Chesapeake panel: Food system needs to be equitable |

Chesapeake panel: Food system needs to be equitable

Building a “good” food system means that the system of food production needs to be more equitable than it has been from past centuries up until the present, a panel said at the Chespeake Food Summit last month.

Food production has been unequal going all the way back to the Egyptians with their slaves, and in colonial North America it began with the the appropriation of land, the decimation of Native Americans and 3.5 million people “stolen from their homelands” for plantation agriculture, Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

Today, Salvador continued, the slaves have been replaced by an immigrant work force. “Now we are threatening them with immigration system that makes them frightened,” he added.

Celeste James, director of community health initiatives for Kaiser Permanente, said her company has advocated healthy eating and active lifestyle, but that now “the No. 1 issue is economic opportunity.

“If all the “determinants of health, not just food” could be fixed, she said, “it would be a more healthful and viable society not just from a people but a business standpoint.”

But Patty Stonesifer of Martha’s Table, who moderated the panel, and Salvador and James all said that they believe there are ways to make the food system in the Chesapeake area — Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia — and other parts of the country more equitable.

Stonesifer showed a graphic of an “equitable food system” that she said Martha’s Table, a Washington nonprofit that helps people gain access to food through a variety of programs, tries to follow in its food purchases and distribution.

Physicians need to screen patients for hunger and other problems and connect them to a network of social services, James said. Many physicians, she said, “think if people don’t present a need they don’t have a need,” referring to patients’ reluctance to tell their doctors they are hungry or have other problems.

Salvador noted that DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that recycles food and trains people, “is looking at people of color not as a source of cheap labor but a source of entrepreneurship,” while the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United works on the minimum wage for restaurant workers and the Food Chain Workers Alliance has gotten a better deal for farm workers.

Institutional purchasers such as schools, hospitals and prisons “are spending billions” on food and their budgets can be used to establish standards for many aspects of the food system including animal welfare, he added.

But Salvador said the problems need to be addressed on a bigger scale.

“We live in a plutocracy rather than democracy. We have got to have a lot more civic engagement,” he added.

As Salvador surveyed the audience at Union Market, he also noted that conferences on food should include more people who produce it.

“This is a white room, a wealthy room, people who are essential to the food economy are not present in the room,” Salvador said.

“I can always rely on Ricardo to keep it real,” James responded.


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