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A moment of sexism: unicycle edition

The other day I woke up late to my writing class, something I was too ashamed to let happen considering that the 3:30pm class was the start to my day. I pulled on some pants and grabbed my unicycle on my way out the door. I was halfway there when a man directing traffic in a useless construction helmet steps into the middle of the street to block my path, causing me to dismount and wait to hear what crucial life advice he was ready to impart.

“You know, I’ve been looking for you since I saw you walking with that thing earlier this week.”

“Oh did you? Haha, well here I am!”

“I had a bet going with my buddies that you didn’t actually know how to ride that and that you were just bringing it to your boyfriend or something. I just lost five bucks.” I laughed politely and unicycled away, and grew more and more confused about his strange comment until I got to class. I had experienced my first sexist incident as a unicyclist. It was hilarious and ridiculous, and I wasn’t sure how to make sense of it. Later, when I would relay this story to my male friends, some would deny that it had anything to do with my being a girl. I found it helpful for them to compare it to an alternate universe if this happened to a random male instead of me.

There were several moments in that interaction that I knew I was going to play again and again in my head, imagining scenarios where I listened and assessed quickly enough to respond in a way that reflected who I wanted to be. Firstly, I thought about whether or not an older adult man would have stood in front of a man racing quickly on his way to class. In my imagination, I would assume that he would deduce that that person was on his way to somewhere and that he was busy. But the second I saw him there with his beaming face, I knew I was in for a good one. With or without unicycle, my friends agree that I have more odd encounters with strangers than the average Joe. I know that being a young woman makes me seem more approachable and friendly. This is largely due to the fact that women for years have been perceived to be submissive, and more importantly, overwhelmingly interested in getting the attention of a man. Knowing this, I hated my natural instinct to dismount and smile back, shifting subconsciously into my friendly face, dropping everything for the joy of a whimsy interaction. Then the guy opens his damn mouth.

How a man could  possibly have a sexist opinion on unicycles is beyond me. Three layers of opinion, in fact. First, he assumed I would have a have a boyfriend. I don’t imagine that this man looks at male passersby and spends too much time assigning them imaginary girlfriends. Secondly, he went on to imagine that I was spending not just one, but two afternoons taking my boyfriend’s unicycle for a walk. While he woke up every morning to redirect traffic, I woke up every morning to continue my pursuit of my bachelor’s in Running Unicycle Errands For My Man. These two assumptions, of course, were built upon the third underlying assumption that since I was a girl, I was incapable of riding a unicycle.

Now this third assumption is incorrect on two reasons. For one thing, I would venture to submit that the male anatomy is in fact less compatible with a unicycle seat than that of a female. Secondly, and more importantly, girls are athletic, capable, and as autonomous as every boy, every day, since the beginning of time.

I have to end this rant now because it is so easy to have incidents like this happen (and ask anyone, they sure do happen) and write a manifesto about modern sexism and ignorance. What gnaws at me is my ability to articulate the disappointing implications of this man’s comments and my inability to confront them as they happen. At the end of the day, I giggled, made some good humored comment, and wished him a good day. Why do I do this? How is it so difficult for me, a feminist with a huge mouth and a strong set of values, to stop shrouded insults in their tracks? Allison discusses this phenomenon over at Thoughtful Energy with her post, “Shrugging Off Sexism.” She writes that women have learned to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable “by giving him a fake phone number, a fake smile, or scurrying away in fear with our pepper spray in hand. Majority of men are threatened by a powerful woman and their fragile egos can’t take “no” for an answer. This leads to violence, misogyny and the perpetuation of rape culture and sexism.”

There are many scenarios where I have deescalated the stakes at my own expense in order to account for my own safety. But this scenario seemed different. I was in a public place. This man wasn’t consciously trying to assert power over me. It was a perfectly reasonable scenario to stick up for myself. So why didn’t I?

