Just the slides:
slide 1 footnote: “The Government’s gonna tell us what to eat.”
There’s a debate happening around the role of government in what we eat. One of the questions raised: Should the government be allowed to ban, label or restrict certain foods? http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2012/08/07/debate-sparks-food-for-thought-on-the-governments-role-in-curbing-obesity/?cat=grantwatch
For example, some argue NYC’s crusade for better health is unwarranted. From mandating the labeling of menus and restricting trans fats to attempting to limit soda size, critics claim the Mayor’s office shouldn’t restrict choice. In response, advocates site the burden to taxpayers when consumption of certain foods results in increased healthcare costs paid for by the taxpayers.
slide 2 footnote: “Is the Government gonna tell us what to eat?”
On various levels, the U.S. Government has been involved in the food system for well more than 100 years, i.e. the USDA since 1862, the FDA beginning in1906 (due partly to public outrage after Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle) and the Farm Bill.
The first Farm Bill was signed into law in 1938 in an effort to rescue the ‘market’ that failed both the producer (farmer) and consumer (eater). In the decades leading up to 1938, there were lots of booms and busts, but mostly booms. Repeated surpluses lowered prices farmers received for their crops, motivating them to plant more just to make the same amount of money. In the process, windbreaks were ripped out, and they planting where they shouldn’t, i.e. so soil erosion increased. With increasing supply, prices farmers were paid for their harvests fell further, at times to zero, and led to soil erosion and failure during the dry seasons of the 1930s, i.e. Dust Bowl. Farmers went bankrupt by the millions, partially driven by the loans they took out for labor saving equipment that helped them grow more food with less people. The surplus labor, now in the city, and without jobs and money (especially during the Depression), went hungry while tons of food went uneaten.
The original Farm Bill was an effort to stabilize both prices and supply, and remained constant in theme, if not size, until a change in philosophy in the 1970s (see next slide). Renewed every five years or so, the Farm Bill and is being hotly debated in Congress (or at least in the Ag committees) in 2013.
For more see: Daniel Imhoff, Food Fight: http://foodfight2012.org/
A synopsis of the Food Bill, with history, politics and effects:http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/the-way-we-live-now-the-agricultural-contradictions-of-obesity/
slide 3 footnote: “Yes, farms like mine get help, so we grow more than’s needed.”
It can be argued that today’s farmers are the most productive people in the history of the world. In the U.S., after exports are accounted for, we produce more than two times as many calories as we need. Yet, the U.S. government subsidizes some of them. Most farms don’t collect direct subsidies, but, of those that do, nearly all go to corn, wheat and soy (and then cotton and rice). Most of the aid winds up with the largest producers, i.e. about 10% of the farms collect 75% of all subsidies: http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000.
Farmers (or their landlords) receive direct payments (which may be eliminated, by the current Congress) and insurance subsidies (which may be increased). Ironically, the area where these farms are located, also receive high levels of other government support, due to issues like unemployment and the resulting social problems.
What do we do with what’s grown, especially since a shift in government policy in the 1970s, helped increase surpluses? Today, less than 50% of the food grown goes to feed us. More than half of the total food grown in the U.S. goes to livestock (because Uncle Sam makes grain cheaper than grass, the natural diet), to cars (mostly as ethanol, thanks to mandates and subsidies) or is wasted. Yes, we eat the animals that eat the grain, but most of what the animals eat ends up as waste, i.e. manure, methane.
About 2% of U.S. farmland is devoted to fruits and vegetables, what the government refers to as ‘specialty crops.’ http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/expand-healthy-food-access/ensuring-the-harvest.html
slide 4 footnote: “We help keep the price of fuels low.”
The U.S. government subsidizes the use of fossil fuel. It happens directly and indirectly: through tax breaks, e.g. http://daily.sightline.org/2011/07/29/oil-subsidies-and-the-us-debt-3/ and with the U.S. military (e.g. the Navy protecting the safe passage of private U.S. companies transporting oil to the U.S). Other significant costs not paid for by fossil fuel companies and the users include the damage the fuels do: e.g. air, water, soil pollution and increased human health care costs.
Why do the price of fossil fuels matter? Because the industrial food system requires ever increasing amounts of fossil fuel energy. In 1940, the US food system produced 2.5 calories of food energy for each calorie of fossil fuel energy. Today, the ratio is 10 calories of fossil fuel energy used for one calorie of food energy. See: “We are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases,” Michael Pollan: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Generally, larger farms require more synthetic, petroleum based chemicals and fossil fuels than smaller farms, that may be more diverse. It began in earnest after WWII when the “U.S. government was encouraging the agricultural use of the surplus chemicals of warfare—nitrogen from bomb-making for fertilizer and nerve gas from biological weaponry for pesticides.” http://www.organicvalley.coop/about-us/our-partners/rodale/about/ Today, Iowa’s fields require the energy equivalent of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs annually. Additionally, farmers apply more than 1B lbs per year of pesticides on their fields. See Richard Manning, “The Oil We Eat,” http://harpers.org/archive/2004/02/the-oil-we-eat/
And: “We try to deal with messes farms make.”
Over the last century, farms transitioned from being diverse to specialized, i.e. growing one type of crop (mono crop), or raising one type of animal. Specialization allowed farmers to scale to gain greater efficiencies, albeit often with unintended consequences. For example, in the process of separating plants and animals, specialized farms take one solution and create two neat problems.* Manure was traditionally used as a fertilizer, replacing nutrients that had been taken by the annual crop. With specialization and scale, farms end up with excess manure (now a pollutant instead of a fertilizer), and soils in need of nutrients (solved only with large amounts of fossil fuel based fertilizer). *Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, p. 62.
Two other consequences include: 1.Pesticide pollution: Instead of mimicking the diversity found in nature, specialization necessitates pesticide use. 2.Water pollution: Industrial farms do a poor job of retaining water, e.g. a prairie absorbs seven times the rain of a corn field, and soil, e.g. for each bushel of corn harvested, two bushels worth of soil ends up in the Mississippi River. The chemicals and pollutants deaden the soil, but they also travel with the water, damaging ecosystems far from the farm.
Hidden costs of industrial agriculture: http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/industrial-agriculture/hidden-costs-of-industrial.html
Waste problems from ‘Confined Animal Feed Operation.’ http://www.epa.gov/region9/animalwaste/problem.html
To learn more about efforts of those working to hold agriculture accountable and help reduce the damage done, see http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/
Note: For those who don’t consider themselves to be ‘environmentalists,’ consider: The environment passes through each of us every day, with what we eat and what we drink. Our skin is porous. Our bodies consist of everything in the environment. There is more non-human living inside of us, i.e. bacteria, than human. Umbilical cords of babies have 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in their blood (2005 Env Working Group).
slide 5 footnote: “Enjoy your cheap burger. Don’t mind the extra costs- unless you’re a tax payer.”
The single industry category with the largest labor force working for poverty level wages is the food service business. http://prospect.org/article/life-bottom. What millions of workers earn from their jobs is insufficient to meet basic human needs. These needs, and the costs, are fulfilled by government services, like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka ‘Food Stamps’), housing assistance, childcare and healthcare.
Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers ($7.25/hour): http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2011.htm. Of those paid the Federal Minimum Wage (or less), about 50% are 25 years old or older.
