Last October, Michael Pollan wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine where he boldly stated that the ability of California’s to pass Proposition 37 would be indicative as to whether or not there is a real “food movement” in America. Prop 37 failed.
Proposition 37 was the California ballot measure that would have required all genetically modified (GM) foods to be labeled. In stating this critique, Pollan was not so much asserting that that GMOs are the number one concern within the food system. Instead, he argues that this would have been a marker to show that all those concerned with issues relating to food, could come together against the industrial food chain.
Pollan highlights one of the greatest challenges the food world faces. Unlike an issue like climate change, which ultimately has one main end goal (reducing atmospheric green house gases), there isn’t just one central problem within our current food system. Instead, our dysfunctional system consists of many different problems, with many different stakeholders, each with their own agendas and often with conflicting interests: While the organic folks are fighting to reduce pesticide use, anti-hunger and nutrition activist are focusing on increasing consumption of all fruits and vegetables.
The result of which, is that we have become fragmented in our efforts. While the number of people and organizations involved within the realm of “food” has exponentially grown in recent years, everyone is focused on their own agendas. In “Food Movements Unite,” Eric Holt Gimenez, executive director of Food First, highlights this dilemma, saying there is not just one food movement, but multiple movements.
Yet the food system is inextricably interconnected. In order to address hunger and nutrition, we also need to reconsider methods of food production, distribution, and retail. Is the reason poor people are not eating healthier due to their lack of money, or is their lack of money due to the fact that industries such as the food industry are not paying their workers a living wage? So how can we come together to create a “food movement”?
The emergence of food policy councils is a promising step, by bringing together a diverse group of people all concerned around different facets relating to food. The Oakland Food Policy Council is composed a wide range of activists, lawyers, community organizers, city planners, students, and policy analysts, chefs, and emergency food workers and public health employees. It is the ability for them to come together that we can begin to see major changes here in Oakland, as well throughout the state and across the nation.
Join us in a team run at the Oakland Running Festival on March 24th 2013 in support of an equitable and sustainable food system in Oakland! Sign up now!
Register to run a 5K (3.1 mi), Relay (up to four on a team), ½ Marathon (13 mi) or Full Marathon (26mi) and raise $200 for the work of Oakland Food Policy Council. Support a healthy Oakland and a healthy you!
Exciting prizes for the top three fundraisers:
Top prize: Edible Excursions- Get to know the area of North Berkley’s Gourmet Ghetto through a culinary walking tour for two guests. Excursion participants will be introduced to the area's history as the birthplace of California Cuisine spearheaded by Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. The excursion features conversations with the area's chefs and food purveyors, as well as a mouth-watering assortment of tastings and samples.
Second Prize: Adventure awaits with a kayak trip for two with Jack London's California Canoe. Explore the bay and see a unique side of Oakland. Want more daring? Open a whole new world of nocturnal activity by joining the mysterious and romantic moonlight tour.
Third Prize: Baia Pasta and Iron Horse Wine- Mamma Mia! Create a delicious Italian meal with this selection of pastas from Baia Pasta. Baia Pasta is artisan-made in Oakland and features the finest organic flours in America. Pair your pasta with this 2008 bottle of Pinot Noir from Iron Horse vineyards in the Green Valley.
All registered runners receive an OFPC goodie bag of gifts.
Want to support Oakland Food Policy Council but don’t want to run? You can volunteer to help out at a water station. Just go to Volunteer Registration here.
Food deserts are areas in a city without access to healthy food like fresh fruit and vegetables. They are often plagued by an overabundance of fast food establishments and liquor stores offering cheap calories but not proper nutrition for locals. Healthy Corner Stores is one project that has started in other cities across the country to combat food deserts within existing infrastructure by encouraging and teaching local corner stores to stock produce and healthier staples.
An interesting challenge of Healthy Corner Store projects is working not only with owners but also suppliers. Since these stores are smaller than a produce aisle at the grocery store one technique to avoid over stocking and loss of produce is to receive smaller deliveries more often. Another challenge is that often corner stores serve ethnic communities with certain food traditions that have different values and visions of healthy than our standard food pyramid. But, by working on a store-by-store basis, it is easier to serve each community’s needs.
Soon, a similar project will start in the Bayview neighborhood in San Francisco. The Southeast Food Access (SEFA) Food Guardians and the Bayview HEAL Zone have announced the public launch of their Bayview Healthy Corner Store program. A special event will be held on January 24, from 10am - 12pm at Lee’s Market on January 24, 2013 from 10am-12pm.