I want to talk about another system that women have to face, which is the pressure to be likable. If a woman doesn’t want to welcome conversation, she’s elitist and bitchy. If she doesn’t tell you she has a boyfriend when you slide next to her at a club, she’s leading you on. If she does, she’s being presumptuous and arrogant. This limbo has put me in situations where I apologize for turning down a guy, but still offer to take him to lunch as a friend. Mind you, I’m not this much of a pushover with people I trust. I know to draw a line with friends. But I wonder if there are other women out there like me that impulsively laugh at jokes that aren’t funny, engage in conversations they have no interest in, or apologize for things that aren’t at all their fault, not in the interest of safety, but in the interest of maintaining some false perception of worth in the eyes of people that don’t matter. Allison says that saying no and sticking up for yourself perpetuated violence, misogyny, and sexism. But I feel like my easygoing demeanor and dismissive habits are the root of the problem.

I wish I had said something that day. I think explaining to the man that he was foolish for both doubting me and wasting my time would have both increased his understanding of women and ultimately helped me feel respected in a community that doesn’t always respect women as much as they should

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The burst of the blue bubble

I have felt useless contributing to the conversations following the election of Donald Trump last week. I haven’t felt the fire in my chest to protest, to take a stand, to sign the petition in the hopes that a loophole will bring Clinton into office. I don’t feel that those are actions helping me get closer to reality.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from the social media discourse, it’s that it is an echo chamber. I have taken comfort in my blue bubble for many years, believing that the country was collectively rolling forward in progress. I take comfort in it now in remembering that in the light of electing a white supremacist, my circle of diverse friends and allies will continue to exist and advocate for each other in the face of the doom that marches forward on January 20. But alas.

The Wall Street Journal released an interesting interface called Blue Feed, Red Feed, a project that shows how Facebook reveals an entirely different set of articles and news sources depending on the political alignment of the user. To a red user, posts about “reverse racism on the rise as black Americans beat an old Trump supporter” hit headlines, while a blue user reads about “Hijabi woman gets robbed and beaten by racist Trump supporter.” Clicking through this site makes it clear just how different the world is shaped and seen by people interacting with different corners of the internet.

Back in journalism class in high school, I was asked by my teacher, “What is the most important part about being a journalist?” I replied that it was to tell the truth, and was immediately corrected. “The most important thing is to make money.”Part of the reason this is so is because nobody is paying for good journalism anymore. Smaller scale newspapers and magazines are underfunded and have to rely on sensationalist drama to catch a reader’s eye.

Seeing the effect that this sort of news bias has had on our election, I now believe it is imperative to spend the money to get good journalism. No matter what the cost. I would be willing to pay to hear the truth if it means that I never have to feel the shock that the majority of the country is speaking an entirely different language when it comes to the conversations around choosing our next president. Of course, election articles and polls are merely speculative until the votes start rolling in. CNN was wrong. BBC was wrong. Even Nate Silver was wrong.  Over at Carreon Thinking, she says “this era of weakened trust in mainstream outlets and in poor media literacy is troubling considering that Balkan teenagers can run pro-Trump websites full of inaccurate or misleading information that nevertheless generates hundreds of thousands of engagements on social media.” But I no longer want to be in my blue echo chamber. This is the time for Americans like me to switch to Fox News every once in a while. For Republicans to have conversations with their Muslim and Latinx colleagues. For the bubble to burst.

4

The new Ellis Island

 

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With the announcement of the new President of the United States still ringing in America’s ears, some are left speechless. Others are left scrambling through the soundbites of the campaign’s promises, trying to see what sort of laws he will implement that could hurt their families, their citizenship, and their sense of inclusion. And even 6,000 miles away, a broken nation of people are seeing the lock bolted on the door of the country they hoped they could have called home. The escapees of the Syrian civil war, 80% of whom are women and children, find themselves now in the crux of a psychological war in the American mind, caught between those who sympathize with their genocide and those who simply don’t want to be involved.

“Because they’re coming into the country, they’re being put where nobody even knows where they are,” guesses Trump, president elect  of our country. “We don’t know where they are, where they’re coming, you’ve them all over the place. And for all we know, this could be the great Trojan Horse.”

This depiction of these fleeing families, much like the story of the Trojan Horse, is a tired myth with no roots in reality or lived experiences. The reality is that out of 800,000 of the refugees accepted into American borders since the rise of terrorism in 2001, not a single one has been convicted of terrorism. Yet every last of these new Americans continue to be feared and attacked on the grounds of their otherness.

