Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & GMOS

This is the seventh  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

gmosGenetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are deeply entrenched in our current food system. Most of us don’t even know when we are eating something that contains GMOs. So what is the big deal? And what do GMOs have to do with food justice? The corporations behind the development and proliferation of GMOs would certainly like us to quit asking questions. Since Our Kitchen Table is a food justice organization, it’s our mission to ask such questions.

GMOs are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology. This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

GMOs are part of the current food system in a big way, as reflected by the above info-graphic. And, they are something that the public has had little or no say in. Genetically modified organisms cause numerous problems.

Since most GMOs are not fully tested, we don’t fully understand their impact on human health over a long period of time. According to sources like the Organic Consumers Association,

GMOs have been linked to:

  • Thousands of toxic and allergenic reactions.
  • Thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock.
  • Damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals.
  • Increased likelihood of allergies.
  • Damage of the immune system.
  • Damage of the liver.

The growth of GMO plants causes genetic pollution when GMO plants infect the DNA strain of non-GMO plants. This contamination may pose public health threats by creating “super weeds” that require greater amounts of more toxic pesticides to manage; threaten extinction of rare plants and their weedy relatives that we need for crop and plant bio-diversity. These weeds are not only the traditional relatives of our domesticated plants; they also assist us in overcoming crop blight.

GMO plants and seeds create huge problems for small farmers if, through naturally occurring cross-pollination, GMOs being used at neighboring farms contaminate their plants. Farmers save seeds from their crops to save money and rely on proven seed stock. When their seeds show evidence of containing the GMO’s DNA, the current US legal system allows companies like Monsanto to sue the farmers unless they pay royalties. Seems unjust doesn’t it? Well, it is unjust. However, since agribusiness entities have lots of influence with the political system, the courts often rule in their favor, leaving both small farmers and the public on the losing side.

nongmo-logoThe good news is that an international movement to ban GMOs is gaining ground. Several dozen countries have already banned the use of GMOs; more countries are moving in that direction. Our Kitchen Table supports banning GMOs in favor of biodiversity. The more biological diverse our diet is, the better off we will be. We also support transparency on the GMO issue. Most of us are eating GMO foods right now and don’t even know it. In the US, food labels do not have list GMOs. Many states are attempting to pass legislation to require that GMOs are labeled, but the agribusiness sector is spending billions to defeat such efforts.

Our Kitchen Table practices food justice that rejects the use and proliferation of GMOs by:

  • Providing heirloom seeds and plants to families involved in our home gardening program.
  • Ensuring that our Southeast Area Farmer’s Market vendors sell only non-GMO produce.
  • Working on public policy issues that promote greater transparency and justice in our food system.

 

 

Thank you, Dr. King.

martin_king_wisdom_1

This quote is taken from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address to the 1963 March on Washington, which culminated in the famous “I have a dream” message that has been co-opted, diluting the strong civil rights — and human rights — ideas that Dr. King lived by. OKT asks you to read “Claiming and Teaching the 1963 March on Washington,” which is part of the Zinn Education Project’s  If “We Knew Our History” series.

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Climate Change

This is the sixth in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

5d1dce30fb378b552fdbf4cce77b91fdWild weather and unpredictable seasons are changing what farmers can grow and is making people hungry. Food prices are going up. Food quality is going down. Soon, climate change will affect what all of us can eat.
OXFAM

This opening statement from the international organization OXFAM introduces its investigation into the connection between Food Justice and Climate Justice. According to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is made up of thousands of the world’s leading climate scientists, our current food system is one of the main contributors to climate change.

Driven by increasing profits, the current food system contributes to climate change in the following ways:

1) Agribusiness practices mono-cropping, where large portions of land are devoted to growing one kind of crop. This kind of land usage not only increases the need for additional water, it degrades the quality of the soil and causes soil erosion.

2) Agribusiness completely depends on fossil fuels to grow and harvest food, thus contributing significantly to warming the planet. In addition, most food grown does not stay local. The average food item travels 1,000 miles before it is consumed, increasing the current food system’s dependence on fossil fuels even more.

3) The current food system promotes high levels of meat consumption, particularly in the US. Producing so much meat diverts large amounts of water, increases levels of methane gas and requires more land use to raise feed, resulting in deforestation and the release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. All of these factors further contribute to climate change.

4) The current food system produces highly processed foods that cause the many health problems we currently face. The energy and resources used to manufacture and distribute the high volume of unhealthy processed foods are also contributing to climate change.

