What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Fri, July 25, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Posted on Fri, June 06, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Patrick Keeler
If the recent Farm Bill controversy wasn't enough to roil us up, recent discussions via Tuft's COMFOOD listserv in regards to the Women Infant & Children (WIC) Program have gotten many food activists like me in a veritable tizzy. It was there brought to my attention that in Michigan, the WIC program brochure clearly states after each category of eligible foods and products: "No Organic Allowed." Don't believe me? You can view the document here, followed by a similar document from Florida. What is the rationale behind such exclusionary purchasing you may wonder?
A program of the USDA, the Feds set the maximum redeemable value of the vouchers, checks, or EBT cards. Vouchers used in stores are separate from the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (and seniors farm-fresh FMNP) and other fresh produce initiatives. However, WIC is managed by state, and each is given discretion as to which brands, and which quantity, size and packaging are allowed to be purchased with said vouchers. By default, each state also determines whether or not organic is a category of foods made available to mothers and children in this federal assistance program.
From the perspective of a food justice advocate, leaving this choice to policy makers and not consumers is simply unethical—"organic, free-range, GMO- and hormone-free and wild-caught foods should be available to all!" reads the manifesto.
Yet again, however, there exists an economic argument for the "no organic" rule—we know legislators think so. If we assume that organic products receive a price premium of an ~ 30% price markup compared to conventional products, the argument follows that for every 3.33 mothers opting for organic with their vouchers, one family goes without any vouchers at all, being denied entry into the program. This is because the $ budgeted to WIC is set by the Feds once a year, not on an as-needed basis.
This is faulty rationalization, however. WIC vouchers are not currently assigned a dollar value—for now anyway, but I'll come back to that—they are quantitatively valued: ounces and pounds are specified, not a price cap for the products being purchased. The resources that fuel the WIC program have to come from somewhere (tax payers), but who is it that has the right to rule that WIC recipients do not have the option—insert basic right—to eat as much organic food as possible? But, each time "choice" enters the so-called free market equation in this context, I am reminded that it is food industry lobbyists who really control how wide-reaching the WIC program is, what the nutritional standards are and, at the state levels, which companies make the designated brand lists. We're not supposed to have a choice.
In 2009 we will most likely see a return to the economic argument vs. right to choose organic debate, because, for the first time in 30 years the WIC program is undergoing significant alteration. Remember that currently, WIC check vouchers are not assigned monetary value, they are simply exchanged for quantities of product. Next year new vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables will have a cash value—a landmark move that will surely beget critics and supporters. Hitherto to this expected change, only very limited amounts of fresh produce was listed on the allowables lists (for example, 2 lbs of carrots, non-organic). Fruits and veggies were available mainly through the FMNP, and access to farm markets in many low-income neighborhoods is typically harder to find than a decent grocery store. So this is a good thing on paper if choice is permitted by the consumer.
It still remains that wherther mothers can exercise choice in purchasing organic will still lie in the hands of state WIC agencies. We'll see whether the "if 3.33 women purchase organic at a premium, then another family goes without" argument resurfaces.
Exercise your democratic right by voicing your opinions on the interim ruling. The USDA will be taking comments on the 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program through October 15, 2008. Follow this link to The Federal Register with info on how to comment.
In addition, the FNS will be holding listening sessions around the country starting June 10. More information and the times and locations of the listening sessions are posted here.
Also, a wonderful group named The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has a deeply informative website that delves into the future and current state of the WIC program.
Posted on Mon, June 02, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
"Amazingly, there is very little attention being paid to what fundamentally underpins all of our food systems - biodiversity and the services provided by ecosystems, such as soil, water and resilience to disasters." - Gonzalo Oviedo
As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization convenes this week to discuss food security and rising food prices around the globe, small farmers slam the UN's "empty policies," and a senior adviser on social policy Gonzalo Oviedo argues for the essential role of biodiversity in securing our food supply and the health of our ecosystems.
6/4 Update: Summit convenes today, and the Times of London has an overview of what has transpired.
