Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Occupy the Food System

Occupy the Food System and Support Local Farmers and Food Businesses

December 4th, 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York, was designated Occupy the Food System. Farmers, gardeners, food justice activists and others joined the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement to bring attention to the corporate control that has been the hallmark of our industrial food system. One of the ideas behind the occupy movement is that change can come only when you confront your oppressors directly on their turf. That makes them uncomfortable, it gets attention, and it wakes up the public.

In his recent blog, Occupy the Food System: The world can feed itself, without corporate America's science-experiment crops and expensive chemicals, Jim Goodman (a farmer, himself) writes:

The Occupy movement is doing exactly what the prominent student activist Mario Savio spoke of in 1964, when he declared: "There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the apparatus and you've got to make it stop — and you've got to indicate to the people who run it, the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from running at all." The people who are now forming a movement to occupy the food system agree with this sentiment too. Joining this movement is one way to get involved. There are many others as well and we need to use every strategy available.

In Detroit, we know that the food system isn't working for any us. The lack of access to fresh, healthy, affordable LOCALLY grown food is coupled with access to cheap, processed foods, produced by the giant corporate food system with ingredients sourced globally. This is the food system that corporate America has given us and is selling to the rest of the world.

According to an article in The Guardian, NestlĂ© is using a floating supermarkets to take its products to remote communities in the Amazon. Unilever has a small army of door-to-door vendors selling to low-income villages in India and west and east Africa. The brewer SABMiller has developed cheap beers in some African countries as part of a “price ladder” to its premium lager brands, and, as a leading Coca-Cola bottler and distributor, is aiming to double fizzy drinks sales in South African townships.

However, people all over the world are fighting for a better way. We can and do have other options. Detroiters are leading the local food movement and join with national and international activists in creating a healthier, local, fair food system.

So, how can our choices impact the local food system?

According to the report, Local Works: Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy, A Civic Economics Study for Local First, Grand Rapids Michigan, every $100 spent with local businesses results in $73 staying in the local economy. This compares to just $43 staying in the local economy when purchasing from non local businesses. The dollars that stay in our community supports families and neighborhoods, both directly and indirectly.  Read the study here:  http://www.localfirst.com/

So, when you plan to make purchases for yourself or your family or buy gifts, why not consider supporting local farmers and food businesses? There are many to choose from! From the purchasing directly from farmers and vendors to buying from local Detroit based businesses.

Whenever I need a gift, one of my personal favorites is making gift baskets with local products. There are so many to choose from! To put together a local gift basket with fresh produce and other items, you can start with the farmers and vendors at Eastern Market, which is open all year round. http://www.detroiteasternmarket.com/  

One of the seasonal Farmer’s Markets (generally open from June to October) is a great place, too.  http://detroitmarkets.org/  There are many local farmers and food businesses who participate on Saturdays, so there is lots of choose from. One of my favorite gifts: a two pound bag of potatoes with an array of herbs and spices and recipes. There are also items like coffee, teas, pickles, jams and jellies, potato chips, salsa and many other items.

I am also known to make jams, pickled vegetables, salsas and sauces to give as gifts.  This summer, I made cherry and blueberry vinegar with Michigan fruit.  It's so yummy that I am not sure that it will make it out of the house!

These are easy, fun and delicious ways to Occupy the Food System, but we need to go beyond.  By becoming actively engaged, we can have a bigger impact.  For example, Just Label It campaign in California was successful in getting an initiative on the ballot that would require labeling of all products in the state of California that contains genetically modified ingredients.  If this initiative passes, we can expect more states to do the same.  This would be a huge victory for consumers, who should have the right to know what is in our food.  You can support this project by going to website;  http://justlabelit.org/

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MLK and Food Justice

This Monday, January 16th is a national holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The mainstream media will be filled with solemn quotes from pundits and reflections by activists, many of whom were involved in the civil rights struggle that continues today. This being an election year, there will also be speeches and even emails from politicians asking for continued dedication to the equality struggle.

I have recently started to appreciate the deep sense that Dr. King had for the idea that justice was as much as anything about "freedom from violence." I was reminded of this by Naomi Tutu (daughter of Bishop Desmond Tutu) when she spoke at the Race2Equity Summit sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. She talked about the process of healing after apartheid ended in South Africa and quoted Dr. King in her remarks.

A major theme of Dr. King’s life was justice. And, I wonder what Dr. King would think about the food justice movement?

Perhaps this quote from Dr. King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize gives us a clue.

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Reading his words shows the deep sense Dr. King had for the idea that justice was as much as anything about "freedom from violence." In this quote, King is clearly targeting hunger as an act of violence and the result of institutional racism.

Another of his quotes really drives the point home. "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a...beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

His acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize also demonstrates a commitment to a non-violent transformation of the structures that breed poverty and hunger.

Some think that food system reform, which encompasses access, sovereignty and justice is the next big movement for our country. In Detroit, we have been focusing on these issues for some time now. Paramount to this work is to ensure that Detroiters are leading this reform and that food system changes address the structural and institutional barriers mentioned above. There are many people engaged in this work on many levels. Due to limited space, I will mention just three of them.

The Detroit Food Justice Task Force is a consortium of People of Color led organizations and allies that share a commitment to creating a food security plan for Detroit that is: sustainable; that provides healthy, affordable foods for all of the city’s people; that is based on best-practices and programs that work; and that is just and equitable in the distribution of food and jobs. For more information about their activities and how to get involved, go to www.detroitfoodjustice.org

Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System At the 2009 Great Lakes Bioneers Conference, Earthworks Urban Farm Outreach Coordinator, Lisa Richter and Detroit Black Community Food Security Network Board Member Monica White, Ph. D., hosted a workshop entitled “Race, Food and Resistance.” They shared discussions that had been taking place about the role of race in growing movement to create a new local, sustainable food system. Participants were encouraged to continue the conversations beyond the conference and since that time, a dedicated group of food activists have met monthly to explore how race and white privilege play out within the individuals and organizations in Detroit’s movement to create food security and justice. The group meets on the first Saturday of the month from 1-3 p.m. For more information, check out their Facebook page.

The Detroit Food Policy Council’s vision statement reads: “We envision a City of Detroit with a healthy, vibrant, hunger-free populace that has easy access to fresh produce and other healthy food choices; a city in which the residents are educated about healthy food choices, and understand their relationship to the food system; a city in which urban agriculture and other sustainable practices contribute to its economic vitality; and a city in which all of its residents, workers, guests and visitors are treated with respect, justice and dignity by those from whom they obtain food. “ The Council meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at Eastern Market Corporation. For more information and upcoming events, see www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net.

So, as we pause to reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s celebrate the progress that has been made, but also rededicate ourselves to personal reflection and action to create a community that reflects the love, compassion and equality that Dr. King aspired to for all of us.