Food service workers use SNAP at double the rate of the rest of the US workforce and suffer poverty rates of three times the rest of the workforce. https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/03/02-0 Most families who receive SNAP have at least one family member working. http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3894
More information on SNAP, from Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/programs-and-services/public-assistance-programs/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-myths-realities.aspx
A note on a food service company benefiting from low wages and resulting government assistance: “McDonald’s profits are double the total wages of all its food servers. They have a 440,000 employees, most of them food servers making the median hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year. The company’s $8B profit, after wages are paid, works out to the same amount: $18,200 per employee.” -Paul Bucheit, http://www.globalpossibilities.org/6-facts-about-hunger-that-demonstrate-the-shameful-excesses-of-american-capitalism/
McDonalds offers advice and financial planing to their employees, posting a website for their employees. Critics responded, exposing the reality of low wage work.
Walmart’s the largest seller of food in the nation. A study released in June found that taxpayers wind up paying at least $75M a year in “safety net” assistance to the state’s Walmart workers in food stamps, Medicaid, school lunches, earned-income tax credits, etc. http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/sites/democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/files/documents/WalMartReport-May2013.pdf
Conservatives and liberals alike understand low wages are expensive for taxpayers: http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/04/news/companies/walmart-medicaid/index.html
Beginning with Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Ag, Earl Butz, the government actively encouraged producing surplus commodities, e.g. corn and wheat. The extra had to go some where and since it was ‘cheap’ it ends up in feedlots fattening animals http://www.sustainabletable.org/260/animal-feed#gsc.tab=0, and, because of government ethanol mandates, an ever increasing portion of corn, our largest crop, is diverted to our gas tanks. http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/01/ethanol-subsidies-not-gone-just-hidden-little-better
To offer perspective, if our grains weren’t fed to animals (and animals ate their natural diet), we’d have even more surplus. http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat
Surplus corn also made its way into our food as a sweetener, i.e. high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS). Food companies discovered in the late 1970s, during the nation’s ‘anti-fat’ kick, that when sugar is added to food people eat more of it, i.e. the food. So, food was processed and sugar added. Today, about 400,000 of 600,000 packed food items on the supermarket shelves are laced with added sugar, e.g. whole wheat bread, organic ketchup, meat, yogurt, cold medicine, pasta sauce, salad dressing, soups, mac & cheese, tonic water, canned fruit, applesauce.
There’s nothing wrong with sugar; it’s energy dense and we evolved to love the taste of sweetness. But overwhelming our bodies with it leads to problems. Today, in the U.S. we consume nearly 150 lbs., on average, per person, per year. Some children’s cereals contain more than 50% sugar, and food companies may spend more on the marketing of a product than the actual product. See notes on slide #17 for more.
slide 7 footnote: “You’re free to choose anything you’d like!”
How many companies get to decide what you eat? Supermarkets stock their shelves with thousands of different items, but, if most of it comes from only a handful or so companies, how much choice do we have?
Even with a global food system that has domesticated plants for 10,000 years, the majority of our calories come from just three plants (corn, soy and wheat). Most of those seeds come from just a few seed/chemical companies. Most of what’s produced on the farm is bought and traded by just three companies. The majority of the grains are processed and sold by just a few dozen companies. The majority of our beef, chicken and poultry is slaughtered by a few companies. One company controls nearly 50% of the liquid milk business.
From seed to stomach, a few transnational, multibillion dollar companies control the vast majority of what we eat. Instead of limiting monopolistic characteristics and encouraging competition, the U.S. Government sponsored the consolidation of the food system.
Seeds: The U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled ‘it’s OK to patent life’ opened. That, after farmers had saved seeds for 10,000 years, and U.S. Land Grant Universities had helped breed seeds, to be made available to the public for free, for generations. Now, the dominant player in the seed market, Monsanto, is a chemical company with a legacy of government contracts to produce Agent Orange and DDT. While farmers can still choose other seeds, if Monsanto seeds pollute their lands, they have to spend money to defend themselves in court (often to their bankruptcy).
Food Processors: Since 1980, the U.S. government’s failure to enforce anti-trust laws has resulted in food company consolidation to the point where most markets have just a few conglomerates controlling greater than 50% of their total market, e.g. the four largest companies control 82% of the beef packing industry, 85% of soybean processing, 63% of pork packing and 53% of broiler chicken processing.
A summary report of the effects (to both farmer and consumer) of food company consolidation: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/the-economic-cost-of-food-monopolies/
A vivid image of processed food brands and their parents: http://i.imgur.com/k0pv0.jpg
Grocery chain consolidation plays a role in limiting consumers choice, with the largest few chains controlling well more than 50% of the total grocery market. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/blogs/not-so-super-supermarket-merger/
More on the handful of companies that control nearly all of the world’s food: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jun/02/abcd-food-giants-dominate-trade
Note: Companies competing for profit don’t like competition.
“Competition is a sin” -John D. Rockefeller
slide 8 footnote: “My diet is S.A.D.*”
*S.A.D.= Standard American Diet
Your grandparents diet may have been far from perfect, but what we eat is radically different: We spend about twice as much at the grocery on processed food and sweets as we did just twenty years ago (even as their price decreased) http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/06/08/154568945/what-america-spends-on-groceries, while we spend more than $110B/year at fast food restaurants (versus $3B in 1972). http://www.vivavegie.org/101book/text/nolink/social/supersizeme.htm
A look at the modern ‘Western Diet:’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet, i.e. refined grains, sugars, meat and dairy. Increasingly, thanks partly to government subsidies and international trade policy, we’re exporting our diet to the developing world.
What we eat has changed, but so has the amount of what we eat. On average, the U.S. consumer eats far more calories (in sugar, and in total) than we did, about 25% more in 2000 than in 1970, http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf)
We’re bigger physically. The average weight for the average US is nearly 25 lbs more than it was a generation ago. http://www.gallup.com/poll/158921/americans-continue-adjust-ideal-weight-upward.aspx?tm_source=google&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syndication
Stats on our height, weight and BMI, over time: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad347.pdf Note: We are slightly taller!
Children today are three times as likely to be obese than three decades ago, while more than 1/3 of U.S. adults are obese. Childhood obesity: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm To accommodate, the size of the public seats in places like our airplanes and public buses have grown larger. e.g. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-12-16/news/0512160203_1_american-seating-wider-chicago-transit-authority
As a nation, diseases and premature death are attributable, at least partially, to our diet, While there are factors other than food intake in our health, e.g. pollution, sedentary lifestyles, the majority of what we spend on healthcare goes to preventable diseases, e.g. heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer. Note: Obesity isn’t a problem in and of itself, but it’s what it does to the body that is the problem.
Our medical bills have skyrocketed. Even though we spend far more than our peer nations on healthcare, at best, our health is mediocre. https://s3.amazonaws.com/misfit/mcw/ig/us_health_spending.png
The government is on the hook for nearly half the total bill, i.e. Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans, and that bill is expected to continue to increase.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) look at US Federal spending on healthcare: http://cbo.gov/topics/health-care
The forecast for the percentage of the total bill, the government will pay: http://money.cnn.com/2011/07/28/news/economy/healthcare_spending_forecast/index.htm
Yet, because of government intervention and rules, there are significant costs that we don’t pay at the cash register when buying food. Hidden are the environmental, societal and health costs, e.g. direct and indirect payments to farmers, the right to pollute, artificially low priced fossil fuels, worker exploitation, higher healthcare costs and limited choice as consumers.
