Feminist Friday: Classism, Feminism, Racism, and Food

I’ve written a lot recently on farming, the environment, and food; this is partially because living in Bellingham can do that to people but also because I’m starting to realize how passionate I am about these topics. But this week is all about how classism, feminism, and racism all interconnect with food in the United States. Of course, this will only be the tip of the iceberg that is this topic because like many of the other things I write about, there’s so much that goes on.

Paige Lucas-Stannard wrote about how difficult it can be to raise a family on food stamps, including the fact that not everyone has all the tools to be able to cook healthy meals:

A couple other things to keep in mind with regards to Food Stamps: it is easy for me to cook from scratch and that is a very privileged position.  I have time, a plethora of tools that I had before going on Food Stamps, and the knowledge from a mother and grandmother that cooked from scratch.

This is not something that all Food Stamp recipients have at their disposal.

Lucas-Stannard goes on to debunk so many of the myths that surround those who use food stamps and the reality that many of those who use SNAP resources. There are many that are the working poor, where their income can’t quite cover everything. Or others who need the help because of disabilities or age. Whatever the reason, using SNAP/food stamps to help provide food on your table should never be an embarrassment. The people who SHOULD feel embarrassed are the rich capitalists who rob the poor/middle class of an actual livable wage.

And within the US, we tend to hardcore judge and dehumanize those who are living in poverty, on welfare, and/or part of the working poor. There is often this extremely classist judgment from upper middle class and rich individuals who fake concern to try and tell others how to live (including but not limited to how to eat healthy). We dehumanize the poor through assumptions, societal myths (including what welfare is and does), and false stereotypes but the solutions being carried out aren’t helping.

FT_13.07.12_FoodStamps_310pxThe Pew Reasearch Center did a study on the politics and demographics of those who have used SNAP benefits before and found that politics, race, and gender do play a big part in the demographic that has. This, of course, is the proportion of each race that has used SNAP benefits at one point or another, which is different from the total number. Numbers wise, white people make up the most of SNAP recipients but people of color are still disproportionately represented.

Age and disability also come into play with those who have used SNAP at any point, with households that have children, disabled non elderly individuals, and elderly individuals making up a big percentage of SNAP recipients.



I had the chance to work in a food pantry that served mostly low income individuals in one neighborhood of Portland and learned more hands on about the demographics of those impacted by poverty. As a society, I think we (especially the upper middle and richer classes) are very good at maintaining that shame that goes with using federal benefits like SNAP. We tend to believe in the American Dream so much and in that tale of pulling up yourself by the bootstraps when some people aren’t even given boots in life. We need to stop shaming people for trying to provide for themselves and their families, which is so often the case for SNAP recipients, and to stop the continuing cycle of poverty that keeps the poor continuously poor.

All of this is of course only the tip of an iceberg for numerous problems – there is so much more that goes into issues of classism, racism, accessibility to food, and the intersection between them all.

Feminist Friday: Urban Farming, Permaculture, Accessibility, and Organic Farming

IMG_4150My family lives on half an acre in an urban setting and uses part of the land to grow a garden filled with veggies and raise four chickens. I grew up on farmers’ markets and usually eating locally; there are dairy farms close to my hometown, chickens are becoming more regular for families in the city, gardens are a staple for many of my family friends. Every summer, my mom (and usually with my sister and I in tow) goes berry picking at a local farm for a couple hours and comes back with pounds of berries to make jam or freeze. Urban farming hasn’t always been the significant portion of my diet but it has been a big part of my life. Being able to provide for ourselves with some veggies every summer and eggs year round not only feels amazing but for me, everything tastes significantly better as well.

There is one documentary that I am excited to see related to urban farming and reminds me of the post I wrote a few weeks ago about food deserts and food forests. Occupy the Farm is about a local community in Berkeley that worked to reclaim some land for a farm in the middle of an urban setting and the challenges they faced by reclaiming the land.

Permaculture is also important in any discussion of farming and “is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and integrated water resources management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems” (from the wiki page about permaculture). A big part of permaculture is working with the surrounding nature to grow food and having a mixed system of plants and animals in the area rather than a single product system.

It’s also really important to address accessibility issues within the food movement and urban farming. Of course, not everyone has access to the amount of land allows me to garden and raise chickens but it is possible to grow herbs in small places that have no access to a yard (apartments, condos, etc). The Boston Food Project works to not only help farms thrive but widen the access to fresh, local food to low income communities and teach youth how to farm. Being able to afford local and organic food also is a luxury and privilege for the upper middle and richer classes because the cost can be incredible prohibitive.

