Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the role of food in the pandemic. With health and safety captivating the world, it is important to remember how much food is a part of that.
When the world shut down, we still could go out for food. As we worried and mourned, we turned to comfort foods. As we feared for our health, we nourished our bodies with food. As we grew weary of quarantine, we challenged ourselves to start a garden or sourdough starter. Food became a source of comfort in this pandemic.
There is not justice in the pandemic . . . however, it is a mistake to think that there was justice beforehand.
Yet food also became an increasingly pressing worry. As millions lost their jobs and the world economy crashed, we still had to eat but circumstances changed many people's access to food. As we tried sheltering in place as a society, some of us were still required to leave home and risk their lives to work in grocery stories, factories, farms, and restaurants. As we hosted children and their families at emergency feeding sites at schools, churches and community centers, we worried about the highly processed packaged foods we were giving them.
At points during this pandemic, food became a means. But it also became an ends.
There is not justice in the pandemic. There is not justice in the risks the heroes who protect and support the food system had to take. However, it is a mistake to think that there was justice beforehand.
The same workers who we now call heroes have been fighting for better wages, benefits, health and safety regulations, and societal recognition of the importance of their work. This is not a new problem. The risks of this pandemic were new, but the vulnerability we forced on so many in the food system and in our society as a whole is centuries old.
So, my lingering questions as I think about food in this pandemic are: As we begin to exit the shutdowns, how will we ensure that everyone has access to enough healthy and culturally appropriate foods? How will we ensure that Food System Heroes are fully appreciated and supported in their work?
I envision a future where we look to food, not just as fuel, but as a way to take care of the environment, ourselves, and each other.
How will we rebuild our society after the pandemic is over?
As for me, I envision a future where people are able to get enough food. Where everyone has access to healthy food. Where the food system protects its workers with healthcare, sick leave and paid time off. Where we remember the incredible value of the people who grow, prepare, and bring us our food. Where we honor our land and the land of others. A future where we look to food, not just as fuel, but as a way to take care of the environment, ourselves, and each other.