As a result of this stance of inaction, Americans have watched and balked at President Bashar al-Assad’s systematic massacre of his people. The degree of this engagement is limited to exclamations of lukewarm sympathy on social media, feelings of sadness at the circulation of images of bloody and drowned children, but never a stirring of emotion to the point of action. Instead, the reflexive instinct of our country has been to point right back at the Middle East, insisting that Syrian neighbors aren’t doing their part to shoulder the immigrants. But two of Syria’s neighbors, Jordan and Lebanon, host more refugees per capita than any European country. On the Western side, Canada has a tenth of America’s population, yet has resettled double the amount the States have. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, has even volunteered to accept 250,000 refugees from the States, Syrians and undocumented Mexicans included, if the ban on immigration holds water this coming January.

The fear that drives Americans to push refugees out of our borders is not new-founded: In 1939, the U.S. turned away 900 of them, fearing that they may be conspirators or puppets from their oppressors. These individuals were Jews, and after they were forced back into Germany, a quarter of them were killed in the Holocaust. This is not to say that these two tragedies are comparable in scale or in atrocity. The point is not to play Oppression Olympics, but to say that the opportunity for the United States to intervene in the face of human rights abuses was present in both cases, and in both cases, the fear of the foreigner caused the country to turn its cheek.

This issue has often been split down partisan lines. Yet traditionalists and constitutionalists above anyone shouldn’t find it difficult to boast in the land of the free, the resurgence of the legacy of Ellis Island. But it seems that for many Americans, the lines of distinction seem to blur the farther the victims seem to be from the West. Suddenly, it’s not a human problem, it’s an Arab problem. This issue has been exacerbated every time media fails to delineate between ISIS and Muslim, between Islamic radicals and the peaceful followers of Islam. Thanks to this discourse, an entire religious group has been painted with a broad stroke of suspicion and mistrust, one that blankets the compassion for a nation of dying women and children that just want to live somewhere safe.

Pulling the welcome mat from our doors may ironically be the strike of the match that destabilizes our national security. Our compassion and accordance with global community in resettling refugees not only strengthens alliances, but also acts against the image of Islamophobia that jihadists use to justify their hatred against the States.

Regardless, such fear of ramification should not even be the basis for deciding to open our doors. Compassion, decency, and the practice of liberty and justice for all should be more than enough. Our country is only enriched with every new spice, every new addition to the melting pot of its demography. To go safe would be to be sorry.

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America’s Employees of the month are behind bars

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This holiday season, I finally got to enjoy the free time that I use to kick back and watch troubling documentaries about the state of our civil society, as I like to do. I was most looking forward to watching 13th, the documentary about America’s relentless incarceration of people in color. The movie is explicit in its message, which is lays out in a linear, chronological fashion, starting with slavery. As it moves through the decades, the director points at the ways that this institutional dominance persists through different means, from chain gangs to the war on drugs to the three-strikes policy, and finally to police brutality of black bodies.

Racism is an ugly streak on the track record of humanity, an example of the human race turning in on itself on very frail bases of beliefs. It has always been difficult of me to understand why discrimination and bigotry exists.

First reason: Once a pattern and worldview has started, it can be hard to stop. 13th defines incarceration as an extended pattern from slavery (though doesn’t necessarily explain my black men were targeted for slavery).

Second reason: This is one that we’re told as international relations students: in human society, it there must exist in a given moment a dominating class and a group being dominated. This is often used to explain why often dominating groups attempt to pit minorities against each other. In the 60’s mainstream media began defining Chinese and Japanese Americans as the model minority, by classifying black Americans as the “bad minority.” By doing this, America was able to wave away accusations of racism by using Asian Americans as case studies in “working hard to be successful.” Again, this is touched upon by 13th in the context of the war on drugs, during which Reagan racialized cocaine as a white drug and crack as a black drug, and criminalized them each to extremely different degree. Again, it doesn’t explain why black men are targeted as the minority in the crosshairs.

Third reason: I began to understand this one as the most convincing argument after finishing the documentary. Ultimately, evil begets evil, and the impulse for subjugating races of people is fed by the ever-present evil of … you guessed it! Capitalism. The need for profit, as we have learned (and learned again form the outcome of this presidential election) has always been held in higher regard than the liberties of historically oppressed people.

