1.31.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City - Concluding Thoughts

If you've been following along  with the Food Issues Book Club this month, you'll know it's no secret that at times I've found Jennifer Cockrall-King's Food and the City truly painful.  But in the end, I'm glad I read it.  Doing so has made me open my eyes wider in the search for urban farming efforts here in New Orleans, and with that new-found attentiveness I have found several projects I'd not previously heard about.  It also reminded me that even in educated liberal circles, there are still many people who don't recognize the level of privilege in which they operate.

I'm glad that I read it, and glad that it's now done!  February's Book Club selection, Joel Berg's How Hungry is America, sits in a denser yet more comfortable space for me - that of academia.  With its focus on the problems of food insecurity in the US, I have high hopes that I won't even want to scream at the book and throw it on the ground even once (as I did several times with this one).  Of course, I'm not making any promises.

Are you planning on reading Berg with me?  I hope so!  I would LOVE to hear your feedback and discuss your impressions. Expect a post on Chapter 1: The Politics of Measuring Hunger on Monday, February 2nd.

So long Food and the City.  Thanks for getting the wheels turning on the Book Club and in my brain... and don't let the door hit ya.  (JK. Mostly.)




URGENT: Central City Edible Gardens needs your help!

UPDATE.  My support of this project was likely a mistake.  I'm fairly sad that I gave them money.  Ah well... it was a beautiful dream.

* * *

Hello friends!  It's very rare that I share any crowd funding or other fundraising campaigns here, but this one is too good not to promote.  Just this Tuesday I was bemoaning the lack of a local food hub in New Orleans, and yet one was being built under my nose!  A project of the locally owned Jack & Jake's in partnership with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network and others, The Central City Edible Gardens is endeavoring to create just such a hub.  It's in the neighborhood where my dad grew up, just a few blocks from my workplace.  What's it all about?
Jack & Jake's has partnered with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network and community urban growers to develop the surrounding new Public Market property with edible landscaping and a greenhouse to produce fresh healthy foods.  Edible community gardens and greenhouse space will support educational opportunities, training, and a local food source available to schools, hospitals, and other important community organizations. In addition to greenhouse vegetables, the greenhouse will also support commercial fish holding facilities that will  make whole live fish available  at the market.
The group shares the dream of myself and many others to provide fresh, AFFORDABLE food to everyone in New Orleans, while supporting locally grown food and empowering people to grow their own.  The Indegogo campaign is far behind its goal with only a few days to go, but it's important to note that they'll receive whatever money is collected.  Come on y'all - this is at least as important as an exploding kittens game, isn't it?

I'm so excited to support this effort, and hope to be involved in other ways as well.  Ideally this project would not involve aquaculture, but at this phase in the city's development we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I look forward to watching this project develop and see how it benefits the community and the city at large.  I hope you'll all consider making a contribution if you're able!

 

1.30.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapters 13 and 14

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...

Food and the City, Chapters 13 and 14: Chicago and Cuba

Summary:

Chicago
In 2010 the world was abuzz with the idea of "vertical farms" - skyscrapers with agricultural work happening on every floor.  No one had succeeding in actually building such a thing yet, however.  John Edel's "The Plant" in Chicago may be getting close though.

Chicago, once a Mid-Western meatpacking hub, is now instead home to many abandoned buildings (full of left-behind equipment and valuable stainless steel) that would cost too much for the city to tear down.  Once such four story structure was as of 2010 poised to become the world's first actualized vertical farm.  As envisioned at the time of publishing, The Plant would house floors for crops and aquaponics as well as rental space for foo-based startups in a shared food-grade commercial kitchen, complete with a wood-fired oven.

Various projects within the space are meant to act in symbiosis: the bakery providing heat to the rest of the building, kombucha fermentation intensifying plant growth by contributing carbon dioxide, and so on.  If successful, The Plant could serve as a model for a new agricultural era.


Cuba
Cuba serves as an intriguing case study of what can happen when a country that has depended on international trading of industrial food suddenly becomes isolated.  Though the US ceased exporting food to Cuba in 1962, Cuba maintained an active sugar trade with the USSR.  This of course ended when the USSR fell in 1991, leaving cuba with nowhere to sell its main expert and no one from whom to buy food or fuel.  Producing only 1/3 of the food it needed, rations began and livestock starved in the fields.

A state-approved private farmer in Cuba
The country quickly turned to traditional farming methods such as companion planting, crop rotation, seed sharing, and use of animals in field work.  So that food would not have to travel far (because without fuel, transportation stops), numerous small farms - dozens in each city - were established to sell directly to their communities.  Havana, for instance, boasts two hundred such farms feeding its two million residents.

In the face of potentially civilization-ending crisis, "Cuba has emerged as a global leader in establishing ecologically sound, extremely productive, locally managed food systems driven by nutritional needs, not by profits for multinationals."

Lest one imagine that Cuba is an urban farming utopia, it's important to note that austerity measures remain strict.  By American standards, Cubans live in unbearable poverty, spending most or all money on necessities with little to none left for niceties.  The small farms run as cooperatives, and must meet a quota for the state's needs before selling any produce for profit.

Chef Tito Nunez, El Romero, Las Terrazas
Cuba does support a lucrative tourist market, and even boasts a vegan restaurant (!) called El Romero in a preservation area called Las Terrazas.  This despite the fact that most Cuban restaurants can't produce a vegetable-based meal.  Says chef Tito Nunez, "Cubans want to eat only meat, refined grains, and rum," likely due to years of scarcity of such items.  Nunez is trying to change that culture.

