The Most challenging Blog Post I wrote was my last one.  I began to realize just how divide as people we can be despite shared awareness and knowledge of global issues and relative interactions with the world.  Should this make us more similar or more different?  I think that we try to hard to see differences in order to create understanding, when in reality seeing similarities is how things are connected.  However, noticing differences is what leads us on the path to creating connections, I think that the similarities are the next step.  This is what made that blog so hard to write, because it made me question my own abilities to understand other people rather than see them as “others.”  And how can anyone really tell where the balance is between familiarity, bias, withdrawnness and understanding since each are used together and separately to make social justice claims and to prove legitimacy in register. 

My favourite peer blog was by AnnaJustcity.  She spoke about the Facebook trend promoting breast cancer, which was meant to bring awareness to breast cancer patients, and instead prevailed as a self-centred incentive for many Facebook users.  I like how she brought awareness to a common  awareness issue and brought a new level of awareness to the issue in the process.  I think that this is how knowledge, awareness, familiarity and withdrawnness all become entangled and create a deeper level of understanding that can either get deeper and deeper, or more and more shallow, as her blog post demonstrates.  It also brings back the issue I have with trying to pinpoint an expert within the boundaries society puts up, between others and one’s self, and local and global. 

The favourite blog post that I wrote is probably the one about Jane and Eglington because it was most reflective of my childhood memories, my older perspective and my knowledge of the different communities in the area and the implications of public space locally and through research and class discussions.  This gave me the ability to confidently document what I had seen from a withdrawn perspective.  Although it was a very specific place I think that these dynamics of public space are always present everywhere we go, although it is less obvious who claims what, and what the varying significance of a public space may be. 

Documentaries with unique social justice perspectives

1.  Dirty Wars

-Are the reasons/causes, actions/reactions, goals/results of war as straightforward as we would like to believe?  Highly unlikely.  War has changed, become more covert and less politicized.  We need to change our understanding of war as the documentary urges us to do.

2.  Serving Life

-Do prisoners deserve the opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life, do they deserve to show kindness and empathy?  A new program in a prison in Southern United States documents a few individual prisoners’ experiences as they do their best to care for sick and dying inmates.

  1. 2012: The Mayan World
  • What the 2012 ancient Mayan calendar and end of the world buzz means to contemporary Mayan people.  Interesting and important. 

4.  To Educate a Girl

-Documenting a struggle to gain the right to education by a few girls, each from a different country and each facing different obstacles, in many ways, but all sharing a similar goal to get education. 

5.  Food Inc.

-Showing us the complications that have arisen with the popularity of major corporations and their ability to shape laws that allow their businesses to thrive and other farmers to fail.  Social justice is implicated everywhere. 

 

Viewing does not mean understanding.  Viewing stores full of food does not give one an in-depth understanding of food insecurity.  Here is a new perspective on the difference between viewing and understanding.  An interesting journal article by K. Nairn critiques  geography fieldtrips taken by students, and analyzes their experiences, in order to question the depth of their foreign-student experience while observing others.  She explains some significant differences between viewing the experience of others and being the “other” in an experience.

Her article has made me wonder, what defines a truly in depth perspective of a situation or a people?  I think that often times our media outlets give us a very targeted perspective that is lacking depth in some area or other, and that it is constantly influencing bias perceptions of the world.  And in our own experiences, how often have we felt we understood a situation, and then thought back and realized their was another element we did not catch or see at the time.  It feels like these targeted perspectives, followed by more in depth learning and reflective realizations happen continuously as I have tried to get a deeper understanding of social justice.  This in itself provides evidence that social justice issues are never transparent.

  Nairn provides examples of how the students she studied shaped their experiences; their “outsider” ability to make conclusions based on a withdrawn perspective, and their ability to distinguish differences and similarities between cultures using “face value” comparisons.  They were expected to make these comparisons from outsider viewpoints using face value judgements because these were the most straightforward and effective ways for them to understand something foreign to them.  However, they were not effective in creating mindful and in-depth understandings of the foreign cultures they were presented with.  Many students claimed that their foreign experience changed preconceived notions they had, resulting in a greater understanding of the world around them (Nairn, 2011).  However, this is not necessarily true as Nairn points out, since having a new perspective is a new awareness, not an explanation. 

