Spring 2007 Issue 4

Spring 2007 Issue 4

Introduction: 

This issue of the Indypendent Reader examines local food systems in Baltimore. Food is a necessity we all share, so common and everyday that it has the potential to bring us together and break down the boundaries of race, ethnicity and culture that so often keep Baltimoreans fragmented. Yet we find that food is also an indicator of extreme inequalities within our city. From Harbor East’s Whole Foods to the corner-stores of East and West Baltimore, ours is a city increasingly polarized by class divisions, in which the few who can afford it have the option to eat high quality organic foods while the rest of the population has almost no choice but to live on a diet of unhealthy, over-processed, high-fat, high-sugar junk food – not to mention the tens of thousands of Baltimore residents who depend on soup kitchens and emergency food banks every week for their meals. However, within this depressing situation there are some signs of hope. In this issue we focus on several local initiatives that aim to bring more equity to the distribution of food in our city. We talk to the Food Not Bombs collective, who provide free vegan meals twice a week at City Hall Plaza; Viva House, a soup kitchen in Southwest Baltimore that has been in operation for 39 years; and to the founders of the Donald Bentley Food Pantry, which has been distributing food to residents of East Baltimore for 17 years. This issue also features articles written by and about Garden Harvest, a 100-acre organic farm that provides free fruits and vegetables to many of Maryland’s soup kitchens; the Healthy Stores Project, a campaign in East Baltimore to educate consumers and corner-store owners about nutrition; the Men’s Center’s Fresh Food Baltimore program, which is based on food recovery and redistribution; and Food for Life, a cooking and nutritional education program in two Baltimore K-8 Schools. In addition, Eric Imhof reflects on the politics of how we eat, contrasting the collective experience of eating in Nicaragua with the alienated, individualistic habits of consumption so common in the United States. Admittedly, this issue has been a challenge for the editors. While the many problems of our local food systems could not be more clear, evaluating the efficacy of the responses to these problems becomes complicated. How, for example, can we resolve the contradiction of many soup kitchens: while these institutions provide a very real and desperately needed service, they can also be argued to compensate for the inequalities of our society and to therefore ultimately sustain them. Another difficulty has been articulating the fundamental distinction between programs which seek to radically reconfigure our food systems and the increasingly trendy corporate-rhetoric of “sustainability,” “eco-friendliness,” “organic” and “green.” It seems that everyone has suddenly become conscious of food quality and nutrition (Wal-Mart has recently introduced a line of organic foods), but in most cases this interest is primarily about public relations and marketing. All of us who are seriously committed to making our food systems in Baltimore – and the larger systems of which they form a part – more equitable, will have to constantly struggle against neoliberalism’s endless capacity to co-opt radical ideas and turn them into so many unthreatening “progressive” trends. We should all have access to organic foods, but large-scale industrial-organic farms such as those proposed by Wal-Mart fail to address the exploitative conditions of labor associated with industrial farming. Further, there are many other reasons for us to rethink our dangerously and inefficiently centralized food systems: just consider the recent E. coli outbreaks (the plant responsible for the spinach incident washes 26 million servings of salad every week), or the astonishing fact that in North America the average piece of “fresh” food is transported over 1,000 miles to market. These are all strong arguments for small-scale local agriculture, and indeed, the folks at Garden Harvest or at any of Baltimore’s thriving community gardens realized this long ago. We are inspired by these initiatives, and we hope that this issue will inspire the reader, providing both a critical analysis of our local food systems and suggesting some ways in which we can work together to reinvent them. -SB

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