Food Justice and Neurodiversity

We always hope that when we act ethically, morally, that our actions will result in good outcomes. For instance, at Shrub Oak International School we will be using sustainable methods in our agriculture, and in our animal husbandry. These look like ethical practices, in line with the kind of values we would like to support in our students. But as an article in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, points out, the way sustainable agriculture is brought to the community often prevents people from accessing healthy, ethically produced foods. Farmers’ markets must be accessed by cars, the portions are not useful to people who do not regularly have access to refrigerators or stoves, the foods may not fit with traditional recipes from other cultures, the cost is high, and farmers’ markets may feel unwelcoming to people who might feel out of place in what they perceive as “exclusive places.” Since our goal at SOIS is to bring neurodiversity into the mainstream, and to bring our students to support “neurotypical” culture, attention to food justice is deeply important to us. Here are some of the ways we are dedicated to insuring that we act ethically in our food production.

First, the obvious ways in which we are acting ethically. We are dedicated to sustainable and humane practices in our work with plants and animals in our care. These are givens, and are important, but they are not sufficient to meet the needs of the community as it relates to food justice.

We are giving our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) away to people in the community who are nutritionally challenged. Most places provide CSA’s at a cost to people in the community who can afford it. Generally, each week you get a box of fresh vegetables during the growing season. You pay a large seasonal fee for this service. At Shrub Oak, we will be putting together these boxes to give to people who are identified as having nutritional need. We will distribute them outside of traditional areas associated with the exclusiveness of sustainable foods, accessible to public transportation, to make sure that social stigma and transportation issues do not stop people from participating.

We also plan to make our deliveries more frequently than once a week. This will support those in the community who cannot refrigerate or cook large deliveries of vegetables. It also increases the learning opportunities for our students. Our students will have more frequent contact with individuals who are benefitting from the produce they are growing, more opportunities for positive social and work skill support, and more opportunities for esteem building interactions as they see the power they have in helping the community around them. Both sides of the interaction benefit.

Often, foods produced by ethical agriculture practices are seasonal, and may not fit into traditional recipes of people who are not originally from the areas in which they are currently living. To bridge this gap, SOIS will be providing cooking classes, run in conjunction with our Nutritionist and our Head of Food Services. In these classes, traditional recipes of the recipients of the food will be modified to include ingredients from the CSA. In this way, people will be able to maintain their cultural dishes with food provided by the students of Shrub Oak, and the students will also have additional opportunities to learn about nutrition, other cultures, and cooking techniques which will generalize to other areas of their education and lives.

We are lucky at Shrub Oak to be able to support the community surrounding us in so many ways. We will help to make up for some of the food justice inequities of the society in general by providing health supporting foods to people who need them, delivered in ways that they can effectively use. But most importantly, we will bring the tremendous intelligence, talent and kindness of our neurodiverse students to the aid of the community. Our students, and others like them, are a resource that the community sorely needs.