This week, 50,000 politically-motivated citizens are convening in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention. Last week in Cleveland, which drew similar numbers (along with 30+ million TV viewers), the GOP laid out their platform for the general election. Yet, there was no talk about the food system. Nor was there talk about the number of hungry people in this country – and no talk of why the gaps continue to get wider.
With the nation watching, Democrats have the opportunity to address the politics of food. And where that intersects with race.
When we discuss the perils of racism, we’re addressing it a step too late. We talk about it, collectively, in the immediate aftermath of violence against Black men (and we should). But we need to discuss it preemptively, too. We need education, exposure and inclusive conversation that allows all voices to be heard – and allow each other to quell the misguided and unfounded fears we continue to have of one another.
Food, in it’s purest form, is the most relatable experience that human beings have. In the most basic sense, it’s what makes us human.
It is also the most bipartisan issue there is.
But despite our common need for it, food divides us, too. Food insecurity disproportionately affects people of color. Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to be unemployed, according to Feeding America. People experiencing greater poverty have less access to food. And, those with less access to food experience chronic illness and disease at troubling rates.
One of the most direct ways to alleviate food (and health) injustice is by implementing a living wage. People of color are facing poverty at twice the rate of their white counterparts. On the issue of SNAP (the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, on which 43.5 million Americans rely), data shows shows that raising the minimum wage would result in an increase of $5.2 billion in annual income for Blacks, and $8.5 billion for Hispanics, respectively. The same study cites that this would be a positive savings for the federal government, reducing spending by about $4.6 billion, annually. A living wage would fight poverty, decrease food insecurity, reduce federal spending and promote equality. It would also mean less hungry people.
I think we forget what the feeling of hunger is, and what it does to us as humans. The anxiety that it represents is the discomfort we feel when we don’t get what our body needs. Can we imagine what it is like for those with the pressures of the true panic of hunger? Are we able to fathom the very real pains of not being able to provide something to eat, for themselves or for their children?
Too often we see food insecurity and food injustice as afflicting others. People who may not live in our neighborhoods, or share our social circles. This could not be further from the truth. As population continues to rise at unprecedented rates, need is everywhere. Every town, every community.
People close to me know that I got sober in 2001, after a struggle with heroin and alcohol. I was somebody from a largely white, privileged town. And when I found myself sitting in a room with people I didn’t know, from all walks of life, my first reaction was, “I am not like them.”
I did not stay sober at the beginning. But as I attempted to clean up, time after time, it was suggested to me by those who knew more than I did that maybe I ought to look for similarities instead of differences. I have never forgotten that, and it plays into most everything I do and every relationship I have today.
Myself and the others in that room, in fact, had a lot in common. We had a shared experience in that struggle, but in other ways as well. That acknowledgment ― that realization ― was the beginning of healing.
We are all similar in our human condition, starting, at a minimum, with a common experience through food. It is something that links all of us, whether some of us like it or not.
We can work to heal our differences, if we first start by acknowledging our likeness. Our differences are easy to list, and sometimes they’re obvious – the way we look, dress, vote and love. Recognizing ourselves as human beings, we should find one of the most basic points of connection between us ― food. Food is, among other things, a political issue.
But also, food is love ― and right now, more than ever, the world could use a little bit of that.