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Posted on Thu, March 28, 2013 by Slow Food USA
An Interview with “In Organic We Trust” Director/Producer Kip Pastor
By Slow Food USA Intern, Adrienne Lewis
Slow Food USA members can get a special discount on the DVD of “In Organic We Trust.” Click “member benefits” in your next email from Slow Food USA to find out more.
“In Organic We Trust” Director/Producer Kip Pastor
We can no longer stomach our food system. It’s killing more and more Americans and costing billions in healthcare. 78% of Americans eat organic food, because they think it’s healthier. But is organic really better for us or just a marketing scam?
When corporations went into the business and “organic” became a brand, everything changed. The philosophy and the label grew apart. Can gummy bears or bananas flown halfway across the world truly be organic?
“In Organic We Trust” is an eye-opening food documentary that looks beyond organic for practical solutions like local farmer’s markets, school gardens, and urban farms that are revolutionizing the way we eat. Change is happening from the soil up.
My fellow classmates in “Food Systems: Food and Agriculture,” a component of the Food Studies, Nutrition, and Public Health Program at New York University, sat down with Director/Producer Kip Pastor to talk about the film.
How is soil health related to human health? How do organics play a role in this?
Soil is often misunderstood. People confuse dirt and soil all the time. Dirt is sort of like displaced soil, or soil without the nutrients. Believe me when I say, you can see and smell the difference. Soil is the lifeblood of nature. It contains the nutrients, minerals, and mircobials that plants need to grow and thrive.
There’s a direct correlation between the health of our soil and the health of our agriculture. Healthy soil produces nutrient dense food. If the soil is sick, the plant will be sick, too. In that way, the health of the soil relates to the health of the plant, which in turn relates to our health.
I think that it’s legitimate to conclude that there’s a direct relationship between healthy soil and healthy people. But it goes even deeper than that.
Conventional agriculture uses billions of pounds of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals not only damage the health of the soil, but they end up in our air and waterways. Nitrogen fertilizers are part of water runoff from farms and have caused algae blooms in the Mississippi River and the Golf of Mexico. This is an example of a less direct consequence that unhealthy soil has on human health.
On the other hand, soil that is not treated with chemical pesticides and fertilizers can be healthier and absorb water and nutrients more easily. Although nitrogen fertilizers can be used in certified organic farming, the toxic chemicals, for the most part, cannot. Most organic farmers rotate their crops and nurture their soils, though it is not a requirement of being certified. I think that it’s fair to say that organic farming has a profound impact on soil health.
A real issue in organics seems to be political corruption; what can organizations like Slow Food and we, as individuals, do to bring about change in such a broken system?
Since the term certified organic is a legal classification, it can be changed and shaped in whichever way the governing body deems appropriate. As a result, corporations have been involved with intense lobbying and have exerted pressure to influence politics. Some groups and farmers have caused controversies to the USDA certified organic label, and there’s growing criticism that some big organic growers bend the rules. However, I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that organics suffer from political corruption. Yet, it is fair to say that the process of certifying organic is also flawed.
Certified organic does not, by definition, follow the philosophies of being organic. To be certified, you are not required to promote healthy soil or conserve water. You can input enormous amounts of nitrogen fertilizers, which impact the soil and waterways. You can also import organics that are out of season or shipped from a far-off land. These allowances split with the philosophy.
But the certification system was not created to address all of these parts of our broken food system. It is imperative that organizations, like Slow Food, take a broader approach to agriculture and food. Slow Food takes the strands of our broken system and weaves them into a complete narrative that connects with individuals and communities. Food access, farmer worker justice, edible education, and many other issues have overlapping themes, but so often we just focus on one.
The food system is fractured. There is not a clear vision on how to fix it. Slow Food builds community in order to foster learning, development, and change. At this point it’s a cliché, but it’s still just as true, you can vote with your wallet. Demand healthy, local, organic food for yourself and your family. Individual choices will have a profound impact on how and where our agriculture is grown in the future. You can get to know farmers and farmer’s markets, engage your community at an urban farm, and educate the next generation about healthy eating habits and how to grow food at school gardens. At the very least, you can grow something by a window at home.
Change will come from the soil up, not from the top down. Corporate interests will push for scale, large distribution, cheaper products from overseas, and anything to increase shareholder stock. In turn, those corporate interests lobby the government to create regulations that favor them – subsidies, crop insurance, etc. In order to change the system, we have to come together as a community. Slow Food is a place and an idea that joins us together.
Do you see a place at all for corporate organic agriculture on the market, specifically when thinking about areas where access to small-scale organic products is limited?
