Reclaiming our food sovereignty

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With this blog, I have explored the myriad variables that influence how and what we place on our tables. Food is a key part of our day, our lives, and our connection with each other and the planet. We cannot afford to sacrifice quality, natural products for corporate gain and convenience. Processed and fast foods are much more expensive than the “everyday low price” that they claim. We are spending countless dollars to treat our malnourished bodies and land.

Communities have the power to create their own food sovereignty. Local food production liberates people from the tight grip of addicting processed foods. We are all capable of growing food, of taking control of our diets, and demanding fresh and delicious fruits and vegetables.

Nutritious food is a right and it should not have to be expensive or special. We rely on the federal government to supply the nutritional assistance programs but it is up to cities and communities to produce properly diverse and beneficial food supplies.

When we grow in cities and support small and mid-size farmers, we are supporting the future of food. These are the farmers will grow crops over than corn, soybean, and wheat. They will care about the impact on the land and about their consumers.

Local food systems address the needs of a community and provide the nutritious food necessary to lead a productive life. When residents get involved and collaborate, amazing new innovations occur. We create more safe, fun, and green places that empower populations to control their own fate. Food is revolutionary by nature. The more we come together with resources and ideas, the more power we will have over our food choices.

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What are Community Food Systems?

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In the previous post, I discussed the conflict between industrial agribusiness and healthy food accessibility in our nation. However, this issue has not gone unnoticed by communities. Many regions, cities, and towns across the U.S. are beginning to create community food systems through the work of a group of dedicated individuals. These systems enhance the sovereignty of the communities’ food. Food sovereignty is the right for people and communities to define their own agricultural and food policies that are self-reliant, equitable, safe, sustainable, and appropriate (Grassroots International). Food policy councils are rising as a solution to empower local food production and distribution in order to improve economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and equitable access to fresh food (Garrett & Feenstra). 

         These councils and coalitions are facilitators and catalysts for food system reform. Typically they aim to create support for family farms, enhance marketing and processing of local food, help create new food businesses and jobs, and improve working conditions for food and agriculture workers (Garrett & Feenstra). They typically have a connection with local government and work within existing frameworks of organizations and businesses (Shiff, 2008).

Food policy councils coordinate, network, and implement goals and projects (Shiff, 2008). Therefore, they must strive to be as diverse as possible to enhance political capital and the capacity to move forward (Shiff, 2008). Councils should elected leaders, agency representatives, public health workers, food retailers, farmers, food retailers, anti-hunger advocates, community members, and any other people that are invested in the issues (Garrett & Feenstra). The more diverse the group, the more effective they will be to leverage resources, spread the work, find funding, and work along with community voices and opinions (Garrett & Feenstra).

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Figure 1 (Garrett & Feenstra).

Another important component is the community food assessment. Food policy councils should fully understand the condition of their food system before developing goals and policies. Food policy councils should identify existing resources, leadership opportunities, community needs, market openings, and deprivations. For example, the Portland Food Policy Council partnered with Community Food Matters in order to assess the “barriers and opportunities to the use of regional and sustainable food products” (Pierson). This way, the council can target the most important needs first and place them in a better position to evaluate their projects and goals (Garrett & Feenstra). Portland created a number of informed objectives that could increase purchases of local and sustainable foods in the area (Pierson).

The work of community food systems and policies is crucial to combat corporate power and political clout. Communities can create their own solutions to improve the wellbeing of members and give a voice to consumers and farmers. They are incredibly important to build market opportunities for fresh, local food and create jobs and economic empowerment for all. In my next posts I will provide more examples of these systems in action.

 

“Food Sovereignty”. Grassroots International. Retrieved from: http://www.grassrootsonline.org/issues/food-sovereignty

Garrett, S. & Feenstra, G. Growing a Community Food System. Partnerships in Education and Research. Retrieved from: http://smallfarms.wsu.edu/wsu-pdfs/WREP0135.pdf

Pierson, T. Barriers and Opportunities to the Use of Regional and Sustainable Food Products by Local Institutions. Community Food Matters. Retrieved from: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/116839

Shiff, R. (2008). The Role of Food Policy Councils in Developing Sustainable Food Systems. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 3, 206-228. doi: 10.1080/19320240802244017

 

What are the impacts on public health?