An article that covers part of the total: http://www.nationofchange.org/us-govt-funnels-billions-junk-food-equivalent-cost-about-52-billion-twinkies-1375023272
slide 10 footnote:
“I also found something different.”
“Like farms with designs that work with nature and grow more food, for people.”
Industrial chemical farming, i.e. specialization/mono cropping, with heavy fossil fuel based inputs, aims to subdue or overpower nature, i.e. ‘if force isn’t working, you’re not using enough of it.’
There is, however, a different model:
Farms that work with nature, i.e. ecological farming or agroecology, understand connections and consider the whole. The farms look different in different places, but the principles remain the same: they favor diversity, reward cooperation, run on current sunshine and cycle wastes. It’s about fitting in versus changing the surroundings to suit short-term needs. The goal isn’t to maximize, but optimize. It’s not about being efficient, but being effective; not about being less bad, but being good, e.g. not reducing carbon emissions, but sequestering carbon.
What about yields? How can we feed the world of 7B+ today,and 9B tomorrow? Conventional wisdom holds that large scale industrial farming is the only way, yet consider: 1. While today we grow enough to feed 12B, nearly 1B go hungry each day, because of poverty, land distribution, animal consumption, lack of political will. In the U.S., even after exports, we grow more than 2x the number of calories we need. 2. Most of the crops we grow go to animals or our gas tanks, or go to waste, 3. Industrial farming depletes, degrades and erodes soil. 4. Industrial farming requires enormous quantities of inputs, e.g. phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen (natural gas as the feedstock), oil, more water, and creates untold amounts of unusable waste. It suffers from the law of diminishing returns, i.e. the more ‘force’ you use the more you have to use. 5. Industrial farming continues to narrow the gene pool while climate change requires more diversity, i.e. crop yields will be less predictable and the narrowing of the plant gene pool limits our options to adapt to the effects of a different climate.
A few resources/perspectives:
Even if US and International policy continues to support industrial farming, it’s farming experts call for a shift to small, ecological farms to feed the world: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4060
As does the United Nations, whose studies show we can grow more food with acroecology: http://www.srfood.org/en/report-agroecology-and-the-right-to-food
Conventional farming is too resource intense and we’re running into limits in areas around the globe. The Earth Policy Institute and Lester Brown keep track of worldwide data on natural resources, human impact and sustainability levels. http://www.earth-policy.org/ One piece on water: http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2013/update115
For the organic vs. conventional debate, consider:
The Rodale Institute: http://grist.org/article/2011-03-25-rodale-data-show-organic-just-as-productive-better-at-building/ and the Rodale site: http://rodaleinstitute.org/
George Monbiot: piece on diverse and organic outperforming monoculture and chemical, with a newsworthy quote on genetically modified food:
Or the Small Planet’s Institute research on organic: http://smallplanet.org/sites/smallplanet.org/files/Fact%20Sheet%20Why%20Organic%20COLOR%20FINAL%20WEBSITE.pdf
If you’re interested in learning about international food policy, consider Food First, with experts like Peter Rosset foodfirst.org/node/246 and Raj Patel http://www.foodfirst.org/. Patel’s book ‘Stuffed and Starved’ is loaded with answers on the international food system quandry.
Even Prince Charles gets in on the debate:
The debate of how to feed ourselves is more than just about big vs. small and organic vs. conventional. Consider permaculture, as in permanent agriculture (part of a permanent culture), and those working on solving the 10,000 year problem of agriculture, i.e. losing the soil, or at least the productivity of the soil by planting annuals, which disturbs the soil each year).
For 40 years, The Land Institute has been breeding perennial plants (think: deep roots) that grow in polycultures. http://www.landinstitute.org/ Another example is Restoration Agriculture Institute http://restorationag.org/ and Mark Shepard’s Forest Farm http://www.forestag.com/index.html.
Plato wrote of his country’s farmlands:
What now remains of the formerly rich land is like the skeleton of a sick man. …
Formerly, many of the mountains were arable. The plains that were full of rich
soil are now marshes. Hills that were once covered with forests and produced
abundant pasture now produce only food for bees. Once the land was enriched
by yearly rains, which were not lost, as they are now, by flowing from the bare
land into the sea. The soil was deep, it absorbed and kept the water in loamy
soil, and the water that soaked into the hills fed springs and running streams
everywhere. Now the abandoned shrines at spots where formerly there were
springs attest that our description of the land is true.
Note: ecological farming takes ‘more eyes, per acre’ (Wendell Berry), i.e. we need more farmers, and, usually the farms are smaller. While small farmers don’t get economies of scale, they generally don’t externalize their costs as readily. For the moment, food grown without chemicals are often more expensive. That’s due, largely, because, for the moment, fossil fuels and chemicals are priced lower than labor. A piece explaining the economic sense of organic food, by Sandra Steingraber http://www.organicitsworthit.org/make/economic-sense-organic-food
Even if there’s little debate that, for better health, we ought to be eating moew vegetables (and fruits), they cover about 2% of our farmland, while wheat, soy, hay, corn cover 82%+ of our farmland. (Richard Manning)
15 seed saving initiatives:
“If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” —Biologies Jonas Salk
Regulation exists to protect the consumer, and when the consumer resides a long way from the farmer, by physical distance or because of the number of middle-men and processors, more oversight is required.
Consolidation concentrates risk, as single producers feed large numbers of people, e.g. only four meat packers slaughter more than 80% of our beef. Even the U.S. government understands it: “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do.” -Tommy Thompson, former WI Governor and US Secretary of Health and Human Services
Those who leave the industrial food system provide evidence that shortening the link can offer a safer food system. Consider how fast a producer that knows its clients would lose those clients if their trust is betrayed?
This alternative food system is growing and includes farmer’s markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), buying clubs, cooperatives and Food Hubs. Questions remain as to how safety regulations will be changed to reflect this reality. e.g. the debate is on with the FDAs proposed rules for exempting farms if revenues total less than $500k. http://www.fda.gov/Food/guidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm334114.htm and http://www.youngfarmers.org/spotlight-on-the-proposed-fda-food-safety-rules/ Existing government regulations in place to protect eaters from the industrial system hamper efforts: http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/news_wp/?p=11887
Perhaps still considered fringe or, in places, elitist, consumers want to support their local economies. A National Grocers Association poll that showed that 85 percent of consumers said having locally-grown products was “a major factor in where they decided to shop.” *http://harvestpublicmedia.org/article/food-hubs-try-grow-local-farms
The total number of farmers markets continue to expand:
Chart from http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/, as well as: “The number of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms has also grown rapidly. The first two CSAs in the US appeared in 1986 – one in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts. By 1990 the number had grown to about 90. But tracking the growth of CSAs in the years since has not been easy, according to Steven McFadden, author of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century. Part of the problem is that the USDA doesn’t track CSA farm numbers; conversely, many CSA farmers want little to do with the federal government. But based on research with knowledgeable sources, McFadden estimates the number of CSAs today at over 6,000. That represents exponential growth of nearly 25 percent annually since 1990.
For a visual representation of this phenomenon, check out Local Harvest’s motion-graphic map of CSA farms in the US from the mid-1980s to 2010.”
slide 12 footnote: “I discovered worker-owned businesses that pay living wages.”
While both cooperatives and corporations (privately held or publicly held) offer goods and services to the marketplace, their models and goals are different.
