"In a spirit of openness, we explore how we are classified, stratified, ignored and singled out under the law because of our race, sex, gender, economic class, ability, sexual identity and the multitude of labels applied to us. . . . [W]e welcome all viewpoints and ideas that are expressed with respect and collegiality. . . . [W]e are a journal that promotes living discussion."
This blog is the brainchild of the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice at the University of Iowa College of Law. It is intended as a forum for people to discuss their personal views concerning topical issues. Posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the Board or the Student Writers as a whole. We encourage well-rounded debates and discussions.
Sarah Pierce, Senior Symposium Editor for the 2010-11 JGRJ Board
My notions of social justice issues have always largely focused in on the morbidly tragic. From internships on child soldiers to the death penalty, if something doesn’t involve death and violence, I have failed to focus in on it. This summer, however, befriending a passionate urban planner has given me a bit of perspective. As it turns out, something as seemingly mundane as the placement grocery store can be packed full of injustice, discrimination, and life or death consequences.
Some urban areas completely lack mainstream grocery stores. Known as food deserts, these areas create endless concerns for their residents. Specifically, the term means a neighborhood or cluster of neighborhoods that have limited or no access to fresh meat and produce, but are potentially not without pre-packaged and fried goods available at convenience, liquor, and fast food stores.
The inevitable results of living in these areas are grim. Rather than trekking grocery bags onto a series of bus routes, it is far easier for food desert residents, many of whom are single mothers, to utilize the local convenience store. This means that dinner is much more likely to include potato chips or candy bars than spinach or apples, especially since, while a banana may cost 29 cents at Dominick’s, if even at a convenience store, it goes for around 70 cents.
These deserts are around the country in urban areas, including Los Angeles, Detroit, Memphis, Newark, N.J. Chicago has an estimated 600,000 food desert residents, while nearly half of Detroit is in a food desert. They are also disproportionately made up of minority communities. For example, in Chicago, nearly 500,000 of those located in food deserts are African Americans.
Unsurprisingly, health in food deserts is appallingly bad. Within these areas, 10 out of every 1,000 people die from cancer, as opposed to the fewer than 7 per 1,000 in neighborhoods with access to fresh foods. Additionally, 11 per 1,000 food desert residents die from heart disease, compared to fewer than 6 per 1,000 in other areas. Experts predict that likely the hardest hit are children, many of whom suffer from undiagnosed diabetes. One third of Chicago’s food desert residents are children.
Because this problem has only been recognized as recently as 2006, solutions have been slow coming but present. For example, in Chicago, the internet-based grocer Peapod has paired with Neighbor Capital to help residents purchase affordable produce at schools. In Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood the nonprofit Growing Home hosts weekly farm-stand hours at its urban garden. The nonprofit God’s Gang provides training in urban agriculture.
While perhaps not involving illegal arms trade or threats of deportation, food deserts are a human rights concern, deserving immediate attention. U.S. residents have a constitutional right to live anywhere they want, and there is an international human right to health. That right is being denied to urban residents throughout the country.
- Jude Pannell, JGRJ Student Writer 2008-09
Every year on Thanksgiving, newspapers across the country print editorials and columns appropriate for the occasion. Some mark the passage of the seasons. Some wax eloquent on the importance of family. Others encourage generosity towards those less fortunate than readers. Most make an obligatory mention of the food most Americans eat on Thanksgiving, and then proceed quickly to the formulaic “More Important Message About Gratitude,” or the “Clever and Witty Observation About Traditions.”
There is nothing terribly wrong with that approach. But just as a Thanksgiving dinner comprised solely of stuffing would leave most diners unsatisfied, those pieces fail to address the real substance of Americans’ Thanksgiving traditions. The food we eat is not just the result of a day in the kitchen. On the fourth Thursday of each November we are the beneficiaries of a year’s labor by hardworking Americans who don’t always get the recognition they should.
Consider the turkey. Every year six hundred seventy-five million pounds of turkey are eaten on Thanksgiving. In 2003 American turkey farmers produced two hundred seventy million turkeys. Three quarters of those turkeys came from Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. On each of the approximately 8000 turkey farms in America, men and women worked long and hard to provide us with the traditional center of Thanksgiving dinner. For your dedication, thank you.
Through autumn, while other Americans go about their lives, potato farmers watch the weather. A successful potato harvest is a delicate balancing act. Harvesting when the soil is too cold results in cracked and bruised potatoes. The potatoes must then be cured at around 60 degrees and then stored at a slightly lower temperature. The mashed potatoes on the table next to the turkey are the result of potato farmers’ work and worry. Many potato farmers’ livelihoods depend on a single crop. For your risks and hard work, thank you.
There would be no stuffing without wheat. In Kansas, the leading wheat producer in the United States, one third of the state’s 63,000 farms grow wheat. Together they annually produce approximately 400 million bushels of wheat. They do so at the mercy of the weather, plant disease, and market fluctuations that can make even a bountiful harvest worthless. For providing stuffing today and bread for the world every day, thank you.
Of course, there is not enough room on this page to thank everyone whose labor makes Thanksgiving possible. In addition to the farmers who grow all the other products we need for green bean casserole, gravy, pies, cranberry sauce, corn, sweet potatoes, and so on, other workers help get the food from field to table.
Most Thanksgiving dinners include pumpkin pie. Each slice of pie represents the labors of farmers, produce pickers, produce wholesalers, truck drivers, produce canners, grocery warehouse workers, supermarket stockers and cashiers. It’s not glamorous or lucrative work, but without it Thanksgiving would not be the same. For your long hours behind the scenes helping make our holiday complete, thank you.
It is appropriate to take this day to express gratitude for friends, family, and other more tangible things. At the same time, however, a true display of gratitude must include those upon whose efforts this holiday depends. Consider the developing situation in Postville, Iowa. Less than a year ago, Postville was held up as example of a symbiotic small town in which most of the residents worked for one employer, Agriprocessors. Agriprocessors depended on the residents and claimed to value them. Today, it is clear that was not the case.
Federal immigration officials have detained hundreds of workers. Families face the prospect of being torn apart by deportation proceedings. Many members of Agriprocessors’ upper management now face criminal charges for exploiting the workers—encouraging violation of immigration laws, violating child labor laws, and disregarding workplace safety laws. The workers in Postville were treated like chattel, and now the town’s social and economic structure has been crippled. A recent article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette noted that many families in Postville are coping with food insecurity. There will be hungry families in Postville this Thanksgiving.
None of the workers in Postville were looking for a free ride. They came to Postville so they could provide a better life for themselves and their families. They did exhausting, dangerous, dirty, low-paying work in a meatpacking plant so the rest of us could eat. Giving thanks for our good fortune without acknowledging and addressing their plight would render this Thanksgiving meaningless.