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Food Injustice: The Revolution Starts In The Garden

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Many low-income communities around the country are located in what policy makers, activists and media refer to as "food deserts" -- places where there is an abundance of cheap, processed food and an absence of healthy, fresh, affordable food. In a food desert food options range from a variety of fast food chains to "food" sold at local corner stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, etc. I live in South Central Los Angeles and it is undoubtedly a food desert. But I do not call it that. I call it a food prison. And if our communities do not take the necessary steps to break out of this prison we will remain trapped by the immobilizing confines of our zip code.

From Chicago to Philadelphia to New Orleans, the new epidemic in African American communities and other low-income neighborhoods is a result of the food prison. This epidemic is one of preventable diseases: hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease and so on. In these prisons the green grocer has been replaced by the dialysis center, the drive-thrus have become more deadly than the drive-bys, the rate of malnourished children is on par with the rate of the failing schools and teenagers are having heart attacks. As this epidemic is starting to gain the attention of the general public it is important that we frame it in terms of food injustice so as not to disguise what is really going on.

Food injustice is a structural problem. It is about corporate consolidation of power that has monopolized the agricultural industry and encroached on our food consumption. We need to understand that the demand for big agriculture and fast food did not come from the consumer market. For the past 50 years or so we have been told that the industrialization of food production gives America the power to feed the world, the justification for taking food production from the farm to the laboratory -- a controlled environment in which our food is grown, manufactured and prepared. The end result is a toxic recipe intended to keep our bodies craving a perfect scientific formula comprised of additives, preservatives, salts, manipulated fats and sugars: a recipe for disaster for the people eating this stuff, while ensuring enormous profit financially. In other words, as the girth of the average American has grown, so have the bank accounts of the executives of agribusiness.

Food injustice weakens those at the bottom of the pyramid. Agribusiness and fast food came up with an ingenious model based on quantity at the expense of quality intended to entrap those with the least amount of purchasing power. In a market of cash-strapped consumers the calorie-to-price ratio of fast food versus real food is how choices are made for us. When forced to choose between a meal that offers 2,000 calories or an apple, both costing $1, for someone who lives near the poverty line the choice is simple. Fast food companies, in league with corporate agriculture, manufactured the Big Mac to be the meal of the working class and the poor, producing lifelong consumers addicted to their products and subdued by the physical effects of this consumption.    
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