Corporations are run from the top, with a stated goal of maximizing profits for shareholders/investors. Ideally, this creates competition, which leads to innovation. But there are also built-in conflicts, e.g. corporations may increase profits by getting others to pay their costs, e.g. pollution, exploiting natural resources or workers. They ‘outcompete’ the competition, profits rise, and those at the top are well compensated, while others pay these costs. e.g. SNAP benefits, housing and healthcare. Because of how distanced we are from much of this, it’s often difficult to see these ‘externalities.’
Cooperatives, in all their flavors, aim to end the 150 year old struggle between capitalists, workers and nature. The workers are owners and the business exists to serve members needs, not just to seek ever greater profits. Generally, this means they also serve the communities they’re a part (making it more difficult to externalize costs).
A valuable book, The Corporation, turned into a documentary:
An story on one of the world’s most successful cooperatives: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/07/mondragon-spains-giant-cooperative
A surprising article by a pro-Cooperative force in Forbes, a pro-global capitalism magazine: http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/13/cooperatives-co-op-leadership-citizenship-ethisphere.html
More on the business model, with examples of cooperatives: http://www.corporateknights.com/report/most-sustainable-g7-cooperatives/more-sustainable-model-conducting-business
Other alternatives to the de facto existing economy:
The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies: http://bealocalist.org/
B-Corps, or Benefit Corporations, using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems: http://www.bcorporation.net/
Over the course of the last several generations, we were sold the idea that if we let others, i.e. food companies, cook for us, our lives would be easier. Largely, that’s true. Except food companies don’t cook like us (or our grandmothers). Don’t believe me? Read the label of any frozen dinner and imagine making that meal at home.
The U.S. FDA (Food & Drug Administration) leaves it up to the food manufacturers to determine what’s safe for us. It’s the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ model which leaves it up to the consumer to discover what’s safe.
Consider, that much of what we in the U.S. eat is banned elsewhere, for e.g. http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyperez/8-foods-we-eat-in-the-us-that-are-banned-in-other-countries) or the book Rich Food, Poor Food and articles referencing it, e.g.: http://www.breitbart.com/InstaBlog/2013/06/24/Book-80-of-Prepackaged-Foods-in-US-Banned-in-Other-Countries
Yes, cooking takes time and effort, but the benefits to cooking include far more than better health, e.g. obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. Perhaps there’s something to be said for cooking with more fresh food: if you begin with better ingredients, there’s not the same requirement for all the salt, fat and sugar. Cooking whole foods saves money: http://markbittman.com/is-junk-food-cheaper-than-real-food/
Perhaps just as important, enjoying meals together on regular basis builds on the foundation of civilization, i.e. sharing food and ideas with people who share different ideas. Additionally, there are those who argue, or even do research and find evidence, that cooking and eating together build family (and friendship) ties: http://foodtank.org/news/2013/07/the-science-of-eating-together
slide 14 footnote: “Efforts to teach about healthy food choices reach everywhere.”
In response to our health epidemic, we shout from every rooftop: ‘Eaters, you’ve got to make better choices and be more responsible.” http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/strategies/index.html
A popular place to intervene and help to develop healthy eating habits is with young people. Renowned ‘Foodie’ chef Alice Waters and ‘The Edible School Yard’ receive acclaim, and some criticism, for bringing the idea of growing food with school children. http://edibleschoolyard.org/our-story
The school yard garden idea has spread like wildfire. Today, countless schools use gardens and practical, hands-on learning to deliver an important message (among many): that what we eat makes a difference to our health and the health of everything around us. It’s an opportunity for active, rather than passive, learning, and it’s a subject that connects to life outside of school. One group promoting food literacy: https://www.foodcorps.org/ and another I’ve been involved with: http://www.truckfarmchicago.org/
Renewing a tradition that began with President Adams and extended to FDR, First Lady, Michelle Obama began growing food on the White House lawn. And in an attempt to solve the obesity epidemic in a generation, Michelle leads the ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign. http://www.letsmove.gov/about
Other creative ways to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables:
Give ‘em a discount on health insurance if subscribe to a CSA. http://unityhealth.com/HealthWellness/Fitness-First-and-more/CSA/index.htm
What will it look like? In various shapes and sizes it includes urban farms, permaculture, food forests, cooperatives, food prep, and, yes, education. The farms grow food without fossil fuels, while building soil and sequestering carbon. It delivers more food, more choice, more nutrition and leads to better health for the individual concerned with quality of life, and builds stronger, more resilient communities. Yes, it may also require more labor, but perhaps more of the livelihoods will be fulfilling (compared to many current food system jobs.)
So, changing the food system does requires education, but education is just one part. Other factors complicate the story, but are more necessary than education.
“If you can’t solve a problem, make it bigger.” -President Eisenhower.
i.e. not by actually making the problem worse, but by widening the lens to understand connections so as to incorporate more components in the solution.
“Well, a few questions remain…”
slide 16 footnote: “Like, why do we have such a crazy farm bill?”
While most everyone can support the ‘you ought to make better personal choices’ message, it gets controversial when we begin asking questions, like:
Why should our tax dollars support farms that rely on artificially cheap fossil fuels and chemicals that kill life, to grow a surplus of commodities which become the feedstock for what worsens our health and raises our healthcare bills? Why, if the independent medical profession tells us to eat far less of refined grains, sugar, meat and dairy, does the government offer them so much support?
Why are farmers who grow responsibly, and employ more people, charged a fee to prove their crops are free of chemicals? At the same time, these farms often have to deal with regulations designed for industrial scale farms.
The U.S. government may recommend we eat ‘speciality crops,’ i.e. fruits and veggies, http://myplate.gov/, yet they give virtually all their support to that which we ought to be eating less of. So, for now, if you’re a farmer and you’re trying to ‘do good,’ e.g. to grow clean food for your community, you’re swimming upstream.
“Farm policy can be explained. What it can’t be is believed.” -P.J. O’Rourke
Current policy supports neither liberal or conservative principles.
Congressional Republicans (who claim to be conservatives) support continued (and increases in) welfare to the biggest commodity growers (which benefit input providers like oil and seed companies and the food conglomerates), while cutting food aid to the working poor. A few Democrats may agree to offer scraps towards small, organic farmers while also agreeing to reduce Food Stamps, rather than a wholesale shift towards creating a system where we don’t fewer Food Stamps. For decades, there existed a bipartisan ‘unholy alliance’, i.e. ‘We’ll vote for your Food Stamps, if you vote for our corporate welfare.’
In theory at least, liberals and conservatives, agree the Farm Bill program works against the interests of the vast majority: http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/agriculture/subsidies
A dated, but still relevant article on ADM (Archer Daniels Midland): http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-241.html whose former CEO Dwayne Andreas is widely quoted as saying: “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.”
On Food Safety: Why do farms that know their consumers need to face regulations that are built for the industrial food system? http://govtslaves.info/farmers-to-face-fines-or-prison-sentences-for-selling-food-directly-to-customers/
Note: Increases in farm sizes and the price of commodities recently haven’t made all farmers wealthy. Prices for commodities have risen, but so have input costs, e.g. seed, equipment, land and fuel (one of the reasons the price of food tracks the price of oil). For more, see data gathered by Ken Meter over the last 40 years: http://www.crcworks.org/?submit=pubs
slide 17 footnote: “Should all the blame be on the eater?”
