Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

This morning I was weaving through the fog on my way to a meeting downtown when I found myself adjacent to a big backyard garden in the shadow of City Hall. There were hay bushels and cornstalks and meandering tomato vines. I thought to myself, "What is this, Nebraska?!?"

Slow Food Nation, a national movement due to gather in SF over Labor Day weekend, has planted what they refer to as a "Victory Garden" in the public space in front of City Hall that is more frequently used as a sprawling plaza for anti-war protests and homeless camping. It's on the fringe of the Tenderloin, the heart of SF's most gritty and drug-saturated neighborhood, and the locus for much of the poverty and homelessness that the city continues to struggle with.

The NYT ran a piece on the Slow Food movement and this garden itself last week. Standing there taking in the seedlings and little starter plants and young corn and tomatoes and whatnot, I felt a mixture of fond excitement and jaded cynicism about the whole project. Yesterday the Chronicle highlighted the ongoing lack of a real grocery store in the Tenderloin, and that in mind, I felt proud to find a grassroots attempt to build urban sustainability in a public space in the heart of the most poorly-fed population in this affluent city. But I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be until these idealistic little sprouts were ripped up, urinated on, or slept in. Will the plants ever even get a chance to produce? Is it delusional to try to plant a community garden on the corner of Crack Ave. and Homeless Lane?

The whole thing brought home to me once more what I think is the most consistently pressing issue of these efforts to build a sustainable and healthy food system amongst the poorest of this country's residents. Like the Slow Food movement in general, it's an effort hopelessly bound up in class and privilege. When I write things about raw foods and eating fresh local produce and organic veggies and whatnot, a little voice in my head always chides me for not being more articulate about the privilege implicit in my (our) being able to make those choices in the first place. Why should my relative affluence grant me the power to live well and take such conscious care of my health? Is there any hope for idealistic urban gardening projects like this one? Or will the movement remain, as the NYT article questions, a white liberal affluent little club?

The other thought swirling around me, standing there in the fog, was of the privilege and the politics of space. Again, I think this is related to the privilege of growing up in the middle of the country with so much land, land - meaning capital, natural resources, power - that I was not even aware of at the time. I will always be grateful to my parents for insisting on living on sprawling acreages instead of "postage-stamp sized lots" (as Pops used to say). Only now, living in the City where green space is such a rare treat, do I realize how important that is for the body AND the spirit, and especially, especially, for chidren, who may not otherwise even make the connection between how a potato or a tomato grows and the food on their plates (or in the silver cellophane bag on their laps in front of the TV).

Ay dios mio. Land, food, class. Some things remain the source of conflict and consternation across the ages.

Slow Food Savors Its Big Moment (NYT)


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