Tag Archive | Food Justice

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).

 

Shakara Taylor to host OKT food justice event Monday

0425161833

Shakara and her daughter shared many important insights at her April presentation.

Diagramming Your Food System
6 to 8 p.m. Monday July 18
Garfield Park Lodge
334 Burton St. SE
Grand Rapids MI 49507

On Monday, OKT’s special guest, Shakara Taylor,  will help us to identify how the industrial food system functions in our neighborhoods and, despite its limitations, figure out ways to build a healthier food portfolio for our families and community. Whether you are a parent, grandparent or live alone and want to discover better ways to stretch your food dollar and improve your diet, this workshop is for you. OKT also welcomes those who work on issues of hunger, under-nutrition and food justice.

A mother, returning generation farmer, educator, activist-scholar and PhD student at Michigan State University, Department of Community Sustainability, Shakara explores decolonial pedagogies in the food justice and food sovereignty movements within the communal praxis of black agrarianism. Her personal journey of loving, healing and decolonizing is intimately wedded with working and learning with the land. She is committed to working with communities and using land-based activism to build food sovereign communities.

Taylor brought new insights on food justice

0425161959

Shakara Taylor & her daughter, came from Lansing to share their vision of food justice.

On Monday April 25, Shakara Taylor led about a dozen OKT constituents and community members through an interactive evening that focused on creating food justice in our communities. As she spoke to “Diagramming Your Food System,” she shared that our current  industrial food system is not broken, but rather working just like it is meant to, i.e., as a capitalist creation it serves very well as a profit making machine. Like LaDonna Redmond has asserted in her TEdX talk,  Taylor stressed that there has never been a just food system in the US as, from the beginning, it was built on stolen land and by exploited human labor. (In the past that meant African slaves; today it means migrant workers of Latino and Afro-descent.)

 

Taylor asked the group to call on their memories of community and family as a way to help envision healthier food access for all. Some shared stories of parents and grandparents who grew and preserved their own foods — or got foods from relatives’ farms. Others spoke of a time when neighborhood families got together to gather, prepare and can foods together. A younger participant recalled growing up entirely on packaged, processed foods. In conclusion, Taylor asked each group member to share their thoughts on what the current food system looks like in contrast to what they would like it to look like.

If you missed out, you will have another opportunity to experience this enriching presentation. Taylor will repeat this program on July 11 and present another food justice program as the featured speaker for OKT’s November Women of Color Cook Eat & Talk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Why Food Belongs in Our Discussions of Race

OKT hosts the last session of its 2015 Food Justice series Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon at Garfield Park Lodge, 334 Burton St. SE. We will discuss how we each can work for food justice here in Grand Rapids. Stop on by!


Reposted from Civil Eats By Kristin Wartman on September 3, 2015

shutterstock_269949626-680x454

While the Black Lives Matters movement works to stop police violence, another less-visible form of structural violence is taking place all across America.

In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, the Baltimore uprising after the death of Freddie Gray, and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, much has been written about the nature of poverty and violence in American cities. But one aspect that is chronically underreported is the lack of access to healthy foods in many of those same communities. Indeed, the reliance on a highly processed food supply is causing disease, suffering, and eventual death, especially to those in the poorest of neighborhoods.

 

report released this June by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that one in four Baltimore residents lives in an under-resourced area or “food desert” (a term that some food activists reject). This is not unusual or unique to Baltimore, but is the standard in urban centers throughout the country. Only eight percent of Black Americans live in a community with one or more grocery stores, compared to 31 percent of white Americans.

And while food is by no means at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement, it could emerge as an important corollary issue in the months and years to come.

“The fact is, I can’t get an organic apple for 10 miles,” said Ron Finley, known as the “gangsta gardener,” who lives in South Central, Los Angeles. “Why is it like that? Why don’t certain companies do business in these so-called communities? ‘Oh there’s no money,’ they say—there’s money. If there’s no money than why are there drugstores here? Why are the dialysis centers here? Why are there fast food restaurants? What there is, is disregard for these places.”

The disregard that Finley speaks of has vast implications for the health of people living in areas with little access to healthy, whole foods. Meaning that a significant threat to Black lives comes from our food supply itself—from the glut of fast food and other highly processed food options and the virtually unregulated chemical additives that lace these foods.

The rates of diet-related disease break down dramatically along racial lines. African Americans get sick at younger ages, have more severe illnesses, and die sooner than white Americans. The American Journal of Public Health found that Blacks scored almost 50 percent higher than whites on a measurement called Allostatic Load, the 10 biomarkers of aging and stress. While there are clearly multiple factors at work, diet plays a significant role in these findings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of obesity for African Americans is 51 percent higher than for white Americans and one in two African Americans born in the year 2000 is expected to develop type 2 diabetes. Compared with white adults, the risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among blacks. The rates of death from heart disease and stroke are almost twice as high among African Americans.

