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Gov. Snyder Appoints EJ Work Group Absent of Impacted EJ Community Members

unnamedMichigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Statement on Gov. Snyder’s EJ Work Group

In December 2016, the Environmental Justice community caught wind of Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to create an Environmental Justice Work Group. With optimism that the Governor was finally responding to the environmental and public health concerns of Michigan’s most vulnerable communities, the EJ community hoped that this action would be a step in the right direction. After all, the creation of an EJ Work Group was a direct recommendation from the Governor’s own Flint Water Advisory Task Force in response to the still-existing Flint Water Crisis. However, it became clear this week that the Governor’s plan to remedy environmental injustice is shaping up to be yet another government sanctioned, private industry-heavy fiasco.

On Wednesday February 15th, Governor Snyder quietly released his list of the Environmental Justice Work Group members on the State’s website. Most glaring about this list is that the Governor did not reserve a single appointment for a resident of an actual EJ community who is directly impacted by environmental injustice. While the Governor states that “ensuring every Michigander has the same protections from environmental and health hazards is of the utmost importance,” the overwhelming majority of his appointments to this EJ Work Group would suggest otherwise. This 19-person Work Group consists primarily of private industry executives and state government agency representatives. This is an unmistaken brush-off and knowing dismissal of the residents and organizations who wrote letters, made phone calls, and sent emails asking the Governor to ensure that EJ communities were represented on the Work Group.

As it stands, the very makeup of the Governor’s  Environmental Justice Work Group runs counter to every rule of the widely accepted Principles of Environmental Justice -in particular, the principle that “Environmental Justice demands the right [of impacted communities] to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.” However, the Governor’s transgressions do not have to persist. Standing in solidarity with EJ communities around Michigan, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition is calling on Governor Snyder to not only reconsider his appointments with the Principles of Environmental Justice in mind, but to also make appointments of EJ community members who suffer the impacts of unfair environmental decision-making on a daily basis.

To view the Environmental Justice Workgroup members click here. To connect with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, please visit us online or contact us (313) 577-1687.

Congress to Defund Fair Housing Act Data on Racial Disparities in Housing

unnamedThe Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition just issued this statement:

Statement on H.R. 482 & S.B. 103

On January 11th and 12th, Senate Bill S.B. 103 and House Bill H.R. 482 (the “Bills”) were introduced respectively by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. Being mirror images of one another, both Bills are an outright attempt to disempower the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) by rolling back necessary protections of the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) by “nullify[ing] certain regulations and notices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for other purposes.”

Among the numerous detrimental provisions, the Bills call for the defunding of Federal programs that provide access to housing data for States, local governments, and public housing agencies regarding “community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” The specific language is as follows:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

While the Bills purport “to further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act,” by giving State and local officials more control over housing decisions, this assertion couldn’t be further from the truth. Sen. Lee and Rep. Gosar make walking-contradictions of themselves and an oxymoron of their proposed Bills by implying that the best way to enforce the Fair Housing Act is to actually create financial barriers to accessing data that clearly informs whether housing decisions are in fact “fair.”

States, local governments, and public housing agencies in the U.S. have a long, well documented history of housing discrimination when it comes to racial minorities. This is the very reason why the FHA exists today. Yet, the Bills would strip housing officials of Federal resources and then turn the reigns back over to them –suggesting that they are now better equipped to enforce the FHA. This simply cannot happen.

As fair, affordable housing is an essential component of Environmental Justice, we are calling on our representatives in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to reject the notion that States’ sovereign powers are somehow boosted by defunding Federal housing databases that are meant to protect vulnerable citizens and communities. Reject this notion by voting no when the Bills come up in Committee and making sure that they never reach the chamber floors.

To view the H.R. 482 and S.B. 103 click on the hyperlinks. To connect with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, please visit us online or contact us (313) 577-1687.

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Farmers’ Market

13882561_1253537447998287_2460462587423020698_nThis is the tenth in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers’ markets in the US increased from 1,700 in 1994 to more than 8,200 in 2014.This increase demonstrates the growing public interest in eating more fresh produce and supporting local growers. Farmers’ markets also provide people an opportunity to have regular interaction with local farmers, develop relationships and have a greater appreciation for what it takes to grow food, especially outside of  current agribusiness models.

However, having more farmers’ markets doesn’t necessarily result in a more just food system. In some ways, they can perpetuate the current food system’s
inequalities. For example, a farmers’ market that is part of a larger urban development plan often benefits those with economic and racial privilege. These markets charge more for produce and other food items use public dollars without public input and often contribute to urban gentrification.

When looking at farmers’ markets through a food justice lens, the market should not contribute to further inequity or sustain the current food system, which creates and perpetuates food insecurity. A farmers’ market that practices food justice would deliberately make it a priority to serve the nutritional needs of those most negatively impacted by the current food system. It would target communities of color, working class communities and communities experiencing poverty.

fullsizerender_2These communities consist of people receiving government food assistance like SNAP, WIC and the Double Up Food Bucks programs. The food justice movement and public health sectors have been pushing for more food assistance for purchasing fresh produce and even vegetable plants for those who want to grow their own food.

While such programs are subsidized by public money, the dollars spent on government food assistance programs pales in comparison to the public dollars supporting large corporate agribusiness. While neither subsidy is sustainable, Our Kitchen Table supports subsidizing communities experiencing poverty until our food system is truly democratic.

