Tag Archive | Food Justice

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Brain Equity

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

1972gn2dfy55yjpgWhen considering intellect, intelligence, IQ or mental health, we seldom make a connection with food. However, a very distinct and strong connection exists – from the womb to the meals we prepare for our elders. Because people of color are more likely to lack access to the foods that build healthy brains and maintain well-functioning psyches, intelligence levels and mental health are another facet of food justice. OKT calls this lack of access “food apartheid.”

Since environmental toxins play a part in diminishing intellect and contributing to mental illness, these are facets of the larger environmental justice conversation.

In the Womb

Studies have shown that pregnant moms need to eat 80 to 100 grams of protein as part of a well-balanced diet to ensure healthy infant outcomes. That well-balanced diet includes foods rich in calcium, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables and 100% whole grains. The Standard American Diet will not satisfy this requirement. The junk food, fast foods and convenience foods prevalent in most income-challenged neighborhoods are even worse. Healthy brain growth especially depends on protein.

Infant mortality rates are double for black babies, compared to white. While the stress of racism plays a huge part in these numbers, under-nutrition during pregnancy is a factor, especially when babies born at term are underweight.

At the Breast … or Bottle

Breastfeeding is the very best food for infants. Among its many benefits, breast milk boosts baby’s intelligence. When the CDC investigated why fewer black women breastfed than white women, they found that the hospitals serving black women during childbirth were less likely to encourage and support breastfeeding. In addition, women in poverty, working one or more low-wage jobs, may not be able to pump milk when they are away from their babies.

breastfeedingBecause breastfeeding moms need to continue the same healthy diet they ate during pregnancy, lack of access to healthy foods continues to be a barrier to infants reaching their full intelligence potential after birth.

The human brain grows the most during pregnancy and the first three years of life. Diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods during the first three years of life permanently lower children’s IQ. Wilder Research reports, “… nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance. Research suggests that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children, and access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels.”

Baby’s only food during the first year of life should be breastmilk (or formula). Introducing solid foods earlier can lead to obesity, allergies, asthma and digestive difficulties. Breastfeeding until age three or longer is common in many cultures and can help support healthy brain growth. Whatever age babies wean from the breast, it’s important that parents introduce a healthy, whole foods diet. The commercial-baby-food diet (we are brainwashed to believe in) does not meet these needs.

In the Classroom

Research has also established a link between nutrition and behavior. “Access to nutrition, particularly breakfast, can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression and school suspensions, and decrease discipline problems “

Harvard studies agree. “Diets high in refined sugars … are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

As an Adult

“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” says UCLA food-brain expert, Fernando Gómez-Pinilla. He reports that junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain’s synapses. This can result in loss of cognitive function (memory loss, brain fog, dementia) and mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, ADD and bi-polar) Gomez-Pinilla goes as far to say, “Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren’s brain molecules and synapses.”

In other words, when an unjust food system prevents a generation from having access to healthy, whole foods, its children and grandchildren have increased risks for lowered cognitive function and mental illness.

Our Elders, Forgetting and Forgotten

Food apartheid inexcusably impacts our elders. When it’s too difficult to prepare meals, junk and convenience foods are too easy an answer. Fixed incomes can result in choosing the least nutritious options available. The food charity that elders access mostly consists of highly processed foods and white grain products. Some are making strides in offering elders healthier meals, for example Meals on Wheels, but what is needed is a food system that makes whole foods accessible to everyone, no matter their income, age or neighborhood.

Only Food Justice can ensure brain equity. When all people have access to healthy whole foods, from cradle to grave, only then can they reach their potentials for intellect and mental health.

 

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

 

 

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.

 

 

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: Definitions

foodjustice_1Our Kitchen Table has developed a series of publications about different facets of Food Justice over the past several years. As our farmers’ market and growing programs are in seasonal hibernation, we will be highlighting the series on a weekly basis here on the website. Today, we will commence with brief definitions of a few Food Justice terms. (By the way, we may be starting up a limited, indoor, winter farmers’ market soon — we will keep you posted!)

Food Justice

The benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown, produced, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten are shared fairly. Food Justice transforms the current food system to eliminate disparities and inequities by focusing on issues of gender class and race.

fs-food-securityFood Insecurity

1) You cannot get healthy foods. 2) You cannot store or prepare healthy foods. And, 3) Only junk and fast foods are available in your neighborhood.

Food Sovereignty
People determine the kind of food system they want, as long as it is ecologically sustainable.

Food Dessert? No.

Generally used to describe neighborhoods with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods. Is this a good term? After all, a desert is a vibrant incomegap_introecosystem. And, grocery stores are not a measure of food security.

Food Apartheid. Yes.
The intentional, systemic marketing and distribution of profitable, nutrient-poor, disease-causing foods to income-challenged neighborhoods, mainly, communities of color (i.e. communities receiving the most food assistance dollars).