State of the Field: Socio-Economics

Poverty and unequal socio-economic status limits many peoples access to healthcare, food, and shelter. This semester, I was interested in how food consumption and food issues are tied into the greater realm of structural violence and economics, and are influenced by public policy. Societies with larger economic gaps, regardless of average income, tend to perpetuate poverty. Access to a nutritious and stable food supply should be a basic right, but in many societies as much as half of the population lives day-to-day without knowing where their next meal will come from. This is the primary topic of my blog, but I was also interested in seeing how these broad issues are tied into the monopolies that large corporations have over food production. The dominant food system in place is run by multinational organizations that unilaterally coordinate the production and processing of food. This in turn controls who is able to consume it, and limits its nutritional value as well as its sentimental (terroir) value. This has enabled systemic systems of food production and consumption. In order for us to prevent this monopolization of our society, we must revitalize and both politically and socio-economically support civic agriculture and the local food movement. I wrote about the importance of sustainable agriculture in reference to terroir and taste, as well as economic balance. Food is a product of both physical space and overall environment. It is vital to take a proactive early approach in order to create equal access to food. Rather than treating problems after they emerge retroactively, policy changes needs to be enacted to make it more accessible. The local food movement is a potential solution to many of the structural problems in our society. It is undoubtedly more painstaking and less financially viable given the current financial situation, but it is more important to consider what our environment is telling us about the “human condition and our role is the grand biological scheme. 6” Agriculture is in many ways the foundation of cultural, economic and social life. Hopefully we can incentivize and make farming a viable career choice for the new generation of farmer, but also proliferate a sustainable form of agriculture that emphasizes the underlying spiritual relationship that humans have with food and farming.

Structural violence is a theory about socio-economic imbalance in which “preventable harm or damage… is caused by environments where there is no actor committing the violence or where it is not meaningful to search for the actors; such violence emerges from the unequal distribution of power and resources or, in other words, is said to be built into the structures.” (Galtung 1969) Obtaining healthy food seems a simple choice when available and affordable, yet this actual decision is severely limited by external factors. The manner in which large corporations control marketing, regulation and food distribution restricts its access based on societal class. Food prices affect the accessibility of food, and these prices and controlled by large corporations. Food shortage is linked to historical  socioeconomic processes that have increased over time the average level of food insecurity. Approaches to providing food need to move away from simple “crisis control” to better address the underlying conditions that make food shortages  perpetual in developed and developing societies alike. More connected and cooperative societies tend to have more sustainable food systems than disjointed and socio-economically stratified ones. For instance, in the United States, people do not have the same connection with agriculture and food that more agrarian countries do. The average citizen only knows that their food came from the supermarket. It is rare that someone knows the farmer whose chickens produced the eggs in his omelet, or grew the oranges in his orange juice. There is a large disconnect between agriculture and production of food, and its actual consumption, and this disconnect stems from and overreliance on large-scale farming and companies.

Food deserts are the epitomization of socio-economic imbalances and how they contribute to the lack of access to food. They are defined as “disadvantaged urban areas with poor access to retail food outlets, or as areas where food retail is scarce and expensive. (” Most of the available food is from large corporations and of little nutritional value.1  Poverty is an example of structural violence because it is a state in which people are systemically denied resources to live. In the denial of adequate food access, low-income communities are exposed to these socio-economic imbalances. Economic development and education about healthy food may be one solution to these problems. It would allow the impoverished the ability to make wise and affordable decisions. However, to create actual structural change, there must be development programs in place working with policy makers. One example, non-profit organizations, can result in farmer’s markets, and other alternative methods of food production.2