In addition to supporting people experiencing food insecurity, farmers’ markets that practice food justice should also make it a priority to have local growers and vendors who practice ecologically sound growing practices and fair labor practices. A farmers’ market practicing food justice should be transparent about these dynamics and exhibit signage that makes the practice of food justice highly visible.

Last, farmers’ markets should not end up being niche markets, but rather venues for both transforming the current food system and creating new food system models. In addition to providing more fresh food purchasing options, a farmers’ market that practices food justice should also educate the community about the food system and share resources and skills that empower people to collectively become more food independent, for example, cooking resources, food preservation workshops, seed exchanges, information of food policy challenges and even the development of food cooperatives. In other words, a farmers’ market that practices food justice should not only be a means to resist the current agribusiness food model, but also provide a venue for people to create truly democratic food systems that ultimately lead to food sovereignty.

For more information about Our Kitchen Table’s farmers’ market, the Southeast Area Farmers Market, contact SEAFM@OKTjustice.org or  on the Southeast Area Farmers Market  Facebook page.

 

 

 

Food Policy for Food Justice: Natural Oral Care Supports

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

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Is oral health a food justice issue? OKT says yes. People without access to nutritious food experience more oral health problems. As these people usually also have income challenges, if they can access oral health care, extractions are the norm. As a result, they suffer unease  in social situations and are often unable to present themselves as candidates for better employment opportunities.

The following information aims to support those without access to good oral healthcare maintain their oral health.

  • Breastfeeding is the foundation for oral health. It exercises the jaw, creates good fit, healthy palate formation and increases healthy flow of saliva.
  • Whole foods promote oral health: fresh produce, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean meats and whole grains support the growth of good bacteria and fight inflammation. Crunchy fruits and vegetables clean teeth, remove plaque massage gums and help prevent gum disease.
  • Avoiding processed foods, especially those high in sugar, can boost oral health. Chemical additives (many found in toothpaste) can increase risks for oral health problems, e.g. triclosan, aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, sodium lauryl sulfate, dyes and fluoride.
  • Oil pulling (swishing with a spoon of coconut oil) 15 to 20 minutes a day can help strengthen gums, whiten teeth, reduce plaque and remove toxins from the mouth. WIC and EBT can be used to purchase coconut oil.
  • Herbal supports for oral health include peppermint, spearmint, fennel, cinnamon, sage and thyme. Grow your own in a window sill!
  • Toothpaste alternative: mix coconut oil, baking soda and a drop of peppermint essential oil. Brush every day but not too hard!
  • WIC and EBT can be used to purchase coconut oil.

 

 

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Public Health

Picture1.pngThis is the eighth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.Most Americans would put healthcare near the top of their list of concerns. Healthcare is not only an issue of cost, but deeply impacts our daily lives. Through the lens of Food Justice, Our Kitchen Table believes that Americans are facing a public health crisis; a major contributor to this crisis is the current food system.

The consequences of poor health are directly linked to the kind of food we eat and have access to. Whether heart disease, diabetes, obesity or any number of current health issues, all connect to what foods we eat and have access to.

Though we all have some responsibility for improving our health, the current agribusiness-driven food system is the main culprit in creating poor public health. From a Food Justice perspective, here is how we understand the issues of food and public health.

  • Agri-business manufactures processed food items that make up the majority of what people buy in grocery stores. Most of these food products are unhealthy to consume over an extended period of time.
  • These processed food items are saturated with sugar, salt, fat and chemical preservatives, which contribute to poor public health.
  • Agri-business spends millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress to limit any regulation of the food system. This makes it difficult for us to know what foods make us unhealthy.i
  • Agri-business spends billions every year researching new ways to make food items that are highly addictive. This is why we all really like the stuff that is not healthy.ii
  • Agri-business spends billions more marketing the unhealthiest foods to the public: soda, candy, snack foods, fast food and many other highly processed food items. Much of this marketing targets children between the ages of two and 18.iii
  • The current Agri-business driven food system most negatively impacts the people most marginalized in our country—people experiencing
    poverty, communities of color, children and immigrant communities.

Agri-business costs us billions of dollars in public health care costs every year. Those who have the least healthcare insurance and or no insurance are the ones most |negatively impacted by these health care costs. The bottom line? The current food system profits by making us all sick.

What can we do about this?

  1. Stop solely blaming individuals for unhealthy eating habits and instead realize that the current food system is the root of poor health.
  2. Educate ourselves and organize campaigns that frame public health through a Food Justice lens.
  3. Find allies working on public health issues and build our own power base in order to confront the current food system and create community-based options for eating healthier.
  4. See that poor public health is connected to racism, sexism, economic exploitation and other forms of oppression.
  5. Support local farms, organizations and retailers that provide nutritious, healthy food that the most marginalized can access.
  6. Expand urban growing opportunities for communities experiencing poor health
  7. Create greater access to neighborhood-based farmers markets and provide more food sharing and community kitchen opportunities— the people most negatively impacted by the unhealthy food system have fewer resources (and time) to prepare and preserve food that is not processed.
  8. Pressure public health officials to acknowledge that many of the major health issues we face are caused by the food system and ensure that those same health institutions develop new strategies that challenge the current food system.
  9. Grow some of our own food as an opportunity to eat better and develop greater awareness of how food impacts our health.

Sources:

  1. www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=A
  2. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss
  3.  http://casestudies.digitalads.org/wpcontent/uploads/2011/10/digitalads_brief_report.pdf

 

 

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/.