Companies have reaped huge benefits from this imprisoned labor force, some of whom get paid as little as 12 cents an hour to work for corporations like Victoria’s Secret or Walmart. The same size corporations are part of ALEC, the American Legislative Council, that works with politicians and lawmakers to create templates for laws. This undercover council is to blame for the “three strikes laws,” “truth in sentencing” laws, and mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders. Even when mainstream media is pressed to pay more attention to the human rights of these prisoners, the corporate proposal is to allow prisoners to be imprisoned in their own homes, under surveillance of leg braces off of which they could profit from once more. No matter which way you see it, there is money to be made off of putting people in cages. As long as there is a hunt for money, there will always be a manhunt for bodies to fund it. This documentary helped me understand the logic behind it all, though I found there to be no sense at all.

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Australia: A horrific case study in closing borders

The question of resettling Syrian refugees has been a major talking point in our presidential election. Images of injured and hungry Syrian women and children are combated with questions of our national security that fuel American anxieties about letting them in. Trump has said many a time that the immigrants will undergo “extreme vetting” and that he’s going to be “so tough” on letting them in.

“We have no idea who these people are, where they come from,” Trump said of Syrian refugees during his speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. “I always say, Trojan horse. Watch what’s going to happen, folks. It’s not going to be pretty.”

This kind of rhetoric and the historical images that it evokes taps into the fears of the “others” and the “unknown” that Americans feel towards immigrants, especially those of Arabic-speaking countries. The Trojan Horse, as some may forget, is a myth. It was a story from centuries go that never actually happened. If one were to base the implications of extreme vetting, however, on situations that are actually taking place right now, perhaps the American people would think twice about turning Syrian refugees away. I’m talking about Australia and its use of torture on immigrants.

Yes, torture is an extreme word, one which happens to be perfectly suitable for the measures that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and head of immigration Michael Pezzullo have taken in ensuring the boats go elsewhere. Their policy thus far has been to capture boats heading to Australia and send those aboard to camps in Nauru or Papua New Guinea indefinitely. Many who are stuck on the island have died or are suffering from medical inattention. Their acts have been listed as violations of the Convention Against Torture. Little of the Australian public is speaking out against this because the discourse is more more centered around how the refugees aren’t there and less around where they’re actually going. The sort of blissful ignorance is almost certainly what’s going to happen if we leave vetting to the hands of Trump or other administrators that do not have the refugee’s best interests at hand.

This thought would be incomplete without my saying that Syrian refugees aren’t the only refugees that we should be talking about, despite the focused rhetoric of the election. As Emily points out in Refugees Aren’t From Syria, a massive amount of refugees are forgotten in countries in Africa, where 17 million are displaced within the African continent. Of course, there must be a line drawn for the sake of America’s capacity for aid. But must that same line be drawn for our recognition and attention paid to crises beyond our shores?

6

Voting for Trump isn’t always black and white

Many of friends on Facebook have garnered up the guts to publicly denounce friends and family who support Trump as bigots, racists, and women-haters, largely backed by the knowledge that the majority of their circles will choose to hit them with a like or keep their opposing opinions to themselves. This group of silent readership, of course, always excludes an uncle Al or Auntie Helen who will unleash a tone deaf tirade about crooked Hillary, sparking a back and forth that I find myself simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by until I turn off my laptop and go for a walk.

My point is, Trump has said enough remarks about minorities, POWs, women, and immigrants to make the case against bigotry a harder and harder one to crack for his faithful supporters. As a Muslim, a woman, and an ally/friend to many of the groups he targets, I myself have found myself noting Trump supporters in my networks in a mental blacklist of “people I can’t trust with my rights and liberties.”

That was before I watched this Guardian video about McDowell County, West Virginia. McDowell is the poorest country in one of the poorest states, virtually forgotten except for the fact that during the primaries, they surfaced as the county with a higher percentage of people voted for Trump than anywhere else in the U.S. The video shows a grassy, gloomy landscape shrouded in silence and dust. Once a population of 100,000, the country now is home to 18,000, all who suffer from a life expectancy rate par to that of Ethiopia.  In the video, a woman, swinging on her destitute yet charmingly cozy porch, explains that she walks the road in search of aluminum cans, which earn her 45 cents a pound. “It’s not easy,” she says, with more defeat in her voice than complaint.

