September 19, 2019
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A Christian Perspective on Food – Reverend Darriel Harris


My name is Reverend Darriel Harris,
I’m a student at Johns Hopkins and also a founding member of the Black Church
Food Security Network and I am pastor at a church in Baltimore called the Newborn
Community of Faith Church. So,
love of neighbor. So I love Baltimore.
I was born there. My love for Baltimore,
it’s kind of forged not of the soil but out of joyous memories such that I can’t
escape it. And so I spent some time away from
Baltimore. I was here in Durham for divinity school
and I was in Africa. I was living there and meeting my wife
and then I came back to Baltimore and I just wanted to love the city and really
I wanted the city to love me. And so I took a job at Johns Hopkins
Center for Livable Future (CLF). I was managing a project called the
Baltimore Food and Faith project. And one of the things that the Center
for a Livable Future does is they map food environments.
And so here you see three maps, you see the food environment map.
That map has the deep red speckles on the,
kind of like the elbows of the city. We call these areas–at the time it was
the term food deserts. So CLF made this map and that map told
us all the areas of the city where healthy food was not available.
And these, when we say healthy food not available,
we mean blatantly unavailable, right?
There’s other places in the city where healthy food is a challenge.
But in these areas, it was beyond the challenge.
It’s unreasonable to expect that anyone who lives in these areas were to ever
eat healthy food, regularly at least. And so I found this map and then I found
another map, the one you see in the middle,
which is a race map. And so the dark spaces are the spaces
where black people have the highest concentration.
So where the darkest spaces are, black people make up 95 percent or more
of the residents, and then the lighter spaces,
it’s close to zero. Right?
And so when I look at the food environment map,
and then I look at the race map, then I see the overlay where the places
that are the blackest are also the places where there’s inadequate healthy
foods supply. And then I’m gonna overlay that on top
of the life expectancy map. And then I see the places that have the
least availability of healthy food, which are also the black places,
are also the places where people are dying the youngest.
And so when the race map, the places that are the deepest red,
you’re dying the youngest. And if it’s the places that are the
brightest green, you’re living the longest.
And so I pastor at a church that’s in one of those deep red spaces in that
space. The average life expectancy at birth is
20 years younger than the places that are in deep green.
This is in the same city with drinking the same water. We had the same mayor,
same city council, but very different results.
They’re very different experiences in terms of the life course.
And so my dear friend, Reverend Dr Heber Brown,
he liked to say we were talking about food deserts and he said,
that’s not just, it’s not just a food desert over there,
man. It’s also an employment desert.
It’s a power desert. It’s a life desert.
And we said, that’s probably most right. And so now the term food desert is kind
of like an antiquated term. No one uses that term anymore,
especially not in Baltimore. Anybody’s working on this food system
now will use a term called food apartheid.
Because it most aptly demonstrates the political nature of what is happening
and that it falls upon along racial lines.
And the fact that it is in fact a created environment. It’s didn’t happen organically,
right? These are things that people,
people have thought, thought these things through with.
So if you live in the dark red area in Baltimore,
like the area where my church is, the liquor store density is twice the
city average. It’s almost twice the average of the bar
district within the city. The tobacco outlet density is well above
the city average. The rat infestation,
the calls to people are calling 311 to the city council asking them to come
help with rat problems–almost five times the city average,
right? The list goes on and on and on.
You’re more than twice as likely to be a victim of a crime if you live in that
neighborhood. There are so many statistics,
but the general point is that you’re having a hard life if you live in one of
these deep red areas, these neighborhoods.
And if you live in one of these bright green life can be dandy. So what do we do about it?
And so my church, the Newborn Community of Faith Church,
I’m under the direction of the previous pastor,
Elder C.W. Harris created a farm.
It’s called the Strength to Love 2 Farm, right?
And as our problems, when our neighborhoods and our city,
are manifold, it’s impossible to just focus on one
thing, right?
