Fast Food: The Devolution of Food Insecurity in the Slums of America

Who doesn’t love food? Food is something that each creature needs in order to survive. Whether the person is a vegetarian, vegan, or meat-eater. There are so many different types of food for everyone to enjoy. But, for those who live in the slums of America, it is quite hard to enjoy delicious and expansive foods. While food insecurity is a thing that is quite prevalent in America, there should be a greater fear of how people are able to eat food, but not the healthy kind.

Food Insecurity in American Society

Comic depecting food insecurity in America as people crawl to find healthy food while fast food ia sll around them.
Image Source: tumblr.com

Food insecurity in America is a major part of many people’s lives in the modern-day. There are roughly over 37 million American citizens who have food insecurity issues (hungerandheath.com). These people consist of both children and adults alike. They are cast aside from the many who are rich. They are then put in neighborhoods that are rough for anyone to live in. These places are rough for anyone to live in. There are also few chances to get any opportunities that can help them advance in life. Because they are in such slum places, there are not many places where they can get things that are more expensive. Examples of things that are “expensive” would be fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits, and other normal commodities. These places have another name: Food Deserts.

Food Desserts

Food deserts are usually the cause of complex socio-economic issues. They run deep in the histories of affected communities and continue to cause issues in them. Food desert definitions are also influenced by geographic locations (Barrett). In places where people do not earn a lot of money to feed their families, major fast-food companies, such as McDonald’s, open up their doors. This is great for the companies who open their stores to make an income. But, for the people who live there, it is not as great. Buying a dollar menu burger that has all the ingredients is much easier than buying the individual ingredients-which cost more than the burger. These easy-to-eat meals are great, but not if one is eating them all the time. Fast food items are not healthy and are low quality.

Resources that mainly offer pre-cooked foods, fast foods, or “junk” foods may be frequently utilized, but do not satisfy the nutritional needs of the community, which in turn qualifies the community as a food desert. Similarly, even if healthy food options are created or instituted in pre-existing food desert communities, they may not be utilized for cost or, when cost is not a factor, for lack of knowledge on nutrition. (Barrett)

Ron Finley: Parking Lot Gardener

Image of Ron Finley with his parking lot garden behind him
Ron Finley and his Garden

Food deserts are more common in the US than we think. There are many families out there that are suffering due to fast food companies. Even when they want to try and fix their situation, many times they are unable to do so. Others never give up. One such person who never gave up is Ron Finley. Ron was born and raised in South Central, California, where food insecurity was a huge issue. Another name for this town is a slum. It is a food desert. There are no grocery stores that carry healthy options for the people that live there. The stores that are available for them are liquor stores, fast food stores, and lots of vacant parking lots.

This leads to all the people who live there only being able to purchase fast, unhealthy foods. Seeing his friends and neighbors struggle to find food that is healthy, Finley decided to create a food garden in one of those vacant lots. His idea was to turn those empty, unused lots into a community garden for the neighbors to come and get fresh produce and also learn how to grow their own parking lot garden.

Food is the problem and the solution. (Finley)

How it All Started

At first, he began by creating a small garden in front of his house on the parkway. This made the city upset though, as the parkway was the property of the government, not his. They sent him a citation for growing food on land that he did not rightfully own. The irony was that they did not care for the land, unlike him. Finley was using the land for good, but the city cared more about their financial gain than the people’s health. The organization that Finely worked for, The Green Grounds, then made a petition on Change.org to be able to keep the garden. It was a success. Finley was able to keep his garden.

The Next Step

With the right to use the empty lots, he then grew a variety of vegetables and fruits for the community. He taught the locals how to maintain the garden and bring unity to his community. He gave the fruit to anyone who wanted the food without bias. With more people contributing to these vacant lot gardens, he was able to grow more gardens in other neighbors. He has gone on to plant more than 20 gardens as of 2013 (greengrounds.org). Another positive outcome of the community helping to grow the garden was more kids and adults getting their health back. The trend of people eating the healthy foods they grow with their own hands is astonishing.

Having the opportunity to grow their own gardens and literally eat the fruits of their labor has helped these food desert communities gain their health back. Even if it doesn’t solve everything, it is a step in the right direction. This also decreases the problem that many slums have with food insecurity.

Good Food= Good Mind, Body, and Health

Image of a healthy food pyramid
Food Pyramid

When we eat, we eat just for eating. We eat to make fuel for our bodies to keep moving. The food can be either good or bad, as long as it gets us through the day. This is not quite the best mentality to have. While we eat for the sake of it, there is much more culture and history that goes behind our every meal. Things like spices which we use in all our foods have quite a history and come from many things that we may not have known before.

For example, while we use spices such as turmeric and cumin without much thought, it was quite a rare commodity to our ancestors. Many times, it was valued for more than gold, being the source of currency as it made its way from Asia to the Europeans. If we were to actually research the history of the food we eat on a daily basis, we would be able to find so many other interesting facts and customs that have evolved through time to reach us.

The Five Senses

Food can help us remember a good memory or a bad one. It can bring us comfort and peace. It can help us relive memories or even a relative. With the holiday season fast approaching, we can hear the sounds of having family over and coming together after so long. We can salivate over the thought of all the foods such as turkey, pumpkin pie, and more. The smell of all the dishes as they are coming out of the oven, steaming all nice and warm. We can see the hot steam of the food clashing with cold breath from the people outside. The feel of the atmosphere of all of these things, bundled up in our memories. All of this comes from one thing: food.

Food helps to link so many of the senses in our bodies. We can link various and unique foods by the way they are read, used, or heard as well (Niedenfuehr). There is so much that can be said about food and all the wonderful benefits of it. It is not just a means of survival, but rather a way of life, but many people and companies have taken advantage of it.

