Saturday, October 24, 2015

Food system work; the workers' perspective

I had thought it might be fun to post some recipes or the like on US Food Day, today, as a festive wrap-up to this blogging novena. But I've been ignoring a central issue, the state of workers in our food system. I've collected quite a few links. Here they are, along with a few comments.

Here in Sonoma County, the social equity team of the Food System Alliance had intended to work with the Health Dept in promoting, reflecting on and following up with a wellness survey of farmworkers. But as these bureaucratic things go, the project took forever. A summary of research done almost two years ago was finally posted this week.
Perhaps because of the scale of most agriculture here, or perhaps because of the skills needed in some aspects of viticulture, we have a permanent farm labor force. But most are struggling to support families on under $30000 per year, when the cost of living well for a family of four is usually estimated in the $50,000+ range. And housing costs are escalating, with pressure on rents from the many who can't afford to buy and the recent relocation of people displaced by fire in Lake County.
There are many links from the press release above, but this one may be the clearest presentaion of the key findings.

When I attended a brainstorming session for the Generation Food Project in late September, I sat next to a woman who is a leader in the Fight for $15.  A single mother employed by McDonald's in Richmond, CA, she works an additional job to put food on the table, but with a low income and little time to cook realizes she is not providing better, healthful choices for her family. All she - and thousands of others - want is $15/hour and a union.

I listened to a bit of the James Beard Foundation conference this week and learned about ROC United. There are 10 million restaurant workers in this country, and those eligible for tips have an hourly wage at about the level of the general minimum wage when I was in college - and oh dear, I am going to have to say it - roughly 50 years ago. You can read about ROC's work here: You can also get an app which will let you know which restaurants are doing right by their employees. And if your haunts aren't, there is coaching available to help you let them know that you value such practices as paid sick days and internal advancement opportunities as well as fair pay.

Finally (whew!) we need a stronger movement for domestic fair trade. It's not enough with the coffee, tea and chocolate! If you scroll down in this newsletter you can read all about work afoot in the northeastern US.
The Domestic Fair Trade Association has lots of information on their website about the marriage of international fair trade and the organic movement in "promoting health, justice and sustainability."

Friday, October 23, 2015

This article on BuzzFeed recounts the saga of a Monsanto funded scientist's (turned podcast personality) attempts to bolster the reputation of GMOs in a humorous (?) way, and a journalist's attempts to tell the story.

It's a fascinating read, but what it tells me is nothing about GMOs, but a lot about the need to provide more public funding for agricultural research (rather than leaving ag scientists dependent on industry money). There also is a hint in the article that if ag scientists are going to accept corporate funds, they need to have professional ethical guidelines and stick to them.

It bugs me that GMO critics dwell on the middle class (privileged) issue of personal health, not looking at the environmental impacts and the global injustices tied to them. Nevermind that they don't document their sources in their campaigns. It bugs me that we can't seem to have any unbiased research into areas where GE practices push the envelope just a bit on traditional plant breeding (gene transfers at the family level, for example, rather than limited to the species or in some cases genus level) in ways that would benefit the world's hungry.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

USDA Farm to School Program

It's nothing earth shaking or radical, but it's definitely a success moving in the right direction. There have only been 223 grants awarded in the first three years of the program, but more than 42,000 schools around the country are enrolled in some aspect of it. And it's not just enriching school lunch anymore, but will also be improving summer meal programs and supporting efforts on reservations to return to the traditional diets of those indigenous to that place.

It's about more fresh, local food. It's about knowing where your food comes from and how it's grown. It's about nutrition education. And now for first peoples it's about cultural values around food, too.

More info here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

More on Food Sovereignty

Today at the Food System Alliance meeting I got a little discouraged with the analysis of our theme issue, the false dichotomy between affordable healthful food and the triple bottom line. In addressing the issue we had been looking at producers and low income consumers and naming things that bridge the two. But it seemed to me that this market-based dichotomy was obscuring the true challenges and opportunities in recognizing that all of us in the local food system are already related, and all have or could have a share in various facets of the system. So I opted out of the small group exercise.

But when in a second round of small groups we addressed the food system goals to mark progress over the last few years, I was very present to the conversation around Pillar 4, Social Equity. Goal 10 is where we have really missed the mark, I think, "Ensure the inclusion of underserved and underrepresented communities in conversations and policy-making about Sonoma County's Food System."

I opined in the plenary feedback session that most of us know that we must move from hunger relief and charitable activities to thinking in terms of food security, but now we need to envision and work toward food sovereignty. I thought I was alone, but five of the 25 people responded later with thoughtful comments or the need to plan to talk more. And one person said when he heard the phrase food sovereignty it sent shivers down his spine. I wish my preaching had ever had that much impact!

There's so much work to do, but I feel it may be possible to make a sound beginning.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spirit of the Harvest

This evening was the annual fund/friend raiser for the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. In Marin this year, we really enjoyed the venue, the Falkirk Cultural Center. Good eats, good short speeches for the most part, and good conversation.

The thread running through all the remarks was the importance of community. But only one of the projects honored seemed to push that out to include the people served as subjects and participants in their own food sovereignty.

I'm also taken today with the phrase "just sustainability" - a way of strengthening that third leg of the sustainability stool, social equity or social justice. This is where faith communities can make a difference and stimulate change for the better.

