Who Benefits When Walmart Funds the Food Movement?

Last month’s impressive Black Friday protests at a reported 1,000 Walmart stores highlight the growing movement against the company’s low wage culture. As the nation’s largest private employer, Walmart has done more than any other company to reinforce income inequality. With an average wage of $8.81 per hour, Walmart keeps its labor expenses low by encouraging its employees to rely on charity and sign up for federal benefits such as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance (SNAP).

The corporation’s impacts on the food system are no less troublesome. It has been at the center of the nation’s cheap food structure, forcing a globalization and industrialization that is grounded in a race to the bottom for labor and environmental standards. It has driven out of business an untold number of small food retailers, which were once the heart and soul of community food systems across rural America. Read more

The Anti Hunger-Industrial Complex

What do fast food worker strikes and a DC living wage ordinance have in common with Hunger Action Month? Unfortunately, not enough. A wave of one-day strikes against fast food restaurants is rolling across the country. On August 29, thousands of workers in more than 50 cities protested their low wages, demanding a raise to $15/hour. In Washington, Mayor Vincent Gray has on his desk the Large Retailer Accountability Act that would raise minimum wage for employees of new Walmart stores to $12.50/hour, up from current average of $8.81 nationally. Walmart has threatened to halt construction on three new stores in the nation’s capital if he signs the bill. Read more

Freedom 90: The Rebellion of the Canadian Church Ladies

What if the little old ladies who run the neighborhood church food pantry rebelled? What if they said “we’re 70 years old, we’ve been feeding people for 20 years, and hell if we want to do it for another 20?” What if they demanded that the government reduce the incidence of poverty so that food pantries don’t need to exist in the first place? Read more

Who’s Minding the Movement?

The past year or so has brought some dramatic changes to key organizations in the community food arena. Organizations like the Community Food Security Coalition, Food Alliance, Organic Farming Research Foundation, and Slow Food have gone through either challenging leadership transitions, substantially downsized, and/or closed down. The leadership vacuum left in part by these unfortunate occurrences is compounded by the breakneck growth of the field, as new food-oriented organizations emerge  and existing groups discover how food systems work can help them meet their goals. Read more

Fighting Hunger or Causing Hunger: A Mid-term Look at Wal-Mart’s $2 billion Commitment

On May 12, 2010, in the U.S. Capitol, Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro Wright made a stunning announcement. His company would donate $2 billion in food and cash over a five-year period to “fight hunger in America.” Key Congress members and anti-hunger organization executives gushed on stage about Wal-Mart’s leadership in this arena.

Fast forward two and a half years. We’re half-way through the time period of this commitment. How has Wal-Mart done on their pledge? Read more

Portlandia Redux: Hen Retirement

I really did not want to be a cliché from Portlandia. But, sometimes, marital harmony gets in the way of stereotype avoidance.

For the past two and a half years, we’ve been owners of Harry, Ron and Hermione, the Hogwarts hens. (We joked that if we ever got a rooster, we’d name him Voldemort). The three lovely ladies, a Rhode Island Red, a silver laced Wyandotte, and a barred Plymouth, have resided in a run in our postage stamp backyard, swilling organic feed and whatever leftovers we remembered to give them. In return, they dutifully laid two to three eggs per day even in our dreary winters, and provided wonderful fertilizer for our compost pile.

Earlier this summer, Harry (the Rhode Island Red) and Hermione (the beautiful but fussy Wyandotte) stopped laying. That left Ron soldiering on. Unfortunately, one egg per day was not enough to feed my growing boys’ scrambled egg habit: a half dozen for lunch, between the two, is not unheard of. “What’s the point of having chickens if we’re paying for eggs,’ I mumbled to myself while pondering whether organic eggs were worth the extra $2/dozen over the cage free vegetarian-fed ones. Read more

Growing Power Takes Massive Contribution from Wal-Mart: A Perspective on Money and the Movement

Everyone hates fundraising. I am one of those rare souls who actually likes it, but I know how time-consuming, disheartening, and frustrating it can be. Having been the main fundraiser for the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) for 14 years, I am intimately familiar with the realities of non-profit fundraising. So, the recent news that Growing Power was accepting a million dollar donation from Wal-Mart was not so surprising. A million clams is, as they say in D.C., “real money.”

All organizations have to make decisions about from whom they are willing to take money and under what terms. Some groups will take money from any corporation that gives it to them, believing that they can do better things with the money than the company can. Other organizations are more selective, only taking money from those aligned with their mission. Yet Growing Power’s acceptance of this contribution and CEO Will Allen’s statement on his blog present some crucial dilemmas for the movement. Read more

The Art of Planning a Food Security Conference

Last week, Haven Bourque published an article here on Civil Eats about the contradictions she found at the recent Community Food Security Coalition conference in New Orleans. While she found the conference to be very informative and a great networking opportunity, she also noted that the presence of junk food at snack times and Sodexo’s sponsorship appeared to be contradictory to CFSC’s values.

As the Executive Director of CFSC, and the responsible party for some 20 conferences over the past 13 years, I was keenly interested in her comments. Read more

Banning Soda for Food Stamps’ Recipients Raises Tough Questions

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he had asked the US Department of Agriculture to allow the city to exempt soda from the permitted list of items its 1.7 million food stamp recipients can purchase with their benefits. This ban would last for two years, enough time to assess its effects and determine whether the ban should be continued on a permanent basis. New York City food stamp recipients spend an estimated $75 million to $135 million of their $2.7 billion in food stamps annually on soda, according to AP.   Read more