Detroit Testing Grounds

Originally published in The Michigan Citizen September 13, 2012

This is the third in a series of columns on the 13th Environmental Justice principle: Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.

The geographic area known as Detroit, like other urban environments, is dense with diversity and, from my perspective, rich with resources often unrecognized. Many social and political movements have danced together or bounced off one another here to create unique challenges and opportunities. Today, as we consider our 13th environmental justice principle and shift our eyes towards the horror-show of unethical testing and experimentation on people of color, I find my meditations returning to connections between our large-scale industrial food system and the overall health and well-being of Detroiters.

In recent weeks, my co-columnists thoughtfully discussed the importance of informed consent and the conception that each of our bodies, specifically people of color’s bodies, can and should be considered sacred environments in and of themselves. With both of these in mind, I posit that, just like a relationship of trust between doctor and patient is requisite for informed consent to function in the medical industry, a similar relationship of trust between producers and eaters is requisite in our food system.  Whether we are going to the corner store, a fancy restaurant, a diner or Whole Foods, we have expectations that the food we put in our bodies won’t hurt us.

While being critical, I realize the importance of regulation at the local and national levels. I’m thankful there are regulations intended to protect the consumer and in some way mandate a level of trust, but just as the medical industry struggles with ethics in a profit-driven environment, our food system is driven by large corporations that put profit before people and use those profits into influence regulation and policy. One need only to look at the well documented executive-swapping that takes place between the FDA and the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries to see that this trust has been broken.

For-profit thinking has jeopardized that relationship of trust at many levels and with the medical industry catching those who fall ill and making a profit off of them in turn I find it hard not to consider aspects of our food system to be large scale studies, tests and experiments. Due to disparity and discrepancies in approach to the health and well-being of people along race and class, these food experiments impact people of color communities with greater frequency and intensity. Large-scale food distribution systems bring us food from around the world and facilitate travel and increase shelf life many chemicals are used. In addition to this, agricultural subsidies here at home demand farmers grow crops that can only be used after intense processing that remove nutrients and add chemicals.

The restaurant industry also plays its part. Whether a high-end joint or the corner coney island, restaurants are driven towards a low bottom line and this not only manifests in poor treatment of workers, but also in the quality of food they serve. To keep costs down many make use of large food distribution services that prepare massive quantities of ready to use ingredients. The majority the products these services offer are also highly processed and chemical and additive dense.

If we step into the conception that our bodies are temples or sacred, we can begin to reframe our relationships with everything we put in it and expose ourselves too. The water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat all influence our internal sacred environs.  Our bodies, our temples, can be spaces of intimate sharing and exchange with natural systems of life and liberation, or unbalanced and vulnerable to pathological invasion by food rich in chemicals and additives.

We can all strive to decolonize our bodies, minds and spirits and stop being unwitting participants in the massive social experiment of industrialized food, as we begin to consider what we eat with more care.

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