Inequality in America is growing. This has myriad causes and effects. It is well documented that basics such as health care and justice in our courts is deeply affected by socioeconomic status. A recent study has also shown that the gap in our population is widening in the healthfulness of the food we consume. The study concluded that between 1999 and 2010 "socioeconomic status was associated strongly with dietary quality, and the gaps in dietary quality between higher and lower SES [socioeconomic status] widened over time."
I am writing in response to this report and to highlight the growing food gap. And food means something. More than health care, more than the size of a 401k, and more than discrepancies in criminal sentencing, food gets personal. We are passionate about food, we need food every day, we base much of our time and even cultural traditions around food. We’re not talking about the availability or education (two possible reasons the article gives for the association between SES and dietary quality) of luxury goods, technology, or fancy financial investments. We’re talking about food. And it doesn’t get much more basic than that. So when I read about this growing gap it moves me in a way that other topics don’t.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s a good thing to wake up to the growing inequality gap. It reflects poorly on our goal of shared justice when one segment of a society flourishes while another stagnates. And it is particularly alarming because it demonstrates that there are macro and micro systems in place which prevent a more ideal distribution and consumption of food. Our current world is almost magical in the way that some can have access to fresh foods from far away at all times of the year. But a huge food industry that relies on huge farms and huge distribution centers is working on such a scale that they can hardly be expected to provide equally priced food everywhere.
As with most problems of this magnitude, the solutions are going to require enormous policy decisions that can shape the industry and economy. The Center for Public Justice’s guidelines state that a government’s main role in combating poverty is preventative. And the changes to the regulation of the economy and the food industry more specifically are certainly required here.
The solutions are also going to require people moving on the ground to fill in the gaps. This includes working with community development groups who are already addressing the severity of food deserts in under resourced communities. That last sentence sounds a lot like “just go and plant a community garden.” I admit it’s not that simple. But let’s not dismiss those efforts, either. They are a vital part of addressing this gap and making communities more sustainable and beautiful.
But if you’re skeptical about the power of community gardens, that’s good. Because this issue is linked to the much more massive justice issue of income inequality. It seems that income inequality is a real problem that everyone knows about, but is doing very little to address directly. So it’s time to have a more serious discussion about income inequality. And it will be a lot more effective to talk about it in terms we can really understand. What better place to start than food.
-Dan Carter is a husband, father, neighbor, reader, runner, and Senior Pastor of Calvary on 8th St. located in Holland, MI. www.calvaryreformedholland.org