Food Security

Food Security

A new study done by the University of Connecticut compares each of the state’s towns on their “food security.” According to the article, food security means “whether there is easy access to a variety of healthy foods and whether residents are sufficiently taking part in food assistance programs.” As a native of Connecticut, I was interested to see where my town, Norwalk, fit on the map.

As it turns out, Norwalk is pink. Interestingly, it is a “pink” town–aka greatest risk of food security–surrounded by only “green” towns–aka lowest risk of food security (you can see it on the southwestern tip that jets out from the rest of the state). When people think of access to health food, the conversation always seems to generate around the idea of “low-income areas” not having enough access. Yet this graph shows how access is not determined by geographical location; Norwalk is surrounded by all towns in the lowest risk level, and it certainly would not take more than 20 minutes to drive or take public transit to one of these locations.

In my experience, “access” to healthy foods has a lot to do with class; local and organic food is valued much more heavily by the white, upper-middle class neighborhoods of the surrounding towns. It is in these towns that farmers’ markets travel to, and these people to whom they advertise. Norwalk, by contrast, is made up of many immigrant and first-generation American families who differ immensely in both culture and income. There are more ethnic markets and affordable corporate grocery stores in Norwalk than in the “green” towns.

It is seen as sophisticated and classier to be more interested in consuming healthy foods, and this association affects both sides. Identifying one type of food philosophy with yuppies certainly would make it less attractive to anyone who might not fit into that social group.

The article quotes Connecticut Food Policy Chairman John Frassinelli as saying “the Food Policy Council will be meeting with local food councils over the next year to help them make decisions about improving access to healthy foods.” Yet this risk of food security cannot be reduced to simply a lack of supermarkets or farmers’ markets. Rather, it must also address differences in food philosophies: citizens must learn to appreciate healthier and organic foods if they are going to buy them. In order to do that, education is important.

It is also necessary to debunk the idea that the healthy foods movement only applies to wealthy whites. Geographical proximity to healthy foods can only go so far in increasing access. The rest is up to the people.

real.food.fast

Over the weekend, I made my first trip to b.good, a Boston-born restaurant chain that offers a fast food-inspired menu made from local and organic ingredients. I ordered house-ground burger with locally made gouda cheese and a side of house-cut “air fried” french fries. As I waited for my food, I was able to read a bio on the farmer who supplied the meat I was about to consume, including where the farm was located, what the cows were fed, and animal living conditions.

The food was modestly priced and delicious, just as I’d hoped. However, I took away more from my visit than just a full stomach. After reading The Taste of Place last week, I have been paying closer attention to the way local and organic food is represented around me. For the most part, I’ve been noticing how “real” food–a.k.a. local and organic food–is marketed as being for a healthier and more sophisticated palette. Restaurants and markets that sell “real” food are often more expensive and geared toward the yuppie–read: young urban professional–population.

This generalization of the “foodie”–and I use that term for simplification purposes; it can certainly be pejorative–movement comes from both sides. The “average” American is generalized as not caring too much about where their food comes from. The foodie is generalized as having an image of herself as one with more refined ideas of taste and food and as one who has both the time and the money for fresh meals. The foodie movement normally conjures up images of pricey organic summer squash and locally made cheddar cheese–far from a cheap burger, fries, and shake.

Yet b.good obviously problematizes this stereotype. It marks the intersection between America’s foodie movement (the new) and our love of fast, familiar food (the old). Interestingly, the crowd I found at b.good was not the young, earthy crowd that one normally finds at eateries touting fresh and local ingredients (and higher prices to match). Instead, this group was much more eclectic and representative of the local population as a whole. It represented both the foodie and the non-.

It would seem that b.good attracts a more diverse bunch because it produces traditionally cheap food with a sophisticated label. I cannot know whether the restaurant’s customer based is rooted more in its focus on local ingredients or its focus on great tasting, recognizable food. What I do know is that regardless of a person’s motive for eating at b.good, they will get access to learning about the pros of local, organic food once they are inside. They will read about where their meat is coming from, who cut their fries that day, and why the chain’s founders are dedicated to making food the “real” way. The idea that local, organic eateries exist for a class of people with a higher food conscious could potentially go by the wayside.

The fact that b.good serves traditionally fast food–rather than the haute cuisine local-centric cooking is often associated with–gives this form of local food activism exposure to a new wave of Americans. It gets people thinking about where their food is coming from and why fresh is better. It also relocates the farmers and chefs into the discusion of food chains. And it does all of it deliciously.