I think that her argument is very valid.  Awareness of a situation is never convincing enough on its own, knowledge is what is key to speaking about a subject.  Yet their is a current trend in our society, online especially, promoting awareness of certain causes or other subjects, as a way for people to demonstrate knowledge or belonging.  It is hyped up to the point where having awareness or experience of “others” makes one eligible to speak from an authoritative perspective.  Even businesses and governments do it, but this does not mean that their perspectives are valid.   In a society we try our best to be understanding and relevant to everything current, however, this had made the ways that we create differences and use our prior knowledge to assume awareness quite deceiving and more difficult to pinpoint amidst the illusion or misrepresentation of good intentions.

An example of this that comes to mind and related to social justice is the GMO issue.  Some people and organizations are completely pro GMO, some are completely against GMO.  They each convincingly give a perspective of the impact GMO foods could have in changing global food security.  However, one thing rarely discussed is the validity of BOTH arguments, and the fact that each are somewhat well-intentioned.  How can the debate over GMOs be solved if we continue to speak of its affects on us (North Americans) and third world country dwellers as two separate issues which is often the case.  We see GMOs as negative for us, and positive for others, or negative for our health and negative for their food sustainability. 

Therefore, I find it ironic that as we become a more globalized world we still try to narrow our awareness of issues to be place specific.  This allows us to easily create boundaries between us, and them, in order to make face-value comparisons and make other peoples’ experiences seem more foreign and less related.  Yet, these comparisons are still legitimized because they demonstrate awareness on food security, or whatever the case may be, despite a lack of reflection demonstrating an understanding of how the issue may be different in different contexts yet still exist elsewhere and have important relevance.    Such as how GMO foods provide business incentives for distant farmers, local grocery stores and organic food investors. 

In conclusion, I believe that many of the boundaries that we create do not need to exist. 

“Obama Signs Monsanto Protection Act”

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/03/29/obama-signs-monsanto-protection-act/

Obama did it, he gave Monsanto, the genetically modifying leaders in the food industry, all the power possible for Monsanto to have, by signing them off as invincible to U.S. government control.  What does this say of a governments responsibility over its citizens if they so easily sign off responsibility to an institution that is completely business orientated?  It shows a complete neglect of a social justice issue which was quickly raised and spread as such all over the internet.  The publicity resulted in the cancelation of the Monsanto Protection Act.  The issue provides evidence that perhaps the government is working towards more self centred goals than we, the people of the world would like.  We would undoubtedly all been affected by the change in Monsanto’s freedom to alter their food products to whatever ill consequences they desired.  This a scary concept, which HAS been done before. 

After watching the documentary Dirty Wars (http://youtu.be/5KpzBAKJmig) it was made clear that the U.S, one of the greatest powers in the world today, had deferred its responsibility for human rights before.  To the extent that they have created a section of military intelligence beyond U.S control to do the dirty work that the U.S. cannot take responsibility for. This military project disrespects all aspects of human justice and was knowingly provided with all the freedom that the American government could offer. 

My knew understanding of the American government, thanks to Dirty Wars, topped with the article on the Monsanto Act, opened my eyes to the nerve of large institutions.   Because, even in a country like America where people are firmer believers of social justice, and they expect no less than what they demand, their institutions are still corrupt and irresponsible.  One must accept this reality before anything can be done to change the situation, and I believe that this is what happened with the spread of the Monsanto article on the internet to the general North American public.  And as a result change was created. 

 

A chart portraying the issues that are contributing to food insecurity,  most of which are being experienced in every country in the world.  Do you recognize any from your daily life?  

5 Common Social Justice Issues commonly neglected in Toronto

  1. Homelessness

-Although homeless people trigger feelings of empathy for many people who encounter these individuals on the street everyday, we have come to accept them as a constant characteristic of our city.  By accepting them as this we are accepting the structural inequalities that have made it difficult to succeed in our society.

  1. Cutbacks in healthcare

-Cost effective solutions are not quality solutions.  When it comes to healthcare the best investments are the most effective ones as Paul Farmer is known to say. Healthcare is not something that should compromise with cost-effectiveness.

