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?