Good Food Life: J.R. Reynolds
J.R. Reynolds, coordinator of Good Food Battle Creek and social justice consultant, will deliver the closing keynote address at the 2016 Michigan Good Food Summit.
Here he shares his thoughts on the intersections of the race and food movements, the impact of the Charter in Battle Creek and the meaning of “good food for all.”
The theme of the upcoming Good Food Summit is “Good Food for All: The Road to 2020.” From your perspective, what does “Good Food for All” mean?
JRR: For me, the concept of “good food for all” centers on access to good food. Most adults know which types of foods are healthy or good for them (i.e., fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods) and which are not. But for some, there are barriers to accessing these “good” foods, particularly in poor areas and neighborhoods of color. These barriers may include not only the physical inability to access stores that sell fresh food (if there are no stores within walking or driving distance), but also a general lack of knowledge or equipment required to prepare and cook such food.
I know that you are also engaged in race work. What do you think is the greatest commonality between the food movement and racial justice movement?
JRR: The greatest commonality between the two is the effort to challenge the societal belief that a person’s success or failure is based on that individual’s actions. From a race standpoint, there exists the notion that a poor person of color who is floundering is at fault for being that way. In regards to food, people with negative health indicators (like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease) are blamed because they should know better not to eat so much or to eat certain types of food—if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have these chronic conditions. However, these issues are much more complex and it is important to consider things from a systemic perspective. For instance, people’s diets are influenced by many factors—such as the media, the people around them, how they were raised, and what types of foods are available in their neighborhoods. People do not have as much choice as they think they do, and the food system pushes certain kinds of foods on people of certain socio-economic levels.
How can the food movement be more inclusive?
JRR: The biggest challenge in making the food movement more inclusive is to gain the trust and respect of the marginalized community. There are inherent differences that become apparent when people from different socio-economic backgrounds interact and it takes more than an invitation to encourage community members to come to the table. For instance, people may have a level of mistrust about the motives behind an invitation or they may have a general discomfort about doing something unknown. People who manage or operate food movements need to understand that they are often times coming from a different place. They need to develop relationships with poor communities or communities of color and then introduce the idea of inviting them to participate.
What progress have you seen towards the goals of the Charter in the last 5-6 years?
The biggest thing the Charter did for Good Food Battle Creek (GFBC) has been to bring into awareness issues that we otherwise would not have known about or would not be paying attention to. Also the Charter has integrated many components of food systems, has brought together key players (e.g. health department, backyard growers, urban farmers, community farmers, MSUE, food pantries) and has helped us to examine challenges that exist within food systems. GFBC uses the Charter as a guide to inform the work we do in town.
What are some of the biggest challenges to meeting the Charter goals?
One of the biggest challenges is time. Another is the sheer scope and magnitude of issues within and around the food system. One example is that the public’s perception of and understanding of our food system is limited. Most people don’t think beyond the fact that food comes from a grocery store. They don’t think about what it takes to produce their food or the individuals growing and harvesting the food. Another issue is that the food system is linked to other systems—like energy and the economy—and so in order to influence change we need to adopt a holistic approach. Certain principles of capitalism, such as competition, economies of scale, and focus on profit margins, can also pose challenges to some of the Charter goals. Finally, achieving social justice within the food movement is impeded by the individualistic culture that we have here in the US, where the majority of people believe it’s up to an individual to affect change.
In your opinion, how does Michigan compare to other states in terms of progress towards this goal?
One advantage in Michigan is that the food movement really has traction in the Detroit area. The food movement is helping Detroit leverage itself out of its depressed economic state, and the city is now seen around the nation as a model for urban gardening and farming. Detroit’s success story may not exist had it not been for terrible economic downturn the city (and state) experienced in last recession and with the decline of the auto industry.
Hear more from J.R. Reynolds at the #2016goodfood Summit! Register today!