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

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