By: Dayo Olopade, The Root
, April 22, 2009
The problem, says Seneca Price-Kern, an advocate for local farming who has started a branch of the WeFarm America collective in Chicago, is a combination of cost and culture. Going green is costly: Shopping at Whole Foods can eat up an entire paycheck. And despite black Americans’ agrarian roots, farming and naturalism has often seemed more a project for the barnyard-loving, hemp-wearing set. “The middle class buys organic; it’s the new hip thing,” says Price-Kern. But “within lower-income families, sustainability is not something that’s at the top of their list; sometimes just getting food on the table is their concern.”
The negative effects of poor environmental choices tend to hit communities of color hard—whether through disproportionately polluted neighborhoods, increased food prices, or through diet-related diseases that afflict blacks in high numbers. Here, access is also an issue: The same New York study that traced access to fresh produce found that just 18 percent of stores in East Harlem had foods recommended for people with diabetes, compared with nearly 60 percent of grocers on the Upper East Side.
The lack of good, local food isn’t just about equal access; it is about protecting the environment. To some “locavores” (people who strive to shop and eat locally), the familiar scene of shoppers grabbing packaged goods from their neighborhood grocery store shelves is an environmental disaster on par with an oil spill. Between truck traffic, roadway wear and tear, and fossil fuel use, industrial food sourcing is a significant and expensive contributor to global warming. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the food production system accounts for 17 percent of all fossil fuel use and 10.5 percent of total energy use. And, when avocados come from Mexico and asparagus from Argentina, food is vulnerable to price shocks—during last summer’s gas crunch, the price of food was up by about 40 percent.