The emergence of food as a political and social issue worth organizing around is demonstrated by the abundance of projects, initiatives, blogs, campaigns and efforts to realign food production and consumption around goals of social justice, equality and nutrition.
Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign officially kick-offs on Labor Day with a National Day of Action featuring more than 280 scheduled Eat-Ins in all 50 states. There’ll also be a virtual march on Washington with citizens encouraged to send a clear message to Congress to protect children against food that puts them at risk. The campaign seeks to have Congress update the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization later this month, to get legitimately nutritious food into school lunch programs. Slow Food USA chapter leaders have been working diligently to reach out to schools, PTA groups, churches, legislators, and community and fraternal organizations to bring as many people as possible to the table on Labor Day. More than 40 percent of local Eat-Ins are being organized by other organizations – or concerned citizens – that support the goals of the campaign.
In New Orleans, the scene of numerous innovative social programs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, ReThink has been working with chefs, farmers, architects, and artists to create twelve recommendations for changes in the New Orleans public school cafeterias. The recs included the standard (though important): buy local food, increase vegetarian options and use food garbage for composting, to things like banning sporks, redesigning eating spaces and the elimination of styrofoam trays. The group also created a video food game, apparently the first of its kind — The Ultimate Lunch Tray. In related NOLA news, Dayo Olopade’s “Green Shoots in New Orleans” from The Nation‘s new special issue on food chronicles how a frustrating quest for food security has led some residents to start growing their own.
Meanwhile, in California, the Edible Schoolyard has been operating since it was founded by Alice Waters in 1995 as a garden and kitchen classroom affiliated with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. The program hosts over 1,000 visitors each year–from educators, to health professionals, to international delegates–and has inspired countless kitchen and garden programs coast to coast. In 2005, ESY launched its first affiliate program in New Orleans. Today, there’s a small but increasing network of Edible Schoolyard affiliate programs in cities across the country.
The Healthy Corner Stores Network promotes efforts to bring healthier foods to small, neighborhood stores in low-income and under-served communities. Combating the tendency of corner stores (bodegas, as we call them in New York) to carry a surplus of unhealthy processed food products, liquor, and tobacco, the HCSN promotes innovative retail models, policies and programs like the Snackin’ Fresh social marketing campaign.
The Bioneers Food and Farming Program is striving to promote food literacy, increased access to healthy food, ecological growing practices and more just working conditions in US agribusiness. Recent projects have included the Seed Exchange, where hundreds of people traded heirloom, open-pollinated seeds to preserve biodiversity and the Alameda Point Collaborative Food Project, which operates an urban farm, producing food for low-income volunteer residents, including fruits, vegetables, eggs and honey and hosts free cooking classes. A primary focus is the youth food and farming program which brings together young community activists from coast to coast to share ideas, resources and solutions, as this video details.
Finally, here’s a list of ten simple things anyone can do to help improve our food system, drawn largely from the Hungry for Change campaign.
1. Stop drinking soda.
(Great way to lose weight.)
2. Eat at home more than you eat out.
(Save money; eat healthier.)
3. Support the passage of laws requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards. (Knowledge is power.)
4. Help get schools to stop selling junk food. (Our tastes start young.)
5. Go without meat at least one day each week — Meatless Mondays? (Single best way to help the environment is to become a vegetarian.)
6. Buy organic and/or sustainable foods without pesticides. (Chemicals kill.)
7. Support family farms by shopping at farmer’s markets and CSAs. (Take market share away from the corporate sector.)
8. Know where your food comes from. Read labels! (Knowledge is power #2.)
9. Tell Congress that food safety is critical. (Regulations need to be expanded.)
10. Demand job protections for workers along each point of the food processing chain. (Labor rights are a critical part of food safety.)
Please add your own ideas in the comments field below, and check out The Nation‘s new special issue on food.
PS: If you have extra time on your hands and want to follow me on Twitter — a micro-blog — click here. You’ll find (slightly) more personal posts, breaking news, basketball and lots of links.