“It Is Easier To Change A Man’s Religion Than It Is To Change His Diet” -Margaret Mead
Despite what Margaret Mead said about the difficulty in changing a diet, we’ve changed our diet and we’ve done it in a big way. Our eating habits weren’t great pre-1980, i.e. too much meat and dairy, yet, since that time, our health has deteriorated, even as we’ve mostly given up smoking. We eat more calories and different calories. We’ve become bigger and we suffer from more diet related diseases. Our healthcare costs are exorbitant.
“Our diet has changed more in the last 50 years, than it did in the previous 10,000 years.” -Michael Pollan.
What changed? Did our genes change? Did we become less disciplined in just the last thirty years or so?
For the majority of agricultural history, our largest challenge: consuming enough calories consistently. Our bodies are hardwired for seek energy-dense calories. Until even about sixty years ago, it remained logical for the U.S. government to recommend us to ‘eat more.’ That’s no longer the case.
A few factors worth considering:
Food prices help determine what we buy. Compared to 30 years ago, adjusted for inflation, US consumers pay less (at the checkout counter) for meat and processed food and more on fruits and vegetables. We’re eating nearly the same amount of meat, and, with the money we ‘save,’ we’re spending it on more processed food, loaded with sugar. Charts with context: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/06/american-diet-one-chart
In recent decades the inflation adjusted price of fresh produce has increased about 40 percent, while the price of soda and processed food has decreased by as much as 30 percent. http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf
For the dollar, we get more calories in sweet, processed food, “empty calories”, than we do with vegetables, “nutrient dense.” In a survey of supermarket prices in Seattle, University of Washington epidemiologist Adam Drewnowski and his colleague S.E. Specter at UCLA found that one dollar can purchase 1200 calories worth of cookies or potato chips, but only 250 calories of carrots. http://depts.washington.edu/uwcphn/reports/cphnbrf2.pdf
More charts illustrating much of the same:
Food Changed: Sugar and “Addictive-Like Food”: Conventional wisdom, the medical establishment and the government told us for decades: to maintain health, aim for an energy balance, i.e. if you consume a calorie of energy, make sure you expend that calorie. If you consume more calories than you expend, you’ll retain it as extra weight. Even today, the U.S. government clings to this notion: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/wecan/healthy-weight-basics/balance.htm
Food companies learned something we’re just now coming to grasps with: a calorie is not a calorie. When companies put more sugar in food, we ate more of it. So, sugar went into everything, i.e. late 70’s with cheap corn processed to high fructose corn syrup. At the same time, fiber was removed (to help foods store better).
Sugar’s not bad, but in high doses it’s toxic, says Dr. Robert Lustig. Lustig claims, with more than a little scientific data to back him up, sugar is responsible for the biggest health crisis in the history of the world. Sugar is treated differently by our brain, telling it, effectively, ‘we’re not full, keep eating.’ Lustig on the Colbert Report: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/424875/march-28-2013/robert-lustig and his painfully-long YouTube video (viewed by several millions) explaining the science behind sugar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
Today, the average per person consumption in the U.S. is nearly 150 lbs per year.
On our processed food: the Scripps Research Institute studied the engineering behind hyper-processed food and found that overconsumption of fast food ”triggers addiction-like neuro-addictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. So, the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity. The original report: http://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2010/20100329.html and reported on http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?pagewanted=all
David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the FDA and author of “The End of Overeating” explains, “the come-on offered by Lay’s Potato Chips– ‘Betcha can’t eat just one– is scientifically accurate.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/26/AR2009042602711.html
Investigative reporter Michael Moss wrote “Salt, Sugar, Fat, How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Here’s an interview with Amy Goodman: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/1/salt_sugar_fat_ny_times_reporter and with reporter Tom Philpott:
“Some of the largest companies are now using brain scans to study how we react neurologically to certain foods, especially to sugar. They’ve discovered the brain lights up for sugar the same way it does for cocaine, and this knowledge is useful, not only for formulating foods. The world’s largest ice cream maker, Unilever, for instance, parlayed its brain research into a brilliant marketing campaign that sells the eating of ice cream as “scientifically proven” way to make ourselves happy.” Those cheap ingredients are, of course, mainly iterations of corn and soy—the two crops thatcover more than half, and growing, of US farmland, propped up by US farm policy. That’s where the interests of Big Food and Big Ag intersect.” -Michael Moss
Bruce Clark on sugar in our diet: http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2010/02/the-american-diet-a-sweet-way-to-die/#.UfaxZ2Sgnpg
Advertising: For every $1 spent to market healthy food, $500 is spent marketing unhealthy food. Why? 90% profits on sodas and 10% profit margin on produce. See Patel, “Stuffed and Starved,” p.270. So, it makes good business sense to advertise, i.e. Fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009. On 2010 revenue of 11.8B, Coca-cola’s ad budget was more than $2.9B.
The fast food industry sells more than 1.2 billion kid’s meals annually in the U.S. Fast-food chains spend about $580 million annually marketing to children under age 12. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/22/taco-bell-kids-meals-toys-fast-food/2574959/
Kids, the most vulnerable of us, are targeted, especially low income kids, with unhealthy foods. http://www.rwjf.org/en/research-publications/find-rwjf-research/2010/11/fast-food-facts.html
Food today: It’s advertised all over the place, nearly irresistible, made to consume in quantity and easily accessible 24×7.
An Anna Lappe (of The Small Planet Institute) ‘Food Myth’ video on food marketing:
Toxins & Stress: What if our health problems stem from more than just the food itself? Julie Guthman’s research on food and obesity begins to widen the discussion, i.e. putting more grocery stores in food deserts doesn’t solve the problem.
slide 18 footnote: “Should we consider the lives of most of the eaters—especially the middle class and the working poor—over the last 40 years?”
The food service industry created jobs, but those jobs pay less than the millions of manufacturing jobs shipped overseas.
Over the last forty years, total U.S. wealth and GDP grew, yet nearly all the gains went to a few at the top. To increase profits, corporations reduced labor costs, through productivity gains, shipping jobs overseas and wage cuts, i.e. with more demand than supply, workers lose leverage.
The result: the middle class got clobbered and the ranks of those struggling rose. Eating well on a limited budget is difficult, partially because of government policy, and, health disparities between the ‘haves’ and the have nots’ are large. The biggest predictor of obesity is income level. Most of our response has been: ‘eat better,” even if we know it’s not the most effective strategy to improve health and lower government expenditures.
Between 1948 and 1973, the productivity of U.S. workers rose 96.8% and wages rose 93.7%. Between 1973 and 2011, productivity rose 80.1% and wages only 4.2%.
Share of the nation’s wealth by the bottom 50% has plummeted to 1.1%, while the top 10%’s share climbed to 74.5%.
One year’s earnings at the minimum wage: $15,080. Income required for a single worker to have real economic security: $30,000.* With plenty more footnoted stats and charts, go to: Mother Joneshttp://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/speedup-americans-working-harder-charts
Just 400 people in the U.S. have more wealth than the bottom 50% (150,000,000) Americans. This is partially due to high unemployment (and underemployment), by some measures higher than 20% http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/unemployment-charts and a minimum wage that, adjusted for inflation, is nearly 50% lower than it was in 1968 (when the unemployment rate was 3.6%). http://truth-out.org/op-ed/item/10489-the-725-minimum-wage-is-too-low-for-21st-century-america Minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13/hr, the same for more than two decades.
