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Occupy The Food System

Farmers have been through this before–our lives and livelihoods falling under corporate control. It has been an ongoing process: consolidation of markets; consolidation of seed companies; an ever-widening gap between our costs of production and the prices we receive. Some of us are catching on, getting the picture of the real enemy.

The “99 percent” are awakening to the realization that their lives have fallen under corporate control as well. Add up the jobs lost, the health benefits whittled away, and the unions busted, and the bill for Wall Street’s self-centered greed is taking a toll. Read more

Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement in New York: From the UN to Zuccotti Park

“Occupy, Resist, and Grow!” I found myself shouting into the human microphone at Occupy Wall Street just the other Sunday. I was translating for Janaina Stronzake, a member of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement–one of the most prominent peasant agriculture movements in the fight for food sovereignty. The crowd repeated, looking to Janaina and then to the depiction of Brazil on her organization’s flag, connecting the dots from there to Wall Street.

The Landless Workers Movement, or Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), is a social movement based on the right to land and human dignity. Founded in 1985, the movement seeks to connect landless rural families with land not in production. The ultimate goal is agrarian reform: Brazil has alarmingly high levels of land concentration, and a simultaneous abundance of latifúndios–large land holdings–sitting unused, almost forgotten. On paper, the Brazilian government is opposed to the hoarding of potentially productive land, and reserves the right to expropriate land deemed not to be fulfilling its “social function”: creating food and livelihoods for the country’s people. But in practice, the status quo is strong. The MST was founded as a call to action. Read more

Un-Occupy Big Banks: Move Your Money on Saturday, November 5

Last weekend, I joined more than 30 people who braved blizzard-like conditions to assemble in a square across from Occupy Wall Street’s encampment at Zucotti Park to speak up about connections between big food and the Occupy movement. There was a food activist from Iowa, a farmer from upstate New York, students and professors from NYU, a union electrician, a nutritionist (who said she was there because “if the food system isn’t working, I can’t do my job”) and more.

Many carried plastic-covered signs with slogans like “Beat the System” and, my favorite, a line from Tom Philpott’s excellent article: “Our Food System is a Big Fat Monopoly.” As the rally ended—cut short by 30-degree temperatures, blinding snow, and 30-mile-an-hour wind gusts—I shared my commitment to do one, easy thing this week in support of the 99 percent: To move my money out of the hands of Citibank.

This week, tens of thousands of people are pledging to move their money out of the pockets of the financial institutions that got us into this mess and into the hands of credit unions and banks we can believe in. Read more

Kitchen Table Talks: A Food Activist’s Guide to Growing the Movement

While the expression “vote with your fork” has become a slogan for the modern food movement, many advocates struggle with how to move from conscientious consumerism to engaged citizenship. Harnessing the groundswell of public interest in food to create lasting policy change was the subject of a recent San Francisco Kitchen Table Talks, a monthly conversation about food issues. Read more

Why the Food Movement Should Occupy Wall Street

I went to the Occupy Wall Street march last week, as part of the NYC food justice delegation. We carried baskets of farmers’ market vegetables and signs reading “Stop Gambling on Hunger” and “Food Not Bonds.” Food justice advocates came out from around the city—urban farmers, gardeners, youth, professors, union members, and community organizers. The vegetables attracted a lot of attention. Food so often attracts a lot of attention—the New York Times is just one of the outlets to focus in recent days on the makeshift kitchen at Zuccotti Park. What was more surprising were all of the puzzled looks we got from the bloggers, photographers, and other marchers who wanted to talk to us. “What’s the connection here with food?” we were asked many times. Read more

Occupy Wall Street and the Food Movement

If you are paying attention to Occupy Wall Street—and by now most people are—the anti-corporate message is coming through loud and clear. Most participants at the events now spreading across the country say they are no longer willing to let powerful corporate interests determine the course of their lives. These Americans realize that a participatory democracy is essential.

As it stands today, 75 percent of the population are obese or overweight and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases. They are also largely dependent on an increasingly unhealthful and contaminated food supply that is heavily controlled by corporate interests. It’s obvious that this is our moment to drive a very important point home: Upending corporate control of the food supply is a fundamental change that must occur if the “99 percent” are to be healthy participants in a true democracy.

This could be a catalyzing moment for the food movement with a real chance for average Americans to see and hear the connection between corporate control of the food supply and our nation’s health crisis. Indeed, the declaration of Occupy Wall Street (available on its Facebook page), addresses issues the food movement has been working on for years. The declaration states, “They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.” Read more