores, provided they were humanely put down, with reverence for all that they would provide us, but that’s a topic for another post.)

As vegans, it should matter to us especially. When we tell others to go vegan–which we should–it’s crucial to consider what barriers might stand in their way. Some are ideological, reflective of long-standing habits and assumptions, but some are more practical, like whether they can get to a market that sells non-gross apples. The ability to do so does mark a sort of privilege that needs to be recognized and dismantled, even if anti-vegan internet goofballs like to cite it for their own purposes.

And finally, concern about food security and access shouldn’t be the domain of a borderline-sociopathic “locavore” community that seems to raise these issues only to argue that we need to kill chickens in our yards. We shouldn’t cede that ground (sign a petition against at-home chicken-slaughter right now!). Everyone deserves decent food, produced sustainably, locally, and without poisons, and vegan advocates should be on the frontlines of that push. The FEP’s work is a good place to start.

Rick Kelley is a recent transplant to the Bay, having fled the brutal Minnesota winters for warmer climes. He spends his days at a Oakland workers’ rights nonprofit and his evenings probably playing moderately accurate renditions of Propagandhi songs with his awesome partner and their rescued pup, Bandit. He’s also currently active in organizing against Oakland’s “Let’s All Kill Some Chickens in Our Yards For Fun” proposal. He used to blog, and might do so again someday.

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