Food and the City, by Jennifer Cockrall-King

"Don't ask me if at fifty dollars a square foot, can you justify an urban agriculture program in the city of Toronto. Ask me if at $100,000 a year per juvenile at a detention center, can we not pay for one urban-agriculture program instead?"
                                   -Wayne Roberts, as quoted in  Food and the City, p. 210.

When I started this blog, I knew it wasn't going to be all about gluten free life. There's other stuff I'm really passionate about, other stuff that also gets me out of bed in the morning, other stuff that deserves to be a part of the conversation on this blog.

Enter food politics.

While Food and the City by Jennifer Cockrall-King makes no real mention of this pesky thing you and I like to call "gluten," those of us who are gluten free  can benefit from joining the conversation about food insecurity and urban agriculture. My own farmer's market is very conscious of celiacs' needs, with several vendors each week who sell gluten free breads, cookies, sauces, flavored popcorn, and who will even put gourmet gluten free toppings on your gluten free pizza crust. If more of us join this conversation, maybe we can improve food security and  the availability of healthy options for those of us living the gluten free lifestyle. 

How would you like to be nine meals from anarchy? Unless you grow all of your own food, you probably are. (p. 30). You see, grocery stores only carry three days worth of fresh food - milk, eggs, meat, and produce. Cockrall-King points out that this system is fine, until it isn't. (p. 31). September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina are just two examples of when the three-day food supply became a huge problem. While the tragedies of these two events transcend the simple availability of food, it is important for us to remember that when we are dependent on food from far away, there is an inherent risk in our food security. 

When we live in peaceful suburbs, it's easy to forget that people struggle with food insecurity. But it's important to remember that it exists, often in our own backyards.  Even people in our neighborhoods may be struggling with food insecurity, due to unemployment or other financial difficulties. There are no national grocery chain stores in the city limits of Detroit. (245) How did that happen? In many other inner cities, it is several miles - a long bus ride - to the nearest grocery store. 

My urban herb garden this summer-thyme, rosemary, chives, and mint.
I also had tomatoes, bay leaf, radishes, and potatoes (not pictured).

This book does more than just highlight problems with food insecurity - it shows what real people are doing to solve it in cities around the world. Food and the City makes you wonder how we got so deep into this system without realizing the damage it does to the environment, to the economy, to our cultures. But at the same time, it makes you realize there's a feasible way out: urban agriculture. Without ripping out fountains and park benches, we can start using municipal land to grow food. Cities can do this by looking for spaces that are never utilized, like utility corridors, flood plains, and general green space. (225) We can use our own backyards, roofs, and windowsills to supplement our food supply. The impediments to the solution: the glacial pace of government (at federal, state, and local levels), agribusiness, and our own attitudes about what farming should look like. 

From LondonWaste, a green-waste collection program that diverts 45,000 metric tons of organic waste away from landfills yearly, to rooftop gardens, to Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming, to plans for using carbon dioxide emissions from kombucha to support plant growth in a vertical farm, Food and the City explores ways people around the world are already finding ways to solve food insecurity through urban agriculture. 

And when we all pitch in to solve food insecurity, strange things happen. Neighborhoods get nicer. At-risk teenagers get into less trouble. Drug dealers stop frequenting areas that have flowers and watchful eyes tending them. Urban blight starts to recede. Communities grow closer together. 

I have only one question. How can we afford not to join in this movement?

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