While the world’s wealthier regions (specifically North America and Europe) are responsible for much of the current climate change crisis, its negative impacts
disproportionately impact regions of the world with higher levels of poverty. This is also true within the United States, where the communities most
negatively impacted by climate change are the same communities most
neglected by the current food system. This is why Our Kitchen Table
recognizes the relationship between food justice and climate justice. We
recognize that in order to have food justice, we need climate justice as well.

Here’s how you can practice climate justice alongside food justice:

  • Eat food grown locally.
  • Grow more of your own food.
  • Reduce or eliminate meat in your diet.
  • Reduce or eliminate processed foods in your diet.
  • Take action to build an alternative to the current food system.
  • Work for food sovereignty.
  • Join local, national and international efforts to promote food justice and climate justice.

 

 

You can learn more about climate change and food
justice in the zine, Organizing Cools the Planet, www.organizingcoolstheplanet.wordpress.com.

 

For information on OKT’s food justice resources and
campaigns, contact us at OKTable1@gmail.com  or
616-206-3641. Or, visit our website at www.oktjustice.org/.

 

 

OKT Food Justice Series: Food Justice, Food Workers and a Living Wage

stop-supersizing-povertyThis is the fifth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

In May 2014, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill increasing Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2018.

Most likely, this decision was made to undercut the Democratic Party’s statewide ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. While, raising the minimum wage is a step in the right direction, it ignores the larger issue of a living wage, especially as it relates to workers in the food industry.

A Living Wage is different than a minimum wage. It takes inflation into account inflation and addresses what an individual actually needs to earn in order to live in the current economy. Many organizers around the country are calling $15 an hour a Living Wage and have won campaigns to get such an hourly wage passed.

These $15 an hour campaigns are mostly being organized by workers in the food industry, restaurant workers, those in retail and the fast food industry. These food industry workers have been among the most exploited in the US in recent decades. They are challenging a system that has made billions in profits by paying low wages.

jrw-farmworker-1Almost all workers in the food industry earn an unjust wage—from migrant workers and those working in food processing plants to grocery store clerks and people in restaurants, institutional food cafeterias and fast food chains. In both the restaurant and agriculture industries, minimum wage laws do not apply. Migrant workers are at the mercy of whatever farm owners want to pay them; people working for tips in restaurants have a whole different minimum wage standard applied to them.

For instance, the minimum wage for tip workers in Michigan is $2.65 an hour. The 2014 minimum wage law would increase that to a meager $3.52 by 2018. Imagine working for those wages and relying on the generosity of the general public—especially when larger numbers of people in the US are experiencing poverty.

As an organization that promotes and practices food justice, Our Kitchen Table (OKT) supports the efforts of food workers who are organizing to demand a livable wage and better working conditions. Check these out:

OKT knows that more and more people want to eat local, nutritious food that is chemical- and GMO-free. However, it is equally important that we demand that growers, migrant workers, restaurant workers and fast food workers be paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and have the right to organize fellow workers.

taste-233x173When we enter a grocery store, shop at a farmers market, eat at a restaurant or look at food labels, we should ask:

  • How were the workers who provided us with this food treated?
  • What is the wage that these food workers make?
  • Is it a living wage?
  • Do these food workers have the right to organize?
  • Does this food we are about to purchase and eat promote food justice?

OKT recognizes that workers in the food industry need justice as well!

 

 

 

OKT executive director featured on national Encore site.

encore-org-logo-with-tag-lineReposted from Encore.Org

optimized-lisa-oliver-king-410x410Lisa Oliver-King
Grand Rapids, Michigan

“I don’t do charity. I just do what I’m supposed to do: I’m my brother’s keeper. . . . It’s the best way to use my gifts, to help people express kindness.”

 

As a youngster, few things struck me so profoundly as the moments I joined my family around the kitchen table, just to talk. So many good, and difficult, and funny, and serious conversations happened around that ‘magic’ table, topped with smoky glass. That hand-me-down now sits in the kitchen of the home I share with my husband and my daughters in Michigan on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

Years after serving as a gathering place during my childhood days, the table continues to spawn ideas. It was there, over wine with a friend a few years ago, that I was challenged to amp up my commitment to environmental and social justice in my city.

I had worked in the public health sector well into my 40’s, including jobs with the Kent County Health Department, the Michigan Public Health Institute, and Hospice of Michigan. Eventually, I shifted into consulting work around public health and it was during that period that a girlfriend stopped me in my tracks during that table talk when she said: “Consulting is good. But you should do some real community engagement.”

I became intrigued with the problems around lead poisoning in our Michigan communities and how it was affecting human health and the environment. From that concern, I branched out to exploring strategies for mobilizing low-income families, mostly on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

That’s how, in 2003, I founded Our Kitchen Table, a quiet force that empowers urban neighborhoods to improve their health and monitor sometimes life-threatening environments through education, advocacy and community organizing. Its overall goal of combating oppression, race and gender bias, and disparities in wealth and power.

