5.02.2015

We didn't start the fire... the suits did.
Food Issues Book Club - Stuffed and Starved, Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Stuffed and Starved, Chapter 1: Introduction

Summary:

"Global hunger and obesity are two symptoms of the same problem."  That problem, namely, is the modern food industry.  Because corporate interests dictate our food choices, even the most affluent among us can access only a small variety of produce (which is difficult to ship and has a short shelf life) when compared to the seemingly boundless options for heavily processed, sugar- and fat-laden packaged foods (which can be shipped much like non-food goods and have a next to infinite shelf life) that fill the "middle aisles" of our supermarkets.

This pic comes from a really alarming article
about *employers'* rights when
their farms are inspected...
This model of food has created suffering for farmers, which goes largely unnoticed by a public still convinced that cows live next to big red barns on bucolic rolling green hills.  Rather than choosing what to grow, farmers plant the crops demanded by a global food market - and are vulnerable to its whims.  Farms are no longer really owned by farmers, but by banks and grain distributors that are quick to punish if a farmer defaults on an agreement, regardless of the reason.  In this way, farmers can wind up as laborers on what use to be their own land.

Through the tireless efforts of the food industry, "[w]e are dissuaded from asking hard questions, not only about how our individual tastes and preferences are manipulated, but about how are choices at the checkout take away the choices of those who grow our food."

Learn about coffee issues here.
The "laws of supply and demand" assume that if farmers can't make a living wage growing their crops, whey will find other employment.  "This would presuppose that there is something else they can do.  Too often, there isn't."  Unskilled labor jobs are dwindling, and frequently land can't be converted for different uses.  Coffee, for instance, is grown on land that doesn't support other crops.  If something goes wrong during the season, farmers have little or no recourse.

For such an expensive crop as coffee, it seems that growers should not struggle financially.  Yet it is the food processors and distributors, one step from the retail level, that harness enormous profits on such crops - farmers are paid pennies.  "Nestle is in the position to raise the price that its growers receive.  But why would it do that?"  Corporations do not subscribe to ideas such as fairness.  They strive only to maximize profits.

"The food system is a battlefield, though few realize quite how many casualties there have been."  Farmers worldwide have organized to fight back against the unjust system, to varying degrees of success (and danger).  Consumers also try to fight back by voting with their forks and dollars, and yet "the choice between Coke and Pepsi is a pop freedom - it's choice lite."  When the only choice is to support the food industry, choice becomes specious.

Discussion:

As any good introductory chapter does, this first section briefly touches on many topics that (I believe) will be more thoroughly examined in later chapters.  As such I'm not going to discuss each idea in depth.  I do want to address the idea of voting with our forks, though.

Not everyone sees it this way, but I have long seen veganism as an industry boycott.  For this reason, I go out of my way to purchase products which are not only vegan, but that are made by vegan companies.  I also refuse to buy chocolate, coffee, tea, or flowers that aren't fair trade certified, because if it's vegan but the product of slavery it is in no way "cruelty free."  I buy organically grown produce whenever possible - not for my own personal health, but for the health of the land, and the workers in the fields who are directly exposed to agricultural chemicals, and the people whose air and water those chemicals could affect.

The question I struggle with is, does it matter?  In the great scheme of things, does it matter if I refuse to purchase the products of oppression, refuse to hand my money to exploiters?  Will it impact anything, ever?

The short answer is no.  There is no corporation or government that will ever feel the impact of my personal grocery store choices.  But.  There's a big but!  I do think that veganism's collective choice to boycott these products can have an impact, particularly if we keep growing as a movement, and if we choose whenever possible to support truly ethical and vegan companies.  Of course not everyone has these products available to them, or has the means to buy them (rather than, say, what's on sale that week), but those of us who do must spend wisely and in an informed way for our choices to have the greatest impact.

But... there's another but.  Which is that our purchasing choices alone are unlikely to ever be enough to change the food system.  They might push things in the right direction, but until or unless animal foods become unprofitable, corporations will continue to sell them - and to abuse human labor to make them cheap.  This "purchasing power" tactic also leaves out everyone who does not have the means to "just make different choices," which in a poverty-wracked state such as Louisiana is quite a large number of people!  For these reasons, any of us who are able must also exert systemic pressure on the food industry.

How?  There are many options.  First, we should look to our local and national legislatures and pay attention whenever a bill comes up that involves food - access to it or the regulation of it or its purveyors.  Ask your legislators to support bills that strengthen SNAP and increase access to healthy food, and those that increase industry regulation.  Ask them to vote against bills that loosen regulations for food industry workers, inspections, and the like.  Get involved by talking to your city council members if there are any local initiatives on food.  For local folks, the Louisiana legislative session is currently under way, and I've put together a small list of bills that I believe are worthy of support.