McDowell was once considered the coal capital of America, before technology and cheaper energy alternatives took work opportunities from miners one by one. In a town where everyone’s father, grandfather, and great grandfather was a coal miner, the residents are no sons and daughters that sit around, waiting for a deus ex machina that didn’t look like it was coming. Until, of course, Donald Trump announced that he was running for president.

“Hillary said, I’m going to put the mines and the miners out of business. That’s a hard one to explain, isn’t it? We’re going to put the miners back to work. We’re going to get the coal mines back open.”

Upon hearing these words, in the midst of their economic tragedy, it’s absolutely no surprise that 5 days later, Trump emerged with 91.5% of the republican primary votes from the county.

For the record, Hillary’s words were taken out of context. Her full quote:

“I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to ring economic opportunity using clean, renewable energy as the key, into coal country”We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

Regardless, it’s easy how that could be misinterpreted by a community that has proved itself on being the spearheads of the same industry for decades. Change is frightening. What they are not told is that the platform that Trump feeds them is built on false promises. Needless to say, reintroducing coal as the primary energy source for the U.S. is both environmentally destructive and economically unfeasible. Coal is becoming obsolete, and pretending that the transition is not happening is serving as instant gratification to these families that is soon to be replaced by monumental disappointment.

My big takeaway from this video is that there is so much more to politics than the shocking sound bytes, the scandals, the personal vices of the candidates. For some people, it is a matter of life or death.
“They’ll do anything for a job,” says Sharon in the video. “They’ll do anything to feed their families. “They’re getting tricked, manipulated, and they believe that things are different than they really are.

Yes, the people in the country are overwhelmingly white. This county doesn’t boast the diversity, the color spectrum, the melting pot that the United States boasts in the coasts. They’ve likely not met a Mexican, a Muslim, a POC.

Paw Paw, Sharon’s grandfather, echoes this in a tone deaf yet somehow still endearing explanation. “I voted for that black guy two times. I’m a democrat.”

But in the context of the election (and I struggle to say this) I don’t think it matters. Ignorance is not their driving force of voting for a president that has the capability to harm many groups of people. The people of McDowell county are zoned in on one line, one promise of hope, one they haven’t heard in years.

 

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Improving Nutritional Outcomes in the City of Dreams

 

Los Angeles has a misrepresented reputation of being home to the fifteen dollar pressed juice, empire of Kalerribean smoothies, motherland of kombucha. The food culture of the city is certainly cultivated in a way to promote the health and beauty of its celebrities and residents who strive to set and maintain the standards of health and beauty. But beneath the facade of the City of Dreams lies a nightmare for the 1.2 million Angelenos living in food insecurity (LA public health report). In Los Angeles County, approximately 17% of residents are food insecure, with seniors and children in particular being most at risk. In fact, a study found that out of all cities in the United States, Los Angeles has the largest population of food-insecure children, with a whopping one in four children unable to find enough to eat (Goldberg). The problem is exacerbated in the low income neighborhoods in South LA and East LA, where the lack of fresh produce and dense concentration of fast food chains has deemed both regions as food deserts and food swamps (Warshawsky). While hunger and malnutrition would be considered troubling social issues on their own, research finds strong links between food insecurity and countless other afflictions, including increased odds of hospitalization among children, greater prevalence of depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents, and increased levels of stress and depression in women. Furthermore, people with limited money that are forced to choose between purchasing food or medicine may suffer exacerbated effects of their existing medical conditions (LA health report). This epidemic is a rumble in Los Angeles’ belly that it can not afford to ignore. Nevertheless, the government is trying its best to turn the other cheek.

Efforts to ameliorate the food gap in Los Angeles have largely been taken up by civil society organizations (CSO’s) that gain funding through donors, faith groups, and grants. However, considering the public officials Los Angeles County tout their commitment to welfare and their “many programs to protect, maintain and improve the health and mental health of its residents,” (LA County Website)  it certainly could put in some overtime. In areas like urban planning and education, two spaces in which the government has space to affect change, the city of Los Angeles has greatly dropped the ball in its efforts to fulfill the basic health needs of its citizens. The numbers of hungry residents have risen to such devastating amounts that it is impossible for the city not to acknowledge that not enough is being done. To what extent, then, are existing government efforts affecting or ameliorating the food insecurity crisis in Los Angeles, and why does it persist? Through investigation of current initiatives and an assessment of each’s impact, I have found that the persistence of hunger and malnutrition is largely due to the government’s framing of the issue as a simplistic problem with simplistic solutions, its failure to address the underlying mindset perpetuating LA’s food culture, and its neglect of acknowledging a peripheral yet powerful byproduct of this food culture— monumental food waste.

