by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-movement

Oct 18 2019

Weekend reading: New York City food activists

This book was especially interesting to me because I know some of the players and reading it told me a lot about their backgrounds and accomplishments.  It deals with several New York City-based organizations, among them United Bronx Parents, the Park Slope Food Coop, God’s Love We Deliver, and, most prominently, the Community Food Resource Center.

Lana Dee Povitz.  Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice.  University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 

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I wrote a blurb for this one.

Stirrings uses the political history of food advocacy organizations in New York City to explain why such groups focus almost exclusively on feeding hungry people rather than on addressing the root cause of that hunger–poverty.  The lessons taught by this history make this book essential reading for anyone interested in ending hunger in America.

And here is a brief paragraph from the Introduction (p. 7):

Aside from its material value as a commodity essential to human life, food acts as a lens through which we can understand dominant social values.  How and by whom food is produced, which foods are government-subsidized, who is deemed eligible for food assistance, who becomes the gatekeepers for providing that food—such arrangements speak volumes about who and what is prioritized, especially by those with decision-making power.  By extension, the history of food activism is important because it tracks how these priorities might be rearranged, how people can work to challenge or temporarily overturn established hierarchies, especially of class and race.  Just as often, the history of food activism sheds light on how inequalities and hierarchies are preserved, defended, and even extended.

Oct 15 2019

World Obesity: Three More Reports

Friday October 11 was World Obesity Day, which explains why so many groups are issuing reports on obesity prevalence, risks, costs, and prevention strategies.

I wrote about the one from the Trust for America’s Health, The State of Obesity, a few weeks ago.

Here are three more, just in.

1.  The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention.

This one was produced by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).  It finds: “Almost one in four people in OECD countries is currently obese. This epidemic has far-reaching consequences for individuals, society and the economy. Using microsimulation modelling, this book analyses the burden of obesity and overweight in 52 countries (including OECD, European Union and G20 countries), showing how overweight reduces life expectancy, increases healthcare costs, decreases workers’ productivity and lowers GDP.”

2.  Time to Solve Childhood Obesity   This is “An Independent Report by the Chief Medical Officer, 2019, Professor Dame Sally Davies in the U.K.  The cover deals with both cause and effect:

3.  State of Childhood Obesity: Helping All Children Grow Up Healthy.  The Robert Wood Johnson produced this one.

Its key findings:

  • Obesity rates for youth ages 10 to 17 did not change much from 2016 (15%-16%).
  • Racial and ethnic disparities persist as do disparities by income.
  • Mississippi had the highest overall youth obesity rate (25.4%); Utah had the lowest (8.7%).

Comment:  Obesity is a global problem, not just one for the U.S.  Plenty of policies exist that could help make healthier food choices easier and less expensive.  But as the Lancet Global Syndemic report so clearly explained, doing something about obesity is hampered by weak (corporate-captured) government, food industry opposition, and weak civil society.  The first two are difficult to do anything about without attention to the third.  The clear need: strengthen civil society.  Let’s get to work on that.

Apr 30 2019

Coalitions!

Early in March, I put out a call for information about agriculture, food, or nutrition coalitions working toward improving the food system in one way or another.

I did this because I think that if the thousands of organizations working on food issues are to gain real political power, they will need to unite around common goals.  Coalitions are a good way to begin.

So many responses came in that I recruited an NYU undergraduate student, Jennie Dockser, to put them in some kind of order, collect missing information, and try to make sense of them.

I did some editing of what she gave me, but here is a list of the coalitions I now know about.  Take a look.

Perhaps your organization can join?

Sep 14 2018

Weekend reading: Food Justice Now!

Johsua Sbicca.  Food Justice Now!  Deepening the Roots of Social Struggle.  University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

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This book is about how to turn the “eat-better” food movement into a movement for social justice.  It directly addresses the complaint that the food movement has no real power.

Sbicca, a sociologist at Colorado State, bases his analysis on three case studies of food justice activism focused on creating reasonably paid work for former prisoners and low-wage workers, many of them of color or immigrants.

He tells the stories of three programs, Planting Justice in Oakland, California; the San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project; and programs run by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770.

