It seems that Los Angeles is the land of foodies – food trucks, farmers markets, restaurants popping up around town on the daily, fusion and food experimentation – it all happens here in LA. Yet, there is a sort of frowning upon the foodie that happens. Being interested in alternative foods and concerned about the quality and sustainability of food production has become almost synonymous with being a hipster or a snob. Why is that?
The other day while discussing career options and various ideas about the future, someone asked me, “Well, what do you enjoy doing?” My answer went something like this: “Well, I like cooking…I like eating…I like planning for meals and shopping for food…I like talking to my friends about food…I like going out to meals with my friends…I like wine and beer…I like exercising…I like eating healthy to refuel my body after exercise…I like writing about food.” It seems pretty clear that food is always on my brain and probably always will be. And the person said, “Well, yeah. You’re a foodie!”
So…that’s probably an extremely accurate description. But at the same time, I’m thinking, “being a foodie isn’t always considered a good thing”. The other day in the grocery store, I overheard a young man joking with his girlfriend about his gluten sensitivity and how he only eats organic meat that is raised humanely. He was making it up – laughing at the people who are concerned with those things and mocking the culture that accompanies it. And I get it…Our culture’s frenzy around food allergies has made it a hyped up hipster phenomenon. But at the same time, it is very real and the quality of our food – how it is produced, distributed and sold affects each of us!
Yes, it is true that it is somewhat of a luxury to be concerned about the quality of produce and certainly a luxury to be able to pay for the top-end stuff. But what is funny about that? And why is the focus on how these well-off individuals are “snobs” because they are concerned about that? The focus should instead be on the dysfunctional system that allows for this class separation and yields the market where quality food is not readily accessible to everyone.
A new Sprouts Farmer’s Market opened up in our neighborhood. While Alex and I are giddy and excited about this new addition to Eagle Rock, there is also the question of gentrification to consider. As one person put it, “it’s the last straw for Eagle Rock.” But to be honest, Sprouts is affordable. It is certainly not anymore expensive than Von’s or Ralph’s which also are located nearby – so why all the hype about Sprouts and it’s devastating impact on the neighborhood and the local population that are being pushed out by new residents?
Probably because Sprouts is marketed as a store that supplies food that is “better for you.” For some reason, that marketing angle means that it is specifically geared towards a specific demographic of people, when in reality it should probably be praised because it is a store that provides high quality produce and bulk items that are considerably more affordable than the unfortunately high prices of health food stores or Whole Foods.
The question is how can we improve the quality of food for all, without alienating populations that are not interested in the “health food” craze that has caught on among the hipsters and foodies; without making healthy and sustainable food the butt of a joke when it really should be the goal. How can we bring more grocery stores selling high quality produce, without the high prices, into underserved areas that need them so badly? How do we educate the populations that are struggling to make ends meet about the importance of nutrition and well-balanced meals in a way that elevates and empowers them?
As long as the sustainable, local, and health-focused food movements continue to be seen as isolated luxuries within the upper class “snobs,” there will be no real or successful efforts to alter our food system and make healthy food accessible to all. Within my lifetime, I sincerely hope that the food landscape continues to be improved so that food security and food quality can go hand-in-hand.