At a time of the year when many are motivated to give back to their communities, California State University, Northridge professor Gina Giotta reminds do-gooders to extend their efforts beyond the confines of the holiday season.
Giotta, professor of communication studies in the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, teaches a course titled Communication and Food that looks at food both in everyday language and as a language itself.
“In terms of food systems, one thing I emphasize is that we really need to push for changes in policy at the federal government level,” said Giotta. “Our individual efforts, while they might make us feel good, only provide a brief Band-Aid over the problem.”
Giotta explained that her concern lies in the framing of food banks solely as symbols of kindness and charity. While encouraging donations is important, the work is unfinished without further efforts to address the year-round systemic injustices that create food insecurity, she said.
“We do want people to donate to these causes, but we need a shift in the rhetoric around food banks,” Giotta said. “We’re not thinking about them exclusively as these warm and fuzzy socially good institutions or organizations, but rather as these symptoms of a fundamentally broken system. These are systems that we ultimately hope disappear from this society.”
“Food insecure, which is sort of a newer term for hungry, helps us to understand that hunger isn’t just something that is consistent across every day but is variable,” said Giotta. “So, now when we talk about food insecurity, we’re trying to sort of illustrate the ways in which this is a problem here at home and not just abroad.”
There will always be a call for volunteers and donors to help the community through food pantries or food banks, but Giotta wants to remind people that helping the community extends beyond interpersonal interactions, and must also exist on a wider and systemic level.
“The real change is going to come from new government intervention into poverty, which is the root cause of food insecurity in this country,” said Giotta. “We want to shift the rhetoric so that people are thinking critically about why we need to get rid of these distribution centers —which are primarily funded through private charitable donations– and shift the responsibility back to the government.
“We could start to understand food banks as an unfortunate social necessity that we ultimately need to be making moves to get rid of,” she said. “Food security means you have to raise people’s standard of living. If poverty is the root cause of food insecurity, then you have to make sure people have enough money to survive; you raise the minimum wage, you subsidize healthcare … you do all of the things that we’re starting to talk more and more about as a society, and those things don’t happen overnight.