What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Mon, May 10, 2010 by Emily Stephenson
Temra Costa knows a thing or two about farming. She has a degree in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has been involved with CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers) in California for many years. For a better part of the past decade she has been promoting Farm to School programs at CAFF through their Buy Fresh Buy Local initiative.
And she certainly is not the only woman doing exciting things when it comes to changing the way America eats. So she selflessly decided to use her first foray into writing to tell you about plenty of other women working on a wide variety of amazing projects. Deborah Madison, an influential restaurateur, award-winning cookbook author, and a founding member of the SFUSA Biodiversity Committee. Costa profiles activists as well, like Anna Lappe, who travels the country educating people about the environmental effects of their food choices. Throughout the book are profiles of female farmers from coast to coast. It features the owners of well-known Bay Area farms such as Pie Ranch and Fully Belly Farm, and influential urban programs like Growing Power and City Slicker Farms.
The most fascinating aspect of the book, for me, was the wide variety of reasons these 26 women decided to do what they do. Some were born and bred farmers and others entered the scene a lot later in life. Some had an epiphany well into adulthood, or were raised by parents who shared the values that permeate the book. But the common thread through all 26 stories is the need these women feel to share their lifestyle through positive example and education. Costa obviously shares this trait, and peppers the book with “recipes for action” that range from small life changes to huge volunteer projects.
The book is truly inspiring to get an idea of what women are doing across the country to promote good, clean and fair food, as well as learn a little more about some familiar names.
Posted on Mon, May 10, 2010 by Slow Food USA
It’s hard to keep track of all the food and farming news each week – especially if you’re a busy Slow Food volunteer. Our staff has begun compiling all the important food news we see, so Slow Food members can stay up-to-date. Here’s last week’s big news:
Monsanto pesticide-poisons give rise to “superweeds”Rise of the Superweeds (NY Times)
Just as the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, American farmers’ near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds. To fight them, Mr. Anderson and farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and return to more labor-intensive methods like regular plowing.
And in response…NYT’s superweeds coverage is welcome but myopic (Grist)
It’s a happy day when the New York Times treads some of Grist’s well-worn paths. This time, it’s about how overuse of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide has given rise to “superweeds” and an exhausting chemical treadmill.
Food & Farm Policy
VIDEO - Veggies Gone Wild! (Human Rights Watch)
Hundreds of thousands of children are employed as farmworkers in the United States. They often work 10 or more hours a day with sharp tools, heavy machinery, and dangerous pesticides. Farmworker children drop out of school in alarming numbers.Senators Challenge Know Your Farmer Program (Ag Law)
Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia, Ranking Minority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee), John McCain (R-Arizona) and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) recently sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack challenging the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program. The letter notes that “[w]hile the concept of educating consumers about production agriculture is a worthwhile endeavor, we have serious misgivings about the direction of the Know Your Farmers program.” The Senators complain that the program does not direct funding to “conventional farmers” but instead is “aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”Supreme Court hears arguments on genetically modified seeds (LA Times)
The battle over genetically modified crops is being waged before the U.S. Supreme Court—the first time the nation’s highest court is specifically weighing in on genetically modified organisms and the federal approval process that allows them to roll out from the laboratory to the nation’s farm fields.Where do farm subsidies go? Now we know! (Food Politics)
Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the latest update of its highly entertaining farm subsidy database. The links cover $245 billion in federal farm subsidies distributed from 1995 -2009. The site lets you search for subsidies by state, county, congressional district, and specific farm, and by commodity. There is also a national summary.
School FoodD.C. Council approves tough school lunch, exercise standards (Washington Post)
The D.C. Council unanimously approved stringent school nutrition and exercise standards on Tuesday. The measure calls for District public and charter schools to add more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains to the meals of about 71,000 students. It also encourages schools to buy food from organic farms in Maryland and Virginia, adds thousands of students to the free-lunch program and will eventually triple the amount of time that students have to spend exercising.
