December 2, 2010

Food, Planning, Capitalism

Two great things I want to bring to your attention, dear reader.

Factory Farms, Mapped

Food and Water Watch have created a Factory Farms map. It shows concentrations of animal production facilities across the United States, sortable by animal type. The sheer density of these facilities is staggering, as one might expect:




Check out the website for more granular animal demographics. It tracks how animal population has increased or decreased (generally increased) per production site, and as a population stock in each given county. The maps of factory farms is a useful, visual reminder of how the negative burden of our food infrastructure is born by the few for the convenience of national consumption patterns. Production is hidden from the consumer, and concentrated in places that are subsequently reconstituted as specialized parts of a corporate supply chain. With pollution!

Urban Food Deserts and Transportation

In other reports from the nexus between the spatial logic of capitalism and the food supply, we have The City Fix's post, "Studies Show the Connection Between Travel Times to Food Stores and Public Health." I'll quote it at length, it's great stuff:

Generally, in the United States larger grocery store chains supply a variety of fresh food at lower costs, while independent grocers, bodegas and smaller stores have less selection and higher operating costs and prices.  Such stores tend to have a smaller margin of profit and slower turnover in sales, making it harder for them to purchase a variety of fresh vegetables.  Detroit, a city of nearly one million people and 143 square miles, lacks a single grocery store chain. In many cities, suburban and rural areas of the U.S., large chains and grocery stores can be inaccessible to large portions of the population.  Extensive studies have documented food deserts and related public health concerns, linking inaccessibility of fresh food to geographic areas with concentrated poverty, low-income or minority populations.
These communities typically have low rates of car ownership and stores that are difficult to reach via public transportation or walking.  Most of the studies we reviewed considered a store poorly accessible if residents had to walk more than a half mile or ride a bus line that comes at limited times.  Shopping becomes burdensome, costly, time-consuming and less likely to happen on a regular basis if access is difficult. A lack of grocery stores is one reason low-income people and people of color are more likely to have diet-related diseases. A report called “The Grocery Gap” cited a multi-state study that found that people with access to supermarkets or grocery stores have the lowest rates of obesity and overweight and those without access to supermarkets have the highest rates of such diet-related diseases.

Carla Kaiser, senior manager of Community Partnerships at the hunger organization City Harvest has been working on food access in low-income communities for about six years. ”The barriers to healthy food are not just about price,” she says. “A common theme is transportation. Since healthy, affordable food is not commonly available in every community, people need to travel outside of their neighborhood just to get basic food to feed their family. For many, this means two buses and a taxi ride back with groceries. Just getting to the food people want is costly in terms of time and money.”
Detroit: A New Vision for Food System Solutions
But the issue with food deserts is not about identifying and documenting the problems and reinforcing the connections between race, disease and poverty, it’s about empowering people within these communities and cities to make comprehensive changes.  Detroit has few quality grocery stores that sell fresh foods – the vast majority are convenience stores, bakeries and gas stations – yet the city has become a model for a self-reliant, community-based food systems. The city is building a network of farmers’ markets, and adjusting its zoning for more community gardens and urban farms.  Many community members are taking charge of the issue themselves by establishing, for example, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which aims to bring improve residents’ access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food through urban agriculture and policy work.

 ”The barriers to healthy food are not just about price,” she says. “A common theme is transportation."

These issues arouse both the aspiring urban planner (find practical remedies!) and the armchair cultural theorist (capitalism's creation of its own inscrutable networks, chains, hierarchies, deserts, and densities). Still reeling, trying to absorb the excesses and contradictions from the juxtaposition of the factory farm and the food desert.

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