I always seem to get excited for May. It’s the wonderful time of the year that I get to see flowers bloom, I get out my bike to go cycling and here in Columbus, the farmers’ markets open. It’s perfect.
However, something is souring my local-made goat cheese. Something doesn’t seem to sit right with me, and maybe this is why I feel like addressing it and those who may be reading.
We live in a food elitist culture.
No seriously, it’s something that I have noticed over the years since I started participating in the local food movement. People go to farmers’ markets not just to get local, healthy products sans middle man, but also as a form of status. I see it all the time in the Clintonville Farmers’ Market here in Columbus.
Sure, you get college kids and local granola moms with their babies carried in wraps. But as I park my bike at the bike rack, or get off the bus, I see them. Yippies. My portmanteau of “yuppies” and “hippies.” Rich, white suburban middle class folks appropriating the liberal progressive movement with a green and health conscious idealism. They come in their SUVs or Jeeps, with their Starbucks, cellphones and oodles of cash and start loitering around the farmers’ markets. I don’t judge them, but I just find it ironic. Nothing is more amusing than a Sierra Club sticker on a Honda Pilot some other kind of SUV.
But the point I am getting at is that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. I was raised with the notion that poor people aren’t allowed to eat good food. That healthy, good, sustainable food belongs to rich people. Only the affluent are allowed to eat well. This was drilled into me as a kid, because local organic food is expensive and cheap food isn’t always nutritious. This bizarre divide is why I often feel guilty going to the farmers’ market. So many things make me think about this: getting fresh bread, talking to the vendors, sharing stories, making friends, and buying whatever I want. I feel guilty because I don’t pay with cash, but with EBT tokens I get exchanged at the main booth. Vendors don’t care, they smile and take my tokens. But I feel like I am the only one who uses food-stamps to get healthy food. Food that isn’t cheap, food that I was raised to believe I am not allowed to eat.
So when I see the rich or at least the well off go to farmers’ markets, I get sad. Because I know their kids are being raised to believe that they deserve this food. The thing is, everyone deserves this food, but this is not being taught. Instead, we are shaming the overweight for not buying marked up cauliflower or fresh green beans that last a few days. Instead, we are refusing to take EBT tokens or opting out of the program at farmers’ markets, which furthers the divide between the poor and the rich.
We shouldn’t see food as a symbol of status. Getting local organic milk or gluten-free bread from a bakery doesn’t need to be a sign of money or wealth. Everyone needs to wake up and honestly start talking about food deserts, about food elitism, and about making farmers’ markets more EBT accessible. Everyone deserves fresh food and milk and bread and so many things. It hurts so much to see the belief that the poor should go hungry while the rich feast unchecked.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the idea of food being used as a status symbol?