An E. coli outbreak possibly linked to tainted lettuce has sickened at least 19 people in Ohio, New York and Michigan, including students on three college campuses, prompting a recall throughout much of the country.
Posted on Fri, May 07, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by Gida Snyder, head of the SFOC chapter at Kapiolani Community College
Mana `Ai means “power food” in Hawaiian and is both the business name and the philosophy of a family run company on the island of Oahu specializing in hand-pounded taro or pa`i`ai, (essentially poi before water is added to thin it out.)
Daniel Anthony, Mana `Ai’s founder, believes the nourishment of pa`i`ai is two-fold; the nutritional health benefit of eating pa`i`ai and the empowerment fostered by keeping a community in touch with the ancient food-making traditions of ku`i kalo (pounding taro.) Recently the Slow Food on Campus chapter at Kapiolani Community College had the hands on opportunity to experience the process of making pa`i`ai.
Under Daniel’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable direction, we learned that each step in the taro pounding process is of equal importance. Even before cooking the taro we were shown how to properly pick the leaves from the ti plant, prepare our equipment and stay as clean as possible to avoid transferring bacteria to the pa`i`ai. We then helped cook the taro by steaming it in a pressure cooker lined with ti and banana leaves. We learned the techniques for cleaning the taro, preparing it to be pounded using mortars made of lava rock on smooth carved koa wood boards.
As day became evening, the community center began to fill up with local families there to make their own pa`i`ai and poi for the week. The atmosphere was warm and lively with kids running around while the adults talked story and pounded. Our group shared the pounding of 15lbs of taro, learning quickly that it is NOT as easy as it appears. It takes a strong arm, a steady rhythm and an understanding of the soon sticky mass of pounded taro to make it a uniform and smooth texture. The experience left many of us with a desire to learn more about the many uses of pa`i`ai and to become more proficient at pounding it. We were invited back to the weekly gathering and will be attending a ku`i kalo as a chapter again soon.
Posted on Thu, May 06, 2010 by Gordon Jenkins
The next Farm Bill isn’t supposed to come until 2012, but Congress started work on it last month, two-and-a-half years ahead of schedule. Not surprisingly, no one’s asking everyday people or everyday farmers what they want from the bill.
Yet we’re the ones who stand to lose if Congress passes another Farm Bill that prioritizes corporate profit over healthy farms and healthy people. It’s time we got up to speed, and started speaking up.
Here’s where you can go to catch up:
Farm Policy, a daily newsletter about food and farm policy. Sign up for the email service and you’ll receive everything you need to know about what’s going on in D.C. It’s a ton of information, but worth skimming each morning.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog. Slow Food USA is a member of the coalition, and our staff relies on their blog for policy news.
The Farm Bill and Beyond, an outstanding and very comprehensive report about how the 2008 Farm Bill came to be. It’s a little long, but definitely worth reading if you want some insight on how the next fight will play out.
Slow Food USA’s staff is weighing strategies for the next Farm Bill. It’s imperative that we start by listening to farmers and coming to some mutual goals – otherwise, we risk dividing ourselves when ultimately we’re all working towards a common vision.
What are the farmers in your area saying? Post your comments below.
Posted on Mon, April 26, 2010 by Slow Food USA
by Emily Vaughn
The National Academy of Science recently released “the first comprehensive assessment of how GE [genetically engineered] crops are affecting all U.S. farmers. That’s exciting news—if you follow the controversy surrounding GE food crops, you know that the lack of scientific consensus on either side is a source of constant debate.
One reason it’s so hard to sort out the science behind GE crops is that major chemical companies and food industry giants often sit on research committees. Take the study that the National Academy just released. Out of the study’s three authoring bodies, one included a representative from Monsanto, another had a representative from Cargill.
