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Friday, January 25, 2013

Cliff Avoided, but Democracy's Future in Question

Originally published on the Huffington Post.

An incredible whirlwind of activity occurred in Washington amidst two weeks of holidays, and the happy result was an avoidance of the so-called fiscal cliff. While it's true we avoided legislative chaos, democracy took a shameful hit that sent a sobering message to policy advocates everywhere: "at the end of the day, your efforts mean nothing."

While ethically compromised deals were occurring everywhere, one of the most blatant power grabs occurred through the last-minute, nine-month extension of the farm bill. The previous five-year farm bill expired on September 30, and Congress needed to take action by January 1 in order to avoid a legislative "poison pill" that would have shot milk prices up to $7-per-gallon. The potential symbolism of poor children unable to afford milk due to Congressional inaction was enough to make something happen.

So a farm bill extension passed at the 11th hour, though not exactly in the manner taught in high-school civics. In theory, legislation goes through a methodical process of committees, sub-committees, hearings and floor votes in both the House and the Senate. The different bills emerging from the two Congressional bodies then gets ironed out by a conference committee and then finalized by a signature from the president...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

IATP Food and Community Fellows program to end in April

Dear Friends,

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be ending the IATP Food and Community Fellows program at the conclusion of the current two-year class of fellows’ term in April 2013.

Launched in 2001, the program has made major contributions to efforts for a fair, green, healthy and affordable food system. With 86 outstanding alumni, the program has supported the development of many leading public officials, farmers, community advocates, writers, filmmakers, academics, public health experts and other professionals contributing to a better food system. The IATP Food and Community Fellows website provides a biography for each fellow, as well as several blog posts that highlight some of the outstanding work over the years.

Over the past 12 years, the program has not only contributed to the career of fellows but has made major contributions to the growing food movement. Several fellows have been integral to efforts to address or promote farm to school, farmworker justice, childhood obesity, equitable food access, local food systems, better conservation practices, food sovereignty, and greater equity across race, class and gender in the production and distribution of food. We all benefit from the leadership and creativity that fellows developed over their two-year fellowship as many fellows are serving in...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is There Hope for Soul Food Junkies?

Originally published on the PBS Next Avenue blog.

If you are an African-American of a certain age, you know what "soul food" has meant to our culture and history. Each of us has a story to tell about a favorite (or least favorite) dish that our mother or grandmother made back in the day. But as our rates of obesity and chronic illness rise — in 2010, for example, African-American women were 40 percent more likely to be obese than white women, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — increased attention is being paid to our traditional diet's role in the crisis.

Now filmmaker and activist Byron Hurt, 42, has taken a deeper look at the connection between our food and our health in the Independent Lens documentary, "Soul Food Junkies," airing on PBS stations around the country tonight.

"I grew up on soul food," says Hurt, whose parents are from Milledgeville, Ga., "and my mother is a good cook. It was always there on a consistent basis. We ate it for holidays and after church on Sundays."

Hurt's decision to examine the health-related impact of soul food came after pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in his...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fighting Hunger or Causing Hunger?

Originally published on Civil Eats.

On May 12, 2010, in the U.S. Capitol, Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro Wright made a stunning announcement. His company would donate $2 billion in food and cash over a five-year period to “fight hunger in America.” Key Congress members and anti-hunger organization executives gushed on stage about Wal-Mart’s leadership in this arena.

Fast forward two and a half years. We’re half-way through the time period of this commitment. How has Wal-Mart done on their pledge? It’s a good time to hold the retail giant accountable. According to the company’s Web site, it has distributed 594 million pounds of free food, about halfway toward their goal of 1.2 billion pounds. According to Mike Moran, Oregon Food Bank’s Food Resource Development Director, most of the food they receive from Wal-Mart is of excellent nutritional value, but no longer sellable because of looming expiration dates or declining quality.

With regard to its cash donations, Wal-Mart has distributed $122 million in anti-hunger grants, also about halfway toward their $250 million goal. Overall, the vast...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The one issue food activists should focus on

Ask a dozen food activists what political change they want to see in 2013 and you’ll get a dozen different answers, maybe two dozen: Restrict sodium in packaged foods. Label genetically modified ingredients. End subsidies to big farms.

All are critical. But I couldn’t see any of those getting a bunch of tattooed chefs or idealistic college kids or suburban moms, let alone all of them, to lobby their member of Congress. But there was one thing that might: Getting antibiotics off the farm and out of the food supply.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States — about 28.8 million pounds — are given to animals that are raised for food. Most of those animals are perfectly healthy, but they receive regular doses of medicine to make them grow faster, to make up for cramped conditions on industrial farms. Those two “benefits” are part of how producers keep the price of meat cheap. The problem is that antibiotic overuse breeds drug-resistant ­superbugs that can move from animals to people in numerous ways, including via the meat we eat.

In this month’s Smarter Food column, I argue that food activists should and can–and should–come together to push Congress to ban antibiotics on big farms. The move would keep antibiotics working for humans and go a long way to cleaning up factory farms. ...