Half the jobs in our country pay less than $35,000 per year, http://www.npr.org/2012/08/04/158141728/how-americas-losing-the-war-on-poverty which results in most American families with no savings who live paycheck to paycheck. http://money.cnn.com/2013/06/24/pf/emergency-savings/index.html 28 million workers earn less than $9.89 an hour, or $20,570 per year.
In the USA, information on the percentage of families in poverty or near poverty: http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/29/u-s-poverty-by-the-numbers/ and a writer who tracks and writes about poverty in the U.S: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/greg-kaufmann#axzz2aHcyLOfV
Charts, showing ‘progress’ the last few decades http://www.businessinsider.com/profits-high-wages-low-7-2013. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, the average hourly pay for a nongovernment, non-supervisory worker, adjusted for price increases, declined to $8.77 last month from $8.85 at the end of the recession in June 2009.
Charts and graphs illustrating ‘inequality’ in the USA. http://www.businessinsider.com/wealth-and-income-inequality-in-america-2013-4?op=1
Economic Mobility: The USA as a society doesn’t offer much economic mobility, far less than the traditional American stereotype. It’s something both the ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’ increasingly agree on: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/us/harder-for-americans-to-rise-from-lower-rungs.html?pagewanted=all
The U.S. lags behind others in the ability to rise up from humble beginnings and how you do depends largely on the zip code you were born into. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2013/07/persistent-geography-disadvantage/6231/
Poverty: The USA has an embarrassingly high percentage of families who live in, or near, poverty, and millions struggle to afford to put food on the table: http://www.businessinsider.com/gallup-one-in-five-americans-cant-afford-to-put-food-on-the-table-2012-8 and compared to our ‘peer’ nations:
When we have less disposable income, and less economic security, we’re more likely to purchase energy dense (with few nutrients) food. Realistically, can low income Americans afford a healthy diet? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2847733/ This leads to one of the ironies of our food system: the poorest are often the most overweight.
Lower income citizens often face other challenges, e.g. worse schools, less green space/safe place, longer commutes, fewer childcare options (so the TV ends up as babysitter) exposed to more environmental toxins, lack of access/choices to healthy food, more single family households (broken by poverty).
Addictive-like food is marketed heavily to lower income families and we have a higher chance of our bodies getting bad food habits if we live in a food insecure household, i.e. If we’re food insecure, it’s likely we metabolize food differently. Professor and author Julie Guthman delves into how we got here, in the context of food and social justice, with her book, “Weighing In”: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520266254
Guthman’s paper, about the dangers of wealthy people ‘educating’ the poor how to eat, titled: “Bringing Good Food to Others.” http://www.rslocum.com/Guthman_bringing%20good%20food%20to%20others.pdf
If the goal is better health, and lower government spending, research shows the most effective strategies are to change the context (make good food choices the de facto) and change the socioeconomic conditions (set up conditions to reduce poverty). So, while education is important and necessary, taken alone, it’s the least effective way to improve health outcomes. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-13shzwCgcA8/T1_MKV0-vUI/AAAAAAAAABk/VtKE7qKWGds/s1600/Health+impact+pyramid.jpg
Critics of minimum wage argue that it would hurt the economy and low wage workers and that government intervention is misguided. Without government intervention, we’d still have child labor and 70 hour work weeks. Consider, 45 years ago, when the minimum wage was nearly 50% higher than today, unemployment stood at 3.6%.
Employers who pay poverty level wages shift the burden onto the U.S. government.
Remember: Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers ($7.25/hour): http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2011.htm. Of those paid the Federal Minimum Wage (or less), about 50% are 25 years old or older. These are not ‘starter’ jobs that lead to big future earnings.
Liberals fight for a safety net so people don’t starve.
slide 19 footnote: “So, if we know the status quo doesn’t work, why are there so few changes?”
240 years ago, a few revolutionaries and activists on the east coast of what is today the U.S. fought for more representative than what the King of England offered. In numerous ways our experiment in self-governance succeeded, but a 2013 Gallup poll found, ‘dissatisfaction with government’ nearly topped our ‘most important issues’ list http://www.gallup.com/poll/159830/debt-gov-dysfunction-rise-top-americans-issue-list.aspx.
As recent as the late 1960s, trust in government was at about 75%. Today, it hovers at about 25%, at or near historic lows: http://www.people-press.org/2013/01/31/trust-in-government-interactive/. What changed? What happened? Why is it that reform doesn’t happen, even on issues that an overwhelming percentage of the citizens agree on, e.g. food labeling? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/28/science/strong-support-for-labeling-modified-foods.html?_r=0 and http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/07/29/just-almost-everyone-wants-gmo-labeling. Or food safety protection: http://www.makeourfoodsafe.org/tools/assets/files/ME9615a-pub.pdf
Even when there’s overwhelming public support in an area like limiting the amount of pollution business can emit http://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130718.asp, why do so many of our elected leaders expend such energy to prevent it from happening?
Is it just that the Democrats and the Republicans can’t get along? Are we too partisan?
Could it be there are limits to our Constitution and Democracy? Or even that our elected officials aren’t as representative as they claim to be? Could the rapid and dramatic rise of money in politics over the last several decades influence who the candidates are, who the candidates spend their time with, what they spend their time doing and what they work on when they are in office? If we’re so partisan, why do some of those DC representatives of both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ admit they have more in common than differences? When it comes to changing the status quo on things other than social issues, it’s often easy to mistake Republicans and Democrats.
Why is it that with historically abysmal approval ratings, today’s at about 10%, incumbent U.S. Senators and Representatives who run for re-election are nearly guaranteed of victory, winning more than 90% of the time? http://www.demos.org/publication/billion-dollar-democracy-unprecedented-role-money-2012-elections
slide 20 footnote: “It’s not like we want to support a broken system.”
Generally, people are good. We work hard, sacrifice to provide for our families, donate time and money to charities important to us. We all want to leave the world a better place. Nobody rolls out of bed in the AM saying ‘I’m hungry, and, with my food choices, want to support pollution, climate change, corporate welfare and growing the government debt.”
Yet, if we go with the flow, take part in the conventional food system without asking questions and considering the consequences, we continue to support what works against most of our interests. It’s not good for our health and well being, nor does it support other values, e.g. smaller government, more choice or better health.
The charity we give does good. Most of who, and what, we support provides much needed band-aids. Yet, our efforts rarely reach the roots of the issues. Dealing with the symptoms of a poorly designed system helps us sleep better at night and it’s effective at keeping the ‘pot from boiling over’, i.e. mass unrest, but it perpetuates the problem.
For example, consider the largest Food Banks. Those involved in the work of feeding the needy are great, good-hearted people, but if their board is stacked with multibillion dollar corporations, do they have any interest in altering the system? If they didn’t get the tax write-offs and the loads of good PR, would they do it?
If we had less corporate welfare, how much less of a need for food banks would there be? Where do the boards of the biggest Food Banks stand on issues like subsidies to corn and wheat, minimum wage and international trade policy?
slide 21 footnote: “It’s been difficult to see what happens behind the scenes.”
We’re cut-off from the story behind our nourishment, like never before. Fewer than 1% of us are full time farmers (even many of them don’t eat any of the food they grow). We’re dependent on a ‘distant food system’ that keeps us in the dark. The few companies that feed us understand that, if we see behind the curtain, we’d lose our appetite.