As of the author's conversations in 2010, Cuban residents hoped for a cessation of the US embargo.  While they feared some of the changes it could bring, they also insisted that a return to industrial food and industrialized eating "would not be tolerated."

Discussion:

The Plant is certainly an interesting project.  As of January 2015 it looks like they're slowly but surely making the dream a reality.  South Korea may (or may not) have beaten them to the punch at being the world's first.  Regardless, the idea is one that has not been given up.  This only makes sense, as people are increasingly living in cities and showing great reticence in "returning to the land."  I would love to see some of those imagined towering glass-and-greens structures come to life, just because they look cool, but in the end what works is what will win.

The section on Cuba was particularly fascinating given the extremely recent shift in US policy toward Cuba.  I now have an even stronger desire to visit, and soon, before industrial food creeps back in and mucks up all the hard work they've put into creating an actual sustainable food system.  No, it's not perfect, but I do think we have much to learn from what they've been able to accomplish.  I would love to believe that they'll hold onto their practices - perhaps it's possible.  I will be watching intently over the next few weeks and months as our newly reopened relationship with Cuba develops.

1.29.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapters 11 and 12

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...

Food and the City, Chapters 11 and 12: Milwaukee and Detroit

Summary:

Milwaukee
Urban farmer Will Allen is so inspiring that he was the recipient of a 2008 MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.  After attending college on a basketball scholarship and going pro for a short time, Allen returned to his son-of-a-sharecropper roots on a small farm outside of Milwaukee.  As a black man in a white city, he initially faced discrimination as he established himself in the local farmers market circles.  But he persevered, and took on farming full time by the early 1990s.  By chance, he purchased the last farm in the city.

Allen in his natural habitat
Area children quickly became interested in the greenhouse that Allen was bringing back to life in their run-down neighborhood, and he took naturally to teaching them.  He soon partnered with a local nonprofit and incorporated as Growing Power to provide job skill opportunities to teens.  The project thrived.

His work impacts the city broadly: flowers he has planted tend to reduce petty crimes in the areas where they're present.  He is also providing young people with productive, interesting work that can keep them away from drug dealing and other destructive lures.  Additionally, his group collects compostable waste to make soil with, thereby diverting it from Milwaukee landfills.  All that in addition to "helping provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe, and affordable food for people in all communities."

Detroit
"The last sixty years have been disastrously unkind to Detroit."  It is a city with a large footprint that's faced an ever poorer, ever smaller population in the past few decades.  It had built up around a booming auto industry in the 1940s and 50s, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath them as the industry first automated and then pulled out of the area almost entirely.

Urban farming is now seen as an effective way to address food security among its black residents - Detroit's least food secure and lowest income demographic.  Abundant available land makes urban farming logistically easier than in other cities, and in 2010 it boasted 1300 urban food gardens.  Unfortunately, it would need tens of thousands of such gardens to fully address its food insecurity and approximately 33% unemployment rate.

How many of Detroit's ills could be addressed by one enormous farm?  Millionaire and businessman John Hantz aims to find out.  He sees the creation of a large urban farm as both a good use of its hundreds of acres of vacant land, and as a way to make that land valuable again.  The community initially pushed back against a land grab by this rich white man, but ultimately seems to have agreed that using the land is better than the existing vast swaths of blight.

In 2011, Hantz and Hantz Farms' president Mike Score envisioned land uses including Christmas tree stands, you-pick orchards, fancy mushroom patches, and hardwood forest growth.  While it would be an enormous undertaking, and the city government is understandably taking its time in the approval process, "something has to happen to turn Detroit around."

Discussion:

If Will Allen has a New Orleans analogue, I haven't met that person yet - but I'd love to.  Given the rampant crime we experience here, I have to wonder if a little guerrilla (edible) gardening would help take the edge off of things.  People can be driven to all sorts of unpleasant behaviors when they (or their children) are hungry.  A wild idea that occurred to me while reading this chapter: what if, in our housing projects, each block was given a small community garden with a designated plot for each household?  What if people were taught to garden and could
keep or share whatever they grew, as they saw fit?  Yes, it could be resource-intensive, but could also be of enormous benefit on many levels.  If nothing else, children would be better fed.    If only I'd had a chance to speak with Pres Kabacoff a few years back before the Great Rebuilding began.

John Hantz reminds me of good ol' Pres in no small way.  In case you don't know, Pres is the eccentric millionaire behind HRI properties, the company that has razed and is replacing the city's crumbling, derelict brick housing projects such as St. Thomas.  He was also the money behind the New Orleans Healing Center, where his wife (voodoo priestess Sally Ann Glassman) runs Island of Salvation Botanica, a voodoo shop.  NOHC is of course also home to the New Orleans Food Co-Op, Louisiana's only cooperatively-run grocery store.  Razing and rebuilding of the Calliope and Iberville projects remains under way.

Whether the developments that replaced New Orleans' post WWII projects are "better" sits in shades of grey.  They certainly look better to passers by, but there are some obvious problems - most glaringly that the number of available units was drastically reduced (though no one seems to be able to agree on how many units were lost).  Much like in Detroit, though, something had to happen.  The projects were dangerous due both to rampant gang activity and lack of policing, and because the infrastructure was failing.  The city didn't have the resources to do anything at all.  Is something better than nothing, even when the something is far from ideal?  Regardless, in the end what's "best" and what's "right" rarely win over what's funded.