Food insecurity “affects and interacts with many other issues such as developmental policy. (” Neoliberal government is a potential barrier to a sustainable food policy that allows for accessibility and security for those currently living in poverty.  The current economic framework and governmental policies result from the basic “neoliberal open market-oriented” paradigm that has “governed most economic policymaking.3” One major element has been the lack of public investment in agriculture and in “agricultural research and the falling productivity of land.3″ “Greater trade openness and market orientation of farmers 3” have led to shifts from local crops to cash crops that have increasingly relied on purchased agricultural commodities.4 There needs to be a shift towards the local food movement, and while something like biodynamic farming, as implemented by Hawthorne Valley Farm, may be difficult to achieve on a large-scale, there is no reason why there should not be a rededication towards organic and locally produced food. For our society, led by a new generation of farmer to thrive, we must address legal questions of land ownership, and there must be a systematic shift away from large-scale agriculture. It ignores the importance of plant, animal, and human roles in the biological sphere. There is a constant flux of information throughout society, and these are more deeply rooted in agriculture and our understanding of our role on this planet. The effect of farming and agriculture is constantly felt in all facets of our lives. There should be a “shared vision for agriculture and community.” The two are inextricably linked, and in order to make a socio-economic impact and prevent food insecurity, there needs to be cohesion at both the local and national levels.

As a student of Tufts University, one of the biggest supporters and financial backers of sustainable food and “farm-to-plate” incentives, I am surrounded by similar attitudes about agriculture and its importance. This sense of  “think global, buy local” fosters the proliferation of locally and regionally grown foods. It also creates a sense of unity amongst local farmers, citizens, and consumers. In order for sustainable movements to be successful among across our society and social classes, we need more education about the origins of our food. Policy and structural changes can only occur if there is support from the masses, and as long as the majority of the population continues to consume large corporation food products indiscriminately, no amount of proposed legislature will be able to stop the slide. Poverty and economic gaps perpetuate unequal food consumption, and keep millions of American without adequate food. This is tied into the greater realm of social and structural violence.  This includes the destruction of biodiversity and resources, inability of communities to produce their own food, and also imbalanced global supply chains, to which “grass roots organizations have begun to construct alternative community-based local food systems.5” There are feasible and sustainable options to combat many of the socio-economic problems people face, we just need to better educate the general public and gain support for them. On a higher level, the government needs to incentivize the locally based projects in order to eliminate the current monopoly that multinational organizations have over our food. I for one am hopeful about our future, and believe that education will be the key.




3. Global Health Watch  (Also in Resources Page)




Food Insecurity

I was reading an article about the food emergency crisis in Africa, and specifically Mali, and got to thinking about food insecurity and unequal access in the United States. Two-thirds of the people in Mali are considered to be living in poverty, and if the situation worsens, it will be irreparable within a few months. The usual time frame when food stocks run “low before being replenished in a new harvest came particularly early this year (same article)”, and the value of livestock, particularly cattle and goats, has declined dramatically. This is a major socioeconomic problem that has trickled down to al facets of Malian society. While the situation often goes unnoticed in developed nations, statistics show that even in America, one-fifth of the U.S. populations children do not know where their next meal will come from. Good nutrition is important for “maintaining physical and mental health.1″ Unfortunately, “food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens our society’s critical foundation.2” When people are suffering because of poverty, their access to health, food, and shelter are limited because of their social status. The issue of food security is tied into the larger realm of structural violence. Instead of simply debating culturally relativist approaches, the overall degree social inequalities should be reduced. The precautions should focus on reducing global poverty, “by so we can break the link between social violence and its acceptance of poverty.3” Societies with larger economic gaps tend to perpetuate unequal access to food and other basic needs such as healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) discusses the three pillars of food security: “availability, access, and allocation.” There not only needs to be enough food and funding, but it also must be appropriately used based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care. Both of these in conjunction with sanitation are important to curbing the global prevalence of food insecurity as it relates to structural violence. Changes must come from both local and governmental levels in order to make an impact.


