Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sovereign Nation of Broccoli or Let Them Eat McDonalds

Last night a friend called me, inviting me to Beaver St. to what seemed like a secret rendezvous of people discussing their food sovereignty action plan. The panel of 5 focused primarily on urban farms and gardens, a bit about GMOs and town hall discussions, and touched on healthy food scarcity. I didn't learn much new at this event, but then each panelist was limited to only 10 minutes of introduction to themselves and what they do.

Annie Novak, operator of Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, was on the panel. My friend whispered to me that she was rated as the hottest organic farmer by Huffington Post readers, beating out First Lady Michelle Obama. Looked it up this morning, and there it was.







Not that that has anything to do with food justice or sovereignty.

Bilen Berhanu, the outreach coordinator for Greenthumb, spoke most interestingly, but briefly, about her years as an Ethiopian child in a major city,  where she first learned of the bloated, hungry bellies of Ethiopian children on tv, via LiveAid!  Ben Grosscup, event organizer and fundraiser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, or NOFA, spoke about organizing town hall meetings where communities can discuss and create non-binding resolutions on things like banning genetically-engineered vegetable seeds in their towns and whether or not farmers should have a say in the direction of agricultural science. Another speaker, who I will call Ms. Leiner because I cannot recall her first name, came from the south Bronx, which she described, tongue in cheek, as SoBro. Her perspective was from the ground up, activism, fighting to empower the citizens of her neighborhood. For her, capitalism is the problem (along with systemic racism), and this could have been a point of contention amongst the group's participants had they had a chance to argue.

For instance, Ms. Novak is participating in a capital-intensive food project -any rooftop is an excellent flat and sunny locale in these here boroughs, but access to them is a privilege in most circumstances. It takes social privilege or organizational prowess (capital) to gain access and the legal permissions to use this resource. On the street level, we have rubble strewn lots, fenced by chain-link and razor wire, with no obvious contact information should someone have the initiative to plant a vegetable garden. Owners and possible gardeners live in different communities, often have class barriers between them, and different ideas about social justice. Beyond these simple classifications, access and empowerment appears complicated by a large number of factors. The question remains, how do we provide the same quality of food for all people? After the panel, I didn't feel any closer to an answer.

A woman in the audience made a good point about farm land in what she termed "the global south." She said how the disenfranchised have lost the best farming land to corporations who now use that land with intensive practices, shipping all the produce to places like the United States. Our need for low-cost produce has helped prop up social systems where people cannot grow their own food in their own countries. Adding that growing one's own food is one major way to alleviate this social disaster.

This morning I received an email from Christina, who authors Bowsprite: a New York Harbor Sketchbook, and coincidentally, it was all about her visit to hear Michael Pollan speak about his new book, Food Rules (incidentally, I wonder if this will be his last on food for awhile). Anyhow, I put some of the points from the talk below:

I wrote out some points of the lecture for a friend who was working on a tug and could not be there. Just thought I'd send it to you because some of it is funny!

from Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" : 

Don't eat food your grandmother wouldn't recognize: that plastic tube of Gogurt, is it food? is it toothpaste?
Don't eat food that doesn't rot. The bugs want it for a reason!
Avoid food advertised on TV.
Eat food cooked only by human beings, not corporations.
"Who do you know who cooks with high-fructose corn syrup?"

Don't eat food prepared by humans who have to wear a surgical cap.
Eat it if it is a plant, not if it came from a plant.
If it is passed through the window of your car, it's not food.
Don't eat it if it is called the same thing in all languages.
Don't eat cereal if it changes the color of the milk.
Pay more, eat less (as grandmother says, "better to pay the grocer than the dr")
If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry! (this one made me really laugh)

The banquet is in the first bite (also known as the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility to those in finance). Eating more gives you more calories, not more pleasure.

Spend as much time eating as it took to prepare the meal.
Rule #55: eat meals. It's so obvious, but it's so hard. People eat bkfast, lunch, dinner, and the 4th meal that lasts all day: snacking. Cut on snacking, eat sit-down meals. Studies found 1/5 of young adults' meals are eaten in the car.

Don't get your fuel from the same place as your car. They are processed corn stations.

Cook. Corporations can never cook as well as you, even if you do not cook well.

Christina asked what I thought of Window Farms. I checked out their website and my initial thought is, "please don't call these farms, at best -gardens." Windows in many apartment buildings and houses are terrible for growing for a variety of reasons. I'll list a few:
  • Light is not constant, and its intensity reduced
  • Temperature near the glass is often too hot or too cold and drafty
  • Poor air circulation often leads to diseased plants
A key photo on their home page is the hanging apparatus in a greenhouse window, which is an entirely different environment from a home.

Another organization Christina mentioned was Growing Power, Inc., which I have heard of and have been inspired by their work. Will Allen, the CEO, recently won a Mac Arthur Fellowship (the genius prize). He's made this transformation look easy!

The battle over food wages on...

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