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Food security conference to take on SA's food deserts

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Food activist and author Mark Winne

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Our state ranks next to last in food security, meaning that in 2010 over 4 million Texans experienced outright hunger or ditched healthy food for cheap, bulky, less nutritious stuff just to get by. Census and USDA data label some 17 percent of Bexar County residents “food-insecure.”

Digging down to survey some of San Antonio's low-income, food-desert communities this year, UTSA demographer Corey Sparks has seen that number skyrocket. “We were finding levels much higher than that, anywhere from 30 to 60 percent in some of these communities,” he said this week. “Looking at people in these areas, this is a huge public health concern.”

Sparks and two UTSA colleagues will present some of their recent findings at the city's first ever Food Policy Conference this week. Sponsored by the Food Council of San Antonio and the local Community Food Security Coalition, a number of grassroots organizers, researchers, and other leaders in the local and regional food systems will gather Thursday and Friday to talk sustainability, food security, and food justice. Among them will be renowned writer and food activist Mark Winne. Entrenched in the fight to overthrow Big Ag, Winne's most recent book Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners and Smart-Cookin' Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture profiles activists and communities championing sustainability and food justice. Though registration for the conference is now closed, Winne's set to speak Wednesday night at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Here are some of the highlights from a talk with Winne this week. –– Michael Barajas

What does a just food system look like?

A just food system means that everybody has access to healthy and affordable food, first and foremost.  It also means everyone making a living within that food system, whether they're a farmer or a food manufacturer or retailer, is also making a good, fair living from their work. In other words, no one's being exploited. It also means that food is being produced using sustainable methods. That we're being observant of how we use our natural resources, like land and water. That they're also not being exploited, that they'll be able to provide us food forever. And I think the last element of a just food system is democracy, what we call food democracy, which means that we all –– consumers, producers, everyone –– have a voice in how our food system operates.

What role does community empowerment, grassroots organizing play?

People often ask me why I got involved in food work. Well, I say it's one of the best places to make social change happen. You can look out the front window of your home or apartment and see whether there's land available for people to garden, whether there's a food store, or a good supermarket nearby. Does public transportation allow me to get to a good food source easily? Is there food locally produced, say, within a hundred miles, available within my neighborhood? You can easily visualize food systems and at the same time you can easily visualize what some of the problems are: lack of food, the inability  to afford healthy food, or what is really the nation's number one public health crisis: obesity and overweight.

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