The community does not seem to be quite as on board as Cockrall-King's conversations with Scope led her to believe.  Nevertheless, Hantz Farms is still proceeding, albeit slowly.  As of May 2014 the hardwood forest had begun to be planted by an army of volunteers.  It will be interesting to watch the project slowly yet surely unfold.  I can only hope that its effects will be positive and widespread.

1.28.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 10

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 10: Toronto - Cabbagetown 2.0

Summary:

Toronto has long been home to vegetable gardening, earning it the nickname Cabbagetown.  This may be because it is no stranger to food insecurity.  As such it's also home to FoodShare, Canada's longest lived food security organization.  The group uses tactics such as CSA shares, food literacy events and classes, and farmer's markets placed in low-income neighborhoods to address food insecurity.

Toronto doesn't let their fruit get lonely!
Another group, called Not Far From The Tree, collects fruit not being harvested from urban residential trees to donate to local charity groups.  Thousands of pounds of fruit are collected each season for donation to charities that provide meals to residents.  In addition to such gleaning, public edible landscapes may be planted in the future to increase food security and fresh food access in underserved areas.

Backyard chickens are also beginning to gain traction in Toronto.  They provide fresh eggs and can dispose of kitchen scraps and create fertilizer much more quickly than composting can.  The city is resistant to change its bylaws to reflect the chickens' presence, however.

Failure to include food resources in urban planning has led to "food deserts," areas where no fresh food is available.  Food activists want to change this practice by making the problem clear to city planners.

Discussion:

Food insecurity is real - even in Toronto.  While I can't think of an organization parallel to FoodShare here in New Orleans, we have a direct parallel to Not Far From The Tree: The New Orleans Fruit Tree Project.

The project began as an offshoot of Hollygrove Market and as the name implies, it "harvests fruits from private residential property in the city of New Orleans that would otherwise go to waste. The harvested produce is donated to local organizations that feed the hungry."  If you're the owner of a fruit tree and don't use all of its fruit, you can register your tree for harvesting by the group.  You can also volunteer as a harvester.  And it just so happens that tonight is the group's Second Annual Citrus Celebration.

One of the resident roosters of Lafreniere Park
As for backyard chickens, I have feelings on this.  Chickens living in backyards are almost certainly better off than those in battery cages, and I do think it's possible to give them a comfortable life if you care for them properly.  Unfortunately, what seems to be happening in urban areas is that people think they want backyard chickens but then tire of the work they entail, or don't want the chickens anymore when they stop laying.


So I'll say this: if you're considering backyard chickens, do your research and provide them with everything they need to be healthy and happy for their long lives.  Plan to keep providing a comfortable and safe home for them for as long as they live - up to 14 years - not just as long as they're productive and useful to you.  And please ADOPT chickens that already need homes rather than mail-ordering chicks, a cruel practice that can lead to many deaths, and feeds off of the worst animal agriculture practices.  Finally, note that roosters are illegal within Orleans parish!

That urban planners have ignored food access, assuming that everyone has the transportation and time to go wherever they'd like, is all too obvious in most American cities.  Here there's a slightly different tinge to it: our neighborhoods were laid out before cars came around, and access wasn't an issue because there were corner groceries everywhere.  My Sicilian great grandparents, who lived not far from where I do now in Mid-City, ran just such a grocery.  So what happened?

The Piggly Wiggly happened.  We still have one on the Westbank.  Supermarkets brought about the demise of small specialty stores and general grocers, taking access away from neighborhoods and focusing it on thoroughfares inaccessible to those without cars.  Care will need to be taken both to locate supermarkets in areas of the city that still want for food access, and to improve public transportation so that all residents can access these central locations.

1.27.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 9

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 9: Vancouver - Canada's Left Coast

Summary:

Vancouver is endeavoring to be the "greenest city in the world," and it has already made great strides in that direction.  The city is overrun with community gardens, and a full 50% of households with yards grow some of their own food.  They're even attempting to create edible landscapes in city facilities.  All this growing is partially enabled by a year-round growing season akin to that of Portland, OR.

Michael Levinston of City Farmer explains that urban agriculture is "part trend, part necessity," and points out that it will never support staple crops like wheat and rice.  He also raises concerns that as cities become ever more dense, individuals' green spaces grow consistently smaller.  But still he sees hope.  "The variables have changed, so maybe the food system will change."

Vancouver  is the most culturally diverse city in Canada, and some community gardens have made extra effort to ensure that all feel invited to partake.  A rooftop garden at a downtown hospital was established by the YMCA in 2010 to engage the community and create "intercultural exchange."  To create a welcoming environment for non-Canadian-born Vancouver residents, 40% of the garden plots were reserved for this demographic - reflecting the neighborhood.  Guides were printed in multiple languages, and gardeners were required to attend a sensitivity training.  After the YMCA's contract expired, the gardeners became the Downtown Intercultural Gardeners Society.

Like most cities, Vancouver has low income neighborhoods that are plagued with societal ills.  "Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is not for the skittish."  The neighborhood, despite poverty and its accompanying woes, is home to the SOLEFood Farm.  The farm is locked from the outside, but idyllic inside.  It was not intended as a public space.  Rather, it was built on the run-down parking lot of an old hotel as a job-creating green initiative by a community group called United We Can.  The goal of the farm is specifically not to provide food for the neighborhood (though 10% of its product does serve that purpose).  Instead, it is meant to provide its residents with "real-life skills training" to ultimately help them get and keep jobs.  The vegetables grown are sold to upscale restaurants and markets, and the revenue keeps the farm afloat - including two full time and three part time staff at the time of publishing.  Regardless, the presence of the healthy green space benefits the whole community.  (Note: SOLEFood is now "North America's largest urban orchard" and has four locations.  Very impressive!)

