Eat with Pleasure

Stories and Recipes by Jenny Holm

This post is a little outside of my typical vein, but I think that readers might have some interesting comments on these questions that I’m curious to hear. I’ll be leading a discussion of the book Closing the Food Gap: Resetting America’s Table by Mark Winne tomorrow at the first Slow Food DC Book Club meeting. Below are several questions that I’ve drawn from the book to spur our discussion. You don’t have to have read the book to have an opinion on them, so post a comment and let us know what you think!

 

1. Winne points out many reasons why people in low-income communities tend to have unhealthy diets, namely lack of access to high-quality supermarkets in urban areas (“food deserts”), proliferation of fast food outlets and convenience stores serving unhealthy food in these areas, little money to purchase more expensive, nutrient-dense food, the common tendency among people who live in a state of food insecurity to binge eat when food is available, etc. However, he also acknowledges that individual dietary choices play a role, as well. “Is the responsibility for what one consumes…the person’s responsibility or that of society, culture, advertising, the calculating hand of capitalism, or a host of environmental factors over which we have little control?”

2. “In lower-income communities, lower education levels and the lack of healthy food choices make households easy targets for fast food’s messages, images, and hidden persuaders.” Do you see this as a problem? What can or should be done about it? Should junk food/fast food advertising in schools and/or on TV be regulated or banned?

3. “Fast food consumption has increased an alarming fivefold since 1970….In the classic struggle between supply and demand, one could argue that the industry is only expanding to keep pace with demand. The Children’s Hospital study’s findings, however, suggest that the increase in demand is more likely due to the increase in the number of fast-food restaurants and the amount of fast-food marketing.” What do you think? (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)

4. In the Hartford, CT public school system, Winne says, the average student received 4 hours of health-related instruction per year, covering nutrition, drugs, alcohol, sex. etc. “How and where were young people supposed to develop the skills they needed to make critical judgments about their food choices when they were assaulted by a well-armed, well-financed junk food industry?” Would more health education in school make a difference? What other measures could help young people make positive food choices?

5. One charge that Winne heard leveled at farmers’ markets that had been created in hopes of helping to close the food gap was that they quickly become “just another entertainment venue for the privileged class.” How do you think DC’s farmers’ markets would hold up against this complaint? Is it valid? How can this tendency be combated?

6. What steps have been taken in Washington, DC to combat the “food gap”? How well do community gardens, farmers’ markets, grocery stores, and CSAs serve our city’s low income community? Can Slow Food DC help improve community food security in our region? If so, how?

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2 Responses to “Gusto for All: Tough Questions to Ponder”

  1. Liam O'Malley

    Unfortunately there is no way I’m able to attend the discussion tonight, but I did read the book recently and I enjoyed it immensely.

    1 – I think this is basically a nature vs. nurture type question, the type of which I usually find my answers fall squarely in the middle. There is absolutely an element of personal responsibility involved, but if you’re not even in a situation that enables you to make the right choices then there’s no way you’re going to be able to – you might not even be aware that you’re making any wrong ones.

    2 – Food marketing is a bit of a problem, yeah, but I don’t think banning is the answer. I do like things like NYC is doing with the soda tax, or even with their outlandish prices for cigarettes. Food marketing in schools, or really any marketing in schools, should be kept to an absolute minimum – anywhere you’ve got a captive audience is highly suspect, I think. Especially when that audience is children.

    3 – I really have no idea, but the fact that the demand even exists at such a rate as it does in the first place is already problematic.

    4 – When I read that statistic in the book – the 4 hours thing – I was pretty surprised. But then I don’t remember my education really being that different. I do wish there had been some classes that I took that were more geared towards food – maybe basic cooking and grocery shopping skills, maybe vegetable gardening, etc. I think I took Home Ec, but honestly I can’t even remember cause I don’t remember learning a single useful thing in it if I did.

    5 – I think it’s a valid issue but I’m not really sure how DC stacks up. In my experience there, they tend to draw a decent diversity of local residents from the surrounding neighborhood – meaning, the diversity makeup of the customers at a market tend to be pretty close to the makeup of the customers in the neighborhood where it is located.

    6 – I’m, unfortunately, pretty unaware about what’s going on to this end in DC. I know there are some pretty significant community gardens.. no idea if they’re successful or what their rubric for success is… I would love to know of some ways that Slow Food DC could possibly help.

    I hope you get the chance to make a review post or reply comment – I’m interested in hearing what comes up in the discussion tonight and how it goes.

    Reply
  2. Jean

    On the food gap in low-income areas: Not to sound too nit-picky, but I think it really depends on the neighborhood. In Oakland, where I used to work, the low-income, recent immigrants in Chinatown have great access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Chinese and Vietnamese grocers are generally even cheaper than the Safeway in my side of town. Sure, it’s not organic and you can’t get things like arugula or rhubarb, but the overall quality and variety of produce catered to locals is good enough that there is constant demand and good-sized crowds shopping the stalls throughout the year. Same with the Hispanic/Latino area on Int’l Blvd. – lots of fresh produce from small, local grocers can be spotted throughout. As for prepared food, Vietnamese sandwich joints and taco trucks have prices low enough and food tasty enough to compete with a McDonald’s or a Subway (i.e. $2.75 for a delicious, foot-long, grilled chicken sandwich, $4 for 3 tacos!). West Oakland, on the other hand, is more of a food desert. Liquor stores dot the area, but no real grocers, much less a vibrant customer base.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

    Tangentially related:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/cultivating-failure/7819/

    Don’t remember if I sent you this article already, but let me know what you think.

    Reply

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