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The food industry has a fundamental influence on the American food diet and culture. Processed foods with high quantities of high fructose corn syrup, salt, hydrogenated oils and fat are ubiquitous. Fast food and pre-prepared foods are high in energy but have very little nutritional value (Neff, Palmer, McKenzie, & Lawrence, 2009). These images have become the norm:

We are all fully aware that chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes are a serious threat to the public health of the United States. Since 1980, the number of obese adults has more than doubled and the number of obese children is now four times what it was thirty years ago (Ikerd, 2010). These rates are not a result of poor self-control or refusal to diet, they stem from the food system.

The biotechnology giant, Monsanto, exhibits this widespread impact. Monsanto’s website labels them as a “sustainable agriculture” company and that their aim is to improve food security around the world. This seems like an admirable goal. In America, 11.1% of people are food insecure and 4.1% have “very low food security” (Neff et al., 2009).

However, Monsanto’s website says, “Our goal is to double yields of corn, soybeans, cotton, and spring-planted canola between 2000 and 2030.” They expect this will also reduce hunger around the world. However, their business is intrinsically benefits industrial agriculture and the imbalance in food production towards unhealthy foods. Clearly they would rather sustain the unsustainable monoculture that already threatens our land and livelihood. Although the claims that genetically engineered food cause serious health issues (such as allergies and cancer) are troubling, the larger issue is the hidden cost of high incentives for commodity crops and extreme barriers for the production, manufacturing, and marketing of healthier, fresh food.

The lack of healthy food options disproportionally affects populations of low-income, ethnic minority, lower education attainment, inner city and rural communities (Neff et al., 2009). African Americans and Latinos suffer from higher rates of heart disease and diabetes and have almost double the national average of food insecurity. The lack of incentives for fresh food is most detrimental to these vulnerable populations.

Affordable and local fruits and vegetables are becoming a rarity due to lack of proper distribution infrastructure, higher production costs, and lack of governmental support (Neff et al., 2009). Fruits and vegetables are not standardized like corn, soy, and wheat, they perishable and need to be sold fresh. This simply does not fit into to our national model of mega-agriculture. Fresh food is less profitable and more susceptible to development; 91% of fruits and 78% of vegetables are produced in urban-influenced areas, where land can be sold to build storefronts and suburbs (American Farmland Trust).

Healthy food disparity can only be fixed with regional empowerment to create systems to improve the distribution of fresh food. Putting a Walmart in a low-income community with limited food access is not the answer (Food & Water Watch). Large businesses consolidate to take money away from communities, farmers and workers in order to benefit the agribusiness sector (Food & Water Watch). On the other hand, small farms and regional fruits and vegetables keep income within a community. Cutting the distance food travels will cut the costs to communities, individuals, and the environment. This creates sustainable and healthy change for all Americans. In my next post, I will explore how this revolution has already begun in communities across the country.

 

 

Neff, R.A., Palmer, A.M., McKenzie, S.E., & Lawrence, R.S. (2009). Food Systems and Public Health Disparities. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition, 3, 169-185. doi: 10.1080/19320240802243241

(2012). Why Walmart Can’t Fix the Food System. Food & Water Watch. Retrieved from: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/why-walmart-cant-fix-the-food-system/

Ikerd, John. (2010). Corporate Food System: Consequences for Public Health. Small Farm Today Magazine. Retrieved from: http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/SFT-Corporate%20Food%20System%20(11-10).htm

What is Monsanto doing to help? Producing more. Retrieved from: http://www.monsanto.com/improvingagriculture/Pages/producing-more.aspx

What’s Happening to Our Farmland?. American Farmland Trust. Retrieved from: http://www.farmland.org/resources/fote/default.asp