Food and the Common Good: A Service Learning Reflection
The central mission of the Monroe Park Co-op is to provide fresh, healthy, and nutrient-rich food at affordable prices, a mission that specifically seeks out the disadvantaged. Monroe Park may be considered a “food desert,” an area where a population cannot easily reach, or lack access to, the markets and grocery providers that more well-off populations enjoy. As such, the Co-op is a step towards alleviating the “food desert” affliction of the Monroe Park population, bringing the variety and quality of food, largely locally-sourced, that one may find at a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, or a regular farmer’s market.
Looking at the mission of the Monroe Park Co-op from a perspective of Catholic Social Thought may reveal a strong sense of Rights and Responsibilities. The ability to obtain good, healthy food is not something to be regarded as a privilege; rather, we must seriously treat good, healthy food as a right, a fundamental cornerstone of a quality life. And as such a right, we all, as a society, a culture, as communities large and small, must take on the responsibility to make such food more common and accessible. We may relate this responsibility to the Preferential Option for the Poor, by which we recognize the failings of our current systems, analyzing what needs are yet to be met, and dedicate ourselves to creating and implementing solutions. As is written in Introducing Students to Social Analysis and Theological Reflection, “humans beings are called to do justice, i.e., they are called to create and refine social structures that uphold the inherent dignity and facilitate the fundamental sociality of all human beings” (J. Reed-Bouley, K. Reed-Bouley 9).The Monroe Park Co-op is a needed agent in the process of guaranteeing healthy food access to all populations. But the Co-op has not yet fully reached its goals, and the needs of people like those in the Monroe Park area are yet to be fully met.
Access is a key aspect of the Co-op’s mission, but there are other obstacles to the success and propagation of food market models as seen at Monroe Park that require further dedication, analysis, and involvement, and not just on the part of providers like the Co-op. Everyone must understand the Call to Family, Community, and Participation. Solutions to issues of social justice and equality, and the pursuit of the Common Good, arise from participation of many voices. In his book Good Business: Catholic Social Teaching at Work in the Marketplace, Thomas O’Brien remarks on how people need to recognize the solidarity we all belong to in our communities through interrelated relationships, everyone depending on others for their needs. As he writes, “human communities are not merely a collection of individuals thrown together haphazardly but rather people who belong together and whose togetherness has a purpose,” such as a purpose in the Common Good, which can be pursued by promoting equality of life and justice in our social and economic systems (O’Brien 212).
A major stumbling block in the Co-op’s mission is education regarding the benefits of the food they provide. Produce like kale, chard, potatoes, and beans can be nutrient rich and filling. Not enough people recognize the improvements to one’s health through eating, in addition to lacking knowledge on how to prepare plants like kale, or rhubarb, and even simply disregarding that such produce tastes good. But we also cannot ignore the costs of quality produce, even when sold through places like Monroe Park Co-op. Cheaper, bulk products like ramen or frozen foods are much easier to access and much cheaper to provide for large families on low incomes. An increased voicing of support for entities like the Co-op, and for local food producers like Bertrand Farm, as well as a wider resistance against the harmful actions of the industrial food complex through informed consumerism, are the steps that we all, as families and communities, can and should participate in. So are we called.
Until Next Time,