Why East/Northeast Portland?
East/Northeast Portland is a food desert compared to areas of other Portland, which otherwise has a reputation of being a hub for sustainable food and healthy lifestyles. In East/Northeast Portland, local, affordable, organic, and culturally-appropriate food is not as equally available.
This map of all of the Farmers Markets in Portland demonstrates the inequality. The pink pins are the markets in East and NE Portland, while the green pins are the ones in other parts of Portland (the wealthier parts). Only five of the twenty three farmers market in Portland are in E and NE Portland.
Understanding that every person should have the resources necessary to make their own, informed choices about the foods they eat, we see that East/Northeast Portland could use programs like ours to begin to make access to sustainable food more equal. This is why we situated our project in this area.
What is Sustainable Food?
Sustainable food is food that is the most beneficial to all people, environments, animals, and businesses involved with producing and consuming it, in the present, and future. While this might sound vague and theoretical, it is quite possible and understandable when focused on specific and local community levels; each community has its own demographic, economic, environmental, and cultural needs and desires for food production and consumption, based on the different makeups of people, geography, businesses, land, and laws within that area.
Commercially-produced food is efficient, easy, and inexpensive to produce, and thus affordable and convenient to consume. However, because commercially-produced food does not take into account the individual needs of the many communities it serves, it often creates long-term issues in many of them. Some of these issues include:
- Exposure to and ingestion of potentially dangerous pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals are used in large-scale agricultural so that the crops grow more quickly and uniformly. However, they have not been proven safe for human consumption, despite the fact that conventional grocers readily sell them to the public. They also cause serious environmental damages where they are grown, contaminating natural water supplies, killing beneficial insects, stripping the soil of its nutrition, and overall diminishing the local ecosystems of genetic and biologic diversity, and therefore making it vulnerable to being destroyed completely.
- People’s health. Commercial, processed foods are more affordable than fresh produce because they are made with lower quality ingredients, come from bigger companies, and are filled with preservatives that make their shelf-life longer. When people don’t have access to quality produce, they are likely eating too much commercial food that lacks nutrition. This can lead to many diet-related health issues such obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver failure, various cancers, and heart disease.
- Local farmers’ livelihoods. Local farmers who grow quality — but time- and labor-intensive — produce have to compete with commercial farms who can afford to sell their products at low prices. Commercially-grown food floods communities’ local economies at lower prices than locally-grown food, thus making it harder for local farmers to compete and stay in business. When community members do not have large amounts of money to spend on food in the first place, it makes sense for them to buy the more affordable, commercially-produced foods. But this does not encourage local businesses.
On the other hand, sustainable food means food grown, distributed, and consumed on the local level and to the communities tastes, preferences, and benefit. This way the community can control what is produced and consumed and how, ensuring that it keeps their environment, personal welfare, and economy healthy. The local community has the ability to learn and make their own choices about the food they put into their body.
Why Free/Give Away?
One of the biggest issues with creating equitable access to sustainable food is that eating sustainable food can be expensive compared to commercially-produced food. It is not quick, inexpensive or easy to simply make sustainable foods available. This is an injustice! Some main reasons that sustainable food is more expensive for consumers than commercially-produced food are:
- Growing foods without the use of chemicals and fertilizers requires more work and time. Local farmers have to charge more, especially when they are still competing with commercially-produced food.
- Small farmers do not receive subsidies (money, insurance, seeds) from the government. Commercial farmers do, because the government funds them to feed the nation.
- Local farmers depend on their profits for their own livelihoods. When you support a local farmer, you are helping them continue their business and earn their living. Their food costs more than commercially-produced food because the profits from commercially-produced food are more used to simply expand the company, by selling mass quantities of cheap goods.
This is why we are using a grant to give away meals cooked with fresh produce. Our project doesn’t cost the community anything, but it does begin to help community members to understand these issues, and create ideas their own ideas about continuing this movement, in the way most beneficial to them.
Cooking your own food from fresh, organic, and local produce rather than using boxed and processed foods has many benefits. Although it takes time, here are a few reasons why it’s worth your while:
- Creativity. Let cooking become an outlet to experiment and express yourself. If you mess up, it’s okay. Eventually, you’ll take pride in something you’ve created and this is a great feeling.
- Health. When you cook with fresh food, it doesn’t need preservatives, which means you’re bringing health to yourself and to your friends and family. When you cook, you simplify the ingredients that go into the meal. While a Stouffer’s frozen pot pie will have around 60 ingredients (most of which we can’t pronounce), a homemade pot pie will have around 15, all of which are recognizable.
- Connection to other people/family. Cooking with others is a great way to come together and make something delicious to share with your family and friends. Also, there’s nothing like eating yummy food that someone else has cooked for you.
Why Local Produce?
Buying your fruits and vegetables from small, local farms is one of the most straightforward ways to choose to consume sustainable food. This is because:
- It uses very little gas to transport it from the farm to your plate. Think about how much gas ahead of broccoli from Ecuador uses!
- You support the local economy. Small farmers rely on locals to stay in business.
- You are helping to build community ties.
- You can see how the food is grown. This way, you can decide for yourself whether you want to support them given their growing methods, environmental impacts, and health impacts.
- You have more of a voice to demand the quality produce you deserve!