Unfortunately, the institutions we rely on for information have largely failed us.
Schools may grow a garden or even teach a unit on ‘healthy eating’ (per ‘Food Revolution’, the average student receives 3.4 hours of food education per year), but students also learn, through the school cafeteria, that it’s OK to load up on fat, sugar and salt with their processed corn and soy, and wash it down with dairy pumped full of growth hormone. At taxpayer expense, Big Food profits from turning good food to bad: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/school-lunches-and-the-food-industry.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Even when parents (and taxpayers) cause an uproar, Congress turns a deaf ear, putting short term interests of a few constituents, e.g. food processors, potato growers, over the health and wallets of the nation. Note: there’s nothing wrong with pizza, but there is when it’s loaded with fat, sugar and salt and served daily. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/story/2011-11-28/school-lunch-pizza-fries/51449136/1
Schools teach in silos, making it difficult for students to understand connections. What happens in school is unconnected to what happens out of school. Rarely is what we eat and why thread through the school curricula, i.e. where students can learn reading, writing, math, science as the dig deep into issues around like food, energy, health, justice and policy.
A report on corporate sponsorship in schools and the effect on student’s ability to think critically: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/schoolhouse-commercialism-2011
The media fails in it’s task of informing us even as it was one of the goals of the founding fathers (funding the media is part of the U.S. Constitution). Unfortunately, the idea that the media, in exchange for it’s licenses, ought to devote a portion of their airtime discussing controversial matters and to air contrasting views was killed by an act of Congress in 1987. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairness_Doctrine
President Madison warned that “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or, perhaps both.”
Consolidation: nearly all of what we hear, read and see is decided by six companies http://owni.eu/2011/11/25/infographic-media-consolidation-the-illusion-of-choice/. They exist because of the government’s frequencies, but because advertising revenue sustains them. Profits come first. Sports programming and Reality TV take preference over investigative journalism because they lead to better ratings, and more revenue.
When we do get news it’s more sound bytes, partisanship and ‘Shark Attacks Girl!’ stories than stories that get us to think deeply. Rather than in depth coverage meant to inform, our sources deflect attention away from what really matters and they distract us with shallow stories that play on our fears and bias. We like hearing what makes us comfortable, preaching to the already convinced, even if it unnecessarily divides us. Too often, we believe what we believe, not because it’s true, but because we believe it. Incredibly, some news watchers are less informed than those who watch no news at all, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/21/fox-news-viewers-less-informed-people-fairleigh-dickinson_n_1106305.html
Why is this so? More important than what happens on the programming is what happens in between the programming, i.e. the ads. If industry propaganda keeps the lights on and pays salaries, how motivated can the media be to expose the sins of big industry? i.e. most of the revenue comes from fewer than 100 advertising companies. This holds for what is considered the “Right” and the “Left,” e.g.: can MSNBC cover corporate welfare while owned by GE? Why do “Liberal” papers regularly support plutocracy? http://www.salon.com/2013/08/05/new_york_times_endorses_plutocracy/. Even media that touts their mission of serving the public regularly kowtows to corporate interests, e.g. PBS canceling a story with coverage of a funder (David Koch) http://truth-out.org/news/item/16494-pbs-killed-wisconsin-uprising-documentary-citizen-koch-to-appease-koch-brothers, and NPR providing sponsor Monsanto favorable and one-sided reporting. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/03/monsanto-scientists-superweeds-NPR and http://www.naturalnews.com/032868_NPR_Monsanto.html
Today’s independent journalism is under fire from our government, e.g. the so-called “Ag-Gag Laws” where you earn prison time in multiple states for publishing a photo of what happens on a farm (or slaughterhouse): http://www.thenation.com/article/175506/charged-crime-filming-slaughterhouse#
“We have the most entertained and least informed democracy in the world.” -Neil Postman
slide 22 footnote: “Increasingly, transparency gives us a glimpse behind what we’ve created.”
It’s not difficult to make the connection between what we eat and our health, so, with each break-out of e coli, massive spinach recall, or a news of pink slime in our meat, we lose a little trust in the conventional food system. http://www.takepart.com/photos/10-reasons-fear-your-food-supply/10-reasons-to-fear-your-food-supply?cmpid=foodinc-fb
Independent investigative journalists who, through enlightening food documentaries, and nonfiction that reads like fiction, expose the paradoxes and dysfunction of the food system. It makes it to the mainstream. We’re alarmed at the realities. The story of food increasingly wakes us up. Food Inc. trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eKYyD14d_0
The connection between our largest businesses and our government becomes clearer and questions emerge:
Should government be dominated by the industries they’re supposed to be regulating? We see the revolving door between government and business spin, and ask: Should the fox be guarding the hen house? If conservatives really want smaller government wouldn’t they cut corporate welfare? If liberals were really interested in helping the less fortunate, wouldn’t they work towards a system where fewer people required a safety net in the first place?
Looking at existing policy and who it favors raises questions like: What would some of our largest companies look like if they had to pay the true cost of producing their goods and services? Could they compete in a market where they weren’t propped up by Uncle Sam and our tax dollars?
If companies are breaking laws, why aren’t they held accountable? And for those doing damage legally, who creates the laws and who defends and protects them? Why is the playing field tilted towards a few, creating a system that results in big government spending?
Consider the current farm bill debate:
Conservatives critical: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-monty-burns-republicans-food-stamps/
Ripping corporate welfare: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-farm-bill-libertarian-populism/
Could it be, finally, change in the air?: http://www.policymic.com/articles/54173/farm-bill-2013-is-this-big-agriculture-s-last-gasp
After 70 years of the same, is it time to rethink food stamps? If Food Stamps are split from the Farm Bill, does that mean corporate welfare will continue to be met, while the working poor will suffer further?: http://www.markwinne.com/time-to-re-think-food-stamps/
Ironic piece: U.S. Representative who receives welfare for his farm, decries Food Stamps: http://www.nationofchange.org/congressman-who-gets-millions-farm-subsidies-denounces-food-stamps-stealing-other-people-s-money-136
Note: The U.S. is exporting parts of our diets and the related costs:
http://foodtank.org/news/2013/08/western-fast-food-chains-flourish-in-china-rates-of-obesity-and-diabetes-sk, but a large number of our peer nations push back, e.g. banning, or at least labeling, genetically engineered crops:
slide 23 footnote: “which inspires informed citizens,”
Some remain oblivious, others bury their head in sand, but the absurdity and injustice of the existing food system leads millions of people to choose differently with their consumer dollars. The alternative food system rises, through experimentation and innovation, to meet that growing demand. It’s attractive and helps to paint the picture of what’s possible.
However, what’s becoming loud and clear is: personal change is not political change. Derrick Jensen makes the case: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801/
The force asking for change, for representation, is rising. Thousands of organizations and tens of millions around the globe, taken together, form the biggest movement in the history of the world. They’re all singing different versions of the same tune: we’ve lost faith in the two biggest institutions created by people: government and business. The status quo isn’t working for us and we want to create something different. Consider the book Blessed Unrest (or a youtube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xkz2OjMOg88 or the resulting website: http://wiserearth.org/
Food is a growing part of the debate, especially overseas (where U.S. policy looms large). In the U.S., from those protesting the Farm Bill, to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers http://ciw-online.org/ to restaurant workers demanding a living wage http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=a877ce26-ca9a-4153-acc1-db0ea3b33f4b, all struggle for a fairer food system. Their stories are under-reported or misreported and the participants marginalized, but what they want is representation. They want elected officials to be held accountable to the needs of the majority.
