Food Politics: Jan. 17, 2011

One of my growing interests is food politics.  It’s something I feel passionately about and often imagine making it the center of a future career.  I would love to help people get better access to food (something I am constantly grateful that I have in my life and often take for granted), more knowledge and resources about choosing and preparing food (something I am constantly trying to improve about myself), and more hands-on training with gardening, cooking, etc (something I often wish I had).

This desire is part of a larger awareness on my part about the systemic, corporate, governmental, local, federal, domestic, and international issues that prevent such things from happening.  So, in honor of this, I am going to try to blog more about food politics.  It is a topic that is relatively-ish new to me so these entries will function as my own learning process.

If you know of any blogs or websites or books or radio program or TV shows or whatnot that I should check out, please let me know in comments.

What I Am Reading about Food Today:

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In Honor of MLK Day:

Young King Inspired by Time On Connecticut Tobacco Farm (from The Associated Press, via NPR):

After that summer in Connecticut, it was a bitter feeling going back to segregation,” King wrote in his autobiography. “I could never adjust to the separate waiting rooms, separate eating places, separate rest rooms, partly because the separate was always unequal, and partly because the very idea of separation did something to my sense of dignity and self-respect.”

CEO Vicki Escarra: MLK Calls Us to Act (from Feeding America):

Dr. King once said, in a challenge to our nation, “Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will.”

Many years have passed since the death of Dr. King, and it is sad and sobering to ponder the terrible fact that hunger continues to permeate every community in our nation. Perhaps our nation does not yet have the collective will that Dr. King described, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction. Perhaps slowly, but surely, we are moving in the right direction.

Reflections on Community Gardens and the Legacy of MLK (from The Grist):

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that African Americans face significantly higher rates [PDF] of diet-related diseases such as Type II diabetes. And these maladies tend to fall harder on blacks than whites. One recent study found that black children with diabetes are twice as likely to die from the disease as white children. Another study found that the black diabetes rate continues to rise faster than the rate for whites — and that blacks tend to be stricken with the disease at younger ages.

In our society, there’s a strong focus on individual solutions to the problems I’m laying out here. Commentators focus on personal choice; we are urged to “transform our food system one bite at a time” by exercising our consumer power to buy fresh, local, sustainably raised food.

But the choices we have are limited by structural forces. Yes, people need to take responsibility for their food choices, but if we’re really going to throw off the dead hand of industrial food, we need to transform the conditions under which people make their food choices.

In one of his most famous statements, King declared that “no one is free until everyone is free.” Our food system drives home that maxim. For 30 years, a combination of virtuous personal consumption choices and gritty organizing has given rise to a robust sustainable-food movement in the United States. Yet for all the hard work, less than 3 percent of food consumed in the United States is grown under ecologically sustainable conditions, the Kellogg Foundation estimates.

The dominant trend remains toward environmentally destructive monocultures — and is contributing to catastrophic climate change that will affect virtuous and privileged eaters just as much as junk-food junkies. No one is free from industrial food until everyone is free from industrial food.

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More articles after the jump…

Food and Domestic Education:

“Better school lunches will take more money” (from The San Francisco Chronicle):

In order to achieve these laudable new standards, the federal government is offering schools a whopping extra 6 cents per meal. Did we mention that fruits and vegetables are expensive, and that they are only getting more expensive? Just last month, wholesale vegetable prices rose by 23 percent and fruits by 15 percent. The rise in vegetable prices alone accounted for more than three-quarters of the 0.8 percent rise in consumer food prices. Plus, fruits and vegetables are more expensive and difficult for school cafeterias to store and prepare.

Healthy food isn’t cheap, and 6 cents isn’t going to offer schools much help. The burden will fall on school districts to make up the difference – or to find ways to wiggle out of the restrictions.

5 Years After Katrina, Teacher Tills Soil of Lower 9th Ward (from The New York Times):

Mr. Turner, 39, is the founder of Our School at Blair Grocery, a fledgling educational venture and commercial urban farm in the heart of the Lower Ninth Ward. Operating out of a former black-owned grocery store wrecked by 14 feet of water and on two empty lots, the enterprise is an unusual hybrid of G.E.D. training and farm academy. With its emphasis on experiential learning, the school is also a clear rejection of the test-heavy emphasis of No Child Left Behind.

USDA releases new nutritional guidelines for school meals (from The Grist):

Do all children deserve the chance to eat real food at school? Or is processed junk food good enough for those whose parents can’t afford to pack their lunch?

That’s the central question in the school-food debate. And judging from the proposed new guidelines [PDF] that the USDA has finally issued for the federally-subsidized school meals program, the answer is a depressing one.

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Sustainability:

Ask Umbra on the sustainability and safety of fake meat products (from The Grist):

Now as much as I love an organic Boca burger, many pre-made meat analogues are essentially junk food — junky healthwise and environmentally. One ought to be weary of packages sporting clever names and extolling the product’s health benefits.

In the ingredients you may well find soy protein and soy protein isolate, two major reasons fake meat products are not so sustainable. Emulsifiers that give fake meat products that “meaty” texture, soy protein and soy protein isolate are extracted from soybeans with hexane, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls a “hazardous air pollutant.” Hexane can cause nervous system failure and skin disorders.

Other reason to hold the fakin’? Consider that fake bacon comes painted with artificial colors and full of soy protein concentrate. That’s a bit too much fakin’ for my plate. (I admit, every 5 years or so I’ll eat a strip. All things in moderation.)

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International (Imperial?) Food Politics:

U.S. Pressures Europe to Worship Genetically Modified Foods (from The Atlantic):

While the recent media hubbub caused by WikiLeaks might have focused on the war in Afghanistan and American opinions of various world leaders, the flood of diplomatic cables contained numerous communications showing that Bush administration officials were doing everything in their power to undermine the E.U.’s ban on genetically modified (GM) crops.

In 2008, the State Department’s special adviser on biotechnology lobbied Vatican insiders to persuade the pope to declare his support of bioengineered foods, according to a report in The Guardian. “Opportunities exist to press the issue with the Vatican and in turn to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world,” said one government cable. Ultimately, the pontiff declined to bestow his blessing.

“Sheep thefts in Britain likely connected to rising global food prices” (from The Washington Post):

Rising prices have fueled what authorities here describe as a thriving black market for lamb and mutton, with stolen animals butchered in makeshift slaughterhouses before their meat is illegally sold to small grocery stores, pubs and penny-wise consumers.

But farmers here are counting more than lost sheep. Britain is also witnessing a surge in the theft of tractors and other farm machinery, with authorities blaming organized crime rings smuggling the stolen equipment into Eastern Europe – where farmers are rushing to cash in on high grain prices by cultivating more and more land.

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Domestic Food Politics:

“Here’s an Easy One” (editorial from The New York Times):

But here is one big-ticket saving that all members of Congress should get behind: cutting the billions of dollars in farm subsidies that distort food prices, encourage overfarming and inflate the price of land.

The government spends $10 billion to $30 billion a year subsidizing mainly large-scale farmers. That includes: $5 billion in direct payments that are delivered regardless of what or even whether farmers plant; up to $7 billion in “marketing loans” that effectively set a floor on crop prices; up to $4 billion to protect farmers in bad years; about $4 billion in subsidies to buy crop insurance — which lead to higher premiums; and more.

“Women Farmers Growing Strong” (from NPR):

Women are the largest minority group in agriculture. More than 300,000 women operate farms across the U.S., and the USDA is hoping to settle their discrimination suit this year. Liane Hansen speaks with farmers Carol Keiser-Long and Barbara Armstrong about the role women play in America’s agriculture industry.

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