This multi-partner project joins corner storeowners that want to offer healthier food in the community with the SEFA Food Guardians and grocery store design consultants from Sutti Associates and is supported by Kaiser Permanente's Bayview HEAL Zone Initiative.
Last Saturday, I volunteered at the North Oakland farmers’ market with an organization called Phat Beets Produce. Phat Beets Produce is a food justice collective that was started in 2007 as a means to “close the gap between small farmers of color that lack market outlets and urban communities that lack access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food.”[i] One way in which they work to achieve this goal is through the distribution of community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, called “Beet Boxes.”
The Beet Box contains pesticide-free and/or organic fruits and vegetables contributed by small farmers. The Beet Box not only helps under-supported farmers market their products, but also supports those in Oakland who are suffering from diet-related diseases.[ii] For each Beet Box purchased, a $2 coupon is given to doctors in community clinics to distribute to their patients. The voucher can be used at three farmers’ markets in North Oakland, one of which is located right outside of the North Oakland Children’s Hospital.2
Each Beet Box costs $24 and includes 11 to 14 items of seasonal produce, along with a newsletter that shares healthy recipes and nutritional information. A “half share” box is also available for $14, as well as a fruit only box. People who subscribe to the boxes can pick them up on the weekend at any of six locations in the Oakland area. In addition, those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) can use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase a Beet Box.1 To sign up and/or find out more about the Beet Box, visit http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/order-a-beet-box/.
[i] "Phat Beets Produce | Food Justice." Phat Beets Produce. Web. <http://www.phatbeetsproduce.org/>.
[ii] Tian, Ye. "Phat Beets Produce Launches the Beet Box CSA Program." Oakland North. 29 Dec. 2010. Web.
On October 25, the CEO of People’s Grocery, Brahm Ahmadi, announced plans to construct a grocery store, People’s Community Market, in West Oakland by the end of 2013. People’s Community Market will be one of two full service grocery stores in the area, the other being Mandela Foods Cooperative.
With the presence of a grocery store, more currency will be kept in the area, in addition to the creation of local jobs. Research has shown the pressing need for the addition of local food sources, as there is a yearly expenditure of about $40 million by West Oakland residents spending money for food in other cities and areas of Oakland. Furthermore, West Oakland’s current status as a food desert has compromised local health, as 48% of residents are considered to be obese or overweight.
People’s Community Market, is planned to be considerably smaller than most standard grocery stores, and will offer fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, as well as some prepared foods at an affordable price. Furthermore, following the belief that West Oakland also lacks adequate community space, the market will have a sit down cafe area, host health education programs, as well as serve as a space for social activities.
Ahmadi says he founded People’s Grocery with the intention of it being a grocery store but was unsuccessful to complete such plans due to a lack of funding. Fortunately, recent contributions have helped make the People’s Community Market a reality. Two-thirds of the budget is coming from California FreshWorks Fund, while the remaining third is set to be sourced from community investment. Shares are being offered at a $1000 minimum and are available exclusively to California residents.
People’s Grocery currently provides access to healthy, affordable food through a mobile truck, community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, and an urban farm.
Schwartz, Ariel. “Building a Grocery Store in a Food Desert.” http://www.fastcoexist.com/mba/1680820/building-a-grocery-store-in-a-food-desert-with-funding-from-the-community#1
DeFreitas, Susan. “West Oakland’s Own Community-Owned Grocery Store.” http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/11/west-oaklands-own-community-owned-grocery-store/
A new type of atlas, titled Food: An Atlas, is currently being assembled. Darin Jensen, a UC Berkeley geography lecturer and board member of City Slicker Farms, proposed the idea of a food atlas. In June, he sent out a call for food-related maps to various university cartography labs, as well as food policy networks and professionals. Of the ninety submissions he received, approximately seventy will be included in the atlas. Jensen describes the atlas as “a project of guerilla cartography and publishing,” referring to the one hundred volunteers from across the globe who are working on the atlas, including cartographers, researchers, editors, designers, artists, and professors.[i]
The finished atlas will provide a visual representation of food in a variety of contexts. The maps will be organized in various chapters focusing on food production, food distribution, food security and cuisine. There will also be a chapter of conceptual maps, as well as a kids’ chapter, developed by the UK’s Geography Collective.[ii]
While many of the maps are of a national or international scale, several of the maps are local to the Bay Area. There is a map of taco truck locations in East Oakland, as well as one that provides a “snapshot of urban agriculture projects in San Francisco.”[iii] Other map topics include: global cropland distribution, community supported fisheries in Massachusetts, the rise of food banks in the UK, the redistribution of food surpluses in Italy, and the locations of U.S. farmers markets that accept food stamps.2
The collection of diverse maps will serve as a tool to better understand current food systems. The creators of the project explain, “By exploring and mapping the world of food we are able to gain a better understanding of the role food plays in our lives and our communities.”2
The creative food atlas is expected to be published November 15th and available for purchase in early December. The project collaborators organized a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $20,000 needed to publish the first 1,000 copies of the book. The campaign lasted from October 2nd to the 23rd, and in the end, $29,569 was donated.[iv] The extra money raised will go towards printing more copies of the atlas. It is estimated that the price of each atlas will be about $25 and the proceeds from all sales will be donated to a “food-related organization that is working for food justice.”2
[i] Twilley, Nicola. “The Beershed of America and Other Fascinating Food Visualizations.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 17 Oct. 2012. Web.