Posted on Thu, May 29, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
If you've been in a hospital recently, whether as a patient or as a visitor, you know that the saddest thing in there might be the food. Maybe you've even wondered: how can they serve this junk in a hospital? The staff nutritionists will meet with patients and tell them to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, but those things generally won't be on the hospital food menu.
Healthcare Without Harm is an international coalition of organizations that works to transform the health care sector so it is no longer a source of harm to people and the environment. They put out an encouraging press release today that reports that 127 hospitals nationwide have made significant changes in their buying practices "towards more sustainably produced, healthier choices for patients, staff and visitors" :
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29, 2008 8:00 A.M. ET
REPORT OUTLINES LEADING TREND IN HEALTH CARE SECTOR: HOSPITALS NATIONWIDE PURCHASING LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE FOOD
Details efforts of 127 Hospitals Nationwide in buying healthier food to promote public health
For 127 hospitals across the United States, the words "hospital food" and "healthy communities, healthy environment" are one and the same, according to a new report released by Health Care Without Harm today. The "Healthy Food in Health Care" report outlines concrete steps being taken by hospitals nationwide to change their food buying practices towards more sustainably produced, healthier choices for patients, staff and visitors. "We applaud the 127 facilities, in 21 states across the country, including some that serve over 9000 meals every day, that have pledged to source local, nutritional, sustainable food," says Jamie Harvie, National Coordinator of the Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative. "These hospitals recognize that their healthcare food dollars are an important investment in preventive medicine." The Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge outlines the steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of their patients, local communities and the environment. This Pledge Report details the concrete food purchasing steps these facilities are making. For example:
• 80 facilities (70%) are purchasing up to 40% of their produce locally
• Over 90 facilities (80%) are purchasing rBGH-free milk
• 100% have increased fresh fruit and vegetable offerings
• 50 facilities (44%) are purchasing meat produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics
"By serving nutritious, local, sustainably grown food to their patients, staff and visitors, hospitals are practicing good preventive medicine," stated David Hutchinson, M.D., and President of the Minnesota Academy of Family Practice.
"The purchase of meat and poultry raised without non-therapeutic antibiotics, milk produced without recombinant bovine growth hormones, organic, whole grain and less processed foods and support for CSA's and farmers markets are important investments for the health care sector to make in the health of people, communities and the environment." "These numbers are just the beginning," adds Harvie. "This initiative is not yet a year and a half old and more hospitals are signing every month. We've jumped from 19 to 21 States and added 8 more facilities in the last month."
Hospitals around the country are linking their operations to impacts on human and environmental health, and an emerging part of this trend is increased attention to food service. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is not alone in its work to encourage support for local, sustainable food. In 2007, the American Public Health Association recognized the urgency of transforming our food system and passed a policy to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health and ensure social justice. That same year, the California Medical Association passed a resolution that encourages hospitals to adopt policies that increase the purchasing and serving of local, sustainable food.
"By supporting local, sustainable food systems, these facilities are promoting health at the individual, community and global level," stated Harvie. "Across the country, pledged hospitals are continuously working to address the public and environmental impacts from current industrialized food production practices by sourcing nutritious, local sustainable food."
Posted on Thu, May 15, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Yesterday the (Food and) Farm Bill passed in the House and is poised to pass in the Senate today. As we mentioned last week, Bush is ready to veto but the numbers in the House vote suggest that they will easily be able to override his veto.
For good coverage, see:
Also, a great resource has continued to be the Community Food Security Coalition email updates (these guys actually have reason to be happy since some of the positive parts of the Bill that got bundled in are provisions for community food projects–good news!).
Posted on Thu, May 15, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
In the New York Times Dining section today, I read this:
Chicagoans can feast on foie gras once more. The Chicago City Council just repealed the ban on its sale that it put in place two years ago.
Now I know that many of my vegan friends will go ballistic on me when I say that this is a good thing, but this is a good thing. The animal rights groups who supported this measure did so because they saw it as a layup, and easy target. Who would oppose a ban on something only rich, snobby, hoity-toity gourmands consume.
Besides the measure being silly government intervention, it reminded me of the folks who say they won't eat veal because they heard it was cruel as they pull up to the KFC drive thru.