Friday, December 21, 2012

VIDEO: Raj Patel on the "gift" of empowerment

See video

Here's to creating a better world and food system in 2013! Video by

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Detroit: A Raisin in the Sun?

Council member Ken Cockrel must be trippin’! On Tuesday, December 11, after he, along with Saunteel Jenkins, James Tate, Gary Brown, and Charles Pugh, voted to approve the ill-conceived Hantz land sale proposal, he was quoted in the Detroit Free Press as saying, “a ‘no’ vote would have sent the message to the world that Detroit isn’t really serious about urban agriculture.” The foremost advocates and practitioners of urban agriculture in Detroit opposed the Hantz proposal. It is groups like Feedom Freedom Growers, Earthworks Urban Farm, the Garden Resource Program and D-Town Farm that have informed the nation and the world that Detroiters are serious about urban agriculture.

Councilman Gary Brown is trippin’ too! In the same article, referring to the vocal opponents of the land grab, he was quoted as saying “very few of them talked about the Hantz Farms project. It was mostly about a dysfunctional city government that makes it hard for them to buy” land. There have been many arguments waged against the scale and type of farming that Hantz proposes. There have been calls for an environmental impact survey. There were pleas to hold off on this deal until after Detroit's comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance is passed by the city council (which is expected to be next month). There were major...

Friday, December 14, 2012

How a Soul Train can help kids eat healthier

Originally published by Baby Center.

If you are a mom who wants to save money at the grocery store and fill your cart with healthier food items, I have one foolproof tip for you. Please stay with me, because I assure you this will work.

Are you ready?

The one thing every mom should do to save money and shop healthier at the grocery store is…(wait for it…) DANCE!

Yes, that’s right—dance.

Well not just any dance. I recommend a hearty Soul Train line.

Let me explain how this works.

You may recall the 1970s R &B and soul musical variety supershow called Soul Train, hosted by the creative genius and iconic legend, Don Cornelius. One of the more popular segments of the show was called the Soul Trainline, where the dancers formed two parallel lines with ample space in between.

As the music played, each dancer would take a turn strutting their high-energy stuff down the line. For African Americans, the soul train line is still a cultural must-do, especially at weddings, parties and family reunions.

But what I realized about the grocery store is that most aisles are useless—two rows of high-calorie snacks, processed foods or sugary cereals. I would usually skip those aisles, much to my children’s dismay...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When the child of a "Baconator" mom goes vegetarian

Originally published in Baby Center.

The note on my desk began like this: “Dear Mom, I will no longer eat anything with a face.”


Of course, I was eating a turkey and bacon sandwich at the time.

This declaration from my daughter that she wanted to become a vegetarian was quite a shock. Especially, as a meat loving mother. I mean, I’m a grilled chicken, lean turkey and the monthly medium well burger, kind of meat lover. But a meat lover nonetheless. Oh, and bacon is my weakness. Or as I tell my girlfriends, “Bacon is the truth.”

I’m proud of my daughter for thinking about her food choices. I raise my children to read food labels, think about sugar and sodium content, eat healthy food and we even spoke to the manager at our local (and beloved) Chipotle, during an intense campaign to get Chipotle to join the Fair Food Program to improve wages and working conditions for tomato farmers in Florida. (they eventually did!).

But let’s just put it out there, I was really thinking about myself. As a single parent, meal planning is already a challenge, now I would have to factor in a second meal or meatless version of our planned dinners?? Oy! And what do I know about tofu?? Quite frankly, anything that...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Young Black Farmers: Growing Our Own Path

IATP Food and Community Fellow Kelvin Graddick's new blog, Growing Our Own Path, is the story of a young, black farmer's journey to revitalize his family's farmer cooperative in rural West Georgia. Graddick, 23, manages the West Georgia Farmers Co-op in Hamilton, Georgia, which his family co-founded 50 years ago. The co-op aims to provide low income people with farming opportunities and to provide the community with fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Graddick began work revitalizing the co-op when he became a Food and Community Fellow last year. Since then, the co-op has raised $20,000, made repairs to the central building, and had its first organized growing season in over 20 years.

According to Graddick, who was recently named to the Advisory Committee of the National Young Farmers' Coalition, this work has been about a lot more than construction work and collard harvests:

"Working as manager of the West Georgia Farmer’s cooperative has opened my eyes to many things. One thing that sometimes disturbs me is the lack of young African American people in farming careers around here and around the nation. In our area the issues of land loss and the...

Meet the Fellows

Kandace Vallejo

Kandace Vallejo works with first-generation Latino youth to educate, organize, and take action to create a more just and equitable food system for workers and consumers alike.

Ideas in focus

Cultivating Leadership and Equity in the Food Movement

April 2013

The IATP Food and Community Fellows Program is coming to an end, but it's springtime for our work growing equity in the food system and cultivating diverse leadership in the movement.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

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