#2 Conversations on an Airplane

I was on a plane this morning and I was lucky enough to get the window seat. As the plane was taking off, I was debating whether or not to sleep or “be productive” by doing some of my homework. After a few minutes of thoughtful consideration (scrolling on my phone until the flight attendant told me to turn it off) I decided to do neither. Instead, I spent about half the plane ride staring out the window. And I think this was just as productive as anything else. Because gazing out that little plastic oval, I was able to see Vermont from a new perspective. I saw green. And more green. And even more green. And I wondered why, in a place that is so green and abundant with fresh food, there can still exist populations of people without access to this food. So it was then that my topic seemed to take shape, and I say “seem” and “take shape” because it’s still sort of a blob of lots of different thoughts and questions, but it’s an idea nonetheless. I can boil it down to a few phrases I think I read in a passage on the SATs once:  “Food insecurity” and “food deserts” in Vermont. I took this half-formed idea to my mom, who was drifting in and out of sleep in the seat next to me. She studies and teaches about food and cooking for a living, so I was excited to hear her input. I described my confusion: if Vermont is an agricultural state whose main economy is food, how can there be so many people who have difficulty getting it? She explained, “Supermarkets have a business model; they are trying to sell food and make money, not just distribute food to hungry people”, and so basically it’s not as profitable to build supermarkets in poor places. As a result, poor neighborhoods don’t have access to healthy food, or very much food at all. I know this and understand this, so I think don’t think I was confused so much as angry about the situation. My mom went on to ask, “do we have a right to food?” and my dad, who apparently had been listening to this conversation from his seat in front of us, added, “Why is it that we need money to buy food when we need food to live? Shouldn’t food be a human right?”. My dad owns an apple orchard, and sells his fruit and cider at Farmers Markets and grocery stores. So, of course, I had to ask: “If food is a human right, why don’t you give your apples out for free?”. To this he had no answer.

It turns out the conversation with my parents led to more questions than answers, but I think that these questions will help me further define my topic.

Overall, my parents had similar perspectives on food insecurity in Vermont. They both agree that food should be much more accessible to Vermonters, though my dad, as a business-owner, is a little more sympathetic toward grocery stores. My dad’s interview especially made me realize that many people in Vermont are aware of the problem, though aren’t willing to give something up themselves in order to help solve it. I am very excited to do more research on the topic.

Featured image is by Over and Above Photography

Katherine

6 Responses to “#2 Conversations on an Airplane

  • Emily Rinkema
    5 years ago

    Hi Katherine–I’m Emily, and will be one of your readers this year. I’m an English teacher and Instructional Coach at CVUHS, but more importantly, I love dogs and food, so this will be a great blog-friendship! Great photo on your first post. Is that your dog?

    Your parents’ questions about food and rights is so important and complex. Is food a right? Seems that it should be. But at the same time, the farmers and chefs and merchants who work hard to grow or harvest or prepare or market their products have a right to compensation (and even reward) for their time, effort, and property. So where’s the balance? I think of the John Locke and Thomas Hobbes debate about abundance and scarcity. John Locke believed the world was a place of abundance, and that even when times were tough, there is always enough to go around; Hobbes believed that we are in a world defined by scarcity, and that our only right was to do whatever we needed to do to survive. (Please note that I way oversimplified their ideas!) I tend to be more of a Lockean thinker, but recognize that may be a product of my many layers of privilege.

    I’m curious about the direction you will turn your bubble here. Are you more interested in food security, access to healthy food, food equality (is that a thing?)? Having both of your parents involved in the food industry in very different ways will be a great resource for you–and is certain to be interesting at times! We have a very good friend who runs a farmers market in NH and they struggled for years to get low income customers to frequent the market. They ended up partnering with a group to provide SNAP benefits at the market–and doubling the benefit when used there in order to make it possible for all shoppers to afford what can be more expensive items.

    I’m excited to keep reading about your thinking, Katherine, and already love your voice and passion. Until next week…

    Emily

    • Hi Emily! It is nice to meet you, and I appreciate your thoughtful comment. Thank you for bringing up the contrasting beliefs of Locke and Hobbes; I had never thought about the topic from such different perspectives. As I begin to research more about food security in Vermont, it will be interesting to see how these ideologies are similar to and different from those of Vermonters. Personally, I also think I agree more with Locke, though this may be a result of my privilege, as you had mentioned.

      The Middlebury Farmers Market also uses something similar to SNAP for low-income customers. I am not sure of how successful it has been, but I will ask my dad more about how it works and how he feels about it as a vendor.

      Lastly- yes, that is my dog in the picture! Her name is Misty and she is a West Highland Terrier. I am glad you enjoy the company of dogs as much as I do!

      I am looking forward to having more meaningful conversations with you as I continue exploring this topic!

      Katherine

  • Katherine,

    Don’t you love air travel? I often have a pile of paper to read or an article earmarked, but watching the earth get smaller, while the clouds thicken, just grabs my imagination, and floating in my mind is all I ever want to do… train travel is equally enticing.

    Your topic is certainly one that I have thought about as well. I wrote about the soda aisle in a post on my blog once; it really maddens me that we have, regardless of the size of store, an entire aisle devoted to, in my view, dangerous products: soda and chips. And all the while we are worried about diabetes and heart disease… anyway, thanks for thinking about food deserts, and what I have heard called food swamps ( where there are no grocery stores but plenty of fast-food restaurants or quick-marts). As we drive from town to town we see either the absence of real food, or a pletera, and it is so connected to the economy of the area, that it is troubling.

    Perhaps the Burlington Co-op did bring much of this to light, while it was still in the North End? Perhaps food shelves around the state work to provide real food (as in perishable)? You are on a great track or mulling over all the complexity involved in this issue. Thanks for your thoughtful thinking.

    Moira

    • Hi Moira- thank you for your comment! Recently, I have also been puzzled and angered by the amount of soda that is available at such a low cost. I was participating in a summer program in which we ate at a college dining hall, and I was surprised to learn that we had access to as much soda as we wanted! I told my mom about this, because I thought this would be very costly for the college, but she explained that sodas are very cheap to make because they are basically just water and sugar. This reality is also one of the main factors that brings about food swamps; the cheapest and most accessible foods are often the most unhealthy.

      Thank you for mentioning the Burlington Co-op and its impact on the North End! I will be sure to look into it further as I do more research.

      I am looking forward to having more meaningful conversations with you as I continue exploring this topic!

      Katherine

  • I think your questions are really interesting in the context of the debate over capitalism vs. socialism. I personally believe it is impossible for the United States to provide adequate support to food insecure people unless it shifts many of its policies in a more socialist direction. I think it would be really interesting to research food insecurity in China and compare it because China is currently essentially socialist and has fantastically decreased its poverty rate over a fairly brief period of time. It is currently at 6.5% compared to our 14.3% which makes me wonder how that impacts both food waste and food security in the country relative to the United States. It might also be interesting to research food insecurity relative to healthcare accessibility which is also much better in China than it is here. I’m really interested to see what direction you end up taking your project in!

    • Thank you so much for bringing this up! I had never thought about comparing the situation in Vermont with that of other countries. I will definitely look into food security and healthcare in China!

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