Banning foie gras saves a few ducks and geese. Wanna make a difference? Ban CAFOs. You needn't stop eating meat (unless of course you want to, that's entirely up to you), just stop eating feedlot meat. Get your beef, pork and chicken from the farmer down the road, from the farmers market, from a CSA. Trust the source, and you'll trust the food.
Posted on Thu, May 08, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Jerusha Klemperer
Again and again at the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development sessions on Agriculture, representatives from other countries reported that U.S. agriculture policies, such as subsidies, are negatively impacting poor farmers around the world.
And so–where stands this U.S. (Food and) Farm Bill of ours?
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that "the President has been to the left of the Speaker [Pelosi]." This surprising reality is well explained in this overview, which also points out that "as the commodities boom accelerated over the winter, boosting farm income to new records, the disconnect between the farm bill and economic reality grew more bizarre."
An opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls the state of affairs "topsy-turvy," offering that "Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which opposes large-scale corporate farming, estimates that a married farm couple could earn $2.9 million before getting kicked off the federal dole," calling on GW to veto the whole darn "massive, bloated [GW's words]" thing.
But that would mean starting from scratch with a brand new President, of course.
Posted on Wed, May 07, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Jerusha Klemperer
As this article from last Friday's Wall Street Journal reports, the U.S. has proposed 770 million additional dollars of food aid to address the growing food crisis. The U.S. delegate to the U.N. reported this in his remarks on Monday to the Commission on Sustainable Development, although he (as well as many other delegates) also emphasized that while giving aid is a nice thing, we, as a global community, need to address food security in a more long term way.
The U.S. delegate also stressed the need for "science-based" approaches to food security, and he was not alone. A British Ag Professor who presented on a panel on Tuesday made the case for the positive potential of biotech, i.e.: GMOs as the solution to many nutritional deficiencies in the developing world and GMOs as a way to increase production. He spoke out VERY harshly again the anti-GMOers, saying that Africa cannot feed itself without GMOs.
Interestingly, one thing everyone there can agree on: climate change is real, and is having real effects on agriculture, especially in Sub Saharan Africa. For better or for worse, climate changes' effects have become so incontrovertible that gone are the days when anyone could get away with challenging its veracity.
Posted on Tue, May 06, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA staffer Jerusha Klemperer
Greetings from inside the United Nations where I am observing sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development; this particular two-year cycle of the CSD is focusing on some important issues for Slow Food including Land, Agriculture, Rural Development, Biodiversity, Drought and Desertification.
I am here on behalf of Slow Food USA in order to understand how it is that global policy recommendations are determined for being responsible stewards of the land while also addressing the increasingly important issue of food (in)security. This year the conversation feels especially pressing and energized given everyone's concerns about the global food crisis.
The CSD was established as a way to ensure effective follow-up of the Earth Summit that was held in Rio in 1992. It meets every year in NYC, in 2-year cycles, with each cycle focusing on a different cluster of topics. The first year is for review and discussion; the second year is for creating the directives and language for moving forward. Civil Society (i.e. "regular people") is invited to participate by sharing case studies, lessons learned, and real-life problems from the field. This will help the commission to link good practice to supportive policies and identify areas for collaborative action.
I'll be here, on and off, for the next two weeks, and will be popping onto the blog to share updates with you all. Stay tuned…
Posted on Mon, April 28, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
The UN has scheduled a 2-day meeting in Bern, Switzerland, to discuss solutions to the escalating global food crisis. It will surely also be a hot topic of conversation when the Commission on Sustainable Development begins meeting at the UN next week; the main topics up for discussion include rural development, land, biodiversity, and desertification (more on this meeting in the coming weeks, since one of our staffers will be attending).
And over at The Nation, an interesting take on it all, with this sentiment from Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman:
"So,they finally figured out, after all these years of pushing globalization and genetically modified [GM] seeds, that instead of feeding the world we've created a food system that leaves more people hungry. If they'd listened to farmers instead of corporations, they would've known this was going to happen."
And, over at Grist, some interesting quotes and ensuing comments on the origins of the crisis–origins about which, at this point, we can only educatedly speculate.
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.