|Photo by Marvin Shaouni|
In his 2008 bestseller In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan makes a number of salient points about what we eat. For one, he reminds us that food is, in fact, about much more than eating. It's also "about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity."
Pollan goes on, memorably, to define food by contrasting it with the "edible food-like substances" (Twinkie, anyone?) that constitute the contemporary Western diet: "lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything -- except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains...I contend that most of what we're consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we're consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV, and, increasingly, alone -- is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilization has long understood the term." But, he continues, "We are entering a postindustrial era of food; for the first time in a generation it is possible to leave behind the Western diet without having to leave behind civilization."
For this month's diary entry, we're considering how these various truths play out in Detroit, where gardeners, farmers, activists and socially conscious entrepreneurs battle daily against the alluring ease and convenience of fast food and liquor store fare. According to the comprehensive City of Detroit Policy on Food Security, prepared by the Detroit Food Policy Council (that's essential reading if you're interested in this subject), "In the city of Detroit, the most accessible food-related establishments are party stores, dollar stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations. Although most neighborhoods may have a grocery store within a 'reasonable' distance, the quality and selection of food items is exceedingly lacking."
The policy, officially adopted by City Council in 2009, goes on to elaborate how this problem is exacerbated by lack of access to transportation, and how it results in malnutrition and chronic health conditions among the population. There is further discussion of the troubling lack of black control over the food system in a majority black city, as well as a vigorous defense of urban agriculture, an old tradition here, as a vital component of the quest for food security.
The Food Security policy points the way toward a future in which all residents in Detroit have access, "in close proximity, to adequate amounts of nutritious, culturally appropriate food at all times, from sources that are environmentally sound and just." An in-depth investigation into how Detroiters are working toward that goal would be a book-length subject in itself. As usual, I'll hone in on one or two developments.