Banking on strong social networks, we developed tools to empower families with the tools to develop homegrown foods even on properties threatened by soils with suspected or actual high lead levels. Our Kitchen Table teaches residents how to grow crops in containers and take full advantage of the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market.

It’s there that OKT will continue partnering with the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council and the Kent County Health Department to host educational events and participate in the Bridge Card (SNAP), Michigan Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Project Fresh, Kent County Health Department coupons and DoubleUp Food Bucks programs.

We promote growing from a systemic lens and from understanding what is going on in the community and we look at the entire food landscape, everything from grocery stores to wild edibles to pantries to food-buying clubs and co-ops.

A big part of my motivation is that I really wanted to have my children understand the importance of giving back. My daughters know the power of communicating amongst ourselves around the magic table. But it was important that I talk to them about the value and effect of being part of a community.

I view my participation as a chance to immerse myself in community and make a difference with a program that meets basic human needs and lifts up families with education as a core element.

I don’t do charity. I just do what I’m supposed to do. I’m my brother’s keeper, and I try to emphasize that. It’s the best way to use my gifts, to help people express kindness. It’s what we should be to each other.

Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives opening and oral history project

12645001_657648147706976_3902566714826086628_n.pngOKT dropped by the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives (GRAAMA) Royal Opening on December 26. GRAAMA is currently located at 87 Monroe Center, downtown Grand Rapids. The space functions as a museum store and donations center. The opening coincided with the first day of Kwanzaa, Umoja. Festivities included a ribbon cutting, proclamation and Kwanzaa ceremonies. It also kicked off a membership and fundraising campaign in hopes GRAAMA can secure a building for its permanent collection.

GRAAMA’s mission is “… to promote, preserve, display, collect and honor the lives, culture, history and accomplishments of African, African American, and connected peoples in the Greater Grand Rapids Michigan community.”

The GRAAMA store hours are 10 am-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday. For information, call 616 540 2943 or visit www.graama.org. The Michigan Humanities Council and the W K Kellogg Foundation awarded the GRAAMA a $24,990 grant for its Grandmas Voice oral history project that will document the life experiences of some of the area’s oldest living people. African Americans, particularly women, are the focus of the grant.

GRAAMA is collaborating with the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Kutsche Office of Local History located at Grand Valley State University in this project. GRAAMA is looking for African American elders, primarily women, who can tell the story of early Grand Rapids or the surrounding area. Those who participate will receive a small stipend. The finished video and audio disk will be featured as a main attraction.  If you or someone you know are interested in participating, email George Bayard at george@graama.org.

 

OKT Food Justice Series: The Farm Bill

fair_farm_bill_tractorThis is the fourth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

We all pay for an unhealthy food system. The current food system in the United States is bad for the environment, bad for public health and primarily benefits the largest agricultural companies. This may not be news to most people, but what is less known is who pays for the current US food system.

Every few years, the US government adopts a new Farm Bill. The most recent Farm Bill, like the previous ones, provides billions of dollars to Big Ag and little to small, family run farms. The 2014 Farm Bill provides $956 Billion in taxpayer subsidies to huge corporations like Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Archer DanielsMidland, Kraft and Wal-Mart, corporations which make billions in profits annually.

So why does the US government give these corporations so much of the taxpayers’ money? These companies spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress every year and they finance political candidates running for election For example, in the 2012 election cycle, Monsanto contributed $1,209,714 to candidates. In 2013 alone, they spent nearly $7 million lobbying the US Congress. (Source: www.opensecrets.org)

In Michigan, 2012 farm subsidies provided by taxpayers totaled $263 million, with most of that money going to large farms growing mono-crops or livestock: corn
subsidies, $59 million; soybeans, $35 million; and the dairy sector, more than $22 million. (Source: http://farm.ewg.org/)

fcf9eab0-b4e1-4c3d-9671-1e2a7fa18115-large16x9_snapfoodstampcutsWhile providing huge subsidies to agribusiness, the 2014 Farm Bill cut $8.6 billion in Food Assistance. During a time when more and more Americans live in poverty and rely on government food assistance programs, Congress decided to drastically cut these funds and give more taxpayer money to large corporations.

What we need is a food system that is based on food justice, where food is a right and the government does not punish marginalized communities but provides them access to healthy, nutritious food. We need to promote and practice food sovereignty, giving
everyone a voice in deciding what kind of food system they want for their community. This is what Our Kitchen Table and Well House both promote and practice through their food growing and food justice work.