The Privilege of Organic Eating

(Kyla Smith • The Student Life)

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For many people, socio-economic status is one of greatest factors contributing to food decisions. No matter how aware a person is of the issues associated with GMOs or pesticides or how much they desire to eat fresh and local food, certain food purchases aren’t possible for the majority who aren’t wealthy.

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Farmers markets provide fresh, local, often organic food grown on small farms. The target customers of farmers markets are most often wealthy and white. While someone with disposable income is able to spend $6 on four ounces of cheese, many low-income people often struggle to get food on the table.

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Statistically, low-income people are much more likely to be overweight or obese, and suffer from Type II Diabetes and other weight-related diseases more than people with more economic security (Diabetes in Control). The American agribusiness system that pumps billions of dollars into corn and soy subsidies produces innutritious, inexpensive food. When it comes to getting the most calories per dollar spent, processed and unhealthy food is undeniably the most effective.

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Many low-income families often receive government assistance through Electronic Benefit Transfers (EBT). According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, starting in 2004, EBT was implemented in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

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The sector of EBT that provides funds for the purchase of food is known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In California, SNAP goes by the name CalFresh. Both programs electronically issue monetary benefits which subscribers can use to purchase food at most grocery stores and food marts according to California Electronic Benefit Transfer Project.

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On May 13, 2016, by a unanimous vote, the Los Angeles City Council instructed the Los Angeles City Attorney to write an ordinance that would require that all farmers markets within Los Angeles city limits accept CalFresh. This applied to 57 different farmers markets at the time the ordinance was written (Los Angeles Times).

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While EBT, SNAP, and CalFresh all provide necessary assistance to low-income people and families, these benefits can typically only be spent at selected locations and on selected goods. Farmers markets are the best way to access fresh, local, quality produce, and until recently, there was nowhere for SNAP benefit money to be spent at farmers markets. Even if an EBT receiver wanted to make healthier choices for their body, the local economy, and the environment, they would not be able to spend their benefit money at farmers markets.

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Before the ordinance, over 50 percent of farmers markets within the city were not able to accept EBT. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council aided in training and equipping merchants with the necessary tools to accept EBT, allowing merchants to request free point of sales systems for EBT and shortening long waiting periods for the federal applications required (Los Angeles Times).

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LA County farmers markets are now able to accept EBT through a system that allows vendors to easily receive the money they earned. At various farmers markets, including the Claremont Forum Farmers and Artisans Market, customers using EBT can go to the main market manager’s booth, buy a certain amount of credits (represented by wood coins, laminated paper, or other means), swipe their EBT cards, and use their credits to buy food goods throughout the market.

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When the market closes, vendors take all of the credits they received to the market manager’s booth and receive cash or check payment (Los Angeles Times). This system varies, but is efficient in allowing EBT users to shop throughout the market, centralizing the payment so that each booth doesn’t need its own EBT point of sales system, and allowing vendors to be compensated.

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When you go to the farmers market this weekend to buy a green juice and sunflowers, stop by the market manager booth, and take a look at the EBT system. So often we take for granted having access to healthy food whenever we want, especially at colleges with such acclaimed dining services. McConnell Bistro often has produce from Huerta Del Valle, and Bon Appetit advertises a commitment to local and ethically sourced food.

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This means that on my meal plan, I have access to a variety of healthy options from local sources. This is far from the truth for so many. The county-wide ordinance is just one step in the fight for food accessibility. Everyone should have the opportunity to eat healthy food, support the local economy, and be more environmentally responsible through their food choices.  

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