As I report in next month’s National Geographic feature, “The New Face of Hunger,” millions of American families are struggling with a new kind of hunger. Some of the increase can be traced to a change in definition; in the 1960s, America equated hunger with physical starvation. By the 2000s, though, researchers started asking whether people were skipping meals because they couldn’t afford to eat, coining the term “food insecurity” to replace hunger. And with wages stagnating and public support of commodity crops far exceeding that for produce, the number of food insecure Americans now far outstrips the number of those who were ever counted as “hungry.” But don’t take my word for it: The numbers speak for themselves.
How bad is the new American hunger?
Millions of people hungry in the U.S. in 1968 10
Millions of people food insecure in the U.S. in 2012 49 Read more
In 2004, Seth Holmes, a young American physician and anthropologist, undertook a trip that few take for kicks: He migrated from the rural highlands of Oaxaca in southern Mexico to the deserts of Arizona alongside a band of indigenous migrants bound for American farm fields. Read more
Smack in the middle of a half-dozen shipping containers and striding up a mound of gravel, Johanna Gilligan, 31, can’t contain her excitement. “This looks so awesome!” She nods her head at an alcove between two containers, painted the pale color of new celery, with dry sinks attached. “That’s going to be for processing.”
Gilligan, co-director of New Orleans’ Grow Dat Youth Farm, traipses up the mound, which terminates at a deck of sorts and more containers, crowded with architectural students from Tulane University and local urban farm experts. Beyond the deck sits a bayou, lined with trees weeping Spanish moss into the water; the I-610 freeway buzzes along in the background. “I can’t believe how much is done! My office is going to be in a treehouse!”
She has reason to be excited. At four acres, the buildings’ site is just a sliver of City Park, 1,300 acres of green space on New Orleans’ north side. But come February, the buildings will be done, the beds will be ready for planting, and the second class of Grow Dat farmers will commence their work. The goal: one acre planted, 10,000 pounds of food grown, 20 jobs for student workers. Read more
In the last decade, food in America has gone from a lifestyle pursuit to serious issues, encompassing concerns about food safety, health and even industrial concentration. But the question of labor—just who’s out there picking all those vegetables anyway—has remained on the periphery, a silent and uncomfortable contradiction alongside calls to pay farmers premium prices for their food.
Enter last Friday’s TEDxFruitvale: Harvesting Change, a daylong conference at Mills College that was webcast to viewing parties across the country—and the first TEDx event focused on food and labor. Backed by national thought powerhouse TED and sponsored by the Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation, TEDxFruitvale sought to plumb the depths of America’s farm labor situation in the context of the sustainable food movement. Read more