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U.S. Food System: a recap post of almost everything I learned this year & announcement of new blog

This is the last installment of The Local Foodie Fight blog as we’ve known it. (Hah.) Sorry I up-n-disappeared for a while. It’s been harder than I thought post-grad and interning 40 hours a week and I had meant to post a “recap/this is what I learned/final summation” from this past semester but it took a while and so here it finally is. Nothing too revelatory or groundbreaking. If you have followed the blog at all over the past 4 months, nothing here should be new but I think it’s a helpful post to kind of tie everything together–well as much as that can possibly be done. After this post, this blog will become strictly a place for recipes and restaurant reviews.

Problems

The majority of the food production problems the United States and most of the world is experiencing with regard to sustainability is the result of the Green Revolution, which happened from around 1943 to 1970. This “Green Revolution” isn’t what you would initially think. It actually refers to a series of research, development, and technological initiatives that increased industrial agriculture in volume, largely replacing many small family-owned operations. The initiatives were essentially intended to do one thing: increase the amount of food calories that were produced in order to feed an increasingly larger population.

The initiatives that were pursued during this government-motivated movement involved the development of high-yielding grains and commodity foodstuffs (like heavily subsidized corn and soy), expansion of irrigation infrastructure (which led to issues of soil nutrient depletion, groundwater depletion and erosion), and use of genetically modified seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides (which would later prove detrimental to human health and specific ecosystems). Furthermore, this reliance on corn and soy translated into a dependence on more heavily processed food that utilizes ingredients like soybean oil and high-fructose corn syrup. I highly encourage you to conduct an experiment over the next day: look at the ingredient label of everything you eat. Unless you are allergic to soy (my roommate is, it’s a tough lifestyle), or you follow a macrobiotic or raw diet, I would bet at least 25-50% of the food you eat has at least one of these ingredients.

This cheap, fast, processed food has gone on to contribute to obesity, heart disease, cholesterol problems, and other health problems and also poses increased risks related to food borne-illness due to the high quantity of food being turned out and the cross-contamination that results, coupled with insufficient federal standards. This has also resulted in an agricultural economy that has power concentrated in just a few hands and pockets, namely giant corporations like Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and Monsanto, which weakens local economies and cultures across the globe and contributes to global warming through the carbon output of the transportation used to move this food such far distances. Furthermore, this has led to a growth in organic labeling but also has contributed to misleading marketing that has further confused consumers and created a divide between people and wholesome, nutritious food. This divide is a cultural side effect of our current food system that will take much work to fill.

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Additional challenges

There are several challenges this movement is currently facing.

It can’t be just ‘trickle down’ or ‘bottom-up.’ Too many authors and scientists are preaching about green development while sipping from McDonald’s cups and Dasani bottles. And too many urban gardeners don’t understand how government involvement affects what people are able to do in their personal lives and how to make behaviors more practical for people on tight budgets. Leaders of the movement need to be more united, informed, and responsible for their personal actions and the message those actions send to the public. Throughout my research and while speaking to experts, there has seemingly emerged two somewhat distinct “camps” of thinkers in the field of sustainable food system development: people who believe progress will come from the “top” (government regulations, subsidy revisions, legislation, corporate restructuring, breaking up monopolies, changing company practices) and those who believe progress is going to be motivated from the “bottom” (individuals, families and communities making changes in their personal lives). It is with optimism that I believe both sets of changes are happening and both will continue to happen until both collective needs and personal needs are met in a way that is equitable, as well as ecologically and economically beneficial. Not only will the possibilities made through political action trickle down to consumers, but consumer action and demand will rise up to influence those who possesses the political power and what decisions they are driven to make.

The Farm Bill requires intense overhauling. This is an issue many organizations are lobbying hard to change. The USDA needs to begin incentivizing biodiversity instead of monoculture commodity crops, to encourage farmers to grow more fruits and vegetables, and help end our obsession with high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods created using corn and soy surpluses. We should also move away from free trade agricultural policies, which encourage agribusinesses to buy crops from countries with poor environmental standards and labor conditions, and move more toward food sovereignty and local, domestic farmer support. These sorts of efforts would also pave the way for cafeterias at schools and other institutions to fund and provide infrastructure that would allow them to purchase food from regional food producers more often. Improving the food of young eaters would start a generation on the proper track toward health and wellness, instead of death and obesity as they currently are. Lobbying on Farm Bill work will largely fall on organizations, but those organizations need support from investors and foundations and feedback from individuals in order to their job, so ultimately we all have a role to play.