A proposal for Vancouver's New City Market
Local Foods First is another group that aims to turn Vancouver away from industrial food and back to local growing and sourcing.  To work toward that goal, it has proposed a New City Market that would provide space for the storing, processing, and selling of locally produced crops.  Organization and consolidating buying and selling power is crucial to the group's ultimate goals.  Says founder Herb Barbolet, "[i]t's the controls in the system that make some people rich and poor people even poorer.  Until that is confronted, we can't confront any of it."

In an intensification of urban gardening practices commonly used, SPIN (small plot intensive) farming has taken root in and near Vancouver, and can actually be profitable if it's approached like a full- or double-time job.  It will only supply small markets, not national or international ones, but can provide most desired crops.  Some hope that it will be an attractive model for entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Discussion:

This is a LONG chapter, but one that assuages much of the anger I felt reading Chapter 9.  The author does in fact know that some people grow vegetables not just because it's hip but because they need to.

In comparing Vancouver's efforts to those in New Orleans, I am inspired and also envious of the New City Market plan that would create a local food hub.  It seems that we had an opportunity to at least create a space where locally grown goods could be sold on a regular schedule and in an accessible way in the soon-to-be-opened St. Roch Market, across St. Claude Avenue from the much debated Healing Center.  And yes, there will be one such stall.  The others, though, will serve craft cocktails and "Korean Cajun fusion" food.

It seems that the vendors have been selected to serve, exclusively, the (young, white, significantly more affluent) newcomers to the neighborhood rather than its large longtime (working class black) residents.  I find this frustrating, and I'm not the only one.  The space's proprietors (pictured) have stated that each vendor had to submit a menu with "affordable" items, claiming they "know what the demographics of [the] area are."  They say words like "community."  Similar promises were made by the healing center, and are largely unfulfilled.  I hope it will be great for everyone, but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

SOLE Food is even more inspiring, and makes me wonder how hard Hollygrove and Sankofa have worked to engage the communities in which they are placed.  Hollygrove, for instance, offers a free "box" (CSA share) to everyone who works a two hour volunteer shift.  That's great, and those who work shifts inside the market and at the register are gaining valuable work skills.  However, nine times out of ten (that I've seen) there's a white college student behind the counter rather than someone from the neighborhood.  (For those not local, Hollygrove has always been an extremely low income, almost exclusively black neighborhood, and is known for its violence and gang activity.)  I could easily be making unfair assumptions about this; it's something that I have a strong interest in looking further into.  Sankofa, at least, was founded and is run by locals.

Vancouver does seem to be eons beyond most cities in its literal green endeavors; comparatively, New Orleans' efforts look like baby steps.  But it's always folly to compare rates of progress, isn't it?  Each place - just like each person - has its own challenges and progresses at the speed that it is able.  That said, I long for the day when local growing and sourcing of food here in Nola is commonplace, and we rarely seek out grocery store produce.

1.26.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 8

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 8: Southern California and Los Angeles - a tale of two farms

Summary:

Los Angeles is notorious for its lack of green space, but is adjacent to some of the country's most productive farmland.  A mountain range creates a clear barrier between the two land uses.  As is common in urban areas, Los Angeles homes the very rich and the very poor, and clear socioeconomic divides can be drawn on racial lines: white neighborhoods afford two to three times more access to fresh food than do neighborhoods populated predominately by people of color.  Food instability is rampant, despite the area's high productivity.  Hearteningly, those without food access have begun to grow it for themselves.  Additionally, the city has assembled a Food Policy Task Force.

While Los Angeles county now boasts around 70 community gardens in addition to hundreds within the school system, not all such gardens are safe from the march of "progress."  After the "LA Race Riots" of 1992, the director of a food bank in South Central LA suggested that a community garden space in the neighborhood could help alleviate the community's dependence on the bank.  The gardens were quickly established by "Latinos with extensive agricultural experience."  They thrived, producing food while providing a much needed green space for the area.  An inventory revealed over 100 different kinds of plants being grown.

And then the seemingly inevitable occurred.  The original owner of the land, seeing its transformation, decided that it did in fact have value.  The city sold the land back at essentially its original price, and all parties expected the gardeners to simply give it up.  After a decade of working the land, the "gardeners" were evicted.

But they didn't give up.  Instead they organized, calling themselves the South Central Farmers Feeding Families.  They were crushed anyway.  "On the morning of June 13, 2006, Los Angeles police in riot gear used chainsaws to cut through the fencing to enforce an eviction notice.  Farmers and protestors who didn't go quietly were arrested.  Shortly thereafter, bulldozers razed the more than 350 garden plots."


Photographs of the eviction from LA Times
As of the publication of this book, the plot remains unused.  (Note: Per Wikipedia, the plot remained vacant as of May 2014.)  A documentary was made about the "garden" and its demise.

Despite this violent and unjust reclamation of the land by the city, the farmers have found ways to continue growing food elsewhere and now service two counties with Community Supported Agriculture programs.

