Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Women's rights, food justice and security - from the social to the individual and back

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Two great articles out last week, speaking to different issues around the ethics of food, got me to thinking about the nexus of hunting, food security, and women's rights.

First, this article at Grist on the implications of a whitewashed food justice movement.  The author is honest, thoughtful, and far better at her craft than I.  Definitely read it.  Two weeks back, I posted a piece on how the environmental movement (which, in my mind, includes 'food justice' folks) hamstrings itself through apprenticeship programs, subsequently passing on its expertise and influence to a disproportionately wealthy group of individuals, and creating difficult burdens to entry for those who cannot afford to work for free.  Natasha Bowens, the author of the piece at Grist, talks about this from a different perspective, and also shows just how one group is trying to break the homogeneity. 

Next, I wanted to get a little more traffic over to Ms. Winfrey's site, to help out as I can... O Magazine has a wonderful article on hunting for the Thanksgiving turkey.  Although the category is "women and hunting", the author (Kimberly Hiss) doesn't wax political about it - I wouldn't care if she did, it's a great subject, and she is an amazing writer - she writes about hunting and shooting a bird for Thanksgiving, and this act's personal and family implications.  She does allude to the strange, new pressures she received when she began hunting, and also the beauty and sense of fulfillment she gets by providing food through hunting, and her subtlety is wonderful.  Being thoughtful and considerate, she really lets the reader join her.

Ms. Hiss might not have considered her's a piece on food justice or food security, but I do.  When she talks about her bird's diet vs. those packaged in stores and when she describes the hunt, she alludes to important aspects of food security.  Food security means, at its most basic level, the ability to safely provide healthy food, now and in the future, for you and your family.  For some of us, this is solely an economic problem, but for many, food security addresses the quality of food (a healthy variety) and the physical act of acquisition (keeping out of harm's way when getting it) as much as it does the ability to pay for it when it is available.

Many parts of our country are effectively food deserts, communities with no walking access to anything other than the local liquor store.  In these places (as in almost everywhere on Earth), women are most often responsible for providing food for the family, and yet, the physical act of trying to get healthy food often puts them in harm's way.   The empowerment that comes from effectively and efficiently wielding a gun (or a bow) to provide for one's family is profound; it strikes the very core of both food and security.

Which is why I read with happiness this piece by Holly Heyser, the Nor Cal Cazadora (another writer of the fist caliber), on the numbers of women hunting.  As she points out, women hunt at a much higher rate in the West than in other parts of the country.  This core of hunters and what they represent, if I may be allowed the latitude, can have a global impact on the role and empowerment of women.

Hunting embodies empowerment.  Taking the life of an animal to provide sustenance is one of the three or four most basic things a human really needs in order to survive, and honing those skills requires controlling and mastering a powerful force.  Guns are powerful, they equalize people like few other things - and this empowerment can mean so much more in the hands of women.

Now, I'm no trigger-happy gun fanatic, nor am I a violent person, a condition of my religion.  What I am, as my Momma raised me, is as much a feminist as a man can be.  And I'm not naive when it comes to understanding and recognizing power as choice and the ability to defend and provide for oneself, especially at the personal level, and especially as that relates to women in the World.  In my household, I'll make darned sure that my daughter and son can shoot, of course, and also catch, garden, forage and cook good food.  On the social level, I recognize that access to these basic skills is vital to equality. 

As I thought more about this issue, I remembered a piece by Scott Simon of National Public Radio.  When he learned of the possibility for peace talks with the Taliban, he reminded his listeners about Afghanistan under their rule, as he had reported from there for quite a while in the early 2000's.  In particular, he talked about watching the first soccer game in Kabul after the Taliban were run out, where a British commando took off her beret to call to a friend, and the crowd erupted in cheers.  Soon after, and every few minutes during the game, a woman would stand up in the crowd and remove her veil.

Yes, this may feel like a tangent, but I think you know where I'm going.  There in Afghanistan, one empowered woman expressed that power without even thinking about it, and helped other women to see themselves as powerful.  Around the world, U.N. forces with women soldiers empower local women who've suffered as slaves for untold millennia, just by being there.  I don't pretend that all these women are automatically freed, but changes do happen because of these experiences.  Here in the Western U.S., where women first took the right of suffrage in the U.S., it is important to remember, make conscious and plain and pass down, this power.

Hunting necessarily taps and hones that power.  Increasing food security for communities and individuals by developing local means to produce food also empowers individuals.  From Holly, Ms. Bowens and Ms. Hiss all the way to those women in Afghanistan who stood up in that stadium and dared to show their society that they have faces, these expressions of power shake our very foundations in the best possible way.  Thank you.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Now if only hunting could be more affordable and accessible for most women and men who weren't born into it. That's a huge problem - the people most in need of food justice are even further removed from hunting than they are from decent grocery stores.

I'm not just talking about needing a car to get to someplace that's legal to hunt. I'm talking about having access to a hunting firearm, having access to free mentors (as opposed to paid guides).

Josh said...

Amen, Cazadora! Very few people know their gun options and have the mentorship available to them, unless it is passed down.

I'll get to work on that...

NorCal Cazadora said...

I know! One more freakin' thing on the to-do list!