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Kate Meals

Reprinted from: Kate Meals, Nurturing the Seeds of Food Justice: Unearthing the Impact of Institutionalized Racism on Access to Healthy Food in Urban African-american Communities, 15 Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice 97 (2012) (266 Footnotes)

“For now I ask no more than the justice of eating.”

- Pablo Neruda

On November 7, 2011, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HRD) raided and destroyed the Morning Glory Community Garden, which served as a community-based solution to the lack of healthy, accessible food in the South Bronx since 2009. Prior to the raid, the garden collective had been working to raise four hundred dollars towards creating their own community supported agriculture program, which would provide affordable and healthy food to participants in the South Bronx.

Elliot Liu, a member of the Morning Glory garden group, stated that the first indication of the city's plans to destroy the garden came when gardeners arrived to find a padlocked gate surrounding the lot, complete with a “no trespassing” sign. Liu and others who tend to and use the community space were surprised since the city had many opportunities to inform the group of its plans in a less confrontational manner. When the Morning Glory gardeners attempted to appeal to Community Board 1 for support in a meeting with the city housing department, District Manager Cedric Loftin informed them that the city had plans to use the garden land to build apartments, that the residents who had gathered and planted vegetables on the land did so improperly, and that the gardeners entered into “somewhere where they [had] no right to be.” In 2002, New York's mayor and attorney general reached an agreement to preserve approximately five hundred community gardens and construct apartments on others. Two hundred gardens were left without full protection, and community garden activists reported that in several cases, “protected” gardens were destroyed in violation of the agreement. In 2004, the city of New York evicted and sold three community gardens in the South Bronx. At the time, garden advocates “sued, rallied, and planned possible defense[s] via occupations and lock downs.” Ultimately, the community was forced into a compromise that resulted in a loss of 28,000 square feet of green space.

When the garden preservation agreement expired in 2012 New York's mayor replaced it with a new set of rules. Community and public health activists responded with mixed reactions, including some who wanted to ensure the gardens would not be turned over to developers. Community members explained the importance of the gardens to low-income communities and communities of color. One member of the community captured the sentiment with the following:

[c]ommunity gardening is a way to fight the systemic injustice of poverty and other forms of structural oppression[.] Most of the gardens are in poor areas of the city, with much higher rates of asthma and lower rates of open space equity. From an indigenous/community perspective, gardens offer a way for our community to heal itself . . . .

In an area such as the South Bronx, which is the reported home of the most severe hunger problems in the United States, community gardens can be integral to survival. There, obesity rates are also some of the nation's highest. While the simultaneous existence of extreme hunger and obesity may suggest a paradox, hunger and nutrition experts explain that “[these] plagues [are] often seen in the same households, even the same person: the hungriest people in America today, statistically speaking, may well be not sickly skinny, but excessively fat.” Significantly, the Bronx is also one of the most diverse areas in the country. According to the 2011 Census, the population is 43.3 percent African-American and 53.8 percent Latino. The South Bronx faces many challenges due to structural racism, creating a situation in which “the food insecurity study is hardly the first statistical measure in which the Bronx lands on the top--or, in reality, the bottom.” The crisis in the South Bronx is representative of the hunger and food access limitations that impact communities of color throughout the country. Institutionalized racism operates on multiple structural levels simultaneously; thus, an urban community of color that lacks healthy food will likely also face housing inequalities, health disparities, substandard education, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, as well as a lack of structural power to alter these injustices. An anti-racist analysis of hunger is necessary to contextualize the power dynamics and structures responsible for food inequality.

Focusing on food justice and institutionalized racism within the United States, this Comment deconstructs systemic causes of food insecurity, “food deserts,” and “food swamps,” and examines policy and community-based solutions to these inadequacies. Section II provides background on hunger in the United States. Section III seeks to explain the U.S. government's position on the right to food. Section IV examines the roots of food inequality in the urban United States. Section IV explores urban agriculture as a solution to lack of access to healthy food. Section V covers the institutional barriers to addressing the urban food crisis. Finally, Section VI discusses solutions proposed by proponents of food justice, such as utilizing urban agriculture, zoning, and incentives to correct some of the various food injustice caused, local government, corporate and industrial systems.