1. World health Organization

2. Feeding America




Cooked by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan, who I am familiar with after reading Botany of Desire, just released a new book entitled Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. In this book, author Michael he gives us “an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships” and uncovers the direct influence each of the four natural elements has on the process of cooking. Cooking is about far more than just producing food. As I have recently become more privy to, not cooking for yourself, and subsequently relying upon corporations to process our food leads to the “direct consumption of unnecessary quantities of fat, sugar, and salt. (Pollan)” It also, according to Pollan, disrupts an essential link to the natural world, and weakens our inter-personal relationships. The cook is in “a peculiar place between nature and culture,” and learning how we relate to each is an extremely fascinating personal study. While I have not gotten the chance to read this entire book, I look forward to getting the opportunity to see Michael Pollan’s personal testimonials very soon. As a fan of his literature, I strongly recommend letting Michael Pollan show you the power of food and cooking in our society. It is important for us to take back control of cooking from large multinational corporations in order to make American food system and way of life healthier and more sustainable. You can read the full review, and grab a copy here:

Terroir Terror

Terroir is essentially a “sense of place.” It is embodied in certain characteristic qualities of the local environment that have an influence on the production of a product. (Wikipedia)” Literally, it “gives the food from a given region a particular taste by virtue of what the soil produces. (Wright)1” However, it is more than just soil and climate. The trend towards locally based agriculture and food production is “tightly linked to a place’s social and economic development (Lyson),” and thus people create individually expressive connections to certain foods. The civic food movement is inextricably linked with terroir, as a sense of self-identification emerges from collective and sustainable gardening and farming. The dominant food system in place is run by large corporations that coordinate the production and processing of food. This has enabled centralized and standardized systems of food production and consumption, and has largely taken away the strong connection of place that farmers and consumers alike feel with their food. Food has the unique ability to excite both  through flavor and texture. It can transport you to a “certain place. (”  It could be anything from a childhood memory of picking apples with your father to the delightfully acidic taste of the local orange juice at the market around the corner.

“Your flavor memory might have a more objective basis.(WKKF above)” Foods possess identifiable flavors that are products of the specific place and environment in which they’re grown. ‘Agricultural homogeneity” takes this “taste of place” away (WKKF above). There are many benefits of civic agriculture, the terror being one of many. Identification of quality, healthful food is one prerequisite for  success. Growing concern for food safety is another plus of this movement, because knowledge of the intermediary steps from farm to table, and production methods adds to the health and economic value of local food. The strong link between the place, taste, and sentimentality of terroir adds to the potential of “civic agriculture (DeLind)”, and as we have seen, people form their own unique bonds with the products they consume. Food and memory are linked by our senses. A food product with terroir is one that induces an “involuntary memory of its origin.2” Speaking on wine, Randall Graham proclaims, “A great terroir wine will provoke a feeling that I can only describe as akin to homesickness, whether or not it is for home that may only exist in your imagination. (Graham 2006)” Taste is highly subjective, determined by “cultural evolution and subjective preference.”2  “Terroir is an expression of a distinct relationship between land and the soil and those who have worked the land in order to produce the food.”2 Furthermore, it reflects the cultural traditions that have evolved in a particular region. Multinational corporations homogenizing and monopolizing the food industry threatens this sense of nostalgia for space in the realm of food production. Terroir both an expression of culture and place, and in order for us to save this strong sentimental link in our society, we must revitalize and both politically and socio-economically support civic agriculture and the local food movement.


Laura DeLind, “Place, Work, and Civic Agriculture: Common Fields for Cultivation” in Agriculture and Human Values (2002)

Graham, Randall. “Phenomenology of Terroir.” Annual Symposium on Neuroaesthetics. UC Berkley. 21 Jan. 2006.



Thomas A. Lyson. Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press, 2012. Project MUSE. Web. 9 May. 2013. <;.

