by Reneeta Mack
A Brighter Future Starts with Today
February brought with it the lasting effects from one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history. Unprepared for the flood of problems which followed the crisis that took America by storm last January, it became increasingly apparent just how important it is to make sure that as a community of people, we're creating or contributing to ways in which we're able to promote environmental sustainability and self-preservation.
Much of the talk of February seemed to revolve around damage control, after realizing that the U.S. Food System is just one unplanned disaster away from being an economic crisis. In this conversation, one of the areas recognized as being in need of investments that would lead to a brighter future, in relation to the food system, were the 12 percent of Americans who live with a more permanent food insecurity than the furloughed government workers who joined them at food banks in January. Another area was the food insecurity and lack of proper nutrition experienced by college students. Two additional areas worthy of ensuring preservation and environmental sustainability were protecting the many varieties of plants through the establishment of a community seed bank, and protecting the many varieties of people by keeping alive aspects of the rich cultures of our Indigenous populations.
- Senior director of programs at WhyHunger, Alison Cohen, and co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition, Andrew Fisher, suggest that in order to promote a food system which speaks to the preservation of the 46 million people who are forced to rely on charity to feed their families, the following policy changes are needed:
- "Rather than the federal government outsourcing to charities its response to hunger, we would like to see policy changes that make the need for food banks obsolete: increased SNAP allocations, a $15 minimum wage, more affordable housing and childcare, universal healthcare, stronger labor laws, and healthier school meals."
- In relation to school meals our own self-preservation, Hilary Seligman, an associate professor at the University of California-San Francisco is addressing the joke of the 'starving student' and bringing light to the fact that it masks their most important daily problem to solve: food insecurity on campus. This problem, of course, makes it difficult to focus on coursework and other college-related challenges that they face, and consequently works against promoting the success of students in higher education. Seligman encourages us to invest in the food security of this population:
- "If we can invest in our students now so that they are more likely to excel in school and more likely to graduate and more likely to become self-sufficient after graduation, that puts their children at reduced risk of becoming food-insecure in the future."
- Another important aspect of self-preservation worth considering is the preservation of culture. Two indigenous chefs, Vincent Medina and Louis Trevino are working to do just that, while celebrating their heritage through the revival of their native cuisines. They believe that Café Ohlone, from which they bring these traditional recipes to life, is helping to repair damages from colonization and keep their culture alive:
- “Whether an elder or a young person, when they ate the acorn for the first time, there was this look people had: of feeling proud, of being able to eat that and to know it was something familiar, even if it was their first taste of it.”
- In relation to environmental conservation, Ballarat gardeners are working to create a community seed bank to store and share different varieties of seeds. This is because seed bank organizer Noel Schutz believes that the lack of seed saving is reducing the number of varieties of fruits and vegetables. This means that if a disease outbreak or natural disaster was to occur, there wouldn't be enough variations of these fruits and vegetables to have the resistance required of them being wiped out, which impacts food security. Perhaps this same idea could be worth considering for the U.S. Schutz explains the importance of preserving these varieties of these fruits and vegetables in protecting food security:
- “Of the thousands of varieties that used to be grown we have had a severe bottle neck effect where only the most productive for commercial use have been saved. Should there be a major disease outbreak in the future the genetics just won’t be there that have resistance. If we have different varieties there is something to adapt to.”
Overall, February showed us how, when faced with the aftermath following a crisis, it is important to focus on what we can do to protect our futures and make sure that both the environment and our future generations withstand the test of time. Accomplishing this, of course, starts with what we do today.
If you're interested in reading more on the subject, here are a few different articles:
- The New Food Economy: The last government shutdown sent some federal employees to food banks. But 46 million Americans face hunger year-round—shutdown or no
- U.S. News: Fighting Food Insecurity on College Campuses
- The Courier: This community bank is not for money, but seeds
- Civil Eats: Indigenous California Chefs are Reviving and Preserving Native Cuisines