These are the times that try foodies’ souls! Lines at food banks are stretching around the block at the same time that farmers are plowing under their crops. Seed companies are running low on product as wannabee home gardeners envision rows of sweet corn where crabgrass once ruled. Our favorite restaurants – hip, local, and fiercely independent – aren’t just not serving now, some may never serve again.
While events like these offend our individual sensibilities, the injustices revealed by the pandemic are deeply disturbing. Trump and his toady Republicans resist shoring up the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) even when it could do much more to relieve the suffering of hungry Americans (and over-stretched food banks). The coronavirus is extracting a disproportionately higher toll on people of color, not a surprise for those communities that have been on the receiving end of countless slights and indignities for ages. In my state of New Mexico, Native Americans who account for 10 percent of our population make up 53 percent of the state’s total coronavirus cases. Meatpacking plants, largely staffed by people of color and never the safest places to work even in the best of times, are getting decimated.
The pandemic is bashing holes in our food supply like a punch-drunk prizefighter. The rampage, which shows no immediate signs of ending, is breaking the industrial food system’s nose and opening gashes in its thin-skinned, unsustainable face. Like a poorly-equipped but determined militia, community food activists, food policy councils’, and regionally oriented producers and distributors are building a perimeter of defense in hopes that it can hold out until the cavalry – our cavalry, the one that is suppose to protect and serve everyone – can arrive. Some version of normalcy will be restored, no doubt, but will the “new boss [be the] same as the old boss” or, so “we don’t get fooled again,” will we use the chaos to build something sustainable and just out of the shell of the old?
Some of the answers to these questions can be found in the stories of the seven cities that I profile in my new book Food Town USA – Seven Unlikely Cities That Are Changing the Way We Eat. How cities like Bethlehem, PA, Boise, ID, and Sitka, AK have come together around their local and regional food systems offer numerous guideposts to those wanting to navigate their way to more resilient and just communities. Thanks to my non-profit publisher, Island Press, you can buy the book until June 15th at 30 percent off the list price. This offer applies to both the hardcover and e-book versions. Simply go to https://islandpress.org/books/food-town-usa and enter the promo code WINNE25. And for those of you who want to go all in with a signed copy of my book, send me a check for $25.00 or meet me on email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange use of a credit card. I’d be happy to sign and send you a freshly picked copy!
I can assure you that we will meet and laugh again at our favorite cafes and brew pubs. We will garden with joy once more, and we will hobnob at the farmers’ market, unmasked and smiling. We will learn new models of resilience and sustainability from each other. And we will pursue social and economic justice with a renewed and righteous resolve. Stay safe and keep the faith.