[ii] “Food: An Atlas.” Kickstarter. Darin Jensen, Molly Roy, Guerrilla Cartographers, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. <http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1276177353/food-an-atlas-0>.
[iii] Roth, Anna. “Food: An Atlas: Project Visualizes the Geography of Sustenance.” SF Weekly. 17 Oct. 2012. Web.
[iv] Handler, Mitchell. “UC Berkeley Lecturer Maps Food Production, Distribution.” The Daily Californian. 25 Oct. 2012. Web.
The mother of Anais Fournier, 14, who died due to caffeine toxicity after consuming Monster energy drinks is filing a lawsuit against the company. Representing the mother, the lawyer suggested that energy drinks need to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and should not be sold to minors. The teenager suffered a cardiac arrhythmia last December after drinking two 24oz Monster energy drinks within a 24-hour period.
The mother sued Monster Corporation in the Superior Court of California of Riverside County, alleging strict product liability, failure to warn and negligence in the design, sale and manufacturing of the product, in addition to other claims. According to the law firm, the two drinks combined that Fournier drank are believed to have contained approximately 480mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to 14 cans of 12oz Coca-Cola.
While the FDA requires the soft drinks to contain no more than 71.5mg per 12oz can, energy drink caffeine content is unregulated due to its status as a dietary supplement rather than a food. The suit also discovered that, according to the FDA's Center for Food Safety Adverse Event Reporting System, there have been six deaths and fifteen hospitalizations associated with the use of Monster energy drinks since 2009.
This issue can greatly impact the Oakland community, especially the teenagers and college students, who contribute to the consumption of energy drinks. More and more teenagers and young adults rely on energy drinks to last them through long nights of projects and test preparations, without understanding the danger of the high amount of caffeine contained in the energy drinks.
It is not too surprising once you give it some thought; communities invested in urban agriculture are stronger for the process. Urban agriculture allows community members to work, learn, and grow with each other. By establishing a sense of ownership over a shared physical space, those involved develop ties not only to each other but also grounded in the land and the products of that land. The literal fruits of their labor also can contribute to pride in health and sovereignty.
While these ideas follow from a little common sense, the organization PolicyLink can corroborate these statements. They recently published a report and action plan confirming what we know must be true titled, “Growing Urban Agriculture: Equitable Strategies and Policies for Improving Access to Healthy Food and Revitalizing Communities.” (The full report is available here.) The manual stays in step with their mission that they are “Guided by the belief that those closest to the nation’s challenges are central to finding solutions, [relying] on the wisdom, voice, and experience of local residents and organizations.”
With increasing support for urban agriculture in Oakland, perhaps reports like this one by PolicyLink can bolster the suggestions already made by our council and certainly in cities without food policy councils, this report could be an intrinsic tool.
This year’s Food Day, which took place on October 24th, was a huge success. Important achievements were the establishment of a comprehensive food procurement policy in Los Angeles and the addition of salad bars to six different schools in Boston.[i] One of the main highlights from the day was the release of a new National Food Policy Scorecard that scores lawmakers on a variety of food issues, including food safety, hunger, farm subsidies, farm workers’ rights, food stamps, and humane animal treatment.[ii]
Food Policy Action, a newly formed nonprofit comprised of leaders from both the food industry and environmental advocacy groups, developed the scorecard to “elevate food issues in Congress and provide an easily understood system for the public to compare lawmakers on those issues.”[iii, iv] The coalition analyzed how various lawmakers voted on thirty-two different pieces of legislation from the last two years and points were awarded to those who voted in accordance with the views of Food Policy Action, which include limiting federal subsidies to large commercial farms and improving food safety.[v]
The results of the new scorecard consisted of an average score of 58% for Senate members and 57% for House members. All fifty politicians with perfect scores were Democrats, including California Senator Barbara Boxer. Those with the twenty lowest scores were Republicans. However, there were some exceptions in which Republicans scored higher than Democrats.[vi] Scott Faber, Environmental Working Group’s Vice President for Government Affairs, stated that these results “suggest that food policy is a less partisan issue than some of the other issues facing Congress.”[vii]
Regardless of political party affiliation, lawmakers will be held more accountable for their votes on food policy issues. Food Policy Action board member Navina Khanna explains, “Voting with our forks isn’t an option for most people. It’s time to hold our legislators accountable for creating and enforcing policies that make a food system healthier for people and the planet. The scorecard allows us to do that.”6 To learn more about Food Policy Action and see how various politicians voted, visit http://www.foodpolicyaction.org/.