Just as our economy has become starkly stratified with wealth concentrated at the top, it is increasing clear that we live in a two-tiered food system in which the wealthy tend to eat well and are rewarded with better health, while the poor tend to eat low-quality diets, causing their health to suffer. A report released last year by the Harvard School of Public Health found that while diet quality improved among people of high socioeconomic status, it deteriorated among those at the other end of the spectrum, and the gap doubled between 2000 and 2010. African Americans experience the highest rate of poverty in the U.S.—25.8 percent, compared to 11.6 percent of whites. And 45.8 percent of young Black children live in poverty compared with 14.5 percent of white children.

Dr. Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, Sr., President of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association in Baltimore said he sees this in his community. “Stop allowing there to be two Baltimores,” he wrote in an email. “Have the Health Department and our elected officials place more funding and more emphasis on poorer, neglected, communities….”

The solution to food inequality has traditionally been framed as a problem of access and education: Bring healthy foods into under-served communities and educate those living there on healthy eating, the argument goes. But just as getting oneself out of poverty is far more complicated than working hard and getting an education, maintaining a healthy body by “choosing” to eat well is far more complex than making simple decisions about what to eat in our current food landscape.

In both cases, the ideology of “personal responsibility” is invoked, which fails to address deeper, structural issues like the myriad causes and effects of poverty. As author and University of California Santa Cruz professor Julie Guthman puts it, “Built environments reflect social relations and political dynamics…more than it creates them.”

When we frame the problem in terms of simplistic solutions, like “better access to fruits and vegetables” or “education about healthy eating” the underlying structures remain and the food, agricultural, and chemical industries are not impacted at all. As Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writes in his new book Between The World And Me, “The purpose of the language of … ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration.”

I asked Karen Washington, a food activist and farmer at Rise & Root Farm in the Bronx, what she thought about creating better access in “food deserts.” “Bringing a grocery store into food insecure neighborhoods is not the answer,” she wrote in a recent email. “What needs to be addressed is the cause of food insecurity; the reason for hunger and poverty. Do you really think that bringing a supermarket into an impoverished neighborhood, where people have no jobs and no hope is the solution? Heck no!”

According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor report, the rate of Black unemployment is more than double the rate of white unemployment—9.1 and 4.2 percent, respectively. Workers wages have been stagnant across the board for the past decade but for black workers, wages have fallen by twice as much as they have for whites in the past five years.

Washington says that the bottom line is that people need jobs. “No one talks about job creation, business enterprises, or entrepreneurships in low-income communities,” she said. “We have to start owning our own businesses, like farmers’ markets, food hubs, and food cooperatives. When you own something it gives you power.”

Finley wants to see more people growing food for themselves and their neighbors. He says the focus is too often merely about bringing food into communities. “People don’t have any skin in the game. I want people to have some kind of hand in their food. I don’t care how rich you are, if you don’t have a hand in your food, you’re enslaved,” he said.

Of course, it’s critical to point out that for many people of color, the danger of immediate bodily harm is far more pressing than concerns about long-term health effects. As Washington sees it, it doesn’t make sense to apply the Black Lives Matter Movement directly to food. “The only correlation is that people are tired of the injustices that plague their communities each and every day and are starting to take action and matters into their own hands,” she said.

But it’s also clear that the Black Lives Matter movement is expanding. “We are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state,” reads the group’s website.

It’s crucial to bring issues around food and health into dialogue with discussions of structural racism, poverty, and violence in this country. “What are they feeding us if we have more diseases than we’ve ever had before in certain communities?” asks Finley. “You have asthma, hypertension, diabetes, obesity—and all of this stuff is food-related.”

Finley says this makes for an obvious connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. “We’re under siege and a lot of these communities are being occupied and terrorized—by food companies,” he said.

 

Campaign seeks to “Just change how you feel about food assistance.”

JFD logo $2Just imagine a just food system.

.With government food assistance comes social stigma. However, each year, the current Farm Bill gives $956 billion of taxpayer money (your money) to big agribusiness that destroy the environment, exploit workers and are at the root of our public health crisis.Meanwhile, it cut $8.6 billion from food assistance programs.

OKT’s Just Food Dollars Campaign seeks to:
1) Educate how  tax dollars are used to support an unjust and unhealthy food system.
2) Challenge the public to view government food assistance programs as beneficial and
warranting increased funding.
3) Illustrate that food assistance programs give public money back to the public.
4) Invite more people to sign up for any and all food assistance programs, especially Double Up Food Bucks.
5) Encourage people to support the local food system by patronizing the South East Area Farmers
Market, participating in OKT’s Food Growing Program and attending workshops and food sharing opportunities so that we can build a movement that creates food justice.

For more information, download our new handout, “Just Food Dollars.”