There is a place for corporate organic agriculture in our current situation. Absolutely. Although many corporations don’t care about the organic philosophy or investing in soil and conserving resources, corporate organic doesn’t have to be bad. Above all, they are not using dangerous chemicals that poison us, the water, and the soil. Furthermore, the large growth of certified organic can be attributed in part to these corporations.
Most people don’t get their food from farmer’s markets or CSAs, they get it at Walmart and other big chains. The large companies have the production and distribution networks that get organic food to more people, in more places. That’s a positive thing. As a result, there is a growing awareness that chemical pesticides and their residues on food are dangerous for our health and the environment. This conversion would not have happened as quickly without these corporate supply chains. However, it is my hope that once people understand that organic is the only way to go, we’ll start sourcing it more locally, from farmer’s nearby, and growing it ourselves on our rooftops, balconies, and communal lands. I full-heartedly believe that we can transition away from industrial agriculture and push harder towards more sustainable farming with new methods.
How could the organic system cope with the increasing demands of customers in time?
I think the essence of the question is – can organic feed the world? I’ll get to that, but first, I’d like to reframe it a little. We are reaching a crisis in agriculture – the average age of farmers in the US is fifty-nine, farmland has been consolidated into huge corporate monocultures, conventional farming uses dangerous petrochemicals, food transportation is expensive and harmful for the environment, and water resources are getting scarce – what does the future look like?
This is the ideal time to go organic. We need to rebuild rural America, we need to reinvest in young farmers, expand small farms to urban areas on rooftops, abandoned parking lots, sidewalks, schools, we need to educate our youth about soil and nutritious food choices. Let’s teach them organic and sustainable methods. If we put these things together, we can cut down on carbon emissions from chemical applications and transportation, increase food access, raise public health, become free from petrochemicals, and give jobs to the next generation of growers.
All of those solutions are part of the fabric of the organic philosophy. More than anything, this organic philosophy needs to be disseminated to everyone. Over time, organic production will be able to handle consumer demands. You don’t have to be certified organic to be “organic.”
I believe that all food will be produced organically one day because our current system is based on petrochemicals, which will one day run out. It’s an unsustainable system. However, we have a little time before that happens, and we are already making a strong transition to more ubiquitous use of natural gas. Certified organic agriculture represents about 1% of total cropland in the US. I don’t have the actual statistics, but I’ve been told that non-certified organic represents another 1% or so. It is growing but not fast enough to feed the world… yet.
A combination of education, ingenuity, and technology is the way to move forward. I’m a big advocate of growing food where you live – in your home, balcony, at a community garden, or on your roof. Also, some different technologies make it possible to grow food in smaller spaces while using less water – aquaponics and hydroponics. We must invest more in agricultural research and start using water for farms, not lawns. It’s inevitable that we’ll go back to an organic farming system, the only question is how long it takes. With passionate people and a growing demand, I believe it can be faster than you’d think.
Posted on Sat, July 21, 2012 by Slow Food USA
From $500 grills to 100 year old fish boils, the tradition of outdoor cooking survives as a summer staple in the U.S.
Written by Slow Food USA Associate Director of National Programs, Angelines M. Alba Lamb
If you ever find yourself driving up the Bronx River Parkway in New York City on a weekend evening after 6pm, try to make a detour off the 233rd Street exit. If you eat meat, I promise you won’t be disappointed. A crew of Trinidadian men set-up two smokers and a variety of grills and cook jerked chicken, pork, beef, and fish until dawn, relying on the after-party crowd to flood the block despite the early hour. The food is deceptively simple and delicious. Relying on family recipes and pure instinct for flavor these men carry on a tradition that spans all if not most cultures, ethnicities, nations, and families: cooking outdoors.
Outdoor cooking is most celebrated here in the U.S, during the summer. We’re encouraged to buy grills for our fathers on Father’s Day, are accosted by displays of hot dog and hamburger buns every time we enter a grocery store, and doesn’t it seem like every national holiday or birthday is celebrated with a BBQ? But there is more to outdoor cooking than just barbecue and $500 grills.
Posted on Tue, July 17, 2012 by Slow Food USA
We’ve teamed up with Daniel Klein and the folks over at Perennial Plate to deliver monthly video stories, our first dispatch features highlights from An American Food (Road)Trip.
