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The dual diseases of COVID-19 and white supremacy plague us and shed light on another related crisis: Food insecurity. COVID-19 has increased unemployment rates and as a consequence, hunger, especially among students who rely on the Federal school meals program. Kudos to many local organizations for stepping up to provide emergency food to students and their families.
But food insecurity is neither new nor novel. Like racism, it, too, has plagued many of our brothers and sisters for countless generations. Food banks, SNAP, soup kitchens and other emergency food relief programs address the acute hunger needs of those living food insecure. But they are short-term measures that too often hide hunger’s deeper disease. The vaccine for food insecurity is food equity for all.
Food equity acknowledges the injustices in the conventional food system, a system that delocalizes and industrializes food production, relies on cheap labor, depletes nutrients in the soil, mistreats animals and emits large amounts of carbon. In contrast, food equity builds a more localized food system, one in which the community members exercise sovereignty. Promoting racially diverse and intergenerational voices in public conversations about access to nourishing, sustainable and local food is at the core of food equity. The vaccine against food insecurity demands a long-term commitment to eradicating white supremacy, which perpetuates the health and wealth disparities in our society, and discovering new ways to alter the food system so that food banks and other stop-gap measures are only used in emergencies, such as a pandemic.
A few years ago, I joined the City Schoolyard Gardens board as the organization began its own exploration of white supremacy and the role it plays in food insecurity. Since that time, City Schoolyard Gardens has evolved into Cultivate Charlottesville which summarizes its mission ––“We’re building food equity, together.” Cultivate builds food equity in our community with students and adults in schoolyard gardens and urban farms and in the advocacy work done by the Food Justice Network, “a collaborative of over 35 organizations working at the intersection of food and education, public housing, church communities, urban agriculture, environmental protection, urban planning, farming, and health systems.” Food equity is the lasting solution to the problem of food insecurity.