Daniel Milewski spoke to a packed audience about food injustice at a college hour event on Thursday in Raef Hall.
Milewski is a former American River College anthropology student of ARC professor Kristina Casper-Denman and is now an anthropology student at California State University Sacramento (CSUS).
Mileski defined some terms by asking the audience questions such as “what is a food desert?”.
ARC student Destiny Dixon said that she didn’t know and she was here to learn for ARC professor Alice Kingsnorth’s Humanities 310 class, on modern western culture from the Renaissance.
Audience member Bridget Engler said that “a food desert is a neighborhood that doesn’t have any superstores or supermarkets.”
Milewski agreed, saying that a 2009 report by the United States Department of Agriculture said that in the U.S., 2.3 million people without transportation are a mile or more away from their nearest grocery store.
High income neighborhoods have three times as many grocery stores as lower income neighborhoods, and predominately white neighborhoods have four times as many as predominately black ones, which also have more fast food.
“Neighborhoods of color” were found to have more corner delis and convenience and liquor stores selling mainly snack food, sodas and liquor.
Milewski quoted Goran Therborn’s book “The Killing Fields of Inequality,” saying “the fact that the government considers local liquor stores and gas station markets as viable food sources is appalling.”
In convenience stores, produce is not price labeled, so the price of a single lemon could vary 10 percent from 59 cents to $1.19.
“ . . . While the overall price of fruits and vegetables in the US increased by nearly 75 percent between 1989 and 2005, the price of fatty, processed, and unhealthy foods dropped by more than 26 percent during the same period,” said Milewski.
Milewski has personally witnessed the stigma of food stamps, where disparaging remarks were made by another customer in a Whole Foods store, causing the person with food stamps to leave the store with an expression of “soul-crushing defeat”, embarrassed by simply wanting to eat healthfully and needing government assistance to do so.
The consequences can be deadly when healthful food is unavailable.The greatest increase of diabetes has been in people of color of all ages, especially Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos.
Type II diabetes is more prevalent in those who live in food deserts.
For those having restricted access to food, higher calorie food is more readily available.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common causes of death in the U.S. One of the main causes of cardiovascular disease is a diet with increased unhealthy fats and LDL (cholesterol), which are common in the more readily available fast food in food deserts.
According to Milewski, those in power limit access to healthy options to oppress some groups in order to reinforce the hierarchical structure.
“The fat cats steal milk from the little kitty cats,” said Milewski.
Urban gardening was an idea proposed to help those in food deserts.
Urban gardens are usually planted on small bits of available land in cities, so people have more say over what is grown and how it is grown.
The food is grown and eaten locally, and the foods grown are more specific to the region and season in which they are being grown. Some urban gardens even include animals.
To some, urban gardens might conjure an image of the inner city, but some are on the perimeter, sometimes called “peri-urban,” and can be grown on landfills or areas where housing or industrial buildings have been demolished.
In some areas, parks have been converted to urban gardens, using vacant lots, land freed by zoning changes and education and retail spaces. Especially where animals are used, gardening can be heavily regulated for safety, liability, commercial and zoning reasons.
According to Milewski, food education is a big responsibility, but an important way to bring food justice to those who lack it.