In writing this book, he investigates

the tensions between maintaining an “us” in the food movement and a “them” needed to keep the food system running.  This informs the prospects of a food politics that is capable of overcoming ethnoracial and citizenship boundaries…The ethnoracial and class makeup of food workers pushes labor organizers to challenge the race-to-the-bottom practices of food corporations.

He ends the book by calling for what is needed to create true food justice: land, labor, community development, health, self-determination, and environmental sustainability—exactly what is called for in food system reform.

This is an academic book but well worth reading for anyone who cares about building a movement with power to change food systems.

 

Jul 6 2018

Weekend Reading: Food Citizenship (I’m in it)

Ray Goldberg.  Food Citizenship: Food System Advocates in an Era of Distrust. Oxford University Press, 2018.

As should be obvious from this cover, I have a special interest in this book.  For more than 20 years, I’ve been attending an annual meeting of food industry executives, entrepreneurs, and a sprinkling of advocates, government officials, and academics brought together by its author, Ray Goldberg, to try to encourage mutual understanding if not agreement.

When the meeting started, Ray was an agribusiness professor at the Harvard Business School.  After his retirement, the meeting moved to the Kennedy School of Government.  It still continues.

This book consists of Ray’s interviews with dozens of people who have attended this meeting over the years.  Ray interviewed people with an enormous range of involvement in food as well as of opinion about what should be done to improve food systems.

If truth be told, I always felt like a spectator at this meeting, and I am enormously surprised and honored to see that my interview comes first in the book, and that Ray mentions it in his introduction and conclusion.

I think the book is worth reading.  Or, as it happens, watching.

Oxford has posted the videotaped interviews online.  Here’s mine.

Oct 13 2017

Weekend reading: Politics of the Pantry

Emily E. LB. Twarog.  Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America.  Oxford University Press, 2017.

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I did a blurb for this book:

Who knew that American housewives were up in arms throughout the last century about rising food prices and misleading package information.  Twarog traces the history of how these movements developed, their connections to unions and women’s auxiliaries, and how twentieth-century politics systematically destroyed them.  Her book has much to teach us about what’s needed to preserve—and strengthen–today’s food movements.

May 29 2017

Today is this blog’s tenth anniversary!

I can hardly believe that I have been writing this blog for ten yers, but this is indeed the tenth anniversary of its official beginning.  I will be writing about the blog this week, reflecting on its origins and why I keep doing it.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, have a thoughtful and generous Memorial Day! 

Mar 10 2017

Edible Communities: Happy 15th Anniversary!

I was invited to write a short piece for Edible Communities reflecting on the 15-year anniversary of these publications, which began with Edible Ojai and now include 90 Edible Magazines throughout the country.

They titled it: Where to From Here? The Local Food Movement 15 Years Later

The editor writes:

Edible Communities began in 2002 with the launch of Edible Ojai, a magazine that chronicled the rising interest in farm-to-table/local, organic and natural foods. Since that time, the organization started by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian has grown into a revolutionary, award-winning media network that encompasses over 90 independently-owned and operated magazines and websites across the United States and Canada. In 2011, Edible Communities was recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as “the voice of the local food movement.”

As the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary, Marion Nestle looks back at how the local food movement has changed the way we eat and how the world (especially the U.S. and Canada) can best ensure—via political action and other means—a healthy and sustainable food supply in the years to come.

And here’s what I wrote:

Can it really be 15 years since Edible Ojai kick-started the Edible Communities contribution to the local food movement? Edible Communities has played such a vital role in the stunning changes that have taken place in the North American food world since the mid 1990s. At a time when global politics seems ever more intimidating and irrational, local food movements shine as beacons of empowerment and hope. By making food choices that support regional farmers and producers, we vote with our forks for healthier and more sustainable lives for ourselves, our children, our communities, and our planet.

I use the word “vote” advisedly. Choosing local food is an outright act of politics.

I am a college professor and I hear all the time from students about how much they want to find work that will give meaning to their lives and help change the world, but how pessimistic they feel about whether this is possible in today’s political environment. They see what needs to be done, but don’t know how or where to begin.

Begin with food, I tell them.

They are too young to realize how much the food movement already has accomplished: a lot. The food system has changed so much for the better since Edible Communities began its journey.