I’m not saying that there’s no way for public and private interests to work together to produce good science. For example, the much-lauded IAASTD report, for which the World Bank, the FAO and the UNDP brought together 400 leading natural and social scientists, representatives from government (including the U.S.), private sector and non-governmental organizations to ask how we would feed the world in 2050. The scientists concluded that genetically modified crops and chemical agriculture had failed to show much promise in feeding the world. (Although it’s worth noting that before the report was released, Monsanto and Syngenta withdrew from the project.)
Instead I’m calling for more transparency. Pointing out potential conflicts of interest will allow scientists, consumers, environmentalists, and farmers to make more informed decisions. And where transparency isn’t offered, it’s up to everyday people to create it, and spread the word.
Where do you turn for GE news?
Posted on Tue, March 30, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Valerie Scott
We all know what local, sustainable food can do for the health of our bodies, but could it also be a cure for the health of ailing economies? Ben Hewitts book The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food delves into this question, exploring the growth of a vibrant local food economy in Hardwick, Vermont, population 3,200.
Hardwick is a lot like how it sounds unemployment in the town is 40 percent higher than the state average; incomes are 25 percent lower. But in the last few years, Hardwick has returned to its historical roots in farming, with a new twist local, sustainable agriculture. Its growing a vibrant local food system that is restoring not only some jobs and higher wages, but a sense of community and food thats connected to it.
A diverse network of agrepreneurs in Hardwick High Mowing Organic Seeds, Petes Greens, Jasper Hill Farm, the Vermont Food Venture Center and so on - are producing organic and artisanal foods and seeking investors. Business owners share advice, capital and facilities. About a hundred jobs have been created.
Sounds great, but is the story of this one towns thriving local food system unique, or is it a viable model for other communities? As I read, part of me hoped to find an easy-to-follow plan - just do it like we did! Farm this way, market that way, save the world, take a nap. Sadly, social change isnt that easy, but while Hardwick doesnt offer an exact blueprint, it is a thought-provoking example of a thriving local food economy.
Hewitt suggests that a couple of unique, and surprising, variables have contributed to the towns growing local-ag economy: poverty and small size. Hewitt believes that Hardwicks success is founded upon trust and collaboration which are in no small ways social and cultural responses to economic hardship. He also suggests that the population had a just right quality that was big enough to be ambitious, and small enough to be fast-acting and flexible.
The best lesson to be learned here is about cooperation and inspiration. The Town that Food Saved is a story about the ability of a group of likeminded folks to come together in pursuit of a passion for sustainable, local food not without challenges, but with dedication to a bigger vision. Thats what Slow Food is all about too.
If youre interested in learning more about thriving local food entrepreneurs, BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) has some exciting network programs focused on sustainable agriculture. And for ideas on how to invest in other inspiring small food enterprises, you can check out Slow Money, a non-profit dedicated to investing in local food systems and connecting investors to local economies.
Posted on Wed, March 17, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by intern Julia Landau
Food riot?? asked an indignant Eric Holt-Giménez at a talk he gave in New York City on March 5, referring to protests in response to the 2008 food crisis. According to Holt-Giménez, the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, food rebellion would be more accurate.
Between 2007 and 2008, approximately 40 food protests occurred around the world. In Mexico, corn prices made tortillas prohibitively expensive for the nations poor. In Haiti, soaring food prices led people to the streets, and eventually to overthrow the Prime Minister.
These protests were not spontaneous outbursts fueled by mob-mentality hence they were not riots. Instead, they were conscious, political acts: rebellions. The agency and intention implied by the word rebellion are essential: they are not just a reaction to food prices, but a protest against a flawed system. Its the difference between responding to symptoms and curing the sickness.
The commonly-cited reasons for hikes in food prices are grain speculation, increased use of land for agro-fuel production, increased meat consumption, and a particularly poor harvest season what Holt-Giménez calls proximate causes. While in 2007-2008 these forces were certainly at work, a deeper look reveals that the food crisis was actually a long time in the making. We have a vulnerable food system one in which 91% of our crops are maize, cotton, wheat, rice, and soy. With such a lack of diversity in our agricultural repertoire, we leave our crops open to environmental and economic shock. Think Irish potato famine.