More broadly, we should support efforts like the Fight for $15 - it was, after all, the fast food industry that pushed wages down for "unskilled" workers, and many other food industry workers perform difficult and dangerous work for less than a living wage.  And don't forget, the food industry pays its employees substandard wages not to keep our food cheap but to keep their profits high.

Also, we must support all anti-discrimination efforts, whether they are fighting discrimination based on age, race, gender / sexuality / gender expression; whether ableism or sizeism or healthism is at issue.  Why?  Because oppression for some is oppression for all.  What we need to create is a paradigm shift - not just in how society sees and treats animals, but how it sees and treats everyone of less than the highest ranks of privilege.

We must eradicate the idea that some beings are "less than" and therefore exploitable.  It is from this mindset that all oppression stems.  If we stamp out the fire only in one corner, yet allow it to rage elsewhere, that corner remains in constant peril of reigniting.  (Not to mention, who wants to live in the one fire-free room of a house that's burning down?)  We must stamp it out entirely.  We must learn to be intersectional.

We all get frustrated with so-called environmentalists who believe that, since they've switched over to more efficient light bulbs, they're all done, hands clean.  Veganism without intersectionality is the lightbulb-switch of food justice.  I implore you: don't assume that, since there's no animal in your food / clothes / products, you've done all there is to do.  Don't be a single-issue vegan.  Wherever and for whomever it crops up, see the fire and work to stamp it out.

And now, because how can I not make fun of myself after that lil speech:



Billy Joel - We Didn't Start The Fire by harrison73

5.01.2015

Food Issues Book Club: May!

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and/or my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

New month, new book!  I've been meaning to read Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel for years.  So many years, in fact, that this is a "revised and expanded" edition!  Updated in 2012, this book on "the hidden battle for the world food system" is bound to be an edifying read.

I personally am guilty of being hyperfocused on what's happening in the US, and actively scoffing at looking at how the food industry is developing elsewhere - which is of course ridiculous because all of the major players shaping the industry are international corporations.  I'm looking forward to the new insights that a global lens will undoubtedly bring.

Are you reading it now?  Have you read it before?  Do you just want to comment on what I write about it here?  PLEASE DO!!



4.30.2015


Food Issues Book Club - Weighing In, Concluding Thoughts

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Weighing In, Concluding Thoughts

I wish I could make every human being in the country read this book.  Saving that, I wish I could make every vegan, every food justice advocate, every doctor, and every fat shamer read this book.  And saving that, I wish I could make everyone I know read this book.  Please, please, please read this book!  It is so important that the discussions around health, obesity, and personal responsibility be reframed, and this book provides a crucial jumping-off place on why and how.  It has challenged me to rethink my assumptions and examine food and fatness through a different lens, and in that way has literally changed my life.  I will likely read it again when I once again have free reading time!

Read Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism by Julie Guthman to make the world a better place.  Yes, seriously.




4.27.2015

NOiG's Guide to the 2015 Louisiana Legislature!


Hi friends!  I monitor the Louisiana Legislature's annual sessions for my jobby-job, and as such I tend to notice things that have implications in the food world and in broader social justice issues.  This is my effort to share with y'all what I have found, and to encourage you to raise your voices to support or oppose various efforts.  Hope you find it useful!  I would love to hear any feedback on whether I could present this differently to make it more accessible.

A few notes:
  • Pre-filing for bills ended Friday, April 3rd; the legislative session began on Monday April 13th.  Once a bill gets rolling through floor and committee votes it can proceed very quickly. So if you want to act, don't delay!
  • To support a bill, you can contact the legislators for whom you are a constituent - and encourage your community do the same - asking them to vote "yes" on the bill.
  • To oppose a bill, contact the legislator who proposed it and ask that it be withdrawn or amended - and encourage your community to do the same.  Also ask your legislators (as explained above) to question the measure in committee and to vote "no" if it's up for a vote.
  • If / when you contact Senators and Representatives to support or oppose bills, be firm but don't be a jerk.  If you behave like a jerk, not only will you not be listened to, you will associate the issue / stance you care about with jerk-ness, tainting the well for us all.  Be firm but respectful.
  • Putting pen to paper is rare these days, and as such may yield greater results than sending an email.  I suggest that if you want to commit your stance to writing, you do it both electronically and physically.
  • Don't take my word for it.  If there is an issue here that you find compelling and you want to speak up about it, take the time to read the bill and look it up for yourself before taking action.
  • Find all of the bills, contact info, committee schedules, and all the rest of it at the Louisiana Legislature web site.
And now, without further ado: this year's bills of interest!  (Clicking on the bill number will take you to the La Leg page for that bill and show you what has happened with it so far, and what its next step is.)


