Low-income Locavores
One of the critiques leveled at the sustainable food movement is that it’s class-ist. Only affluent professionals can afford healthy food, the thinking goes. Several academic papers have even recently backed this up. Nonsense. Sure, shopping at Whole Foods is expensive—and so is buying organic all the time. And yes, energy-rich, nutrient-poor foods—white bread, orange juice, the “deathless Twinkie”—are cheap; but that doesn’t obligate anyone to buy them. If you’re a smart shopper—buying produce at a farmer’s market or focusing on the fringes of your grocery store—you can make your money go much further than if you’re buying the sorts of overpriced prepared foods that claim they’re organic, local, fat-free, etc. (Especially if you eat mostly plants, reserving a side serving of meat for just a few times a week.) A 1-pound bag of lentils at the C-Town in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is $1.59 (at my local Whole Foods, the price goes up to $2.49—still cheap, folks); a bag of fresh carrots is about the same. Add some spices, garlic, and brown rice and you have a healthy, filling meal (for four) for less than $10. Bulk almonds, eggs, beans, cabbage, broccoli, and kale—all are energy-rich AND nutrient-rich as well as being fairly cheap. Joining a community-supported agriculture (CSA) is also affordable. It’s always hard to part with a chunk of cash up-front, as most CSAs require, but many now allow members to set up payment plans. And if you do the math, you’ll see that it’s far cheaper to get your produce through a CSA than at the farmer’s market (or at Whole Foods). My partner and I paid $725 this year for a share in our CSA, which starts on June 13 and goes to Thanksgiving. We bought a full vegetable share, a half-fruit share (full ones were already sold out) and a full egg share. Total cost per week? $29. Sounds like a great deal to me, especially when you consider we’re splitting our share with our upstairs neighbors. (We know from year’s past that we can never eat all those vegies by ourselves.) But to some, $30 a week is still a lot of money to spend on food. Many CSAs subsidize shares for low-income families and some even accept food stamps. Last year, according to Just Food executive director Jacquie Berger, two-thirds of all CSA groups in New York City offered some form of flexible payment plan. At the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA, member donations have made it possible for three low-income families to join this year. The CSA pays 75% of each of these shares; the low-income families pay the remaining 25% (over the course of several weeks or months if need be). Furthermore, at the end of each farmer drop-off, any shares that have not been picked up are donated to a local soup kitchen. We’re a long way from having total food justice in the U.S. but CSAs like mine make me think we’re on the right track.

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