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. (http://foodanthro.com/tag/food-deserts/)” 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. (http://anthropologyworks.com/index.php/2012/10/12/state-of-hunger-food-insecuritys-place-in-anthropology-2/).” 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.

Resources

1. http://foodanthro.com/tag/food-deserts/

2. http://closup.umich.edu/publications/misc/Community-Based-Sustainable-Food-Systems.pdf

3. Global Health Watch http://www.ghwatch.org/sites/www.ghwatch.org/files/C1_0.pdf  (Also in Resources Page)

4. http://www.networkideas.org/working/dec2009/08_2009.pdf

5. https://apha.confex.com/apha/134am/techprogram/paper_140136.htm

6. http://www.trollart.com/trollart_toplinks/gallindex.html

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.

Resources

1. World health Organization

2. Feeding America

3. http://www.ukessays.com/essays/sociology/structural-and-symbolic-violence-and-social-inequality-sociology-essay.php

 

 

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: http://www.amazon.com/Cooked-Natural-Transformation-Michael-Pollan/dp/1594204217

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. (http://www.wkkf.org/knowledge-center/resources/2006/03/terroir-the-taste-of-place.aspx)”  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.

Citations:

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.

1. http://zesterdaily.com/cooking/food-terroir/

2. http://trueterroir.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-sense-of-place-wine-terroir-and-memory.html

Thomas A. Lyson. Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press, 2012. Project MUSE. Web. 9 May. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/&gt;.

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.