So whenever we tackle an issue, it’s always trying to tackle multiple
layers. And so we have Strength to Love 2 Farm
and that farm is, of course growing food.
It’s right in the middle of a very blighted area of Baltimore.
The area is not all bad. There’s some great things happening in
the area, but this area has been made famous by
the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
So this is the neighborhood that Freddie Gray is from,
right? So this 1.5 acre farm,
it hires–intentionally–citizens returning from incarceration or other
people would have a hard time finding employment. We do job training.
Really, we just give people,
we just allow people to have a job that is dignifying,
that pays them and where they are respected and they can contribute back
to their neighborhood. And so we grow this food.
We sell it to high end retailers. And then we also make a portion of the
food available to people in the neighborhood.
And people in neighborhood can eat it and enjoy it and benefit from that. And then next we have the Black Church
Food Security Network. So the Black Church Food Security
Network is a project that was really a brainchild of a Reverend Dr. Heber
Brown. He came to me and a lady named Malia
Frazier. And we sat down and we talked it over
and we said, okay,
let’s create this network where we’re going to bring produce grown primarily
from African American farmers and sell them within African American churches. And so this was our first church soil to
sanctuary farmstand. It’s happening inside the church that’s
on North Avenue, which is one of the infamous streets in
Baltimore city. And this is during one of their regular
gathering times. And Leah Frazier’s,
the one that’s pictured there, she’s selling the produce that she grew
on her farm. That at the time it she was growing this
food on Harriet Tubman’s ancestral land. I’m on the eastern eastern shore of
Maryland. This was highly significant,
significant for us. And for us,
we named this network, the Black Church Food Security Network.
And it had to be the Black Church Food Security Network because the people who
are most affected by the problem are black people frankly.
And there’s a lot of black churches in that space.
And one of the things that we wanted to see,
we wanted the imagination of people who are living in depressed areas to see
that they can solve some of their own issues. It doesn’t take an outsider to come in
and rescue them. So we wanted to broaden that
imagination. And so we named it the Black Church Food
Security Network. We work intentionally with black farmers
and it was led by black pastors. And then we have non black allies who
partnered with us, who are willing to get behind the
vision, and to support the work.
And we welcome and are grateful for that. All right,
so the solution is now love of neighbor. Of course,
within Christianity, love of neighbor is the central tenant.
And so I named the solution love of neighbor because the two should be hand
in hand, right?
We have to stop imagining solutions that are not loving.
The solutions have to be loving. So the first,
the first solution I’d like to say is a de-clustering of poverty.
Most of the people who live in high-density poverty areas did not
choose to live there. They were kind of assigned there.
And so that assignment, we’re assigning people housing.
The housing doesn’t have to be in places where there’s already large amounts of
stress. And so if someone wants to build a low
income housing in your neighborhood or adjacent to your neighborhood,
don’t fight them. Let them build that a complex so that so
all the problems of the city are not clustered in these areas that are pretty
much primarily for black people, right?
Right. Okay.
And then the second thing you want to do is support local black farmers and food
efforts, right?
There’s a lot of people in the city that are working on this in cities all across
America. Chicago,
Baltimore, Philadelphia,
DC, and Milwaukee–all over the place.
There are people who are doing these efforts and we really need to support
them. Give them the funding,
give them the moral support that they need so they can be successful. And then the last thing that I like to
raise up is that we have to address food affordability.
And so right now you can buy 10 chicken nuggets from Burger King for $1 or I can
buy a pound of lettuce for $5-6. The chicken nuggets seem a lot more
attractive, right?
And so, but the reason why that’s cheapest is
because of subsidies. And so either we need to tamp down some
of the subsidies for meat suppliers or we need to ramp up the some subsidies
for vegetable growers so that there can be some type of price equity and people
can kind of lean towards the thing that is actually beneficial towards them.
And not leaning towards the thing that is destructive.

Otis Rodgers

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