Efforts to solve the problem of hunger and poverty by turning to the same corporations that helped create the problem have gone viral. Michelle Obama and the President of Mexico have hit on the same scheme (and the same companies) for solutions to hunger and the growing crisis of diet-related illnesses. Both will likely make matters worse.
In a recent commentary, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance asks the question, “Why is Michelle Obama’s food initiative promoting Wal-Mart?” Wal-Mart and other giant food retailers are part of Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America, a national campaign that includes in its goals eliminating “food deserts,” economically depressed communities with limited access to food. Wal-Mart, a scandal-riven corporation, has wreaked havoc on regional and local food retailers with its profits-at-any-cost business strategy that leads to thoroughly uncompetitive business environments. Local grocery stores, both chains and Mom and Pop operations, have succumbed to the market dominance of Wal-Mart, leaving many communities without a place to buy food. The Partnership’s promotion of opening new Wal-Marts in poor neighborhoods is like inviting the fox to live in the chicken coop after he’s eaten all the little chickens.
An overarching theme for the current fellowship class has been growing equity in the food system. The fellows have worked to address imbalances in wealth power—predominantly across racial lines—that contribute to discrepancies in health, food access, economic opportunity and overall quality of life. Such efforts often focus on the conduct of Corporate America and D.C. powerbrokers, as inequities can be exacerbated by their decisions. Yet we also recognize the need to look internally, within the food movement and within our own communities.
For example, many of the leading food justice organizations have struggled to diversify their leadership. There are plenty of reasonable excuses for not doing more to reach outside of the dominant culture, yet we know that diversifying leadership is key to expanding and equalizing our impacts. This digest taps into the wisdom of many fellows that have worked and studied these equity challenges.
It is also bittersweet to note that this is our final dgest, released in the last month of our last class’s tenure. With eight classes and 86 fellows since the program’s inception in 2001, it has been a remarkable run with an amazing group of people and an impressive record of accomplishment. Overall, the U.S. food system has enjoyed some tremendous positive changes over the past 13 years, and I would like to think that the fellowship program has played a small role.
IATP joins many NGOs, academics and policy experts today in celebrating a move that could make U.S. food aid more efficient and responsive to the world’s hungry. Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2014 proposes to shift close to half the food aid budget to procuring food aid from local and regional markets rather than the shipping U.S. grains on U.S. ships halfway around the world. With local and regional purchasing, food aid can get to those who need it faster and cheaper while also building local capacity to deal with an increasingly unstable international food supply. It’s a big move, especially when you consider U.S. food aid makes up more than half of all food aid worldwide.
So why are some upset about a move that saves money and gets more food, faster, to those who need it? Enter the “iron triangle”— U.S. shippers, grain companies and a handful of humanitarian NGOs. Scared for their jobs, jealous of their profits, or concerned that Congress will not support more effective forms of aid—the members of the triangle had different reasons for supporting widely discredited programs. (See Kevin Drum’s aptly titled article “Obama Proposes Making Food Aid Less Insane” published by Mother Jones earlier this week.) None of those reasons was persuasive, though. And now the White House has joined the chorus for change.
With chemicals like chlorinated tris, a carcinogen, turning up infant changing table pads, the respiratory irritant formaldehyde in baby bath products and hormone disrupter, BPA in food can linings, what’s a parent to do? Parents try to protect their kids from exposures to toxic chemicals by making smart purchases, but they don’t have all the information they need to know what is harmful. It’s the government’s job to assure that harmful products don’t end up on store shelves in the first place. While states like Minnesota are taking action to protect children from toxic chemical exposures, federal action is also critical. The 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law regulating industrial chemicals in the U.S., is not doing the job.
A couple of years ago, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which proposed sweeping reforms of this toothless law. While the bill did get through one committee, it never made it through to the floor. The Safe Chemicals Act is back and both Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken are original co-sponsors. We thank Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken for being champions for protecting the health of our kids and families!
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.
The Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia has the largest collection of ancient mosaics in the world. Most of the mosaics, depicting Roman, Greek Phoenician and Nubian life, gods and royalty, are incomplete. Some have had to be radically reconstructed, with the help of archeology and very skilled and imaginative art conservationists. The Bardo mosaics have something in common with the World Social Forum (WSF): it is impossible to see more than a handful of the WSF’s nearly one thousand events, but it is possible to reconstruct a sense of the whole from some of its pieces.
