While growing up, David Smith never worried about his family’s access to fresh, healthy food. Now, one of his classes is working on what he calls an "eye-opening" project about food insecurity. The class has partnered with students and faculty at Morgan State University and to examine food deserts in rural and urban areas.
Smith spoke to Managing Editor Jennifer Gardner about his experience working on the project.
Q. What does it mean to be food insecure?
A. Basically that means: do people have in a community, whether it’s rural West Virginia or inner-city Baltimore, access to fresh foods and healthy foods in general and how do they access it? We are looking at food deserts, whether far away geographically or in places where fresh food is too expensive. We’re looking at common narratives and thinking about them and trying to approach them in a new way and mostly just try to question our own stereotypes and society’s stereotypes about food insecurity.
Q. How do you believe the class has taken a new approach at this issue?
We’re not doing advocacy journalism, we’re just critically looking at the issue and questioning the common narrative. I think it is a journalist’s job to question the common narrative and think about the way stories are framed instead of repeating the same stories we’ve always known. So it’s not just to accept "this is the way things are" but actually looking at it and questioning it and saying "does it really have to be this way and are they other ways of looking at this outside of the way media has commonly framed the issue." I feel like students now see the opportunity in journalism to make a difference and it’s exciting to them and it’s exciting to me.
Q. What do you believe has been the most eye-opening part of your interviews/research?
A. We’ve been to Baltimore and we looked at a lot of urban farms that existed and people who were trying to get fresh foods to markets in the city where people could access it. In West Virginia we visited the Mountaineer Food Bank, which is the largest food bank in the state. To me, seeing the people who were actually there trying to ensure that everybody had access to food was really inspiring and pretty cool. We talked to this guy in Baltimore who runs an interface network of churches and they have farms, food pantries and a bunch of churches all working together to provide fresh food to people in their community. They’re doing this because they see people around them who are struggling and they’re trying to make a difference in their lives. They’re not necessarily getting money from the government to do this.
Q. Why do you think a project which offers real-world experience is beneficial to students?
A. It’s not academic and in a classroom. Personally I love to get out of the classroom and learn about things, experience things and do work in the field so I don’t feel like it takes a lot out of me. It energizes me. There’s a difference between learning in the classroom and learning in the field, when a student gets out and talks to someone who is experiencing something first-hand and realize that they have the opportunity to do something that can enact change or at least shed light or tell someone’s story, you can tell that they are energized by it and that’s exciting to me to see that light go on in that student’s mind.
Q. Do you feel as though you have personally connected with this project?
A. I grew up in a nice, suburban neighborhood and my family wasn’t rich but we always had food. We never had problems with access to food and we never went on SNAP or anything like that, so I kind of feel like I was sheltered from this in a way. Some people have a more personal connection to this project and it has been eye-opening for me It’s not a subject that I’ve ever covered before so I’ve been learning a lot along with the students which I think is the coolest part of my job. I kind of feel like I’m lucky in that way.
The project is run by Joel Beeson (WVU), Jackie Jones (MSU), Ron Taylor (MSU), Tricia Fulks Kelley (a freelance digital journalist), John Ketchum (member of the CNN social media team). and Joshua Lohnes (PhD student from the Geography department).