  1. Gentrification of lower-class neighbourhoods

-Due to the rapid expansion of our city neighbourhoods that are not so central, and until now have been affordable. are becoming too expensive for the residents who have always resided in the neighbourhood. Although this is considered a good thing for many business owners it is unfair to the people who are being kicked out because their neighbourhood is becoming too popular.

  1. War on Fat vs. War on Unhealthy food products

-Many people, who have the time to spare focus so much energy on trying to avoid unhealthy foods, buying organic and getting the nutrients they need from their own food.  Wouldn’t it be more effective in the long run to focus our energy into making food that is supplied to us more healthy all around, not just to people who can pay more?  Instead we fend for ourselves have create a stigma relating body weight to health which does not solve the root of the problem, the unhealthy foods which promote obesity, diabetes, and many other health condition other than fat.  This war on fat we have made such a big deal about is only a side effect of something greater, the limit of healthy food, which is not something we can solve by encouraging people to eat less.

5.  The growing limit of free space

-Also a result of the growth of our city, free space is becoming hard to come by.  Many people who use to have views from their apartments, condos and houses no longer have this privilege.  Although growth is good for the economy, one day this growth may trip on itself, like when food insecurity becomes a visible issue.  I think that there should be some control over the amount of building allowed in a given area, since, we all need space in order to maintain our sanity, don’t we?

Food Insecurity and Community Food Programs in Toronto 

A research paper done by Racheal Loopstra and Valerie Tarasuk (2013) showed the results of a study in which 371 low-income families were interviewed in order to find out what their relationship with community gardens, community kitchens and Good Food Boxes were.  Loopstra and Tarasuk (2013) wanted to discover why, or why nor these families were involved in these three types of programs listed.   

In the discussion, the questionnaire format used to communicate with the families was critiqued because it limited the questions asked and as aresult may have allowed families to oversimplify their answers (Loopstra, Tarasuk 58). A more in-depth study and questionnaire would allow participants to speak more, and get deeper into what factors were preventing them from choosing to use food programs (Loopstra, Tarasuk 58).  This would give policy makers and those researching food insecurity a better idea of what would be appealing, since, as it stands the study did not promote ideas that could spark better solutions. 

I believe that the main problem at the end of the day is the impression that we all need for money to survive in a city.  We live in a consumer society, surrounded by stores and building, and so to see the possibility of self sustainability as a solution is difficult. We do not see the land surrounding us as an income generator, at least for the greater majority of city dwellers. As well, I feel like it seems a bit ironic to tell the poorest city dwellers to grow their own food, as if we were suggesting for them to revert to the olden days when the peasants were always the ones living off the land.  And although I say this, I also believe in the possible success of community gardens, but I think that in order for them to become successful and helpful to lower class citizens they have to become much more accessible and better funded.  

Community programs are limited in funding and as a result are often run by volunteers (Loopstra Tarasuk 58).  Therefore they suggest time, dedication and effort to be placed in their existence and use, concepts that could create an inclusive feel to the programs and make outsiders feel deterred by the idea, especially those who would not have time or energy to contribute much.  The study shows that the participating low income population may have an issue participating due to a high percentage of single parents (almost half of the studies families), chronic health conditions and work (Loopstra, Tarasu 58).   

Unfortunately, the study did not appear to ask for suggestions on what could be improved for families who did use community gardens and the Good Food Box Program and suggestions that might convince  people to participate in community food programs.  A deeper study into the reasons why they do not go would be very helpful. 

By asking for suggestions, low-income families would be given the opportunity and power to change their living situations for the better, since they would know what is needed most.   It would be a positive change, instead of what is commonly done; the government imposing what they believe would be good for the citizens, and as a result, having the upper hand by being able to blame the citizens for not using the programs provided for them.  

 Yet, for all this people need time and energy, all of which is easily taken up by the need for immediate money and food.  It is a circular cycle that could be changed if the government was willing, or pushed to change some of the obstacles preventing low-income families from becoming as successful as they would like to be.  

Loopstra, R and Tarasuk, V. 2013.  Perspectives on Community Gardens, Kitchens and the Good Food Box Program in a Community-based Sample of Low-income Families. Canadian Journal of Public Health, January/Febuary,55-59.