Monday, October 19, 2015

October homes and gardens

There are more issues to take up in this nine day Food Day blitz, but once in a while it's good just to have a report from the garden. Things are quite sad these days; the effects of the drought are obvious. There is only so much that judicious watering can do;  then there comes a point where plants cry out for real rain. At the same time, we have had only a couple of nights as low as the high forties, and continue to have short heat waves. Blessedly the forecast this week has been modified - no 90F days, in the offing. But the upshot of this is that the visibly tired bean teepees keep blooming, and the summer squashes keep pumping out more fruit.

At a celebration on Saturday I managed to avoid the potluck sides that had zucchini in them, only to discover that the vegetable enchiladas were stuffed with - zucchini! I've been eating summer squash for breakfast (diced golden pattypan sauteed in butter with an egg scrambled in), lunch and dinner.
I have made both of my favorite zucchini bread recipes (one chocolate and one that looks like it would be good for you and probably is) and more than once tried a new one, zucchini coconut being my favorite. I don't need to make another batch of zucchini pickle relish, so this evening I tried a good looking recipe for refrigerator zucchini bread and butter pickles. I've got one more recipe to try. And I am thankful that friends actually seemed to want my surplus summer squash this year.

Keeping up with the Cucurbita pepos, the Sunshine winter squash is putting out a third flush of fruit. I planted three winter varieties this year, but Sunshine remains the most productive and really the best keeper. The scorecard on all the winter squashes so far is Phina 12, Gophers 5, Vandals 1. The second flush of Sunshines took the biggest Gopher hit, but there are three more on the vines which just may be pickable before the return of the Vandals for their Hallowe'en supply.

Chard starts are coming along for late fall and over winter, fava beans will go in this month and garlic next. Meanwhile, cleaning up and composting and mulching will keep me out of trouble when I am not writing or attending food system related meetings and events. More on this week's crop of meetings later.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Q: What replaced hydrogenated oils in processed foods?

A. Palm oil, of course. It's solid at room temperature unlike most vegetable fats.

I've blogged about this before, but thought an update was in order, given the reporting by FERN's Ag Insider in cooperation with other investigative journalists.

Take a look at this info graphic to see the negative impact of World Bank funded palm oil development.

Situations like this always make me wonder - when does an unintended consequence become an intended one? And could none of these have been anticipated? Does anyone care about anything but money?

The article which includes the info graphic stresses the impact of new palm oil plantations and related World Bank funded developments on children and their families.

A somewhat tangential footnote: I really enjoy FERN's work. I've sent them a donation in the past because I know decent reporting takes staff which takes money. But like a number of other online publications they are now going to a subscription format. And just like those publications - never mind public radio, mlb radio, video streaming services, and just about everything else - , they want to put me on an automatic renewal. I'd be so happy to send them an annual subscription fee if they would email me a reminder. No paper need be exchanged. But I don't want any more automatic payments, because I don't want the hassle of reorganizing them all every time a credit card is hacked. I want the folks that get my money for the services they provide to take a bit of the responsibility for reminding me to send more. Excuse the rant!

Thinking about palm oil, I began wondering how you recognize it on an ingredient label. Very little googling turned up this handy guide.
Over 200 names for palm oil and palm oil derivatives. Who knew?
Note, too, that many of these are found in "products" - shampoo, cosmetics, etc. Of course, some of the 200 can be derived from other vegetable oils, but mostly are not.

Now I am going to switch from my computer specs to my bifocals and read those 200 chemical names.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Are supermarkets the answer?

One of the things I've been thinking about since I took the the EdX course, The Ethics of Eating (from Cornell), is whether supermarkets are the answer to food deserts. Pretty obviously, supermarkets aren't feasible in rural food deserts - no one is going to invest in establishing a business without a certain level of customer traffic. But what about urban food deserts?

I'm not usually a fan of TED talks - secular sermons is the way I think of them. But in one assigned for our viewing LaDonna Redmond opined that supermarkets only play into the industrial food model, the commodifying of a basic human need and right.  She approached her activism for urban food justice from the perspective of her children's health.

"The public health issue of violence is connected to the public health issue of chronic diet related diseases," is one of her basic premises. The implication here is that most of what's available in a supermarket - aggressively marketed, highly processed commodity foods - contributes to diet related diseases in a way that does violence to people. Supermarkets are a part of what's wrong with the system, hand in glove with food processors, not necessarily the answer. So the approach to remedying urban food deserts, where, as Redmond points out, it's easier to buy an automatic weapon than a tomato, may need to be more complex, community-based solutions than simply bringing in a supermarket.  In my understanding, that means food sovereignty, more than food justice, is what must be restored to urban communities.

There is a lot to think about in Redmond's talk:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Nine days for a better food system

I lifted the graphic below from the Slow Food USA blog because it seemed like a good way to call attention to the real issues on International Food Day. So often we in the US focus on hunger relief and nutrition, ignoring the deeper ties to a whole range of cultural and justice issues. Lasting food system change must have as a goal food sovereignty.

Chapter 9 in Cultivating Food Justice, "Environmental and Food Justice" says it better: "Food security...treats food as a nutritional commodity." And "food sovereignty posits food as a fundamental human right." Authors of the article Teresa M. Mares and Devon G. Pena continue, "The central rallying point of food justice should be to identify power dynamics in the food system with the goal of restoring self-determination, control, and autonomy to eaters and growers alike."

Since I've been away from this blog for a while, I'm committing to nine days of writing, from today, International Food Day, to U.S. Food Day, October 24. Think of it as a novena for the food system. Novenas sometimes mark periods of mourning. At other times, they stress prayers for renewal. These nine days here may be both: mourning the greed, carelessness, and callousness that have marked the industrial food system, and looking forward to renewed commitments to just, respectful and culturally rich values.

Food Security, Food Sovereignty