The Biological Role and Ebb and Flow of Farming

Human nature is an interspecies relationship. Human cannot survive without the rich ecological diversity that plants provide, and is an integral aspect of the holistic farming philosophy. Nature and culture are inextricably intertwined, and the land, plants, and animals all equally contribute to the self-sustaining nature of the earth.  Humans are assumed to be the pinnacle of biological creation, and their role in a multispecies ethnography is seldom analyzed. Hawthorne Valley Farm epitomizes these basic tenets of biodynamic farming, and hearing the testimonies of those involved with the farm’s day-to-day activities really underscored this deeply rooted relationship between humans, plants and the farm as a self-sustaining organism. In the paradigm of Rudolph Steiner, Hawthorne Valley Farm shows that the overall companionship between humans and their environment is a symbiotic one. Throughout the course of my life, I have been trained to see humans as static beings that simply manipulate our surroundings rather than playing an integral part in them. “Biodynamic farming erases these preconceptions and shows that nourishing the land in turn nourishes us (Hawthorne valley Farm).” As opposed to standard, large corporation farming, it aims to produce food while establishing an ecological balance. It is vital to take a proactive approach as opposed to treating problems after they emerge. As Anna Duhon and others show us, this is undoubtedly a painstaking process that often does not reap the economic rewards that other modes of farming do. However, after hearing such poignant testimonials of the laborious process, I think that it is more important to consider what our environment is telling us about the human condition and our role is the grand biological scheme than we may assume. Agriculture is in many ways the foundation of cultural, economic and social life, and Hawthorne’s Agriculture 3.0 hopes to only make farming a viable career choice for the new generation of farmer, but also proliferate this sustainable form of agriculture that both appreciates and implements the underlying spiritual relationship that human have with food and farming. I, like many others, often don’t see and appreciate what goes into bringing our food from farm to table. Farming, particularly in an ethical and sustainable way is often thankless as we saw. The general American public has many misconceived notions about its nature, and more education about its importance and efficacy would go a long way as we shift towards a new generation of young farmers. In the area where Hawthorne Valley Farm is located, there seems to be a relatively large group of aspiring and practicing young farmers. However, these types of communities of people interested and educated in ethical and biodynamic farming are few and far in between. For this next generation of farmer to thrive, we must address legal questions of land ownership, and there must be a systematic shift away from pesticide-based, large-scale agriculture techniques. They ignore the unique mysticism of farming that is based on an ingrained recognition of the plant, animal, and human roles in the biological sphere. There is a constant flux of information and cultural constructs, and these are more deeply rooted in agriculture and our understanding of our role on this planet. The effect of farming and agriculture can be felt in all facets of our lives. It is up to the people to come together to create a shared vision for agriculture and community. The two are inextricably linked, and the solution may lie within deep connections to the ever-changing land and one another.

A New Generation of Farmer

During our most recent class discussion, we spoke about the shifting age demographics of farming. The local food movement is allowing a younger age of farmer to make a large and immediate impact. The farming industry is not lacking interest from young people, but the dearth of young farmers has primarily come from the lack of opportunity to get into the industry. Unless farmland is inherited from a family member, the barriers to conventional farming are immense. Startup costs and land taxes often dissuade the younger generation from pursuing the profession. The local food movement has caused an increase in prices, but has subsequently attracted our generation. Rather than importing fruits and vegetables, which are often localized to certain regions of the world, America’s youth is trying to reclaim many agricultural products. This is arguably more labor intensive and expensive, but yields a sustainable food source in many cases. Young farmers in America face many structural obstacles including access to education, and business training. Furthermore, they need open minded consumers and new law implementation. Essentially, they forced to improvise in order to best serve the new marketplace. The documentary “Greenhorns” shows us many of the challenges and successes that our country’s youth faces. Another often unnoticed aspect of the changing farming environment is the de-masculinization of the profession. A recent New York Times Op-Ed by Olivier de Schutter entitled “The Feminization of Farming” exposes how gender stereotypes are being unraveled throughout the world. Socio-economic obstacles must still be removed in order to challenge the traditional gender roles that burden women with household duties and prevent them from burgeoning in the farming profession. This piece discusses how microfinance programs in developing countries such as Indonesia have recently been implemented to help women pursue small-business ideas instead of housework. Women and the youth face many of the same structural obstacles, and change may come in the form of legal revitalization the local food movement. Consumers should be able to get fresh and organic produce at nearly the same cost as mass-produced food, while supporting local businesses and reducing the carbon footprint. The trend and youth movement in farming has come with wider public recognition of the downside of industrial food production. Antibiotics used often protect against disease and boosts production and commercial output, but also build drug resistance that has long-term negative consequences toward people’s health. There are many issues at play if we are to curb the economic imbalances that create the structural difficulties for younger farmers and the local food movement. Anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu would most likely argue that pre-dispositions guide our country’s youth toward appropriate social positions and behaviors that are suitable for them. However, we are seeing the shift away from this paradigm, and if there is to be a successful transition into a new age of agricultural production and farming, we must eliminate the legislative obstacles that hinder socio-economic prosperity.