For the purpose of consistency, food security will henceforth be defined under the terms of The American Institute of Nutrition, as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” This includes not only the requisite of nutritious, safe foods on shelves nearby to these people, but also means to acquire them in socially acceptable ways. This terminology, I suppose, clearly draws a distinction between living near dumpsters of high end vegan markets and living in a place where such products are financially feasible. Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies these food insecure households as either coping with “low food security” or “very low food security,” which distinguishes between “diets with reduced quality, variety, or desirability” and “diets with disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake,” respectively (LA Public Health Report).

To begin with, the city Los Angeles faults by constructing simplistic policy to address food security, a highly complex byproduct of the social, racial, and economic makeup of the city. For several years, Los Angeles’ efforts in promoting better nutritional outcomes for its residents have been limited to opening more grocers and supermarkets with a produce section in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. On the surface, this would seem like the sensible solution to combating food insecurity. After all, if food security is defined as safe and socially acceptable access to nutritional foods, putting them in an aisle seems like the easy, breezy antidote. On the contrary, a study conducted by RAND Corporation revealed that there was virtually no link between the type of food and drinks that Los Angeles County adults consume and the proximity of fast-food outlets, grocery stores and convenience stores to their homes, and adjusting these variables actually bore no increase of food security for its residents. This, upon further thought, proves more logical than the formerly held belief. For one thing, putting a Whole Foods in the center of Downtown Los Angeles and hoping that it enables healthy shopping is just as ineffective as putting a SoulCycle on Skid Row and expecting a slew of enthused bikers lining at the door. Lining streets with amenities of a different class is the flawed logic of believing gentrification benefits everyone. Replacing existing food supplies with upscale, expensive fruits and vegetables, conversely, may push more consumers into big fast food establishments that are more affordable and familiar than the introduced foods. Richard Sturm, the RAND researcher that spearheaded the study, submits that the food environment is not that important to the fate of a city’s food security, especially in a highly mobile society such as Los Angeles, where the city is spread out and people travel great lengths every day (RAND). Additionally, the plan failed to realize that such supermarkets offer unhealthy, processed foods and snacks in equal abundance. RAND researcher Strum showed that the cheaper, high caloric foods like chips and instant noodles, were more heavily marketed and thus more in line with consumer knowledge. In another example of misguided well intent, Los Angeles rolled out an ordinance in 2007 that prohibited new fast food chains from opening in the city of Los Angeles. Strangely, a study published in 2015 found that from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of people who were overweight or obese increased everywhere in L.A., but the increase was significantly greater in areas covered by the fast-food ordinance (RAND). The reason for this uptick is unclear, but one fact remains true: attaining food security and promoting health are complicated steps with no easy solution. Other programs that focus on actually providing free nutritional meals to needing families are proven more effective at providing food security, but exacerbate a system of unsustainable dependence. The LA Regional Food Bank, which works with 680 local agencies to feed 280,000 people in Los Angeles each month, is undoubtedly impactful in their efforts to ameliorate hunger. However, despite having the facilities and the volunteers willing to distribute food, the LA Regional Food Bank reports that 41% of its partner agencies reported not having enough food to meet the demand and 43% reported turning people away because they ran out of food (LA Public Health.) In another example, the Summer Meals program offers meals during the summer for students ages 18 and under who depend on the reduced price or free lunches offered during the school year to secure a balanced meal in their daily diet. Efforts like these, though immeasurably impactful, depend heavily on donations that can’t be promised with each coming year. Generally speaking, with initiatives like the Food Bank and Summer Meals, one sees that government programs are geared to flail at the branches of food insecurity, while none are constructed to identify the source at the root.

