In the past three or so weeks, I’ve read no less than eight “pieces” referencing white people and their inalienable right to, basically, eat garbage.
No. I’m serious. That’s the “food culture war.” “You may not like what I eat, but I’ll defend to my death my right to eat it.”
The right to eat complete and total garbage processed food is even painted as patriotic – the “right of the ‘real American’”:
In her book Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappé writes of a sly technique advertisers often use, “The food industry…is skilled at inoculation messaging, and part of its success comes from the ‘we’re one of you’ pitch.” She adds later, “The message, whether from Perdue, Nestle, or Cargill, is that these companies are like us; they care about the same things we do. It’s a message that forms another strand of the inoculation strategy.”This “we’re one of you” ideology coupled with the food product’s corresponding affordability is slick marketing at its best.
You may remember a similar strategy used by Sarah Palin and John McCain in their 2008 Presidential campaign. Palin’s constant invocation of Joe the Plumber, Joe Six Pack, and soccer moms was the same “we’re one of you” rhetoric. Palin worked this angle again recently when she came running to the defense of the “real” Americans as she personally gave out cookies to elementary school students in her effort to stop the food police from depriving children of their god-given right to eat sugar-laden, processed foods. [source]
Let me explain my problem.
When I hear of people bucking the “system” – that system that seeks to define what “good food,” “real food” and “healthy” really are and what they really mean – I hear people who are making a case against government intervention.
And trust me… I get it. I may get it from a different angle, but I get it. I don’t want government involvement in dealing with food because it’s already shown me that it does a piss poor job of doing that. This isn’t where most of these people are coming from, though. This is coming from a place of “You’ll take my Big Mac from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hand.”
It comes from a place of privilege. It comes from a place of “I can make the choice to eat better. I just don’t want to do so.” Emphasis on choice.
And on any other day, I might accept the assertion that this is a class issue – that food is often a burden of money, one that people don’t want to take on which is why it is so easy to embrace and defend those who provide us with inexpensive offerings regardless of quality – but only if that math is carried out to the remainder, which is that “class” is often used as code meant to exclude Blacks from “the upper class” by default even when the Blacks in question are inherently not lower-or-even-middle class.
When we make food an issue of choice, there is an underlying understanding that everyone, in fact, has that choice to make. There is an accepted belief, in conversations about choosing to eat healthily, that everyone stands between a produce section and a frozen TV dinner section and, invariably, chooses at their discretion. There’s an underlying acceptance in these conversations that food deserts do not exist. That food deserts don’t exist in inner cities… mostly populated by Black Americans. There is an acceptance that food availability doesn’t need to be discussed, because all the people involved in the conversation have access.
Is that a happenstance? A mere coincidence? I might’ve thought so before, but now? I’m not so sure.
Here, on BGG2WL, we talk – often – about how to make healthier living affordable. How to get multiple uses out of each inexpensive item at the store. How to be resourceful. But guess what – the very nature of the fact that we are, in fact, visibly Black while living healthily? This pretty much excludes us from being counted as “living proof of the benefits of healthy lifestyling,” or even “people who show concern for our environment.”
A lonnnnng time ago, I read a comment on Racialicious that fits into what I’m saying here, and it needs to be highlighted. Again.
It reminds me of the “bike to work” movement. That is also portrayed as white, but in my city more than half of the people on bike are not white. I was once talking to a white activist who was photographing “bike commuters” and had only pictures of white people with the occasional “black professional” I asked her why she didn’t photograph the delivery people, construction workers etc. … ie. the black and Hispanic and Asian people… and she mumbled something about trying to “improve the image of biking” then admitted that she didn’t really see them as part of the “green movement” since they “probably have no choice” –
I was so mad I wanted to quit working on the project she and I were collaborating on.
So, in the same way when people in a poor neighborhood grow food in their yards … it’s just being poor– but when white people do it they are saving the earth or something.
And YES black people on bikes and with gardens DO have an awareness of the environment. Surprisingly so! These values are in our communities and they are good values. My Grandmother was an organic gardener before it was “cool” –My mother believed in composting all waste and recycling whatever could be reused– it was a religious thing. God hates waste. [source]
Again, the focus on “choice,” something that – as we see often here on BGG2WL – not everyone is afforded. There’s also that class/race-defaulting thing going on here, too – if “poor people” (who are, assumedly, of color – and don’t we all assume poor people are people of color?) are just being poor by growing their own food (’cause, y’know, they can’t afford to pay all that money to eat garbage) and “white people” are assigned the noble position of “saving the Earth” by growing their own food… what are poor white people doing when they grow their own food? I mean, they’re poor, yes… but they’re not default poor, which is Black or “Brown.”
There’s an unwillingness to see food as an issue that goes beyond choice… an unwillingness to go beyond the anecdotal “There’s a grocery store in my inner city and those people still eat like crap! Food deserts don’t exist!” message that pops up in conversations about accessibility. We can never address the real causes and solutions to food deserts because we’re so busy debating their existence.
We can’t accept that there are places where people aren’t afforded that choice and move from there because we’re too busy having to contend with this element of white populism that rejoices in not knowing things. We spend far too much time dealing with people who refuse to go beyond their front yard – or their citiy’s “downtown,” even though it is clear that food deserts often are not that far away from the average person – to understand the plight of others, simply because it is not their plight. We spend too much time with people who very well may, in one form or another, subconsciously suppress “food availability” as a Black issue…. and we all know that that’s a step toward populist acceptance of the idea that “labeling something a Black issue means that white America doesn’t have to address it.” Y’know, because us Blacks aren’t “real Americans.”
Again, the rejoicing in not knowing things.
The thing that makes this even more annoying to me, though? The fact that what makes a real and genuine acceptance of food deserts so far out of reach… is the fact that we can’t even get a national conversation about what “real food” actually is. Why? Again, because the status quo is fueled by a marketing ploy that knows that white populists, those who can afford – it is assumed that they can afford it, yes, “because they’re white” – to eat like crap, don’t want to know. It’s that simple. Talk about the purity of food is written off as, as I saw in the comments for an NYT op-ed, “the insistence on purity by the entitled and privileged.”
So desiring purity of the very things required for our survival is akin to racial cleansing? Now, we can’t even educate the public on how to make choices – if and when they are, in fact, faced with that choice to make – because being educated is too much intervention, and the public should be left to its own nutrition and educational devices in regards to learning what and how to eat. Besides, who could ever think that Perdue and Nestle would make harmful food? They’re one of us.
Again with the not knowing.
And shouldn’t it be an issue? Shouldn’t it be a big damn deal? Shouldn’t it be a concern of society that there are people who, in fact, don’t have access to the education for and tools of healthy lifestyling? That there are people – Black and white – who suffer from this mentality of “everyone has the opportunity to make these choices?” Considering the vast majority of Americans classified as overweight and obese, shouldn’t there be a loud enough battle cry of “discuss accessibility!” to make people take notice? Not if they’re too busy engaging in a culture war where they decided, early on in the battle, that they don’t want the appropriate weapons with which to fight – knowledge.
My point is this: although it’s really cute to watch “real Americans” complain about the attack on their culture and watch “liberal elites” mock them by calling themselves “food snobs” while “physically moving to other cities to ‘prove’ that healthy lifestyling is possible“…both sides dismiss, to a disgusting degree, the fact that people – beyond the poor and (assumedly) Black – still do, in fact, lack the access and education necessary to make healthy lifestyling possible. And until we establish this as fact and address these issues first, this talk will never be seen as anything more than “cute ramblings” of those who rejoice in not knowing things.