Discussion:

There's no use mincing words about it: I found this chapter excruciating.  I yelled at the book.  A LOT.  Some of it was in exaltation:

WE'VE FINALLY STOPPED TALKING ABOUT PRIVILEGED WHITE PEOPLE.  139 pages in, we get to acknowledge that people of color also have an interest in urban gardening.  Some of them even need to grow food, rather than just wanting to!  It's a miracle!

Granted, we still spend a portion of the chapter talking about "Michael Ableman... an aspiring photographer and back-to-the-lander" who worked at "an agrarian commune managing a hundred acres of pear and apple trees..."  His farm was saved, with the "support of a community - wealthy donors foundation grants, and regular farm customer..."  Yeah, all that and the fact that that dude is totally and extremely very white.

Cockrall-King explains that "[a] group of disenfranchised Angelinos (read: Latinos) from South Central Los Angeles did not have such advantages..." You don't say?  Well I'll be darned.  We might also note that the person who was allowed to buy back the South Central Garden land was - you guessed it - a white guy.

Also, that wonderful documentary that made people besides the farmers care about the land being ripped away from them?  Yeah, he was a white guy too.  (I do think it's worth watching.  It is sometimes available on Netflix, though not right now it seems.)

It's almost as if to have any agency, to have your voice heard, or to be treated anything like fairly, you have to be a white male.  WEIRD.  Anyone else noticed this?  Have I come upon a brand new, unexplored idea?!

I realize that I'm directing too much of my anger about what happened to this community - what happens to so many communities, and what is withheld from so many others - at Cockrall-King.  Which is of course unfair.  At least she included them in this book, complete with a long section on her talk with Tezozomoc, one of the organizing farmers.  But I can rightfully be mad about this:

Somehow the author gets through the chapter without mentioning ONCE that one of the largest food labor strikes in US history occurred in California - you know, that whole deal with Ceasar Chavez et al.  A minor thing really.  Easy to overlook.  (Just a moment - my head has exploded from sarcasm.  Please come back later.)



1.25.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 7

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 7: London - Capital Growth

Summary:

Russia leads the pack in home food growing, mainly out of necessity.  Berlin is also heavily engaged in the practice.  The UK, like the US, is steeped in industrial food, but is showing increased interest in urban farming.  One city farm in Bristol raises both crops and food animals, and runs a cafe that serves the food it produces.

Canadians carry on the
British allotment tradition
Allotment gardening, traditionally a pastime of the food-insecure of Brittan, has become popular with young urban professionals in the past decade - so much so that allotment wait lists can be years long.  This has encouraged some to develop effective methods of vegetable growing in small spaces such as balconies.  With a substantial investment of time and upkeep, such spaces can be as or more productive than the typical allotment.

The Crouch End neighborhood of London boasts the world's first grocery store rooftop vegetable garden.  Such endeavors help maintain biodiversity of food plants in urban areas, and support urban bee and butterfly populations.  However, such large-scale endeavors can require funding beyond earnings from produce sales even once the garden is fully productive.

During the London Olympics of 2012, efforts were made to feed athletes, staff, and visitors with the most local food possible.  Such endeavors help to normalize less industrial food practices in a food environment that has been completely industrialized.

Note: there are large sections in this chapter about urban vineyards.  I could not possibly care less about urban vineyards as they have zero implications for food security or anything else of import; they are absolute luxuries and every human on earth would be just fine if there was never another bottle of wine, ever.  So I'm not summarizing or discussing those sections.

Discussion:

This is a short chapter that touches on a number of subjects, and seems to again focus on relatively privileged people who have the means and access to purchase locally grown organic vegetables, but would rather grow their own.  This is certainly a trend that can be seen in many American cities, including right here in New Orleans.  After all, growing vegetables is physical, time-intensive work.  That might not look attractive to someone who perhaps works on their feet all day and has childcare to think about, even if they did have the space.

Crouch End might have had the first grocery rooftop veg garden, but it's not the only one.  In fact, we have one right here in New Orleans!  The Louisiana-owned Rouses chain frequently touts its Roots on the Rooftop garden at its Baronne Street location in local media, though shockingly little information is available about it online.  The video below gives a nice primer though.

Finally, I find the concept of normalizing non-industrial food to be fascinating - mainly because until at most 150 years ago there was no such thing as industrial food.  Moreover, it didn't become "normal" until the 1950s in the average household.  A few generations pass, and the way food was grown and distributed for centuries becomes unattainably foreign.  What short memories we have.

1.23.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 6

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 6: Paris - The Roots of Modern Urban Agriculture

Summary:

The urban gardens of Paris in the 19th century stand out as a model of local, sustainable urban production.  By increasing heat in garden beds with sunlight and composting, city farmers produced high-value, out-of-season crops.  The system was largely dismantled by the end of the century, as cars replaced horses (making manure less available) and land inside the city became more valuable.  But it never completely died out; there remain a few small gardens in operation.  The King's Garden at Versailles is one of the few extant "maraicher-style" gardens that has operated continuously since the 1700s.  It remains productive and now functions as a teaching garden.

Map of the King's Garden at Versailles
After a low point in the 1990s, urban gardening regained popularity in Paris in the 2000s with the help of guerrilla gardening efforts and a green-minded mayor. Besides vegetable gardening, beekeeping is another agricultural endeavor that adapts well to urban environments and has become popular in cities.  For a variety of reasons, city hives tend to produce more honey and are less susceptible to colony collapse disorder than those in rural areas.  London's bees are even more prolific than Parisian hives.  Toronto also boasts productive urban hives.  Each honey's flavor bears unique markers of its provenance.  Urban honeys, sourced from a broader variety of pollens, have more complex flavors than those produced by rural hives which usually feed on single crops.

