Food Justice: Exploring Hunger and Nutrition

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By Dave Aftandilian, Associate Professor of Anthropology

When we think about Thanksgiving plentiful food often comes to mind, and family and friends to share it with. But I often find myself thinking about the lack of healthy food for people who need it locally, and how we can work toward food justice for all of us.

“Food Justice” is the name of an anthropology course I’ve taught at TCU since 2008. We begin by identifying the problems with the food system—the system by which our food is produced, distributed, consumed, and disposed of. Then we evaluate different solutions to these problems, and the students put what they’ve learned to work here in Fort Worth, partnering with nonprofit and community based organizations.

Locally we face two major problems with food. First, a lot of us don’t have enough of it—according to Feeding America and the Tarrant Area Food Bank, 1 in 6 residents of Tarrant County don’t have enough healthy food to eat. Moreover, we don’t grow anywhere near enough produce in this area to satisfy our food needs. And second, thousands of Tarrant County residents live in food deserts—communities where there’s no reliable place to buy reasonably priced healthy food; no grocery stores and no farmer’s markets.

But the good news is, we can turn things around. I’ll focus here on the longer-term solutions we’ve been working on through the Tarrant County Food Policy Council (TCFPC,www.tarrantcountyfoodpolicycouncil.org). I chair the TCFPC’s working group on Community Gardens and Urban Agriculture. Working with TCU students, the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Community Garden Program, master gardeners, and a number of other community partners, we’ve developed how-to curricula on backyard gardening and container gardening, and are working on one for youth gardening. We provide these curricula for free on our web site, and are happy to help folks locate other low-cost resources they might need so they can grow healthy produce for themselves and their families. We have also worked with the City of Fort Worth’s Planning Department and the Blue Zones Initiative to develop and pass an urban agriculture ordinance that makes it possible for people to sell excess produce they grow right in their own neighborhoods. We hope this will both help people earn extra income and also increase the supply of locally grown food.

And we can do so much more to turn lack of food into plentiful opportunities. I think of the refugees who have come to Fort Worth seeking a safe home. Many of them come from farming communities in their countries of origin, yet they often don’t get to put their farming skills to use here, even though we don’t have enough produce grown locally. Why couldn’t we work to create programs that teach them the language and business skills they need, along with access to land to grow on, to set up viable urban agriculture businesses here? The refugees would get meaningful work that draws on their skills, and all of us would get easier access to healthy produce. And down the line we could partner with local chefs and community kitchens, and maybe the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival, to start up food trucks, ethnic restaurants, or just cottage industries to share family recipes from around the world, broadening all of our culinary horizons.

For more on Food Justice at TCU, visit TCU Magazine