Nearly two-and-half years ago, Daniel Klein and his colleague Mirra Fine over at Perennial Plate set out to tell the stories of real food in the United States. In their first two seasons, they filmed several terabytes of coverage and more than 100 episodes in nearly every state. This season, they will embark on a bold new journey—telling the story of food culture internationally! Beginning this month, we’ll by teaming up with Perennial Plate, as a video content partner, for a regular monthly feature here on the Slow Food USA blog, lifting up new and interesting food stories told through video. Over the next few months, we’ll be looking back at some of our combined highlights. So without further ado, here’s one of their season recaps. And don’t forget to tune in next month for more fun from the road!
Posted on Wed, October 12, 2011 by Slow Food USA
This week is National School Lunch Week, to celebrate we’re asking you, “How can we can we create a better school food system?” Answer to win a free copy of Nourish Short Films: 54 Bite-Sized Videos About the Story of Your Food.
This week, October 10-14th, is National School Lunch Week, a time to raise awareness about the importance of school meals in children’s health and our food system.
This month, Nourish, an educational initiative designed to open a meaningful conversation about food and sustainability, particularly in schools and communities, is showcasing perspectives on school lunch, from farm to school programs to parent activism. In this new video from Nourish Short Films: 54 Bite-Sized Videos About the Story of Your Food, food journalist Michael Pollan advocates for a better menu for America’s children.
In addition to Michael Pollan, the Nourish short films features segments with Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Bryant Terry, and other voices of the food movement, and such topics as “Edible Education,” “Grow, Cook, Learn,” and “Youth Making Change.” Our own Josh Viertel remarked that, “These short films bring to life a vision of a world where food is good for the people who eat it, good for the people who grow and pick it, and good for the planet.”
To celebrate National School Lunch Week, we’re giving away one of these free Nourish Short Films DVDs! But we want to hear from you first. Leave a comment below in answer to the question, How can we can we create a better school food system? We will select a winner at random, so there are no right answers, but send us your answers now – the contest will close on Sunday October 16th.
Posted on Fri, July 29, 2011 by Intern
The new documentary The Harvest sheds light on the seldom discussed issue of child labor in U.S. conventional agriculture.
by interns Kelsey Wickel and Sasha Hippard
The Harvest/La Cosecha, a new film by Robert Romano, tells the story of three children, ranging from 12 to 16, who migrate seasonally with their families in order to harvest fruits and vegetables. Over the summer, these migrant children and their families travel throughout the country, from Florida to Michigan, finding work picking the produce that we eat.
Child labor in the conventional agricultural system has remained the exception to the already established child labor laws. Throughout the film, we experience the harvest through the children’s eyes as they work 10 or more hours a day, seven days a week. The cruel irony is, while almost 400,000 children work in American produce fields every year, in hot, back-breaking conditions, those same children and their families are unable to afford the very food that they harvest. Each child only makes roughly $60 a week during the harvest season (assuming they can find work at all). In the fields, there is little to no protection against constant exposure to the harsh temperatures or the pesticides which are used liberally in conventional agriculture and often while the harvesters are present.
The Harvest sheds light on the seldom discussed issue of child labor in U.S. conventional agriculture. While the film does not site specific action that the viewers may take to stop or prevent these labor practices, during the post-screening Q&A, the film’s director supported the DREAM Act as one avenue to help migrant workers and their families. Similarly, the New York Times reported last year that the Obama Administration had begun a campaign against farmers who use child labor and underpay their workers (read the article here).
For more information on the issue of child agricultural labor in general, the MSNBC piece from last year entitled America Now: Children of the Harvest is a good resource. The film’s facebook page also links related articles.
The film premieres in New York on July 29, 2011 at Quad Cinema...and hopefully at other theatres around the country soon.
Posted on Mon, May 23, 2011 by Slow Food USA
In recent months over 50 chapters have organized screenings of the documentary Vanishing of the Bees. We asked Slow Food DC member Kate Hill to reflect on the experience of hosting a screening.
by Slow Food DC member Kate Hill
Watching Vanishing of the Bees reminds me how much of our existence we take for granted. Like walking through life with blinders on, so caught up in the here and now of self that we pay little attention to the beauty and the mystery that make the journey possible.
My family has been lucky over the years to have hands-on experience with honeybees. A good friend has kept several hives and has enlisted my sons to help him extract the honey every year since they were old enough to understand the process. Even still, I think we all fail to acknowledge what an intrinsic part of the food chain, what an immeasurable service to our own life the bee is. Painfully revealed in the film is our own complicity in allowing the toxic process that is endangering not only the bees but the planet and our own health.
Why aren’t we angrier? At stake is life itself. Society seems willing to go along and not question (with apologies to Al Gore) the “inconvenient truth” of agribusiness, choosing not to see the reality of the cost of “progress.” Towards the end of the film Bill Maher makes a brief quip on honeybee die-offs serving as “Mother Nature’s wake up call” and it struck a chord—but do we really take the warnings to heart? With colony collapse disorder the bees are forcing us to take a hard look again at how we do things. We need to be the change we wish to see to save not only the bees but ourselves.