Discussion:

This chapter begins Cockrall-King's exploration of urban agriculture movements in a number of cities - including Paris, London, Los Angeles, Toronto, Detroit, and Chicago, among others - which will be discussed in later chapters.  The Parisian system seems in no small part to have depended on the use of manure, a substance that was an outright nuisance to the city due to the prevalent use of horses.  There is no similar such resource to be utilized in, for instance, present day New Orleans.  Or is there?

Click here to see a larger image
Consider: We all waste food.  Whether it's the ends of carrots, the peels of potatoes, the leftovers we didn't quite get around to eating, or the produce that we had grand plans for at the grocery but didn't manage to cook, we're all guilty of throwing away food that could have been eaten.  In fact, bodies such as the EPA and USDA estimate that between 30 and 40% of all edible food available in the US lands in the garbage - billions of pounds of food that goes to landfills each year and does little but generate greenhouse gases.  The problem is profound enough that EPA and USDA have formally challenged other groups to actively work to reduce food waste.  If we're wasting the calories that could have been available to the >14% of US households that go without enough to eat, the very least we can do is compost it and use it to grow more food.

For those of us who are able to house a compost bin, our home-generated food waste should never go into a landfill.  All produce and most leftovers - all leftovers if you're vegan - can be put in the compost bin, as well as coffee grounds, lawn clippings, paper towels, and other biodegradable waste items.  My husband and I have had our compost bin for about two years and, while we've never made use of the compost within it, we've used the bin to naturally process and greatly reduce what was likely hundreds of pounds of waste that would have otherwise gone to the local landfill.  Upcycyled plastic composting barrels like the one we use are available at Hollygrove Market and Farm.  (So are rain barrels - more on that another time.)

Much wasted food is lost in shipping and at grocery stores, which we as individual consumers have little ability to address.  Little, but not none.  If you're able to make a friend in a produce department and have the ability to compost on a large scale, you might be able to personally take on composting items that would likely end up in a landfill otherwise.  You could petition a grocery or restaurant to begin on-site composting, as is done at the New Orleans Food Co-Op and 3 Potato 4.

Or even better from a food waste standpoint, you could try to keep that food from being wasted in the first place.  Store owners or managers can sometimes be convinced to donate bruised or lightly damaged produce, which is otherwise edible but excluded from the sales floor for cosmetic reasons, to community feeding efforts such as Food Not Bombs.  You could also request - and ask other shoppers to request - that such "sub-prime" produce is offered to consumers at a discounted rate.

Glass recycling area at the
Metairie Target - always overflowing!
More progressive cities such as San Francisco, CA and Portland, OR offer curbside composting pickup, just like trash and recycling are collected elsewhere.  Given that it was a bit of a coup to get basic recycling back in the city after the storm, that that took over five years to accomplish, that they pick up only once a week (and sometimes not even), and that we still don't recycle glass, I am not holding my breath for the City of New Orleans to begin offering compost pickup.  But it's still nice to know that such a thing is possible.  A pickup option is available for area businesses and restaurants for a "small fee" through Nola Green Roots' New Orleans Composting Network.

To be sure, composting is a partial and imperfect answer to food waste - meat and dairy products cannot be composted, for instance.  It's also difficult to impossible for people living in apartments or otherwise have limited access to outdoor spaces.  But partial, imperfect answers still seem better than giving up.  And as far as urban gardening is concerned, compost is an excellent and often free source of a rich, nutrient-filled soil amendment.

Impressively, the USDA "walks the walk" when it comes to the food waste produced in their own cafeteria, as depicted in the hilarious video below.  Enjoy!

1.20.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 5

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 5: The New Food Movement and the Rise of Urban Agriculture

Summary:

In the 1990s, Tim Lang of the SAFE alliance tried to educate policymakers regarding the impacts that proposed trade agreements might hvae on food environments the world over.  In 1992, a television appearance allowed Lang to illustrate the concept of food miles to British viewers.  The concept caught on, and in 1994 SAFE released a report entitled The Food Miles Report.  It was followed in 2001 by a collaborative report called Eating Oil.  Concurrently in Italy, Carlo Petrini had begun organzing what would become the international Slow Food movement.

In the 2000s, consumers began to demand more local and regional foods.  Farmer's markets, which had experienced a resurgence in the 90s, continued to multiply.  Authors such as Michael Pollan brought industrial food's issues to a broader and more mainstream audience.  In 2007, "locavore" was named the Oxford American Dictionary's "word of the year."

Currently, as an ever-greater proportion of the population moves away from rural settings and into the city, we are beginning to understand that food access bust be considered as a part of urban planning.  Localized agriculture now accounts for less than 1% of available food.  A transition, if it is occurring, is still in its infancy.  But as resources are depleted, the movement will have no avenue but to progress.


Discussion:

In chapter 5 we get to what Cockrall-King really wants to be talking about: urban gardening.  It's a brief chapter that addresses the resurgence of urban gardening in the mainstream, white, western world.  That is of course the world she lives in (as do I), so there's a certain amount of logic in it.  I look forward to the chapters on Cuba and Detroit, as I'm hoping they'll provide a different perspective.

The recent history presented in this chapter is interesting.  The papers and presentation noted are dated but still relevant.
I was hoping to find the video, but no luck.

