Don’t just Babel On…

John Elkington’s Sustainability and the Tower of Babel highlights what happens when we use different language to define the same thing–we don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore. Clearly, language is powerful. I’d take it another step further and add one must be careful of how we use language, especially when talking about equality because words have connotative and denotative meanings.

Every time someone talks about food accessibility gap and someone offers up the solution that we can do x,y,z and “teach them…” my ears start to ring. While the intentions may seem good and well, it almost sounds like the populations we’re aiming to help don’t understand anything about food or how to use it.

Though Fuji pointed that there are many people who don’t have or have lost cooking knowledge and we all need to learn cooking knowledge, somehow that message gets lost in translation. Its not just “inner city kids,” its college kids, town kids, who don’t know how to cook. While “college kids,” “town kids,” or “adults”  may have access to better food they may not know what to do with their options any more than the people we think we need to teach. Individuals who lack access aren’t unaware of how to use tomatoes, slice applies, or steam greens. Some just don’t have the option. In searching for solutions, we endeavor to provide people with fair options.

Furthermore, when we say, “teach them” we sort of remove ourselves from the problem and if we’re not careful, paternalistic attitude emerges. We’re not doing anybody favors; sustainability is a collective effort because people believe that everyone deserves equality. The language we use shapes how we view problems of food desserts and the people who live in them. Its not a limited problem, our goal is to incorporate sustainability (triple bottom line style) into everyone’s life. We need to teach each other better practices. No one person has a monopoly on the answers and solutions.