Meat’s Biological Value

After our class discussion regarding The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams, I did some research into opposing views regarding the consumption of meat and meat products. I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post pertaining to the biological value involved in the consumption of meat. Scientist Christopher Wanjek shows how humans are only the humans that we have come to recognize because of the biomedical importance of meat in our diets. “Both extremes of the meat argument — the unapologetic meat-eater and the raw vegan — should remember that few of today’s so-called natural foods were around as little as a few hundred years ago, from the modern invention called corn-fed beef to genetically altered strains of Queen Anne’s lace called the carrot. There are many reasons to go vegetarian, go vegan and even go raw, but evolution isn’t one of them. (” Vegan, vegetarian, or even raw diets are undoubtedly more healthful than the high-fat, high-cholesterol alternatives that most Americans are used to, but simply referring to them as “natural” is a misconception in the most primal and biological sense. Often, a lack of meat in one’s diet, or a protein-filled substitute contributes to low levels of dietary iron and vitamins B9 and B12. Humans have always required these nutrients, and it is important to realize that meat has historically been a crucial part of human evolution. Many critics of the consumption of meat would highlight the treatment of animals and the ethics behind it, and this must be taken into account when making proper dietary choices, but as this article shows, it is unwise to simply dismiss it as unnatural. The issue of eating meat in today’s society is a complicated one, and Carol Adams highlights a departure from seeing meat as a living organism as partially to blame: “We live in a culture that has institutionalized the oppression of animals on at least two levels: in formal structures such as slaughterhouses, meat markets, zoos, laboratories, and circuses, and through our language. That we refer to meat eating rather than to corpse eating is a central example of how our language transmits the dominant culture’s approval of this activity. (Adams 77: 2010)” However, this is largely a recent invention, and in the biological sense, there has historically been no separation between the vernacular of the animal and its consumed form. Meat was consumed as a result of its biological and evolutionary importance, and is in many ways natural. Our society has created this distinction, and animals being prepared for consumption are treated far worse than their historical counterparts. It is vital to consider the source of meat when making a conscious decision regarding whether to abstain from its consumption, but it being “unnatural” should not be one of them. The major ethical objection to meat concludes that consuming meat is not a necessity for most people living in the developed world, therefore the slaughter of animals to please human taste buds is not morally justifiable. If you do choose to go vegan or vegetarian, be sure to simply find protein and iron-rich alternatives to satisfy our basic biological need for these essential nutrients. Eating meat is good for humanity in a few ways provided the animals are treated with care and our eating them ensures their survival. “Humans no longer need high reserves of protein and fat, and modern livestock raising has become in many places harmful to the land, the animals, and the workers who tend to them. (Ruhlman from first article)” In my own opinion, if we choose to make the conscious choice to consume meat, it is our “ethical duty to eat it in significantly smaller proportions than plant products (Ruhlman)” and to ensure that all animals are cared for with thoughtfulness.

Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

In this book, Michael Pollan presents the argument that four plants have shaped human evolution to the same extent that humans have shaped those plants’ evolution. In each chapter he discusses a particular plant, beginning with the apple, and how it formed a symbiotic and co-evolutionary relationship with humans. Each plant is said to have exerted a decisive impact on human evolution because it satisfies a basic need and desire for Homo sapiens. For instance, the apple satisfies the human desire for sweetness, and cannabis satisfies the primal instinct of intoxication. The book demonstrates that humans have manipulated plants through agriculture and cultivation, and at the same time, human behavior has been modified by the pursuit of different attributes that plants provide. Much of modern agriculture’s techniques have been developed for the purpose of f domesticating species such as apples and tulips. On the converse side, while Pollan uses the term co-evolution, there are no examples of how human evolution has actually been influenced by plants and changed their path. Undoubtedly, plants are selected to suit human needs, and Homo sapiens benefit greatly from them, but it is difficult to see how we have evolved as a result of the beauty of a tulip, or the sweetness of an apple. Our relationship with plants seems more symbiotic than co-evolutionary in my opinion. I see the relationship as intertwined and reciprocal but not on the evolutionary level perhaps. The strongest argument presented by Pollan is that humans have manipulated plants, and while it may not have been his initial intent, this point is presented very strongly throughout the book: “So the flowers begot us, their greatest admirers. In time human desire entered into the natural history of the flower, and the flower did what it has always done: made itself still more beautiful in the eyes of this animal, folding into its very being even the most improbable of our notions and tropes. Now came roses that resembled aroused nymphs, tulip petals in the shape of daggers, peonies bearing the scent of women. We in turn did our part, multiplying the flowers beyond reason… (Pollan 109, 2001)”

Overall, this book seems more like personal philosophy on growing and gardening rather than a quantitative analysis on plant and human evolution. The author has a lot of firsthand gardening experience, and has grown a variety of crops, including the aforementioned marijuana plant. This has allowed Michael Pollan to think about the natural world and the microcosm of the garden in itself. While it does not explain how a red delicious apple or a beautiful tulip influence human brain evolution, it does analyze why humans grow plants, and how certain beneficial traits are selected for as a result of innate desires. It should not be taken as a concrete study, but rather a personal memoir that is elevated by informal observation, and historical overview. Furthermore, numerous social issues such as the criminalization of cannabis, and the inherent threat of genetically engineered food are presented throughout the book. A naturally occurring pesticide is engineered into the genes of Monsanto’s NewLeaf potatoes, and while this provides a potential solution to hunger, there are countless side effects. On a social scale, Pollan mentions how farmer’s rights are detracted from as a result of bioengineered foods. In this regard, his informal tone allows his opinions to be more accessible, and potentially less radical, particularly when discussing social and political issues of national importance such as these. Overall, I found the book very accessible, and while it may not have answered every question for me, it proved to be an interesting view of the complex, mutualistic relationship between plants and humans. It is undoubtedly reciprocal, and we are in fact part of a larger scheme of nature rather than above it. Pollan does a wonderful job intertwining personal experience, historical data, and highlighting key socioeconomic issues throughout the United States. He shows that our relationship with nature is not merely human-directed artificial selection, but rather symbiotic and interwoven.


Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World. New York: Random House, 2001

Repercussions of Nemo on Homeless

With Blizzard Nemo bearing down on the Northeast United States, Americans flocked to grocery stores and supermarkets to stock up on food and water for the indefinite future. However, there was one group of economically disadvantaged people who had no refuge amidst the storm: the homeless. Shelters and food pantries would be unable to serve thousands during this devastating storm, and the at-risk homeless population’s already unreliable access to food was even more uncertain. Furthermore, many homeless people from Boston to New York City found themselves in grave, life-threatening danger, some with nothing more than a tent to protect them from the harsh elements. The city of Boston undertook precautions prior to the storm, by stretching their quota of 1,340 beds to accommodate any at risk Bostonians ( The Salvation Army and the city of Boston prepared emergency relief units to respond with food, however it is difficult to account for an entire population during emergency time. The impact of a storm such as this one is witnessed beyond the homeless, but through all socio-economic classes. Many lower or lower middle-class Americans struggle to maintain a steady food supply on a daily basis, and during trying times such as a blizzard or Hurricane, this economic gap becomes even more evident and glaring. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 percent of Americans—more than 50 million people—live in households that are “food insecure,” a term that means a “family sometimes runs out of money to buy food, or it sometimes runs out of food before it can get more money (”  The issue of providing affordable produce on a national scale should be a primary legislative concern, and storms such as these should bring about many improvements for the under-privileged. The long-lasting effects of Nemo should not be glossed over, and in fact, many food shortage and access problems do not truly begin until a disaster is over. It is important to reach out to local communities by either donating your food or your time.