If you're a New Orleans area resident and you have the interest, ability, and space to begin doing a bit of home vegetable growing but aren't sure where to start, one great option is Green Light New Orleans.  In addition to switching your regular ol' lightbulbs for CFLs, this local non-profit will come to your house and build a small vegetable garden plot for free, complete with soil, seedlings, and seeds.  If you're really interested in increasing Nola residents' ability to grow their own food, you can also volunteer to help build plots.  If you live in an apartment or otherwise have nowhere to put a plot, you can look into community gardening at places like Nola Green Roots and Parkway Partners.

If you do not in fact have the interest, ability, or space to garden where you live or anywhere else, check out this awesome graphic on what foods are best each season in New Orleans from the Crescent City Farmer's Market team.  If you can't grow it at home, often you *can* buy it locally grown!

1.19.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 4

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 4: A World in Food Crisis

Summary:

In moves to make food more profitable, we've also made the food system less resilient and more vulnerable.  One major point of vulnerability is its dependence on oil, and particularly on cheap oil.  This need has created a direct link between food prices and oil prices.

The cheap food that was supposed to solve world hunger has actually driven down incomes, and has ultimately exacerbated poverty and the hunger that comes with it.  Despite fifty years of proof that cheaper food is not the answer to hunger, Big Ag is still pushing the need for "more food" to feed the world's growing population.  People get poorer when food gets cheaper, so many of the world's hungry remain too poor to afford even our "cheap" food.

During the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008, American food banks were unable to keep up with demand.  We were actually lucky: dozens of other countries experienced outright food riots.  Rioting over food occurred again after various weather abnormalities caused production shortages around the globe.  In essence, the system is too vulnerable to weather events and too dependent on finite resources to continue producing at its current rate and price.

**Editor's note: At this point the author notes that transportation and methane emitted by garbage as the primary generators of the greenhouse gasses driving global warming.  Upon reading this passage, I cursed aloud and tossed the book across the room.  I may have experienced some bleeding from my ears.  More on this later.**

Greenhouse gases are fueling climate change, which is causing more catastrophic weather events.  The concentration of single crops in limited geographic regions means that one such even can remove a food from the entire system.  A coinciding reduction in national grain stores around the world has allowed large grain companies to "take control of the global grain trade - to their great profit."

The search for more arable land is leading to the exploitation of developing regions - particularly in parts of Africa and South America.  Alarmingly, the arable land in notably food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia is being leased to grow food for export.  This is seen as an investment opportunity for corporations.  Domestically, American and Canadian farmers are posting record losses and selling land cheaply to international speculators.  Cheaper food very simply means that farmer are being paid less; these are the results.

Meanwhile, we're running through non-renewable resources.  Oil production may peak and begin to drop off in the near future.  Fresh water resources may also become scarce in the next century due both to how quickly they're being used and because of contamination.  Tragically, as industrial farming becomes ubiquitous, knowledge of traditional (less oil and water intensive) farming methods is being lost.

Discussion:

About that global climate change situation.  To fail to address the impact of animal agriculture in the production of greenhouse gasses is lazy at best.  Agriculture both accounts for a larger percentage of global greenhouse gas production than transportation, and involves an enormous amount of transportation itself!  Those food miles aren't racked up on magic flying carpets.  And all that's not to mention that energy production creates more gasses than either agriculture or transport.

If a person were somewhat conspiracy-minded, that person might be led to think that a book about the food industry written in 2012 that regularly refers to UN FAO studies and yet ignores its major study on the food industry that is readily and freely available is doing so intentionally...  But none of that craziness here, right?

On a totally separate topic, did y'all know that Cowspiracy is now available online?  ;D



ANYWAY.  On Sunday I noticed grapes at the Broad Street Whole Foods.  My first thought was, ooh, grapes!  My second though was... from Chile?  Chile is 4,500 miles away from New Orleans, give or take.  At $2.39 per pound, somehow I don't think that the true cost of those grapes is represented in its price.  Did you know that bell peppers are a seasonal food?  And from what I can tell at WF, they're only grown organically in Holland.  What gives?  Is it REALLY cheaper to fly peppers in from Europe than to source them locally?  Are there SO many levels of bureaucratic red tape necessary that it's just totally unfeasible to supply shoppers with these products?  So many questions.  Also, it's high time I figure out the wonky system at Good Eggs.


1.18.2015

A note to you fine fine readers.

Hi all!  I hope you're enjoying the new content on the blog.  It's fairly different from what I've been doing for the past year or two, and it's just the change of pace I needed around here.

But if you, uh, don't like it, might I suggest you follow my Twitter feed?  It's populated primarily by pictures of tasty vegan things I eat around town, and should be right up your alley if you're missing the old format of the blog.  You might also want to check out my Instagram, which is a combo of food pics and photos of cool things around town (ummm and my hair and My Little Pony stuff).  And of course I do hope you'll follow on Facebook, where I post links to articles for local happenings as well as information from around the world.

Any way about it, happy fooding green New Orleanians!

Me with king cake bread pudding at Breads on Oak!

1.17.2015

A Little Liberty.

Last week I had the pleasure of eating at the new location of Liberty's Kitchen in the Broad Street ReFresh Project.  The community center's tenants include the cafe, The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, FirstLine Schools' central offices, Boystown Center for Children and Families, the offices of Broad Community Connections and Crescent City Community Land Trust, and an on-site teaching farm in partnership, as well as a Whole Foods grocery store as its anchor.