There is a danger in conflating the proximate and root causes of the food crisis, Holt-Giménez warns. When we focus only on the symptoms of the problem, we easily reach the conclusion that genetically modified food and industrial agriculture present a solution, or an immediate fix to world hunger. But if we look at the root causes, we see that this quick fix leaves us vulnerable to loss of crop diversity, market flooding, and farmer bankruptcy. The consolidation of land and power are at the heart of the problem.
Posted on Fri, March 12, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Siena Chrisman, WhyHunger
Last night in Ankeny, Iowa, just north of Des Moines, a standing-room-only crowd of over 250 people called on the Justice Department and USDA to bust up big ag! and put the needs of people before corporations. Today is the official listening session where the government agencies will hear from all interested parties on the issue of corporate concentration in the food systemparticularly, this round addresses Issues of Concern to Farmers”but the scheduled panels today are heavy on business and light on actual farmers. Several local groups organized Thursdays town hall as a venue for farmers to voice their real concerns.
The evening began with a panel of independent farmers from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri addressing concentration in seeds, dairy, and livestock; a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and good food advocates talking about consumer issues (I had the great privilege to be one of those last speakers).
And then the floor was open to public comments. About 50 people spoke, almost all of them farmers. They told heartbreaking stories: The 29th anniversary of one mans parents was a farm foreclosure. The American Dream has turned into the American nightmare for a southern Iowa dairy farmer, whose milk prices have been so low he cant afford his feed costs. The 15-year-old son of a fifth generation dairy farmer wants to become the sixth generation, but if things dont change in the next six months, theyre not going to have a farm.
Things are dire for farmersas they are for so many of people who dont have control over their foodbut theyre ready to fight. They made powerful demands of the Department of Justice and Congress to enforce antitrust laws and break up the hugely concentrated ag industries. But government isnt quite the last hope; people are. A family farmer from near Des Moines wanted to talk about power: Industry cannot turn one wheel unless people make those machines work, he said. We have the power here, and we need to understand what that power means.
Posted on Thu, March 11, 2010 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Gary Nabhan
You’ve heard the hackneyed phrase “as American as apple pie.” But America is not taking care of the apples—or the orchard-keepers—that have nourished us for centuries. In 1900, 20 million apple trees were growing in the U.S.; now, not even a fourth remain in our orchards and gardens. Today, much of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. is produced overseas. Of the apples still grown in America, just one variety—Red Delicious—comprises 41 percent of the country’s entire crop, and 11 varieties account for 90 percent of all apples sold in stores.
To read the rest of this post, on Grist.org, click here.
Posted on Wed, March 10, 2010 by Gordon Jenkins
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice will hold the first of five workshops to determine whether a handful of food and farming companies are exercising monopoly control over the industry. This is a big deal. If the Dept. finds that companies like Monsanto are violating antitrust law, regulators could move to break up the companies in order to protect farmers and consumers from further harm.
Fridays workshop takes place in Ankeny, IA, near Des Moines. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney will speak on a panel, as will a selection of crop and livestock farmers from around the country. (The farmers were added at the last-minute amidst outcries that a workshop about agriculture didnt feature any actual farmers.) Other panels will feature a Monsanto Vice President, a former President of the Iowa Soybean Association and a representative from the organization Food & Water Watch.
Farmer and consumer groups who are concerned that the Justice Dept. workshop is bent towards corporate special interests are organizing a Peoples Antitrust Hearing in Ankeny on the evening prior. At the event, Iowa farmers and community leaders will share their perspective on how food company monopolies lead to higher food prices and lower farmer profits.
In December, Slow Food USA joined other groups in asking the public to submit comments to the Justice Dept. The DoJ reported receiving over 15,000 comments, and has begun posting them online.
Slow Food International also runs a publishing company, Slow Food Editore, which specializes in tourism, food and wine. The library now contains about 40 titles and houses Slow, the award-winning quarterly herald of taste and culture, available in five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.