[i] Smelkova, Lilia. "Food Day 2012 Was a Great Success." Food Day. 26 Oct. 2012. Web. <http://www.foodday.org/food_day_2012_was_a_great_success_thank_you>.
[ii] Lochhead, Carolyn. "Lawmakers' Food, Farming Votes Tracked." SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle, 24 Oct. 2012. Web.
[iii]Daniels, Lauren. "The Food Policy Report Card Was Released. Here's How North Texas Congress Scored." Dallas Observer. 24 Oct. 2012. Web.
[iv] Nixon, Ron. "Lawmakers Rated on Food and Farm Policy Votes." Politics. The New York Times, 24 Oct. 2012.
[v] Magner, Mike. "Food-Policy Votes Placed in the Spotlight." National Journal. 24 Oct. 2012. Web.
[vi] Gillespie, Carla. "Food Policy Scorecard Shows Consumers Where Lawmakers Stand." Food Poisoning Bulletin Food Safety News. 25 Oct. 2012. Web.
[vii] Satran, Joe. "National Food Policy Scorecard Ranks Senators', Representatives' Votes On Comestibles." The Huffington Post. 24 Oct. 2012. Web.
Lately public attention has been drawn to the future 2012 Farm Bill and its impact on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). There is great concern that the SNAP program will suffer large cuts in funding. While it is vital that the SNAP program receives adequate funding, it is also important to draw our attention to how tax dollars for this program can be put to better use, particularly in regards to the promotion of healthy eating.
Approximately 46.4 million Americans benefit from the SNAP program and use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase their food.[i] With the exception of cigarettes and alcohol, SNAP benefits can be used to purchase all types of foods, including fast food. Here in Oakland, various fast food restaurants, such as Pizza Hut, Dorsey’s Locker, and Church’s Chicken, accept EBT cards.[ii] The SNAP program does not restrict unhealthy food, and many are arguing that such purchases are contributing to high obesity rates.
Health advocates argue for stricter regulations on SNAP purchases as a way to encourage healthy diets and reduce future health care costs. Those opposed to the idea include restaurants that profit from EBT purchases and advocates for the poor, who argue that such restrictions would further stigmatize people enrolled in SNAP.
This is not the first time this issue has been debated. In the past, lawmakers in several stateshave failed in passing bills to prohibit soda, chips and candy purchases with SNAP benefits.[iii] Although these past proposals have been rejected, food assistance programs that encourage healthy eating do exist. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) allows only healthy food purchases, encouraging the consumption of whole grains and foods with little added sugar.[iv]
Modifications to the SNAP program that restrict unhealthy food purchases at fast food restaurants, as well as grocery stores, could potentially decrease future obesity related healthcare costs, which already cost the country around $147 billion annually.[v] Money can be more effectively used in funding a SNAP program that emphasizes healthy choices, something that should be considered when revising the Farm Bill.
[i] Weiner, Dan. "Food Stamps Buying Billions in Soda." Yale Daily News. 2 Oct. 2012. Web.
[ii] Holland, Michael. "The Food Stamp Cash-in: East Bay Businesses Capitalize on EBT." Oakland Tribune. 13 Aug. 2012. Web.
[iii] Eng, Monica. "Politicians, Health Advocates Seek Transparency, Restrictions in Food Stamp Program." Chicago Tribune. 20 June 2012. Web.
[iv] "Nutrition Program Facts." United States Department of Agriculture. Aug. 2011. Web. <http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/WIC-Fact-Sheet.pdf>.
[v] Hicks, Nolan. "Getting More Nutrition from Food Stamps Is No Easy Recipe." San Antonio Express News. 21 Oct. 2012. Web.