Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Food Justice…. The combination of these words does not evoke much if any emotion in my parents’ household. The phrase flows through uninterested ears who are more concerned with keeping their refrigerator full than finding out where their food comes from. My parents trained my younger sisters and me to eat everything they placed on our plates. We were taught to be thankful for whatever food we were given. Although these are good qualities to instill in children, this practice simultaneously taught us that all food, if edible, is acceptable.
My parents belong to the lower middle class. Because of their financial limitations, most of our food was processed. Instant mac and cheese was a favorite of mine. All vegetables came out of a can. Fried meat of some kind was the norm and picking up McDonald’s for breakfast while on our way to daycare became a part of our morning routine. I have never gone hungry. Food was always available but the quality of food, well, is debatable.
Today, my family’s eating habits have not changed much from when I was a child. There has been an attempt to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet. Last spring my Dad started a small garden in the backyard where he grows tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers. He and my mother often shop at local farmers’ markets in the spring and summer. Although progress has been made, my parents continue to have difficulty believing that there is a problem with their eating habits.
What does food justice mean to my family; lower middle class African Americans who reside in what was once a food desert? What does food justice mean to someone who has memories of going to bed without a meal? What does food justice mean to someone who believes they have more immediate issues to address than whether or not their vegetables are covered in chemicals? My parents grew up in a time when Louisville was transitioning. Jefferson County Public Schools was integrating. White flight was in full effect. Parents worked long hours in factories in order to provide for their family. Having food on the table was not guaranteed. My parents grew to value food security, who could blame them.
We advocate for access to organic locally grown food for all people. How does one advocate for those who believe there is no problem to fix? I do not assume that my parents represent everyone who resides in a food desert but there are many who share a similar story. I challenge those of us who are involved in the food justice movement to pause and think about people like my parents.