Food IS a feminist issue

22 03 2009

It is no secret that Americans eat way too much mass-produced, processed and unhealthy foods. The New York Times reports:

…the truth is that most Americans eat so badly — we get 7 percent of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is “sweets”; and one-third of nation’s adults are now obese…

Instead of getting our nutrition from “real” foods with real, natural ingredients most Americans tend to eat processed food that is more calorie-dense, less nutritious, and not so great for the environment. We eat stuff that is junk, for our bodies and for the environment. Due to the highly commercial and industrial nature of (mass produced) food in this country, proponents of more sustainable food (food that is locally grown, ecologically conscious and friendly, organic, etc.) have been met with a lot of resistance by the government and the food business.

However the new administration has been more receptive of and responsive to advocates of locally grown and organic food. With the Obamas’ new White House vegetable garden and strong emphasis on the need for sustainable (for people and for the environment) and healthier food, we may be living in a food revolution.

Michael Pollan, contributor to the New York Times magazine, and author of several books (including The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), “has called on President Obama to pursue a ‘reform of the entire food system’ by focusing on a Pollan priority: diversified, regional food networks.” However, despite the encouragement and support that sustainable food activists have received from the Obama Administration, Pollan still worries that “’The movement is not ready for prime time. It’s not like we have an infrastructure with legislation ready to go.’”

Regardless, many food-sustainability and food-safety advocates and activists are still eager and excited about their progress and the potential future of the food revolution:

“We are so used to being outside the door,” says Walter Robb, co-president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain that played a crucial role in making organic and natural food more mainstream. “We are in the door now.”

It is great that we finally have people in power who care about issues around food justice, people’s health, nutrition and the environment. But some may ask why is this something that appears on a feminist blog? How is food a feminist issue?

Food IS a feminist issue: the politics of food, access to food, production of food, purchasing of food, preparation of food, and consumption of food. Food has also been a very feminized issue. If you go into a grocery store or a farmer’s market, look around and see who does most of the food shopping. Women. Even in modern society, the kitchen continues to be seen as very much a female domain. Most women are the ones who cook at home for their families.

Furthermore, it is about distribution, access and affordability and the inequity of distribution, access and affordability. Eating healthy foods that are good for you and good for the environment should be something that everyone is entitled to. However, not everyone can afford to buy organic food, or locally grown food, aka better food that does your body and the earth well. Instead of being accessible and affordable to all, eating healthy has become a bourgeoisie activity.

Compare the price of a hamburger at McDonald’s (or better, anything on the Dollar Menu) to the price of a tossed salad anywhere. Obviously the gross, fried, mass-produced, junk food is cheaper. For the single inner-city mom who has three kids to raise on her own, buying food that she can afford is more of a priority than buying food that she and her kids should be eating but can’t afford.

Famine and malnutrition among impoverished (or lower class) populations are about failures of entitlement to (healthy) food, not about a lack of food or inadequate food production. There is enough food for everyone, so everyone should be able to eat. However, poverty, racism, classism, etc. are barriers to accessing food. Across the globe, women and dependent children who are living in poverty cannot afford to eat because of rising food prices and the transformation of food from a basic human need and right into a bourgeoisie liberty.

Even if we look within this country, schools do not spend a great deal of money or research into providing students with healthy meals. Tons of government funding goes to abstinence-only sex-education in public schools (which uses scare tactics, (hetero)sexist gender stereotypes, and false information) while a substantially lesser amount goes to fund healthier school lunches. Children who fail to eat nutritious and balanced meals while they are growing may continue these unhealthy eating habits into their adulthood. This ultimately affects their health and can create health complications/problems later on in life.

Which brings us back again to the importance of food sustainability, especially in relation to health care. Eating sustainable, locally-grown or organic foods is a preventative measure for obesity and related diseases, and is a valuable tool in improving health/health care. Overall, having a healthier population increases the productivity of the nation. In order to sustain ourselves, we must sustain our environment.


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