Posted on Mon, April 25, 2011 by Slow Food USA
Nourish, a national educational initiative designed to open a meaningful conversation about food and sustainability, particularly in schools and communities, has launched their Video Encyclopedia.
Nourish, a national educational initiative designed to open a meaningful conversation about food and sustainability, particularly in schools and communities, has launched their Video Encyclopedia, a collection of short films that explore the story of our food. In the above clip, author Michael Pollan describes how the simple act of eating offers us an intimate connection with the soil. From supporting organic farms to gardening and composting, we can nourish the Earth through our everyday food choices and practices.
The Dirt on Soil
Fertile soil is essential to food production. Soil consists of minerals, water, air, and living and dead organic matter, which are all needed to support healthy plants. Through natural processes, it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form one inch of nutrient-rich, organic topsoil.
It is estimated that a cup of fertile topsoil contains more than 6 billion organisms, or as many people as there are on Earth. Five to 10 tons of animal life inhabit an acre of soil, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, earthworms, mice, moles, and other creatures.
Soil depletion, or loss of fertility, occurs when nutrients are taken from the soil but not replaced. Over-tilling, monocrop farming, and use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides deplete the soil, leading to a loss of organic matter and soil structure. According to the United Nations, we lose about 75 tons of soil each year. Loss of soil means less food.
Posted on Mon, April 18, 2011 by Jerusha Klemperer
After months of planning and planting, a fleet of 25 Truck Farmers across the country are about to take to the road. One snag! Not enough trucks.
by Hnin Hnin
Some farmers have thousands of acres of land. Some farmers have a few. Truck Farmers have a pile of dirt in the back of a pickup truck. Truck Farm is a simple concept with a big impact. It’s a mini-mobile farm, an edible exhibit, and the focus of a documentary coming out this winter. What exactly can you do with a 4x8 bed of soil and seeds on wheels? Add an ambitious farmer with the passion to teach kids about growing and eating healthy food, and you’ve got one of the coolest urban agriculture projects around. That’s why Slow Food USA has partnered up with Truck Farm to recruit some of the freshest new urban farmers in town.
After months of planning and planting, a fleet of 25 Truck Farmers across the country are about to take to the road, popping up at schools, camps, street fairs, outdoor concerts, and anywhere else large groups of youth congregate. They’re revved up and ready to go…
BUT there’s one snag—7 of the 25 farmers don’t have a truck! Meet Cate Brennan, a student and leader of Slow Food University of Rhode Island. With your help, she and her group can become some of the youngest Truck Farmers on the fleet.
Posted on Wed, March 02, 2011 by Slow Food USA
Honeybees are under attack but despite years of research the culprit for colony collapse disorder (CCD) has yet to be identified.
Honeybees are under attack but despite years of research the culprit for colony collapse disorder (CCD) has yet to be identified.
What we do know is that there’s probably not just one thing causing the massive die-offs, but several factors interacting to cause a perfect, lethal storm.
What difference does it make?
How can I help?
SIGN the petition. The EPA recently pledged to take a closer look at one of the factors that watchdog organizations like Beyond Pesticides and Pesticide Action Network believe to be a contributing cause of CCD. Together we can hold the EPA accountable to its promise to dig deeper into some of the likeliest causes of CCD, like a new class of agricultural pesticides. If you’d like to gather petition signatures on your own—at a screening, or outside your supermarket—and send them to us, you can download a petition sheet by clicking here.
PLANT a bee friendly habitat in your garden or windowsill with pollen- and nectar-rich flowering plants like sunflowers, berries, gourds, and most herbs.
REDUCE your usage of insecticides and herbicides around the home. They may get rid of pests, but they can also harm “non-target” insects such as honeybees.
SUPPORT your local beekeepers, and producers of rare honey. Learn about honey varieties in your area and those on the US Ark of Taste.
The threat that this phenomenon poses to our food security and our economy is grave. We can’t just swat this problem away.
Thanks for being a part of the solution. And if you haven’t yet signed our petition to the EPA, click here.
Posted on Sat, February 12, 2011 by Gordon Jenkins
Watch the live steam of the TedX Manhattan event, where over 20 high-profile speakers, including Slow Food USA’s President Josh Viertel, are discussing how we can improve food and farming for everyone.
Looking for the live steam of the TedX Manhattan event, “Changing the Way We Eat”? Watch it here:
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.