Friday, April 26, 2013

Musings About Access to Food

Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.”  How about revising it to “Let them eat junk food?”

The thing about food is that we all need it. The other thing is that…..well, some people can have better food than others. Or more food.  Or less food.

Madison is a foodie place. It has restaurants and carry-out places for every preference and ethnicity. We can read blogs and columns about the wonderful meals available to anyone who has transportation and enough cash. It’s a wonderful environment of gastronomic experiences.  Madison also has food stores, including the usual chains and big box stores and also some specialty stores that sell organic, free range, locally produced, top quality foods. We are blessed.  But wait a minute.

Last summer I was told by none other than the mayor of Madison that my neighborhood is a food desert. A food desert is a place where the grocery store is not within a couple of miles of home, and food products at the convenience stores in the vicinity are largely manufactured items. The choices are limited. We have several sizeable grocery stores a few miles away, but they are not easy to get to without transportation. We have some convenience stores in the area. That’s okay if I want to exist on dry cereal and Twinkies. However, I want to live on real food.

Because I have a reliable car and enough money, I can choose to go to the big box food store or the specialty food store. I can choose food products of good or poor quality. I can choose from a large variety of food products from many places in the world. I can choose organic or conventional foods. I love being able to shop at the Willy Street Coop, Whole Foods and Brennan’s.  I can go to not-very-nearby restaurants and eat plenty of good or bad food, depending on my choices and my pocketbook. I can bring home carry-out foods of many delicious descriptions.  I am one of the fortunate ones.

Why is it that I can have almost any food I want and my neighbor who has no car, little money and few resources is stuck with a diet of white bread and junk food from the convenience store? Of course, it’s our economic system. It’s not the moral character of the person who has few resources.

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). What if we actually had some equitable distribution of food that nourishes body and soul?