Environmentalists aren’t on the same page with each other, let alone with economists and financial experts. In just a few short months of following the different approaches to food production, I’ve heard too many varying opinions and stances on how to deal with our food system woes. For example, William McDonough asserts that our food security issues need not be battled with population control; Lester Brown sees population stabilization as the most important factor in regaining stability of our food system. Food sustainability advocates need to be on the same page in order to maintain credibility and convince skeptics. They also need to think like economists just as often as they think about making progress toward a greener world. My former professor, Terry Sankar, has invented a vertical wind axis turbine which is currently priced at about $30,000/each. His goal is to get that number down to about $10,000, because if you can make turbines cheaper, you get more people buying, you get more people on board with clean energy. You have to use economics in a way that benefits all involved, instead of in a way that produces one-sided profits. This is how we need to think. Create, invest and innovate in order to increase the feasibility of products, services, and projects that are better for the planet and humanity.

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Seeds of change and planting more

Throughout the past decade, a movement has started to slowly take shape. For example, while food industry monopolies have taken hold, in some areas, small farmers like Michael Heller, owner of Clagett Farm in Virginia, have worked toward converting previous corn fields into fruit, vegetable and livestock farms. Organizers have begun to educate community members on methods of urban agriculture, and we have a lot of development in this area. Innovations include: green rooftop farms, neighborhood gardens, hydroponic window farms for tiny apartments and compost bins within homes to produce richer, more nutritious soil while cutting down on the trash sent to landfills. These are small movements in the grand scheme of things, but they are seeds of change.

However, these efforts, while important, are isolated. They need to be more sophisticated and organized in order to draw these initiatives together and be impact. Some tactics I propose include:

  • Better education and more recruiting for students to agricultural, urban agriculture, and sustainable farming educations, as well as training on how to manage these businesses effectively. (More universities are beginning to offer urban sustainability and food science degrees, and I see this trend picking up more in the future.)
  • Increased education within elementary and middle school about nutrition and our food system (The Farm to School program being a great example of how to connect children with producing food while also teaching about nutrition.)
  • Better public relations and strategic communications campaigns that convey the benefits (health, social, longer term economic gains) of organic food, urban agriculture, and supporting local farmers–incentives drive change

There is not any one solution or method that will bring us to a sustainable system of producing our food. After all, sustainable food production is not a goal, just as sustainability is not a goal–it’s a process, which fortunately is gaining acceptance. Improving our food system is no longer an option or a would-be-nice.

We often lose sight of our common interests as humans. There are countless special interest groups, government agencies, struggling families, corporations–the list goes on–and so many conflicting opinions and politics. Most of the time I feel like I’m on the “environmentalist side”, but as the last few months have passed, I’ve come to see it shouldn’t be about sides and winning arguments, it should be about finding our similarities. Or our…

Common ground.

This is going to wrap up my study, but I will be taking my intellectual thoughts, etc over to a new home. I hope you keep checking back here for the occasional (weekly, I think) local recipe/restaurant review and I also hope you consider expanding your green horizons through my new blog over at Talking on Common Ground.

I’d also like to just say thanks to everyone, especially all the food/fitness bloggers, who have followed me and become my Twitter friends and left comments and feedback and told me they enjoy this blog because in all seriousness I never thought anyone would read it.

OK, now hop on over to the new site and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

Thank Earth for the beautiful weather this weekend.

This weekend was fun. Friday night I went out with friends and celebrated my birthday. Got to see people who I haven’t been able to see all semester due to jam-packed schedules. It was a good time.

Then Sunday, quite the contrary to the forecasted weather, the sun came out! In fact, it never even drizzled until about 10pm when I was finally arriving home at the end of the night. Which was awesome. So the plans for Sunday went off without a hitch and I was able to make it to the Climate Rally on the mall, hosted by Earth Day Network, and the BBQ my professor threw at Gangplank Marina in southwest D.C.

I had one major complaint about the rally, other than the fact that they didn’t follow their schedule remotely. Which was that they had basically no vegetarian options at the event. Not that I planned to get food there, but it still irritated me. I tweeted about this, and had a lot of people agreeing it was pretty ridiculous. Be the change you want to see in the world, people. It was great to see bands like Passion Pit though. And Jimmy Cliff. Didn’t stay for The Roots but I bet they were great too.

Afterward, we went to the marina for the BBQ. It was really funny and indicative of the “type” of people in my class, but I would say more than half of us were vegetarians. There were plenty of veggie burgers and smart dogs to go around =)  Not to mention all the other delicious goodies that I didn’t really photograph because I’m still getting used to being  “that girl” that takes pictures of all the food (don’t mind doing this in front of friends and family but since I didn’t really know everyone that well…) I think Brad was particularly shocked by the vegetarianism because in Australia, “vego’s” aren’t nearly as common as they are here. They aren’t unheard of, but it’s still seen as a bit weird if you don’t eat meat. But BBQ’s, now those are as Aussie as it gets. So Brad manned the grill much of the time.

I also met Sarah, sister-in-law of Katie from Health for the Whole Self! I love the small world we live in.

