Tag Archive | OKT Food Justice Series

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.

 

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OKT Food Justice Series: Water Justice

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

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OKT asks you to stand with the native peoples and water protectors at Standing Rock in opposition to  DAPL

As the media hype around the Flint Water Crisis wound down, the focus shifted to the safety of public drinking water throughout Michigan and lauding charities for collecting and distributing bottled water to Flint residents. A lot of effort is being put into band-aid approaches that do not solve the root cause of the problem. Meanwhile, Flint’s children continue to be poisoned every time they drink, bathe or brush their teeth with tap water.

Although a better alternative than drinking poisoned tap water, flooding the City of Flint with  bottled water causes other problems. For one, the city is now awash with millions of empty plastic bottles. For another, bottled water is a product. Charities and individuals are purchasing this product from corporations like Nestle, which takes water from Michigan’s ground water stores. According to a Feb. 2016 Democracy Now broadcast, “Nestlé, the largest water bottling company in the world, (is allowed) to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from aquifers that feed Lake Michigan … in Mecosta County, Nestlé is not required to pay anything to extract the water, besides a small permitting fee to the state and the cost of leases to a private landowner. In fact, the company received $13 million in tax breaks from the state to locate the plant in Michigan.”

(Since first publishing this document on Water Justice, Nestle is proposing to pump ad additional 210 million gallons of water a year from its Mecosta County site.)

While our state and city governments cannot find money to repair our failing water infrastructures, they can afford to give away millions, if not billions, of dollars to private corporations that have convinced us to buy bottled water. Many communities across the country and around the world have sold their municipal water works to private corporations – with disastrous results. In 2011, the City of Grand Rapids considered privatizing its water. Thankfully, Mayor Heartwell declined.

web_830x437_fact-publicwater-webAccording to Food and Water Watch, water privatization “undermines the human right to water … When private corporations buy or operate public water utilities – is often suggested as a solution to municipal budget problems and aging water systems. Unfortunately, this more often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service, job losses, and more.”

Food & Water Watch has documented these, among other, problems with
privatizing water:

  • Loss of Control. Local government officials abdicate control over a vital public resource.
  • Loss of public input. Citizens don’t vote in the corporate boardroom.
  • Loss of transparency. Private operators usually restrict public access to information.
  • The objectives of a profit-extracting water company can conflict with the public interest.
  • Cherry picking service areas. Private water companies are prone to cherry-picking service areas to avoid serving low-income communities.
  • Rate Increases. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.
  • Higher Operating Costs. Private operation is not more efficient and can increase the cost of financing a water project by 50 to 150 %.
  • Service Problems. This is the primary reason that local governments reverse the decision to privatize.
  • Jobs. Privatization typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.
  • Privatization can allow systems to deteriorate.

take-backIn its handouts, OKT often includes the words, “Healthy food is your family’s right.” We also proclaim, “Clean, harmless water is your family’s right.” Therefore, OKT asks you to join with us in demanding that the City of Grand Rapids, City of Wyoming and
Michigan municipalities:

  1. Ensure that our tap water is safe to drink and bathe in. This includes employing more reliable testing measures for lead content.
  2. Reconsider fluoridating our water supply as fluoride has been associated with health risks. Let people choose for themselves whether or not to
    ingest fluoride.
  3. Decline from considering privatizing our municipal water supplies.
  4. Call for the end of giving Michigan’s water away to Nestle and other bottled water corporations.
  5. Stop cutting off water service to households with delinquent water bills and cease from using liens from unpaid water bills as a means of seizing property from homeowners.

 

 

 

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).