The slogan of this WSF is The Revolution for Dignity. For a U.S. audience, this may seem like a strange slogan, but the Revolution in Tunisia, which deposed a dictator, began in January 2011 when a vegetable vendor harassed by police for operating without a license burned himself to death, literally crying to be treated with dignity. In a country with an unemployment rate of 60 percent and a large part of its wealth parked in European banks, rather than invested to create jobs, to be treated with dignity does not seem to be asking very much.
Healthy Legacy’s 2013 legislative agenda is making great progress. We are supporting three bills this legislative session that address priority chemicals in children’s products. After countless committee hearings, two of our bills have completed their committee paths and await floor votes in both houses.
Our third bill, the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA) of 2013 requires that manufacturers report the presence of a priority chemical in their children’s products and requires the eventual replacement of these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. This bill passed through several committees in each house, but was voted down on March 18 in the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill was transformed through the committee process into a strong reporting bill that harmonizes with Washington and would put Minnesota on a solid path to address priority chemicals. We thank our chief authors Sen. Chris Eaton and Rep. Ryan Winkler for their leadership and hard work on these bills.
Rotisserie chicken, chicken nuggets, Kung pao chicken, chicken livers, Buffalo wings, chicken Kiev, lemon chicken, chicken soup, barbecue chicken, chicken salad, fried chicken—there is no denying that the U.S. loves chicken. According to the USDA, poultry production exceeds $20 billion annually, with over 43 billion pounds of meat produced. The National Chicken Council estimates per capita consumption of chicken in the U.S. at over 80 pounds a year. What’s surprising is that it hasn’t always been this way. This is the story of how an Italian immigrant farmer and his son helped launch the industrial production of chicken.
Prior to World War II, chicken was reserved for special occasions. If you lived on a farm back then, the arrival of visiting relatives meant roast chicken for dinner. Sunday dinner with the family was often graced with chicken and peas. Farm flocks were generally the domain of women and children to earn some cash selling eggs. Back then, chickens for eating were a by-product of egg production (that is, chickens would be butchered only when their laying days were done), with the modern broiler industry only starting to take shape in the 1920s and 30s in places like the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic coast.
IATP's Dr. Steve Suppan is blogging from Tunis, Tunisia, the site of the World Social Forum.
In Tunisia, important events begin with a poem. The interpretation technology was not working yet, but poetry is difficult to translate in any event. The opening session of the World Forum on Science and Democracy was no less significant because of a momentary technology glitch.
The very notion of science and democracy may seem antiquated or self evident. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a Center for Science and Democracy, which is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to allow FDA scientists to speak with the public about their work without vetting from their managers. But here, the birthplace of the democratic revolutions of 2011—called the “Arab Spring” by Western journalists—nothing is taken for granted. As a representative of IATP, the only U.S. NGO at a conference of about 200 academics and NGOs from around the world, I am surprised to discover what is taken for granted.
The newly elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University of Tunisia, our host, begins his welcoming remarks with a quote from the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, writing in the midst of the Algerian revolution of the 1950s against French occupation of Algeria: democracy is to be able to choose and to allow one to choose without imposition. If this seems an odd way to open a quasi-academic conference, the quote from Camus prefaced an eloquent discussion of how scientists, such as the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and the U.S. anthropologist Gregory Bateson, show how human interdependence, beginning with mother and child, is the basis of all democracy.
Antibiotics and ethanol seems like a non sequitur, unfortunately that’s far from the truth. A petition filed by IATP and partners shows why and asks the FDA to ban the use of antibiotics in ethanol byproducts as unnecessary and illegal.
After the ethanol production process is complete, the leftover, nutrient-rich grains used in the process (known as distillers grains with solubles) are often sold as animal feed. Many livestock producers depend on distillers grains as a cheap, nutritious feed option that helps put weight on animals. The issue is, despite available alternatives, many ethanol producers use antibiotics in their fermentation vats to prevent bacterial infections, so when the leftover grains are sold as animal feed, the antibiotics follow—adding even more unnecessary antibiotics to their already overloaded systems.
The petition focuses on evidence that this practice is unregulated and unmonitored, despite the fact that it adds to the antibiotic exposure in food animals. The FDA, despite acknowledging antibiotic resistance as one of their top concerns, has done nothing
Instead, the FDA has left the issue up to ethanol producers and pharmaceutical companies. In response, IATP, along with the Center for Food Safety, has filed a petition asking the FDA to halt antibiotic use in the production of distillers grains.