The following pictures show the houseboat Eve lives on (the BBQ was on the marina’s “party boat”). She was recently interviewed by Politico about her “green lifestyle.” She’s kind of a big deal. But in all seriousness, she openly confesses that she does all of this stuff not just because she’s is an environmental goddess, as the article paints her as, but because they allow her to live frugally (houseboats are less expensive to live on than a waterfront house on land) and live “lazily” (why would she want to continuously have to refill the boat’s water tank when she could just take shorter showers?)

Worm composting! Yeah, we’re a bunch of eco-dorks. Whatevs.

Look how puffy/tired my eyes look. Totally exhausted from the eco-weekend. Oh also, Brad leaves to explore his next adventure in America/Canada tomorrow. Everyone wish him luck on his journey! I’m jealous. I want to travel…

Before I head off to work on my 8-pg paper on non-violence that I have yet to begin…I wanted to say something.

I guess the one thing that gets on my nerves slightly about Earth Day is the general rhetoric surrounding it. It’s not really about saving the Earth. The Earth isn’t going anywhere. However, certain species are dying and are being threatened, including the human species. The environmental movement should be encompass all people and be about changing our behaviors so that we pollute less, emit less CO2 and contribute less to global warming, sustain our soil nutrition, water, and bio-diversity, and all of the things that contribute to our survival, as humans. In a sense, it’s not really about saving the Earth, it’s about saving ourselves. Or rather, it’s about saving our children and grandchildren. I don’t know if that message would hit home harder for people or not though. And when it comes down it, maybe it’s just an argument over semantics. But I figured I would make that point here and now.

When it comes down to it, in my opinion (there are others who disagree), “saving the planet” is primarily a selfish endeavor. And isn’t that what nature is largely about after all? Survival of the fittest? What do you think? I’m not saying it’s bad to think of it in this sense, I am just saying it could maybe help us to frame the movement in a new way.

I have a few more entries coming up before the end of the semester, one of which is about the importance of our individual responsibilities/possibilities as a species evolving to live in a world where technology exists in harmony with nature, instead of pitted against it. I have written it already for another class, but it’s a bit long so I am going to parse it down so my message isn’t lost.

And, I’m off! Good luck with finals to those who are students and have a great week to everyone else, catch you on the flip side.

Climate Rally Today! (Schedule)

The Climate Rally Schedule

12:00 – Bob Weir (w/Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, John Cage, John Kadlecik)

12:45 – Willie Colon

1:25 – Honor Society

2:20 – Passion Pit

3:10 – Jimmy Cliff (w/ John Legend, Bob Weir)

4:05 – The Roots

4:55 – The Roots and Friends (Mavis Staples, Booker T., Patrick Stump, Joss Stone, Robert Randolph, Bob Weir)

5:45 – John Legend w/ The Roots

6:35 – Sting w/ The Roots

I am probably going to head over soon to see Passion Pit and The Roots and show my support. And then head to the BBQ for my class at the Gangplank Marina after. Should be a fun day. Should be starting my finals studying and paper writing soon though….

You can follow the event’s live broadcast if you don’t live in D.C. or can’t make it.

How was everyone’s weekend? Do anything “green” to continue carrying out the purpose of Earth Day?

Easter Egg Dying Isn’t Just for Kids

I have a problem lately with school work. I can’t concentrate on it.  Call it me having ‘too much on my plate,’ call it senioritis. Call it whatever, but it’s bad. So I think from now on, or until I catch up with stuff, if I post entries about my “personal life” I am going to just keep it to mostly photos and cut all the back story out. I will still post about what I learn–food system related, etc–but there has to be a way to streamline things.

By the way, are you aware that I write really funny photo captions? You can only see them if you hover the mouse over photos and they are only funny if you think I am funny regularly though. That’s the catch.

These are pictures from the weekend, which I spent at my sister’s in Virginia.




Don’t they look great, though? Very modern and bold and original. Or, as Katie says, “They are really graphic…”

“It’s just so amazing how they all come out different!” – Me, caught up in the magic of egg dying apparently, speaking hyperbolically, genuinely

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. We spent ours at John’s (Katie’s boyfriend) brother’s and sister-in-law’s in York, Pennsylvania. They have two little girls so that was cute. And if you don’t celebrate Easter I hope you had a wonderful Passover. Or whatever it is you celebrate…

PS! Has anyone seen these scanner things at the Giant supermarket? Apparently they have them in Virginia. I have yet to see them in D.C. Talk about taking the personal-ness out of shopping! :-/

An ode to water and a call to action

Reporter: “Water is awesome. Do you know how I know? Because I’m 70 percent water, and I am awesome.”

(Recent quote on one of my favorite sites ever, Overheard in the Newsroom.)