Local and organic food also comes with the catch that the yields of organic farms aren’t as large as non-organic farms, leaving the issue of feeding a world with several billion people. There was a meta-analysis study done a few years ago that looked at the yields of organic farms versus non organic farms and found that the yields of organic farms are typically lower but are highly contextual. (Unfortunately couldn’t access the entire article.) Additionally, Roger Cohen wrote an opinion piece titled “The Organic Fable” and while I don’t agree with everything he wrote, he does bring up the great points that being able to buy organic food is an affluent luxury of the upper middle and richer classes and that:

“even if it’s not better [nutritionally] for you, organic farming is probably better for the environment because less soil, flora and fauna are contaminated by chemicals (although of course, without fertilizers, you have to use more land to grow the same amount of produce or feed the same amount of livestock.) So this is food that is better ecologically even if it is not better nutritionally.”

So there needs to be that balance between feeding the world’s population and taking care of the earth. Plus, buying local and/or organic food also needs to be more accessible for those who want to buy it. And there are so many other things that go into farming and food that can and have filled books and books, like how the capitalistic nature of our society means so much food goes to wasted despite the hunger of so many around the country and world. But having real conversations that come up with sustainable solutions to the many dilemmas of farming and hunger is incredible important at this point for both the earth and humanity.

Low down in the Hometown: Best places for food and coffee

On the first and third Wednesday of each month from now on, I’ll be writing about some of my favorite places in my hometown. Being back after college for an indefinite period of time has made it really difficult to see the things that I do still love about my hometown of Bellingham, Washington. This month, my top three favorite places for food and coffee.

Best Breakfast: Old Town Cafe


Old Town is definitely my favorite place to go for breakfast/brunch, in part because most of the menu is vegetarian and local but also because of the vibe of the cafe. The food is simple and delicious and many of their vendors come from the Bellingham/Whatcom area. Musicians occassionally fill the cafe with great background music (but aren’t loud enough to overpower any conversation). The wait (especially on the weekends) can be long but with antique and thrift stores next store, the wait is never boring.

Best Sandwich: Avenue Bread


Avenue Bread has three locations in the Bellingham area but by far my favorite is the one in Fairhaven (mostly because of the people working there). The menu is filled with amazing food, including breakfast sandwiches (called eggenues), wraps, grilled sandwiches, cold sandwiches, salads, soup, pastries, and coffee. Each cafe is also filled with amazing art and the bakers occasionally make amazing art pieces from bread. (One thanksgiving, they made a turkey out out bread, which I found much too hilarious.)

Best Coffee: Black Drop Coffee House and Tony’s Coffee


I honestly could not decide between my favorite place for coffee so this has ended up being a tie between my favorites. Black Drop is in downtown Bellingham, offering the usual coffeehouse menu and their own unique espresso drinks. Plus, I actually just found out that the Black Drop is an employee owned cooperative, making it even more special for me. Tony’s, on the other hand, is in Fairhaven and still offers that local and old spirit I remember of the neighborhood that seems to be fading as the city develops. The coffee there is really great and has a really great atmosphere for hanging out and getting some writing done.

Food Deserts and Food Forests

The USDA defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers” . Michigan State University has a similar definition, adding in that the same area with limited access to fresh/healthy food has 20% of the population living below the poverty line. Being able to access fresh food can be incredibly difficult, whether that be through lack of transportation, stores not being close by, or lack of time or money to buy fresh food.

Food deserts are areas in which accessing fresh food is incredibly difficult. The below map highlights where people live in food deserts and the USDA has a larger and interactive version of this map.


Ron Finley gave a TED Talks about being a guerrilla gardener in South Central LA, speaking about living in a food desert and planting gardens in vacant lots.

Food forests are similar to what Finley discusses, have started in several cities, including Seattle and Austin and in the case of the two cities mentioned, might have city support behind them. These forests are, as far as I can tell, run by some community members. But there are some who aren’t that fond of food forests, including Toi who wrote a piece on Black Girl Dangerous called “Frankly Not About Food Forests“. Toi brings up incredibly valid criticisms of food forests and I highly recommend reading what they wrote.

It’s important to remember that while trying to address food deserts and issues surrounding food, you can’t just bulldoze past the people you’re trying to serve.