They ask, “Why should a few of us, those with the most money, get to write the rules of the land? Should they also get to control the courts to interpret the rules in their favor?”
It’s no longer the left versus right paradigm we’re accustomed. It’s the individual versus multinational corporations and the elite.
It’s far more than just protests. It’s more than the Farm Bill. It’s the injustices in government sponsored research that exist to make pharmaceutical giants more profitable and it’s questioning the legitimacy of advertising to kids. Increasingly, people learn democracy is a verb; they’re beginning to organize, learning from the movements of a century ago (and Civil Rights). Movements, that, with patience and persistence and action, earned women the right to vote, and convinced elected officials, at the protests of business leaders, to outlaw child labor.
The movement aims to open up and make room for business that wants to compete on a level playing field. Their goal: a new reality, where ‘doing good’ can be the de facto, like swimming downstream. Sure, those who benefit from maintaining the status quo do all they can to misdirect and misinform the population, but the tide is rising.
Recent breakthroughs, most at the local level, give rise to hope, .e.g.:
Food Activists in NYC were able to convene the 2014 mayoral candidates to address food issues: http://www.foodpolitics.com/2013/08/some-reflections-on-the-mayors-food-forum-san-francisco-chronicle-column/
U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer actually campaigns on a ‘Food Platform,’ working to build a coalition around commonsense reforms, even listing his priorities on his site: http://earlblumenauer.com/priorities/food-farm-bill-rights
The Rise of Local and Regional Food Policy Councils. Usually government sponsored, bringing together various stakeholders: http://www.law.drake.edu/academics/agLaw/?pageID=foodPolicyQnA
There’s reason to dream.: The attorneys who went after Big Tobacco over deceptive advertising have targeted the Food industry: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/lawyer-beat-big-tobacco-targets-food-industry/story?id=17040866 and word that McDonald’s can still earn profits when paying living wages and asking customers to pay closer to the real costs of its food: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/the-magical-world-where-mcdonalds-pays-15-an-hour-its-australia/278313/
Consider: “If Gandhi had stayed home and been more responsible, would we have even heard of him? Or would India be independent from colonial rule?” says Annie Leonard, who encourages us to flex our citizen muscles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIQdYXCKUv0
slide 24 footnote: “who begin work removing obstacles that prevent our democracy from working.”
Reducing the influence of money allows elected officials to work in the interests of the majority, toward effective governance.
Overwhelmingly, both Republicans and Democrats believe money has too great an influence in our political system. http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/americans-money-politics-elections/2012/05/24/id/440238
On the surface, our two political parties fight like they’re on different teams, but it’s not as it seems. Consider who puts our elected officials in office and who they spend time with, and who they work for while in office. And who gets them re-elected. Or hires them when they leave office.
The pool of candidates for national public office is limited to those who have money and those who can raise money. Nearly all the money raised comes from a tiny sliver of the population. These are the people who determine which candidates have campaign funding and then who earn early mainstream coverage and are considered viable. If the candidates message doesn’t resonate with the funders, it’s not likely they’ll make it far.
Candidates and elected officials spend the bulk of their time with those of money and it limits what they know and who they hear from. It also determines what they work on and who they work for while in office (and once they leave office).
Major reform, the kind that results in rules that work for the majority, on the food system or any other related issue (they’re all related) won’t happen until we get to root causes. To that end, there’s a growing movement to lessen money, and it’s corrosive influence, from politics.
94% of elections are won by the candidates that raise the most money. Even if it’s far from that simple, does that make it closer to an auction, than an election? http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/01/big-spender-always-wins.html
Efforts, with some local victories, include: Participatory Budgeting:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budgeting and http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/
16 states, and 500+ communities have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case.
While election reforms, e.g. ‘Fair Elections,’ do have bipartisan support in Congress, the total number of supporters remain in the minority: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=4773857.
But we’re only going to get to ‘Fair Elections’ with a vigorous citizen’s movement because Congress won’t change on it’s own: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/18426-decay-and-repair-government-corruption-can-be-fixed
Our Electoral Branch has also played a role. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling prohibits Congress from limiting political campaigns from corporations, associations and labor unions. Note: In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court granted corporations the same constitutional protections given to people. Efforts to undo or amend the 2010 decision include: https://movetoamend.org/
Lawrence Lessig efforts include:
*Money and politics: It’s not bribery, it’s more subtle. Making a compelling case of the corrupting influence of money in DC: http://www.betterworldbooks.com/republic-lost-how-money-corrupts-congress-and-a-plan-to-stop-it-id-9780446576444.aspx
Gallup polls shows majority of Americans would support radical reform, i.e. no more individual contributions to elections: http://elections.firedoglake.com/2013/06/24/majority-of-americans-would-support-radical-campaign-financing-reform/
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember the second.” -Mark Hanna, who put William McKinley in the White House in 1896 in large part because he helped raise an unprecedented amount of money–more than $3 billion in today’s economy.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” -Louis Brandeis
“Politicians are like weathervanes, and our job is to make the wind blow.” -David Brower
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” -Henry David Thoreau
slide 25 footnote: “What’s gonna happen?”
No crystal ball exists to tell us what’s next. And change is rarely predictable- or linear. We don’t have a shortage of food, or a shortage of ideas. We know what’s possible, and we know the roadblocks won’t be removed until we have more representation. We can affect change. By understanding connections, between food, farming, energy, health and government policy, we come to see our ‘food issues’ not as problems, but as opportunities. We come to the conclusion that the vast majority of us our on the same team and food can unite us, rather than divide us. We put food back at the center, where it’s traditionally been, to come together and to celebrate family, friends and life itself.
This is the most exciting time in the history of the world to be alive. It’s chaotic. There is but one certainty: change. Change is inevitable. When it happens and what it looks like is up to you, me and those who represents us.
Note: Perhaps we in the U.S. still remain too comfortable. Maybe the change will be driven from overseas. Since 2008, there have been 60+ food related riots around the world. US food and trade policy and Wall Street’s influence on the price of commodities can, at least partially, be implicated as the cause (see Frederick Kaufman for more).
“The greatest illusion in this world is the illusion of separation.”
“How we eat determines to a considerable extent, how the world is used.” Wendell Berry. http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/pleasures-eating
Consider: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” -Paolo Friere
And remember the title of my favorite autobiography: “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.”
The notes above provide context to the slides. The links to articles and research may be easier/faster to read than books. However, if you’re interested in learning more about the food system, consider the reading the following authors, and organizations, in no particular order:
Marion Nestle- politics
Francis Moore Lappe and Anna and The Small Planet Institute- wide range
Julia Guthman- food and the poor
Daniel Imhoff- policy
Wes Jackson & Wendell Berry- farming and the big picture
Lester Brown– natural capital, i.e. water, energy, soil resources (stats/research)
Robert Lustig- sugar
Michael Moss- big processed food
Mark Bittman- cooking
Frederick Kaufman- ramifications of commodification of food
Food Tank- blog, food issues big and small
Michael Pollan- mainstream critic of industrial food system
Food First: Domestic, and International Raj Patel, Tom Philpott, Eric Holt-Gimenez