Going about the solution to food system justice does not work when people or groups go about in separate directions or even on separate paths in the same direction. The two choices for solving food system justice have been posed as 1) Begin to make material and tangible changes by simply remedying “broken things,” such as changing our diets and nutritional awareness, or 2) Begin intellectually to form positive values and outcomes that we then put to action. Action or thinking, which comes first; where do we begin; is this duality the symptom of the same faulty reasoning that tells us the opposite of what we should think: the solution to food system justice requires the synergy of a twofold solution, action and intellect, working together in whatever ratio necessary to produce the fastest, most efficient, effective, moral, and compassionate solutions.
Setting aside the inextricable and yet obtuse association between action and intellect, I would like to examine the material solution of simply fixing “broken things.” It seems that fixing broken things has gotten a bad rap. This strategy has been tagged as a Band-Aid fix or a bunch of Band-Aid fixes that do not solve the real problem. The negative connotation of saying, simply fixing these problems, means that the work is of little consequence or easily accomplished, which undermines the arduous and necessary work that these Band-Aid fixes are doing, such as creating refugee gardens, gleaning food waste for farmer’s markets, and growing healthy, edible microgreens for college campus consumption. Combatting the epidemic of diet-related diseases requires a lot, a lot more effort beyond ending poverty, the perceived be-all-end-all solution to world hunger. Do not get me wrong—poverty is decidedly the strongest enemy to food system justice, but without Band-Aid fixes like canvassing neighborhoods to provide healthful tips for living, those who escape poverty would still consume the same glop, the same highly processed, enticing but literally killer food in their new, lower-middle class lives. And then again Band-Aid fixes have their shortcomings, especially their disparate nature that prevents them from sharing resources and joining in the fight to end poverty and all sorts of other movements. Rather in a figurative way, only an interwoven complex of Band-Aid fixes dabbed with triple-antibiotic, poverty-ending ointment heals the wound.
An idea of indelible impression arose in conversation about this subject, but it was not that I agreed, but significantly disagreed that left me ruminating. The idea to supplant Band-Aid fixes with a movement to empower people to grow their own food, even in urban areas, seems sort of ridiculous. It might work for people who do not hold jobs. But often the poor and struggling have to work multiple jobs, pulling double shifts each day to survive. Now, okay, there are options, like people could potentially quit a job, or a spouse could give up their job to produce food. But a sad portion of the urban poor does not have spouses to rely on, and when the mouths need feeding plus bills need paying, a single mother cannot leave her job to begin working the soil. Yes, that’s a severe portrait, but I’d venture to say a single mother can’t even afford to learn, and I mean learn, with no guarantee of success, to grow food. History also suggests that in order to farm, people generally tend to need more children. Now that might be amiss, because we today have better vaccines and just generally better health and medicine, which means less children die, which means we need to birth less children than in times when large families were needed to work farms because often some children would perish. Even in the best scenario, having more people on Earth to produce more food exacerbates the problem while trying to fix it—and it doesn’t even fix it, because there is enough food already (good, healthy food); people just don’t have the money to purchase it (especially not the good, healthy, food—for various reasons). So, to relegate Band-Aid fixes while harkening a new epoch of food-growing education and implementation is not the answer. Indeed, there is no answer; there are only small answers. Nothing is the be-all-end-all and no answer is better than another. They all serve a common end. Together they form a healing force that neither alone can muster. Together, in association with other Band-Aid fixes, they cause a lasting restoration.
In like comparison, action and intellect have the same synergistic effect when combined. I can’t say whether I favor one solution or another: 1) Because I am not qualified; I’m just offering empirical evidence, and 2) In the immortal words of Mr. Johnson: it’s always better when we’re together. Cynically postulating though: on one hand are insipid abstractions and on the other are various ramblings, both choices of which when working together really, actually, awesomely create stunning polypartisan food system justice. Our UMBC polypartisan projects—from lowly college students creating and leading initiatives for refugees to secure places to grow food for their own consumption; to developing awareness and hype among food desert communities for a novel, local farmer’s market where refugees might someday sell their produce; to the plans for a sustainable college farm that produces healthy, edible greens on campus for campus—exemplify the aggregate of ideas and actions, all types of diverse people, interests, abilities, values, and goals working for justice. Alone, each project is a Band-Aid fix, but cohesively sharing information, struggles and benefits, strength and weaknesses, we do good things better together than the good deeds done alone.
Small steps done by individuals are totally necessary, but what’s better is a collective effort—and usually it is difficult to parse an individual’s efforts from a movement’s, because individuals band together to create beneficial and inclusive movements that take on supporters because they do not forget their lowly roots. Whereas, exclusive movements and groups working toward the same end get mired in the insularity of their respective crews and semantic rhetoric. So, I do not resent referring to fixing problems as simple and thus somehow inferior to some intangible goal of ending poverty or a citizen-growers revolution, because I accept the shortcomings of simple Band-Aid fixes, as well as more importantly recognizing their collective potential. They are integral pieces of the whole solution. Our collection of projects serves as a microcosm for this point, but it also serves as exciting and tangible progress, a part of the real-life, larger picture—where we are actually making a difference and enacting change.