In the United States in 2020, some 54 million people, including 18 million children, are experiencing food insecurity. According to the Wall Street Journal, in July, 12% of Americans, or 24 million people, reported they had not had enough food in the previous week, up from 9.8% just three months earlier, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. For households with children, that number was an astonishing 20%.
Rashid Nuri, founder of the Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW) and author of the upcoming book “Growing Out Loud: Journey of a Food Revolutionary,” told Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits Tuesday that abandoning the poisonous practices of industrial agriculture and returning to local cultivation and urban farming can address disparities in nutrition as well as food access for everyone, but especially the racialized victims of “food apartheid.”
“We live in the richest nation in the entire history of the world,” Nuri said, “yet we have people who are hungry, people with no health insurance, people who are homeless, and I think it’s a shame that that is true. So there are lots of people who are hungry: just ride down the streets in any city and you see folks out there asking ‘help me, feed me so I can get some food.’”
Nuri told hosts Michelle Witte and Bob Schlehuber they call the situation a “food apartheid” instead of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) preferred term of “food desert,” because “access to quality food” isn’t a problem that uniquely affects communities of color, as the USDA’s term has come to be associated with.
“Sometimes folks that live in rich neighborhoods have to drive just as far to get quality food as folks that are coming out of poorer neighborhoods. The difference is the economics: jobs, education, all the issues, the ills that you’re finding in the cities,” he said.
However, he cautioned that prices are higher in the Black community than in white communities and the food quality is lower, and while white people often need to go just as far to get their food, that travel for them is much easier because they are more likely to have personal transportation than to rely on mass transit.
“Now, 82% of Americans live in cities - urban areas - and that has made a change in the demographics, and I am working on and proposing that small farms and urban agriculture are a solution - not ‘the solution’ - but they are a solution to some of these problems at all these levels,” Nuri said.
“What this pandemic has done,” Nuri said, “is heightened the contradictions that we see in our food system. ‘Big Ag’ is broken and does not work any more. If you remember, in March, when the confinement was first established, they had pictures on television of big farmers taking food and turning it back into the soil,” Nuri said. “So they couldn’t get the food to the cities because the transportation system wasn’t there, the distribution system wasn’t there, it was all Big Ag.”
By contrast, small farmers and urban agriculturalists had the best season ever, Nuri told Sputnik.
“People began to panic, they wanted to find out where they could get their food locally. Grocery stores didn’t have any, so it was local farmers’ markets,” he said, adding there were “runs” on outdoor stores and nurseries as people rushed to get their own potting materials and seeds to grow food themselves.
“We used to live within walking distance of where our food was produced - that time has passed and doesn’t exist. But I think the creation of a local food economy, which we’re seeing all over the country,” Nuri said, was a trend that had grown so strong it was no longer merely a “movement,” but was now a “paradigm shift.”
“People are now trying to get back where humankind was so many millennia ago when the food was being produced near where they work, where they live. I have been blessed, I’ve traveled, I’ve worked in 36 countries around the world and had a chance to observe local food economies, where people can still get their food from where they are. So my advocacy these days is creating, contributing [and] expanding local food economy through community farmers’ markets, folks growing at home. I can name a half-dozen new people who have been trained that are going out installing gardens in people’s yards so they can get access to the food.”
“It’s a shame that in a country as rich as we are, the quality of our food is very poor and we don’t have access to it. A lot of the European countries, they won’t take food that’s grown in the US, because it’s poisoned,” Nuri told Sputnik.
Nuri recalled that the cause of the explosion at the Port of Beirut earlier this month that destroyed much of Lebanon’s capital city was ammonium nitrate, one of the world’s most widely used fertilizers. “They’re using gunpowder to grow food on these large commercial farms,” he said.
This, he said, grew out of the ammunition manufacturers, whose business expanded during the Second World War and who did not want to sacrifice profits after the outbreak of peace in 1945. This process paralleled the explosion - pardon the pun - of industrial agriculture in the United States.
“This has been the philosophy: the concentration of farms and the farming system into a very narrow and small number of people, and they are being squeezed. So in between the producers and the consumers, you have the processing companies, the big grain companies, who are controlling the distribution of our food in this country and creating a system that is just broken,” he said.
“What works are small farms, organic farms, regenerative farms, that replenish the soil, clean the air and produce food that is healthy and near to the people,” Nuri said. “This shift of the paradigm back to a local food economy is what can save the future, protect the future.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.