By: Meredith Anderson
On Wednesday, February 15th the UCSD Students for Global Health, the Global Health Program, and Global Forum held the Winter Quarterly Conversations in Global Health. The event focused on the topic, “Food Insecurity – Local and Global Perspectives.” Nancy Postero, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Director of the Human Rights program at UCSD, moderated the event.
This Quarterly Conversations in Global Health featured three speakers, who each gave a brief presentation regarding food insecurity, followed by a question and answers session. The first speaker was Dr. Hanna Garth, the Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCSD. Garth presented on what she calls the “Global Industrial Food Complex” and how globalization has led to an increase in food insecurity. Garth provided the example of the 2008 global food crisis, a time when food prices rapidly increased while supply decreased, leading to riots worldwide. She explained how the modernization of agricultural practices caused such instability.
“These changes had the immediate effect of increasing food production across the developing world,” Dr. Garth explained. “However, the increase in green yields did not necessarily lead to a reduction in hunger or malnutrition.”
Dr. Garth continued on to suggest that the cause of malnutrition may not be insufficient food supply, but rather the inequality of distribution. Additionally, the foods commonly overproduced are grains, which can increase caloric intake but may not contain sufficient micronutrients to eradicate malnutrition. She provided an example of the United States foreign policy that promoted price supports and export subsidies on agricultural goods. This policy led to the overproduction of cheap goods, specifically corn and soybeans, which were then dumped into the global market. At the same time, many developing countries were accepting loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which came with strings attached. These conditions included adjustment programs, which require developing nations to partake in “free market” style practices. In relation to food security, these structural adjustment programs led to the privatization and deregulation of agricultural practices in developing countries. As a result, some firms were able to produce food cheaply. This, combined with the dumping of agricultural goods at low prices from developed nations, undermined the local farmers in developing countries. The long term effect is the modern dependence on industrialized nations for food products and weakened economies of developing nations.Dr. Garth concluded by stating that food insecurity and malnutrition will persist into the future, but she challenged the audience to use the lessons learned during the 2008 food crisis to prevent future food crises.
Kelcey Ellis, the Director of Programs for Feeding San Diego, spoke next. Feeding San Diego is a local nonprofit hunger-relief organization that distributes healthy food to San Diego residents. Ellis began her presentation by showing a video featuring the diverse array of San Diego residents who have relied on Feeding San Diego for assistance. Ellis continued on to promote Feeding San Diego’s various programs and encouraged the audience volunteer with the organization to support their efforts in building a hunger-free and healthy San Diego.
The final speaker at the Quarterly Conversations in Global Health was Dr. Pascale Joassart-Marcelli, a Professor of Geography at San Diego State University. Dr. Joassart-Marcelli focused her presentation on “food deserts.” The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as, “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” When mapping food deserts, organizations typically base the accessibility of healthy foods off of the number of grocery stores in an area. Dr. Joassart-Marcelli challenged this notion in her presentation by claiming that ethnic markets, while not considered when mapping food deserts, provide communities with an abundance of fresh, healthy foods.
Dr. Joassart-Marcelli provided information from the local “Food, Ethnicity, and Place Project” that she works on. Specifically, she explained how the community of City Heights in San Diego is considered a “food desert” because it only has one supermarket. However, City Heights is home to an abundance of ethnic markets that serve the local community, which includes a large number of refugees from various countries. The study found that these ethnic markets actually supply more fresh food than supermarkets. Additionally, these markets offer what Dr. Joassart-Marcelli called “culturally appropriate foods” and often at a better price than large grocery stores. Therefore, she concluded that City Heights should not be deemed a “food desert.” Dr. Joassart-Marcelli also stated that the labeling of areas as “food deserts” has become a form of “territorial stigmatization and racialization.” Moving forward, policies must be more accepting of food suppliers, such as ethnic markets, in order to get an accurate understanding of which regions truly are “food deserts.”
The event concluded with a brief question and answer session during which the speakers discussed topics such as the global impact of animal agriculture, access to “culturally appropriate” foods, and the importance of supporting local farmers and economies.
Photo by: Neha Viswanathan