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
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
Food and politics often come together in peculiar ways. It’s not that their coming together at all is unusual – far from it. Civilization and politics are both a direct result of agriculture. But these days food’s impact on political discourse can lead to some odd sights, such as free pizza being delivered to protesters in Madison, paid for by sympathetic activists in Egypt. Read more
Farmers in India grow more than 4,000 varieties of eggplant, making it one of South Asia’s most important staple vegetables. According to the BBC, Indian farmers produce more eggplant than anywhere in the world.
Late last year, the government-controlled Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the commercial cultivation of a genetically modified variety of eggplant, called Bt brinjal, that was engineered to be resistant to some of the pests that plague eggplant crops. Bt brinjal would have been the first ever GM crop approved for widespread human consumption (small amounts of GM papayas are grown in Hawaii).
But farmers and activists across India registered their disapproval and, due to the widespread opposition, Environment Minister Jairam Remesh put the cultivation of Bt brinjal on hold indefinitely. Read more
As a political observer following the shift occurring in our understanding about agriculture, I can’t help but be reminded that change does not come peacefully. In fact, as Michael Pollan prepares to speak tonight to a concert arena filled with hungry minds in Wisconsin — after his book, In Defense of Food, was chosen as the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Go Big Read” common reading for the university — a group called In Defense of Farmers has urged farmers to protest him by wearing green. Read more
Today President-elect Obama announced that former Iowa governer Tom Vilsack, who has a history of dealings in favor of agri-business, will be his Secretary of Agriculture. This is a disappointment for many grassroots organizers and food policy activists, who had hope that the President-elect and his team would take a leaf from the petition, signed by over 55,000 individuals, which suggested sustainable and qualified choices for the position and represented a true change for the way the government views food production in our nation. It is clear that while our new president will bring much needed change to how we do business in other realms in Washington, that food has not yet become a part of that equation. Read more