This root, this fundamental issue that keeps stomachs empty even if shelves are full, is the issue of education. The truth is, 12 percent of the food insecure people in Los Angeles are living above the poverty line, according to Feeding America (Goldberg). This speaks to two findings. First, the cost of living in Los Angeles is unmaintainable for many residents, even those making enough to pass over the line. Secondly, and more importantly, it shows that it would be naive to say that the lack of nutritious foods in diets is strictly a financial issue. Sure, LACHS results indicate that food insecurity increases as household income decreases. Sure, food insecurity is a greater issue among populations that are unemployed. Sure, food insecurity disproportionally impacts African American adults, a demographic with a longstanding history of being socioeconomically disadvantaged in the United States. On the other hand, a look at the data also reveals a prevalence in food insecurity among those who are not U.S. citizens and those with less than a high school education (LA Public Health).

Let’s look at those separately. Firstly, food insecurity among non-U.S. citizens hints at nutritional outcomes being tied to cultural barriers. A family from an ethnicity and a culture tied closely to its food may be predisposed against the introduction to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day that may be atypical in their traditional diet. As an Egyptian who was raised on heavy plates (and seconds, and thirds…) of buttery meats, rice, and bread, the taste I have developed for acai bowls and sugar snap peas since I moved to California continues to raise the eyebrows of my family back in the motherland. Secondly, the prevalence in food insecurity among those with lower degrees in schooling may indicate that malnutrition is, at its core, an education issue. The point of origin in this problem can be seen in the poor eating habits that are seen in children in low income parts of Los Angeles. Two in five children in the county are categorized as being an unhealthy weight, which is often a result of eating an unhealthy breakfast or skipping it altogether. The obesity epidemic produces a snowball effect for a myriad of other problems, including higher school absenteeism, poorer academic performance, increased disciplinary problems, lower graduation rates and poorer health (Business Wire). In an effort to enforce a healthy start, school districts around the county introduced the free and reduced School Breakfast Program, which provides every eligible student with USDA approved breakfast and lunches. Despite this fact, 742,000 low-income children across Los Angeles County do not participate. As a consequence, school districts in Los Angeles County miss out on more than $174 million of federal and state funding each year (Business Wire). This tremendous opt out rate could be one of several reasons. Parents may not think it is imperative for their child to eat a nutritious breakfast before class. Also, a group that investigated this disparity found that many children miss out on breakfast because it is served too early in the day for them to capitalize on the meal. Such an obstacle is more difficult for children of parents who work or do not have the means to accommodate around the meals. Finally, the same group found that children feel too ashamed to admit in front of their classmates that they need the free meal. The kids that leave the food untouched, then, leave school districts in Los Angeles County ineligible for more than $174 million of federal and state funding each year (Goldberg). Ultimately, all these facts point to the larger issue at hand — that misinformation, stigma, and cultural differences all feed into a broken food culture that makes it hard for progressive food reform to stick. Current government effort to offer nutritional information as food for thought are grossly misguided and out of touch with the demographic at hand. To make it easier to measure household food waste and overall health statistics of consumption, Roe and other researchers are developing a smartphone app with Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center (Ramkumar). With this app, the researchers hope that food insecure residents of Los Angeles can educate themselves on the caloric intake and disposal that happens under their roofs. Such an attempt to keep the information accessible yet trendy is seemingly blind to the possibility that low income residents below the poverty line would not have an iPhone or Android at hand.

Even in places in Los Angeles where people are able to access vegetables, most are left being pushed around on peoples plates before being dumped into the landfills. Out of the 2.9 million tons of waste Los Angeles feeds to landfill sites, 28% is comprised food waste. That is 815,000 pounds of scraps of food, much of which is edible and fresh days after it is thrown away (warshawsky). The sites of food waste are aplenty and start from the minute farmers plant seeds into the ground. Due to overestimated supermarket demand, farmers feel pressured to produce tons more produce than is actually ultimately harvest, in order to protect against potential damages of unforeseen circumstances that prevent them from reaching the quotas of their clients. In this stage, the loss is classified as “food losses and spoilage.” The scene of food waste happens in the shelves of supermarkets and cabinets. Researches from the firm SSRS looked into this point of food loss, and found that in a simple of consumers, almost 70 percent threw items away once the package date on the foods expired, in the interest of protecting themselves from food borne illness. This would be well and good if the labels on milk, meats, and vegetables were tested and certified. In actuality, a closer look revealed that package dates are largely arbitrary and determined by some eyeballing on the supermarket end. It makes perfect sense as to why a grocer would overshoot the date the food goes sour, of course: the sooner the foods expire, the sooner Angelenos throw out the “decaying” goods and come back to buy another batch. Almost 60 percent said food waste is necessary to ensure that meals are fresh and flavorful (Bloomberg).

