Treehugger can't tell Mexicans from Cambodians when Defending School Gardens

I’ve been reading most of the articles and garden blogger attempts to counter the article by Caitlin Flanagan, that I think is a hilarious burn, in The Atlantic. Most of them seem to be emotionally based reactions with lots of pom poms, but offer very little of the defense the titles promise.

After speaking briefly with Michael Thompson, of the Chicago Honey Co-op, at a recent event I came away wanting to be drawn into the camp of the people who are up in arms over Caitlin Flanagan’s attack on school gardens.

I came across an article that I thought would finally show me that Caitlin Flanagan was wrong.
Today, someone I follow on Twitter retweeted a link to another “defense” of the school garden program, this time on Treehugger. I was pleasantly surprised by the job the guest author did in the first half of the article. I found myself thinking, “now that’s a defense” until I got to this section.

Treehugger screen grab of defense of school gardens article.png

Right above the paragraph of the article that accuses Caitlin Flanagan of “condescending” to Hispanics, is a pretty neat picture of a school garden. As an amateur photographer, blogger who likes to use original photography in posts and casual student of semiotics; this picture jumped out at me. What does a charming photo of Cambodian kids, in a Cambodian school garden, have to do with the a response to an article that “attacked” a school garden in California and putting the kids of Hispanic immigrants to work the school’s fields instead of teaching them English, math & science?


Granted, most people who look at the article and accompanying picture will probably not notice that the kids in the picture are not Hispanic, but I can. The inclusion of this picture is symptomatic of the colonial mindset found in some in the locavore movement that Caitlin Flanagan touched on in her article.

The Treehugger article begins to loses me and goes down hill from there. It loses me completely when it makes an argument I’ve seen repeated elsewhere. Somehow Caitlin Flanagan is dismissing the idea of food deserts. Really? What she’s really doing is dismissing the patronizing beliefs held by many locavores, activist, gardeners and foodies. She starts with her friend’s statement,

“There’s only 7-Eleven in the hood.”

Then visits an empty Ralphs in Compton and contrasts the grocery chain with the bustling Superior Super Warehouse where many of the customers are Hispanic buying traditional food items. The comparison of the two grocery stores isn’t suppose to dispel the food desert theory, but dispel the elitist views of “the hood” and the shopping habits of the poor and minorities who live there. As a resident of “the hood,” that was my favorite part (besides the mean-spirited Alice Waters snark) of the article. For once, someone was talking about food deserts and didn’t need to perpetuate the stereotype of the ignorant minority victims of the biased grocery store industrial complex.

It is sad that someone like Caitlin Flanagan can see food desert dwellers not as hapless victims but active participants; capable of making good food choices, while some others are married to the view of the contrary. Why is that?

Until some of these well-intentioned: gardeners, activists, locavores and foodies can see the people they are supposedly defending and trying to help as equals and not an interchangeable mass of brown, not much progress will be made.


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  • I guess my comment would be that the colonial mindset isn't exclusive to the "localvore" community. Also, it's just sloppy journalism.

  • In reply to Sydney:


    You're right. It isn't exclusive to locavores, nor found in most. I tried to use the some qualifier to keep from painting all locavores with the same brush and even included my gardening peeps.

    Re: "Sloppy journalism" You're going to be A LOT clearer. My spelling mistakes? Caitlin Flanagan or the choice of image for the post on TH? Ha! Seriously, thanks for the Email correcting my spelling mistakes.

    In my defense, I'm not a journalist (though it is no excuse) and the mistake at TH isn't really the fault of the blog author or quest poster. I didn't name them because the image is something that should've been caught by an editor. Chances are good the images were chosen by someone else.

  • Don't get me started on the people who try speaking Spanish to my half-asian children. They look Chinese to me, but whaddo I know.

  • In reply to naxn:


    I won't.

  • In reply to naxn:

    I'm the first to admit I can't tell by looking at someone what heritage they might have. And it doesn't tell you enough, anyway. For example, my parents immigrated to the US with me when I was 4. I've since become a citizen (had to vote back in 1990 is all I'm going to say about that!). So I'm a first generation American (my parents are/were resident aliens, not citizens), but because I'm pasty white people assume I'm American, no questions asked. My eye doctor is of Japanese heritage, but her family has been in the US for almost 100 years longer than my family. Yet because she looks Asian, many might assume she's "less American" than me or others in my situation. And what the heck does American even mean if not originally from somewhere else so why should it matter?

    I was blissfully ignorant of this article and never even heard of "food deserts", but thanks for making me Google it. I know Detroit has very few supermarket chains, though there is a great farmer's market. There doesn't seem to be a lot of shopping opportunities in the city proper. I think it has more to do with big corporations not wanting to invest int he inner city, as opposed to city dwellers not understanding how foods relate to diet.

    It's all so complicated!! What is wrong with kids learning where food comes from or growing their own? No one needs to be defending from gardening! (Now where were these people when I needed someone to "defend" me out of gym class?!?!?)

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    That last line has to be the funniest line anyone has ever left on one of my blogs.

    I wouldn't have guessed you came here from Germany when you were four! I can usually tell a European from your average Caucasian American, so my Euro radar must be broken if you managed to go by undetected. But now that you mention it-Christmas make so much more sense.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I'd have LOVED having someone defend me out of gym class and into a school garden. Chances are very good I would have reaped more physical fitness benefits in the garden.

    The way I see it, one of the major problems with primary and secondary school curricula is the lack of practical application of theoretical principles. In my experience raising mine, kids learn better when they're engaged in hands-on learning in the way Montessori and Waldorf schools educate. Clissold Elementary, a public school in the ethnically and economically diverse Beverly neighborhood, with six Montessori classrooms is a good example of how hands-on learning impacts tests scores across economic, ethnic, and social divides. Although it is, granted, a magnet school, The Ag high school, with it's test scores, graduation rate, and college attendance rate is another example.

    The public school model is broken. A one-size-fits-all approach to learning doesn't work regardless of whether the kids live in the inner city or a posh suburb. I feel that school gardens are a good start, and just one of many hands-on experiences that should be incorporated into the public education model. It's not rocket science or esoteric theory that integrative, hands-on experiences enhance learning.

    As long as we lump people together into an integrated mass of whatever color, socioeconomic status, or any other stereotype, we do all of us a disservice.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:

    SSGardenGirl, Thanks for the comment. Probably the best one I've read related to this subject.

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