Here is my personal measure of its progress. In 1996, my New York University colleagues and I created undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in Food Studies. Everyone thought we were out of our minds: Why would anyone want to study about food? But we got lucky. The New York Times wrote about our programs the week after they were approved. That very afternoon, we had students in our offices waving the clipping and telling us that they had waited all their lives for these programs. Now, just about every college I visit offers some version of a Food Studies program or food courses in fields as diverse as English, history, art and biology.  Students see how food is an entry point into the most pressing problems in today’s society: health, climate change, immigration, the –isms (sex, gender, race, age), and inequities in education, income, and power.

Some gains of local food movements are easier to measure than others. One of my favorites: The New Oxford American Dictionary added “locavore” as its word of the year in 2007.

The easiest to measure are those counted by the USDA, starting with farmers’ markets. In 1994, there were 1,755; by 2016, there were 8,669. The USDA is mainly devoted to promoting industrial agriculture but has had to pay attention (if a bit grudgingly) to the growth of local and regional food systems. It reports that about 8 percent of U.S. farms market foods on the local level, mostly directly to consumers through farmers’ markets and  harvest subscription (CSA) arrangements. It estimates local food sales at more than $6 billion a year. This is a tiny fraction of U.S. food sales, but growing all the time.

More signs of progress: Since 2007, regional food hubs, which the USDA defines as collaborative enterprises for moving local foods into larger mainstream markets, have tripled in number. The USDA finds four times as many school districts with farm-to-school programs as it did a decade ago. It even notes the number of farms selling directly to retail stores or restaurants. As for what seems obvious to me—the increasing value of local food to local economies—the USDA remains hesitant (hence: grudging). It admits that “local economic benefits may accrue from greater local retention of the spent food dollar” but is withholding judgment pending further research.

The USDA partners with other federal agencies in a Local Foods, Local Places program aimed at revitalizing communities through the development of local food systems. These not only involve farmers’ markets, but also cooperative groceries, central kitchens, business incubators, bike paths and sidewalks, and school and community gardens. This program may be minuscule in federal terms, but that it exists at all is testimony to how effectively local food movements have encouraged the development of home, school, community and urban gardens. The Edible Communities publications have both chronicled and championed all these changes.

One more measurable change: the increasing sales of organics. Organic production, of course, is not necessarily local but it is very much part of the food movement.  Its growth is remarkable—from about $15 billion in sales in 2006 to nearly $40 billion in 2015. As the Organic Trade Association puts it, “Consumer demand for organic has grown by double-digits nearly every year since the 1990s.” This has happened so quickly that the demand now exceeds the supply.

My last example: In the summer, even New York City supermarket chains proudly display locally grown foods, usually defined as coming from within New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, but still a lot closer than California or Latin America, where much of the city’s food usually comes from.

But the USDA has no idea how to measure the other critical accomplishments of the food movement. It is hard to put a number on the personal and societal values associated with knowing where food comes from and how it is produced.

Some months ago in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan complained that the food movement is barely a political force in Washington, DC, despite its having created “purchase by purchase, a $50 billion alternative food economy, comprising organic food, local food and artisanal food.” “Call it Little Food,” he said, pointing out that “while it is still tiny in comparison with Big Food, it is nevertheless the fastest-growing sector of the food economy.”

His concern was the need to consolidate these gains, join forces and exert power at the national level. Even in today’s political climate, this can—and must—be done. I’ve seen local food movements in the United States evolve over the years to increasingly converge with movements for organics, and also with those for better access to food and for health, food justice, environmental justice, food sovereignty, living wages and gender, racial and economic equity. We need to keep doing this, now more than ever.

The congressional Freedom Caucus is doing all it can to revoke a long list of federal regulations, many of which deal with food. Its members want to do away with healthier school meals, the National Organic Program, food labels, menu labels and a host of food safety regulations. We need to do more than vote with forks to protect the gains of the last few years. We need to “vote with votes.” This means doing basic politics. The most important strategy by far is to write, call and meet with our own congressional representatives or their staff. If one person does this, they might not notice. But if several do, they pay attention. If many do, they pay more attention. Get friends to help.

We often hear it said that “all politics is local.” Local food movements prove that point. So much can be done at the local level to strengthen food systems and encourage community action. Real social change starts locally, and builds from there. That’s why Edible Communities matters so much. They are a force for strengthening local food movements, supporting community development and taking political action for a healthier and more sustainable future. May they flourish!