Food and water, they go hand in hand. Basically all food is made up of a huge percentage of water. Water sustains us. You can survive for weeks without eating (theoretically—I mean, I can’t survive until noon without eating). But after just a couple days without water, your body will start to go into some serious shock. In fact, the other day at The Eagle office, the water wasn’t working in the building at all (no idea why), and not only was I super de-hydrated, I felt like my rights as an individual were being taken away!

Unfortunately, water has also been exploited over the past 50 or so years. I am talking about the bottled water industry and the privatization of water. As is customary with the human race, we have managed to take a basic, simple resource and life sustainer and found a way to make a profit at the expense of the environment and our health.

So today I am asking you to do a few things:

  1. If you haven’t already, pledge to give up bottled water. Just, do it. I’m not even going to go into details here because chances are you know all the reasons why bottled water is the devil. Check out Janine’s post on all the reasons you’re a freaking idiot if you are still purchasing bottled water. And check this out for tips on choosing a water filter. If you live in a city with not-so-great water, as I do, it’s helpful. I use a Brita but there’s plenty of other options.
  2. Once you do that, go on Facebook and make this your profile picture…and then go here and find out more about World Water Day on March 22nd. 
  3. Mosey over to Diana’s site and participate in Project Hydrate and pledge to drink more water—from the tap, of course. 😉
  4. Educate yourself on how private control of water hurts consumers and helps no one except giant corporations.
  5. Tell a friend, link back to this, or post something on your blog about the upcoming World Water Day.

Do you still drink bottled water? Be honest. If so, why? Let’s get to the bottom of this!

Happy drinking from the tap!

S.O.S.: This is a global call.

You better make a stand
You better make it now
Take back your rights from the IMF, World Bank and Monsanto

When they wage war on you, you lay asleep
When they poison your food, you choose to drink
There’s poison in the well!
– Anti-flag

While I was down in Florida last week, for the first time I started to notice advertisements for the genetic engineering company Monsanto, who “pledges to be part of the solution.” Perhaps, if you define “the solution” as pumping bodies full of genetically engineered foods while the profits of food items (which are steadily increasing due to the price gouging of seeds sold by said company to farmers) are pumped into the hands of one corporation, and our already dwindling farmland is wiped out even more. We shop at grocery stores because it is a) convenient and b) cheap. I am terrified to see how “cheap” food will be in ten years, even 5 years, as farmland disappears more and more. We all know the basic principle of supply and demand. Monsanto won’t care, they will have what they need–control of the seeds (our food), control of the government which essentially taxes and regulates agriculture (our food) and control of the people who do the farming, because they can no longer afford to farm any other way.

When a friend of mine and I went to the Green Festival about a month ago, we met Joel Salatin, the author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, here. He wrote about his hardships being a small farmer, trying to deal with the restrictions and fees and taxes that the government places upon them. We told him about our Practical Environmentalism class and he was really excited that we were learning about these issues. He signed copies of his book for us and wrote, “Thank you for being part of the solution.”

Monsanto is not part of any solution worth being a part of.

Our farmers, and more generally, our global food system, is in crisis. There are videos about this topic all over the Internet and books everywhere. I suggest beginning with this one, or this one if you are in the mood for something “lighter”.

I mean, our government can be very corrupt, both sides of the aisle and in between. Government is corrupt all over the planet. This shouldn’t be condoned, ever, but when the corruption really strikes a nerve with me is when it comes to issues of our planet, and specifically, our food. Food shouldn’t be treated as a special interest. It’s a requirement for life. If our food system falls apart, which it inevitably could if these genetically engineered seeds replace biodiversity and natural growth, the human species would cease to exist.

That isn’t alarmism, it’s just fact.

Happy Green Bean Casserole Day

Did you eat mindfully?
I tried and think I did well.


collegejolt.com

After writing my column about mindful eating on Monday, I really did try to eat slowly and carefully and with at least a speck of grace yesterday on Thanksgiving. Particularly during dessert. It is really almost inhumane how much we stuff ourselves on this day. We eat mashed potatoes and squash and green beans and stuffing and yams and corn and cranberry sauce and rolls and gravy and wine (and turkey, if you do) and then we sometimes have seconds–and then we clean up and then we eat MORE. It’s gluttonous!

So this year, in light of my column and just generally what I always try to do but often fail at, I took about three or four bites worth of only what I really like. Except the green bean casserole, which is my favorite. Haha. I was still very full at the end–certainly not ready to go for a run around the block–but I wasn’t ready to roll over and pass out either. And I tried some of this pumpkin cake thing my mom made for dessert. She got the recipe from Paula Dean, so needless to say it was the richest dessert I have ever tasted. I don’t usually like pumpkin things (hate pumpkin pie–blech) but that dessert was darn good. Way too rich to eat more than a couple bites.

Then, I loaded up the dishwasher, mopped the floor, went back home with my parents, walked a couple miles around the neighborhood with them, then fell asleep on the couch watching Home Alone. Thankful.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoys their break (if they are on one!).