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Friday, March 1, 2024

Sustainable Agriculture: Food Solutions

If you gaze into the depths of the food system too long, you might begin feeling dizzy. It can make a person uneasy to learn about and recognize the inequality and privilege related to the ways we get (or are unable to get) our food. While the maze-like relationships between all the actors within the food system usually serve to confuse, disenchant or even perturb us, they also offer opportunity. Untangling this mess requires innovative and creative ideas that address the root cause of problems.

One opportunity we have is to learn how to grow food, again. Only 100 years ago, 90 percent of folks in the U.S. farmed. Only four generations later, and less than 2 percent of us do. Such a shift has essentially eliminated the knowledge and connection we have with our food. Cultivation is an activity that can bring us back to not only our own roots, but to humanity’s roots. Cultivation, the act of caring for the land, can reveal more than just knowledge of plants. It can help bring food politics into perspective.

By planting and harvesting food, we are contextualizing what and how we eat. Understanding California’s current drought is easier when you see your own garden shriveled and wilted. You can grow on your apartment balcony, in your backyard or on campus. Gardening can be as easy as potting your favorite herb or watering a tomato start. For those looking for ways to dirty their fingernails and soil-stain their knees, try tending a plot at the Experimental College Gardens or volunteering at the Student Farm on campus. Both will provide the opportunity to experiment, make mistakes and look at our food differently.

We can also gain perspective by actively working to remove the blindfold that obscures need and hunger within the food system. For some, this blindfold never existed or was removed long ago. For others, removing the blindfold starts with realizing we are wearing one to begin with.

The number one cause of hunger in our own country, and worldwide, is inequality. A popular phrase within the food movement is “food deserts,” or places where folks lack adequate physical access to healthy food. Some critics retorted that “food deserts” are more akin to “money deserts.” Food that is physically accessible is not always financially accessible.

To address this issue on campus, students formed The Pantry, which serves as a resource to fight against the rising costs of education by providing high-protein, non-perishable foods to any UC Davis student in need. Clubs, sororities, fraternities and other student groups can volunteer to “Adopt-a-week” by volunteering staffing hours. The Pantry isn’t the only food bank creatively reaching out to communities in need.

The Food Bank of Yolo County is addressing hunger through youth programs. They offer the Kids Farmers Market, an after-school program that not only educates children about nutrition but provides them a minimum of 10 pounds of free produce to take home once a week. The program treats children as partners in addressing food access, education and nutrition in a meaningful way.

Varied perspectives can influence large-scale laws and regulations that support a just food system. Recently, Michelle Obama announced a revamped nutritional label for all packaged foods that accurately conveys health information to consumers. The proposed changes correct the cunning ways food corporations have manipulated information for decades.

The new label would require differentiating between naturally occurring sugars (such as those derived from fruits) and added sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup). Serving sizes would also change to reflect actual consumption and container size. For example, a 12-ounce and 20-ounce soda are both considered one serving size, because the entire bottle is usually drunk in one sitting. Labels would also be required to list nutrition information for “one serving” as well as “servings in this container.”

Large, powerful companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are obviously unhappy with the changes — and they should be. They profit off of misinformation. Thankfully, large scale changes are beginning to reflect the increased awareness and concern around food system issues.

 

Start widening your perspective by emailing ELLEN PEARSON at erpearson@ucdavis.edu. You can also follow her thoughts at peardaughter.wordpress.com.

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