Do you know where your food comes from? Or who produced, processed, transported it, and will pick up and process its waste? The land that is responsible for our food and the people whose labor makes our food possible are too often an afterthought.
And across our nation and region we have both an overabundance of food and a staggering number of people who struggle to find their next meal. Before the pandemic, one in seven households and one in five children in Washington, D.C., was “food insecure,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as facing limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate food. The D.C. child hunger rate is higher than that of any state in the nation. This reality has only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long before the pandemic began, we at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum had been working on an exhibition about what many people refer to as “food justice,” which seeks to understand the whole system of food production, distribution, and access and transform it to be more equitable and sustainable. Having interviewed more than 100 community members — including activists, government officials, farmers, and food workers of all kinds — as well as conducted extensive research on the issues, we wanted to shine a light on inequities in our local food system, but also celebrate the important work being done by local people and organizations to combat such injustice.
When confronted with the pandemic ourselves, we quickly pivoted to figuring out how to turn a traditional indoor exhibition into a safe, outdoor experience for our local DC-area communities. So the newly opened “Food for the People” outdoor exhibition — which will be joined by an indoor exhibition when the museum reopens its building — offers a fun and informative way for visitors to explore food justice issues we face in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as learn about local people and ideas that are making our food system more just and sustainable. Among the elements of the outdoor exhibition is also a sculptural tribute to our local and national food workers whose labor often goes unseen and underappreciated but makes our food possible — from the farmworkers and meat processors to the grocery store and restaurant workers. Visitors can leave notes of gratitude for food workers, or share what they’d like others to know about their own experiences as a food worker.
The Washington, D.C., region, like communities around the country and the world, faces a food crisis. We should both be incensed — and moved to action — by the grave disparities, but heartened and inspired by the tremendous efforts being made locally. Our small contribution to the dialogue about food justice is our newly opened exhibition, as well as the free, frequent online public programs that speak to our museum’s yearlong theme: “Our Food, Our Future.” We invite you to join us outside on the museum’s front plaza to explore the exhibition—”Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington”—and keep an eye out for forthcoming programs by visiting http://anacostia.si.edu/events. Food for the People (outdoors) is on view on the front plaza of the museum at 1901 Fort Place SE through Sept. 17, 2022. For more information on museum exhibitions and activities, visit http://anacostia.si.edu.