The current structure limits Los Angeles’ ability to implement changes, but leaves much room for the local government to step in. (Warshawsky). In its place, CSOs have implemented many programs that attempt to redirect surplus produce to hungry mouths through food banks and redistribution channels, like the program Food Forward. The fundamental obstacles with these plans, however, is that CSOs can not be certain of their financial support long term. The instability of their funds and operations thus compromise their mission and exacerbates their need for government support. The mass disposal of foods is also largely due to what is commonly called the “Wild West” system of Los Angeles waste governance, in which the government leaves food waste services in the hands of private waste companies that operate on a property by property basis. This inefficiency leaves the potential of recycling, composting, and environmental cautiousness by the wayside without oversight of involvement of public services. Additionally, the state of California does the landfill sites no favors with unfathomable laws to distinguish between trash and non-trash produce. According to Alex Helou, “If you have an apple that falls from your garden, you can put it in the green bin. If you eat an apple, the state considers that a food scrap and you’re not supposed to put it in.” Fruit fallen in a backyard is considered plant material and can be processed at green material composting facilities. The same kind of apple bought at an Albertson’s, however, is considered food material and can be processed only at facilities permitted to accept food material. Fortunately, LA County has taken the first steps in implementing a new model in which food waste recycling is a mandatory condition if the private companies want to continue operating (Washawsky). In another attempt, they’ve taken a stab at a curbside food waste pilot program since 2008. Unfortunately, this bore few solid results, with food diversion rates as low as 1-5%. In the sample of all residents familiar with the program, chosen participation is low “due to lack or interest or knowledge in food waste separation, inadequate city incentives or enforcement and lack of permitted facilities to process food waste.” Here, it is once more revealed that throwing money at a problem does nothing without changing the culture surrounding food waste and environmentalism. There is no reason a low income family should feel motivated to sort through trash and decomposing food when it’s framed at an extra task for the vague feel-good benefit of saving the planet.

As aforementioned, none of these programs can ensure success without a makeover of the ideational constructs that surround healthy food — and their expiration dates. Rescuing produce and overcoming paranoia of food borne illness require the ability of a person to look at a fruit or a vegetable and seeing it as not only a foodstuff that is edible, but also one that is nutritious and integral to a healthy lifestyle.

In the interest of painting a balanced picture of the fight against food insecurity, there are several notable projects implemented by Los Angeles County that have been successful at enacting change, as well as some I would suggest for continued progress. To begin, the Market Match program, born in 2009, works to double the benefits for EBT card holders in farmers markets. In other words, those eligible for the program receive a note that offers 10 dollars of credit for every 10 dollars spend on produce in the farmer’s market. The project has been adopted across the region— in fact, 39% of farmers’ markets in Los Angeles County accepted EBT in 2013. With a new grant from the Department of Agriculture,  it is estimated that $1 million in fresh produce will be added to the shopping bags of Southern California’s low-income families over the next two years under this program. In the interest of the 12% of food insecure people that exist over the poverty line, perhaps the benefits of the upcoming rise of minimum wage to $15 by 2020 could help ameliorate food insecurity.  A higher minimum wage per household would enable more consumers to afford more fresh fruits and vegetables and cover the cost of living.

Additionally, the government must identify solutions from the grocer end. As mentioned before, there are private market incentives to shortening the lifespan of fresh produce. However, as well as legal incentives but the public sphere has recognized the environmental detriment that it produces in the form of food waste. In May of this year, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Representative Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, introduced a bill to standardize food labels across the country so that the dates offered are informed and accurate (Ramkumar). The implementation of this bill could save millions of pounds of perfectly edible foods from spending their lives decaying in landfills. With a more strategized approach to reshaping food culture and to combating food insecurity, I am confident that the food supply that could be offered to residents can become as bountiful as current attempts to affect sustainable change.