Jefferson
SNAP/FOOD STAMPS:  Provides for continuance of nutrition assistance for certain retirees

SUPPORT
This bill aims to close one of the many, many loopholes in our SNAP program that causes people to lose help that they desperately need.  Specifically addressed here is the fact that retirees sometimes lose SNAP benefits because of cost-of-living increases that come from their retirement benefits - over which they of course have no control.  The bill aims to ensure that retirees don't end up with less money to support themselves as a result of such an increase.

Rep. Patrick Jefferson
jeffersonpo@legis.la.gov 
(318) 927-2519
(318) 927-6564 (Fax)


700 N. Main Street
Homer, LA 71040




P. Williams
SCHOOLS/FOOD PROGRAMS:  Requires the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to promulgate rules relative to requirements for student lunch time

SUPPORT
This bill requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to make rules to ensure that all public school students have a full 20 minutes of seated time during which to eat their lunches.  It seems absurd to me that this needs to be legislated, but apparently there are many charter schools that allow 30 minutes total for lunch time.  When kids have to get to the lunch room, get their lunches, and sit down, that can easily mean less than 20 minutes to eat.  Eating is such a crucial part of kids being able to be engaged in learning, and for poor kids school meals can be the only meals they get all day.  Let's support the hell out of this bill.

Rep. Patrick Williams
larep004@legis.la.gov (318) 676-5990
(318) 676-5992 (Fax)


1500 N. Market Street
Suite A-200
Shreveport, LA 71107




Woodruff
TAX CREDITS:  Establishes a tax credit for qualified businesses that sell fresh food in an area designated as a food desert

SUPPORT
While this feeds into the (frequently flawed) dominant paradigm of ideas around eating, health, food education, and food availability, at the end of the day more access to fresh food is a good thing.

Rep. Ebony Woodruff
woodruffe@legis.la.gov 
(504)361-6972
(504)361-6971 (Fax)


1720 Stumpf Blvd.
Suite 200
Terrytown, LA 70056 




Badon
DISCRIMINATION:  Provides relative to discrimination

SUPPORT
This bill aims to add language regarding gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and other previously unprotected traits to existing anti-discrimination statutes.  YEP!

Rep. Austin J. Badon
larep100@legis.la.gov 
(504)243-7783
(504)243-7785 (Fax)


5555 Bullard Avenue
Suite 101
New Orleans, LA 70128




St. Germain
DISCRIMINATION:  Provides with respect to discrimination regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression

SUPPORT
This bill would provide express protection against discrimination by employers based on gender identity or expression or on sexual orientation.  YEP!

Rep. Karen Gaudet St. Germain
larep060@legis.la.gov 
(225)687-2410
(225)687-6272 (Fax)


57835 Plaquemine Street
Plaquemine, LA 70764




Woodruff
SCHOOLS/FOOD PROGRAMS:  Provides for the La. Farm to School Act

SUPPPORT
This bill is an effort to make it easier for Louisiana schools to source and purchase foods from local farmers.  Again, this bill is imperfect - implying that if kids could just have more fresh food at school they'd be completely healthy and their lives complete... not so.  And yet, having more fresh food at school is unarguably a good thing.

Rep. Ebony Woodruff
woodruffe@legis.la.gov 
(504)361-6972
(504)361-6971 (Fax)


1720 Stumpf Blvd.
Suite 200
Terrytown, LA 70056




Fannin
AGRICULTURE/BEEF:  Provides relative to assessments levied by the Louisiana Beef Industry Council

FYI
I'm including this one mostly so that y'all know that there is such a thing as the Louisiana Beef Industry Council, and see how it's organized.  (Hint: 100% industry shills.)  If there are any brilliant legislative minds in the audience who can figure out how to amend this bill to make the council less powerful / less existent, please share with the class!



That's all for now, folks.  This year is a "fiscal session," which means that each legislator can only bring five non-fiscal bills.  Believe it or not, this limits bill numbers quite substantially.  If you know of any other bills currently pending in Louisiana that you think should be of interest to this audience (other than the obviously horrific HB707, which Jindal has taken out of the people's hands), please let us know in a comment!  Also, if you're a Louisiana resident, please sign the petition to recall Jindal.