The Future of Food Production

Comparison of rich food and poor food
Image source: bussweneed.com

As of 2020, there are close to 8 billion people in the world. Out of those 8 billion, so many of them face food insecurity. On the other hand, many have so much food, they throw out the things they deem “damaged” or “not good”.  Places where there is not enough food for many people tend to be slums, and other neighborhoods where unhealthy food is more common than healthy ones. This causes the need to make more food products at a faster rate, especially in America, where the population is 329.5 million. To feed all these people, there needs to be an abundance of food for them as well.

For many farmers, this can become an issue, as there are not enough resources to meet the demands of many. The rise of plant-based meat has come about as the demand for meat products also rises. This has many positive and negative reviews though.

The Pros of Lab-Based Meat

Much lab-based meat is created using plants. This creates a healthy alternative for vegans and vegetarians or anyone who doesn’t eat meat. This is also good for those who want to eat meat in an ethical way. This helps lower animal abuse and suffering. It also reduces food insecurity issues.  Many of the farm animals that are bred for the purpose of becoming our next meals receive harsh treatment. They are crammed into tiny spaces with no place to move. Many of the animals are not even able to live past 10 years. Another positive outcome of lab-grown meat is less chance of bacterial diseases. Much of the meat we eat contains bacteria such as E.Coli and Salmonella, and so much more. If we were to produce this meat in a lab, there is less chance of it getting these bacteria.

It is also less harmful to the planet, as we would be reducing the planet’s resources. Growing cows and chickens takes a lot of water and food away from people who need it, like those in the slums. Cows also emit quite a bit of methane when they belch, which is bad for the Earth. More cows = more change to climate change. It is important to note that cows alone are not the cause of climate change. They are just a small percent of the factors that contribute to climate change.

Global Hunger

The most important of all is the help it would be for global hunger. Food insecurity affects nine percent of the total world population. That is 697 million people too many. There are more people in the world than just those in the slums who struggle to find healthy foods for an affordable price. There are slums all over the world that are in the same situation, just as much as the US is, in terms of buying food. Healthy food such as meat and fresh vegetables are more costly and almost impossible for these people to buy. Having lab-grown meat eliminates the need to make the meat so expensive, as they will be able to create meat in a lab at a much faster and higher speed than the time and quantity it takes to make a live one.

The Cons of Lab-Based Meat

image of lab grown meat
Image Source: theatlantic.com

As many pros there are to lab-based meat, there are just as many cons. As easy as it sounds, the labs and resources needed to create such lab-grown meat are very expensive. Just to create one such facility, it would cost over $100,000 currently. Although with the system of more such facilities, it would become cheaper eventually, it would not be for a while. Meat is expensive, but creating it from scratch would be even more. This also brings in the thought of the resources it would take.

“Fake meat” is a product of something, right? So what is that? There would be an increase in plastic waste. Fewer bacteria means a higher need for sterility. Sterile products are inside plastic, which we throw out after every use. This means more need for plastic materials, which results in more plastic waste. Either way, this will have a negative impact on Earth.

Many also do not agree with the meat, as it does not look appetizing. Seeing meat in a sterile environment handled by men and women in lab coats seems off. Teens do not look at such images and see the meals as nothing more than another science project they do in school. Adults, on the other hand, believe that in the right setting, even this meat will look the same as any other meat we eat.

Is Fake Meat Halal?

Another important conversation is if lab meat is ethical. It is almost impossible for meat that is grown in a lab to be treated ethically before being served on someone’s plate. Many people agree that plant-based meat and alternative meat are halal, but others are not quite so sure (Wired). While it has not gone through many discussions among Islamic scholars, it is something that definitely needs to happen.

Will it affect the way we cook our meals?

As I mention earlier, alternative meats have many discussions going on about them. While Islamic people discuss whether the meat is halal or not, other cultures are hesitant to use it as a substitute for their meals. The concern: will it taste the same? Cuisines around the world use many different kinds of seasonings to get a certain kind of flavor for their meals, but the most important taste and texture are based on the product. Food is sacred and many of the recipes are from ages ago and that still holds a special meaning for the people who eat and make it. It is rich with history and one can learn so much about the culture and who used to live in those lands.

Different countries make their food based on their geolocation, such as East Asian countries using mostly fish and seafood products in their meals. South Asian countries use a lot of flour and spices, as that is most common there. It is the same for the Americas and European countries with their abundance of meat products. With the lack of other spices, their foods are mostly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Food represents Culture

Top view composition of various Asian food in bowls.
Asian Meal

For many of us who grew up with a loving home and family, I am sure we have a special dish that has been passed down to us from our mother, who got it from her mother, and so on. This tradition has seen a lot of change in recent years as many people from foreign countries come and create shops that remind them of their home countries. And just as many are afraid to try something new, so are the concerns of those who feel path way with alternative meat. The food reflects how a country develops its eating habits and traditions with it (Cheung).

With the change in how food is made, one of the concerns will be whether the meat will taste the same. The reason we have so many fast-food chains, especially in slums, is because people like their food to taste similar, but also with different flavors. The similarity would be the texture of the food.

Cultural Significance to Anthropology

Girl holding a sign saying "I'm hungry" on a carboard paper
Image Source: unitedway.org

Anthropology is as diverse as food is. And just like anthropology, many people do not know the full extent of it. Food is an important factor to study in the current state the Earth is going in. Many people in slums are struggling to find food to eat, while others are throwing out perfectly fine food. They are going to eat fast food which is unhealthy for them and the government is not doing anything to help their situations. The little help they do get is quite controversial as well. Alternative meat is a great idea and has many positive outcomes, but there are also negative ones. Learning about all the things that can happen is useful to us for the present as well as for the future. Food insecurity affects so many people.

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