Liberty's Kitchen not only provides meals for school children, but also runs a restaurant where it employes at-risk youth to allow them to attain valuable work skills and experience, all while providing practical life supports:
Liberty’s Kitchen’s Youth Development Program provides disconnected youth with workforce and life skills training to become employed and self-sufficient. We address the many issues that create barriers to self-sufficiency with wrap-around support including health care, mental health, housing, GED completion, parenting issues, and financial literacy.
Its menu is small and centers around lunch foods such as sandwiches and salads, along with some traditional New Orleans fare.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they do offer one vegan dish - red beans and rice - and several other veganizable options including a black bean burger and a roasted vegetable sandwich.

I am somewhat disappointed that the cafe serves coffee from Starbucks rather than one of our local coffee chains, but otherwise I appreciate the true community effort happening in this small but artistic space.  They were also very cool about letting my coworkers bring me in a vegan birthday cake from the Whole Foods next door, and even provided us with plates and serving utensils.  I can wholeheartedly support them, and I can personally attest that their red beans and rice as well as their black bean burger are quite delicious.  So stop by and show them some love!

Red Beans and Rice

Black Bean Burger

Birthday Cake!



1.14.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 3

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...

Food and the City, Chapter 3: Industrial Eaters

Summary:

Industrial food has been adopted in many parts of the world.  Industrial eaters tend to consume large portions of meat, processed carbohydrates, and dairy products - all high in fat, salt, and sugar and typically low in fiber and other necessary nutrients such as vitamins.  This is commonly called the "Western diet" or "Standard American Diet," and it is rapidly spreading across the globe.

Supermarkets became larger and more widespread in the 1990s as international trade increased and food cheapened.  Unable to compete in the expanding global market, small and midsize farms continued to be squeezed out.  Industrial food, cheaper than ever, began traveling ever-increasing distances.  By 2001, the average grocery store item had been shipped 1500 miles from its origins to its consumer - powered, of course, by fossil fuels.

During this time span, farms also moved further away from growing a variety of foods and further toward monocropping - the practice of growing one crop on many or all acres of farmland.  Because entire regions were monocropping the same produce, most foods began being shipped elsewhere for various "value added" processing and then redistribution.  For example, Iowa doesn't process or eat most of the corn it grows, and gets most of the food it does eat from elsewhere.  Government operated terminal food wholesale markets have given way in the past decade to privately owned (and totally opaque) operations, making it difficult or impossible to track food miles anymore.

The manure lagoon of a CAFO - read more here
The livestock which become part of our industrial food system are also consumers of it.  Most food animals are now raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs or factory farms), and are fed the same few crops that make up most of our processed foods: corn, wheat, and soy.  The CAFO system leads to intense concentration of animals on a small area of land, along of course with their waste.

CAFOs allow the creation of cheap meat, which is in demand as more of the world converts to industrial eating.  Raising livestock results in diverting plant calories to livestock feed, which is extremely inefficient: an average of 10 pounds of feed is needed for each pound of meat produced.  That pound of meat also requires about 2000 gallons of water when all stages of the process are accounted for.  Further, we've outsourced our CAFOs to take advantage of cheaper land outside the US, and rainforests in South America are being clear-cut at a rate of 90 acres per minute in some areas - all to make room for cattle and the grains that feed them.

Rising fossil fuel costs caused a spike in food prices in the late 2000s.  This had the odd effect of encouraging the use of food crops as fuel - which just raised the price of food even further.  Even so, we in the US pay relatively little of our household budgets on food.  What we pay at the register, though, does not reflect industrial food's "true cost," which includes environmental and health impacts.  Per Raj Patel, the true cost of a fast food hamburger, for instance, is about $200.  We've moved most of these costs to the developing world, the residents which do not have the power or agency to push back against their governments and our corporations.  The healthcare costs that result from eating industrial food, though, can be seen right here at home.  To add insult to injury, our own government supports subsidy plans that encourage cultivating the very crops that are killing us.

Discussion:

This chapter covers many of the issues that initially encouraged me to go vegan back in 2006.  Each step in the industrial food process where animals are concerned is morally and logically repulsive to me, and once I knew how things were being done I knew that I neither wanted give my money to that system nor put its products into my mouth.  Unfortunately, being vegan doesn't remove me from eating industrial food.  Sure, when I manage to get to a farmer's market or to Hollygrove I am sidestepping it.  But when I buy a box of organic pasta from the Broad Street Whole Foods, I am buying in to monocropping, long food miles, and all the rest.  I am trying to do better.

This chapter also hits on the interesting notion that when we feed grain to food animals, that food being taken out of the human food system.  Livestock do consume enormous amounts grain.  Per the EPA, "about eighty percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is consumed by domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production."  So it's true, but not directly: most of the crops we grow to feed to livestock can't be fed to humans.  If we want to grown human food where livestock feed is now being grown, there's at least one extra step.  Different crops would need to be grown!

On the issue of feeding grain and specifically corn to livestock, it's not actually an appropriate food for them.  Cows, for instance, are made quite ill when they are fed corn.  And yet this is common practice at CAFOs.  It's done because corn is subsidized and monocropped and therefore cheap, and because it makes them fat quickly.  (It stands to reason and there's some evidence that it makes us fat quickly as well!)

The film King Corn does a great job of discussing how prevalent corn is in our industrial food system, both in the processed foods we buy at the grocery and as animal feed.  You can watch it right here for free, as long as you don't mind Spanish subtitles!