Food is something that we tend to only pay notice in its absence.
For those of us who have a ready supply of food, it is easy to sit back and judge those who cannot afford to eat well. I remember as a child walking into the supermarket with my mother and comparing the prices for the first time. All of a sudden it didn’t seem so strange that some people could only purchase junk food and soft drinks. It is still easy to forget that some cannot afford those luxuries that I take for granted.
Now there are so many other considerations that have complicated this issue because of our change in environmental mindset. It is no longer a question of the dichotomy between fruit and vegetables and junk food and high sugar content drinks. Now you are expected to buy organic produce where possible; bring your own containers; bring your own bags; restaurants are expected to have sustainable options for taking food with you; and supermarkets are receiving more pressure to give wasted food to those in need.
It may seem like a small expense to purchase plastic bags at the supermarket or buy organic foods, but there are plenty of people for whom those few cents can make a drastic difference. Beyond this, a person who is working three jobs to feed their family does not necessarily have the time to go to a local market or do research to ensure they are genuinely purchasing sustainable goods.
With the current rates of pollution and the threat of global warming at our heels, this is an admiral turn in our social philosophies, but how inclusive is it? I personally feel that those who are financially capable should proactively counteract global waste and those who cannot, should do what they can to survive. Despite my view, there is something to be said for less financially stable individuals being included in the movement without judgement.
The question now is not what can we do to be more sustainable, but how can the whole community be a part of this change? The benefits of redistributing food that would otherwise go to waste are clear, but what else can be done? Providing reusable bags to those who cannot afford them could both decrease waste and provide a little relief when even plastic bags have an associated cost. The other expenses of sustainability require more forethought. It is thought by some that sugar taxes could encourage healthy eating, which also means less packaging waste. This however becomes a burden to those that cannot afford it and does little to change the mindset those who can.
Realistically, it is hard to see a solution to this issue that does not involve government subsidization. If organic produce were more readily available in local supermarkets and subsidized then the cost difference would no longer be a defining factor. It is conceivable that a sugar tax could be beneficial coupled with subsidization. This, though, does not change the fact that a healthy meal takes much more preparation; time is something not afforded to all low-income earners. In reality it is much easier to see the benefits of simply subsidizing healthy foods.
As for self-provided containers in grocers, without providing such containers to those who cannot afford them this is an unrealistic expectation for these people. Not only are containers more expensive, they are also difficult to transport if you do not own a car and they make your weekly shop take that much more time consuming.
Another argument for the less wealthy is that they should grow their own food. With the current housing prices around the world this doesn’t make sense on an individual or household scale, but it does on a communal level. Community gardens offer a great space for the inclusion of all and many offer programs to teach the required skills to maintain small patches. The currently existing community gardens exist predominantly in wealthier neighborhoods. With some financial help this communal project could be expanded to include neighborhoods of both wealthy and poor demographics.
It all comes down to the same key issues, time and money. While time is not a factor that can be controlled with low global minimum wages and high living costs, we can control taxes. If governments were willing to provide those who struggle financially with more support, it is possible that communities could actually be inclusive in their sustainable endeavors.
Perhaps the issue of disproportionate ability to contribute is less of a social issue and more of a political issue.
By Annalisse Crosswell
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.