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Just Eat It: Big Money Spends Millions to Convince Washington It’s None of Our Business What We Put In Our Mouths November 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food.
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by Abby Zimet

A disheartening but predictable loss for GMO labelling in Washington, where Monsanto, DuPont and other big corporate interests jumped in and spent millions, sometimes evidently illegally, to defeat Initiative 522 to label groceries containing genetically engineered ingredients. In a repeat of last year’s campaign in California, food, biotech and agribusiness giants barraged voters with ads and mailers to convince them labelling would raise prices and overwhelm their wee brains with too much information about what it is they’re putting in their and their children’s bodies – that, despite polls showing that over 90% of Americans actually support such labelling. In other words, they spent an estimated $30 a head to convince people they don’t think what they thought they think. Sigh. Colbert had the best response to the sorry spectacle, insisting it’s un-American to question if there’s any food in your food and quoting Fox News on the terrible consequences of no GMOs, especially on seedless watermelon – “You know what happens then – the seeds come back” – even though, actually, seedless watermelon isn’t genetically modified, but hey, who needs facts when you have fear? With some substantive strategizing for how to beat them next time around.

 

 

It Is Illegal To Feed The Homeless In Cities All Over The United States August 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Food, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty.
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Wikimedia

Wikimedia

By: Michael Snyder,
The Economic Collapse.

What would you do if a police officer threatened to arrest you for trying to share a sandwich with a desperately hungry homeless woman that really needed it?  Such a notion sounds absolutely bizarre, but this is actually happening in major cities all over the United States.  More than 50 large U.S. cities have adopted “anti-camping” or “anti-food sharing” laws in recent years, and in many of these cities the police are strictly enforcing these laws.  Sometimes the goal appears to be to get the homeless people to go away.  Apparently the heartless politicians that are passing these laws believe that if the homeless can’t get any more free food and if they keep getting thrown into prison for “illegal camping” they will eventually decide to go somewhere else where they won’t be hassled so much.  This is yet another example of how heartless our society is becoming.  The middle class is being absolutely shredded and poverty is absolutely exploding, but meanwhile the hearts of many Americans are growing very cold.  If this continues, what is the future of America going to look like?

An organization called Love Wins Ministries made national headlines recently when police in Raleigh, North Carolina threatened to arrest them if they distributed sausage biscuits and coffee to homeless people living in the heart of the city.  Love Wins Ministries had been doing this for years, but now it is apparently illegal.  The following is from someone who was actually there

On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.

On that morning three officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.

Our partnering church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.

Does reading that upset you?

It should.

And this is not just happening in Raleigh – this is literally happening all over the country.

In Orlando, Florida laws against feeding the homeless were actually upheld in court…

Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year.

That is yet another example of how corrupt and unjust our court system has become.

The funny thing is that some of these control freak politicians actually believe that they are “helping” the homeless by passing such laws.  In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has banned citizens from donating food directly to homeless shelters and he is actually convinced that it was the right thing to do for the homeless…

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police have struck again!

Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Glenn Richter arrived at a West Side synagogue on Monday to collect surplus bagels — fresh nutritious bagels — to donate to the poor. However, under a new edict from Bloomberg’s food police he can no longer donate the food to city homeless shelters.

Do you really think that the homeless care about the “salt, fat and fiber content” of their food?

Of course not.

They just want to eat.

It would be one thing if there were just a few isolated cities around the nation that were passing these kinds of laws.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  In fact, according to USA Today, more than 50 large cities have passed such laws…

Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

You can find many more examples of this phenomenon in one of my previous articles.

What in the world is happening to America?

The way that we treat the most vulnerable members of our society says a lot about who we are as a nation.

Sadly, it is not just our politicians that are becoming heartless.  Below, I have posted a copy of a letter that was sent to a family with a severely autistic child.  This happened up in Canada, but I think that it is a perfect example of how cold and heartless society is becoming…

Letter to family with severely autistic child

Can you believe that?

Hearts are growing cold at the same time that the need for love and compassion in our society is growing.

As I proved the other day, there has not been any economic recovery for most Americans, and a recent CNBC article echoed those sentiments…

How strong the economic recovery has been since the Great Recession ended in 2009 probably depends on viewpoint.

For those in the top 5 percent, the recovery has been pretty good.

As for the other 95 percent, well … maybe not so much.

Even though corporate profits have soared to record levels in recent years and Wall Street has boomed thanks to Federal Reserve money printing, most Americans are still really struggling.  The following very startling chart comes via Jim Quinn’s Burning Platform blog

Corporate Profits And Percentage Of US Population With A Job

The mainstream media continually insists that we are in an “economic recovery” and that the economy “is growing”, but median household income is actually 4.4 percent lower than it was when the last recession officially “ended”.

There aren’t nearly enough jobs for everyone anymore, and the quality of the jobs that do exist continues to decline at a frightening pace.

As a result, more Americans are being forced to turn to the government for help than ever before.  At this point, more than 100 million Americans are on welfare, and that does not even count programs such as Medicare or Social Security.

But nobody should ever look down on those that are getting government assistance.

The truth is that you might be next.

In fact, according to the Associated Press, four out of every five adults in the United States will “struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives”.

So don’t ever be afraid to feed the homeless or to assist someone in need.

Someday you might be the one that needs the help.


Sources :

  1. The Economic Collapse
  2. Image Credit

Read more http://www.trueactivist.com/it-is-illegal-to-feed-the-homeless-in-cities-all-over-the-united-states/

Fast Feud Nation August 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Food, Humor, Labor.
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It seems like everybody’s talking about the low wage worker strikes that just swept the country, and we need to make sure that they keep talking.

After hundreds of fast food and retail workers in 7 cities walked off the job demanding decent wages, more and more people are finally waking up to the fact that the millions of workers making minimum wage are scrambling to survive while profits and executive pay skyrocket. Even the mainstream media is starting to discuss how badly big, profitable fast food chains like McDonald’s are exploiting their workers — but as usual, no one is doing it as well as The Daily Show. This hilarious clip from the week of the strikes captures why this burgeoning movement is so important — and it’s a perfect introduction for people who haven’t paid attention to the strikes yet.

Thanks for all you do,
Rob, Kaytee, and the team at SumOfUs

 

Migrant Workers and America’s Harvest of Shame August 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Labor, Race.
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Roger’s note: I participated in the Cesar Chavez lead farmworkers struggle in California in the late 1960s, and it is more than disheartening to know that fifty years later things have not improved.  But why am I not surprised?  Under capitalist economic relations, things always get worse, with only occasional temporary mitigation that results from intense labor organizing.  That exploitation and degrading working conditions are rife in the realm of harvesting the very food we eat is a tribute to the dehumanizing world of capitalism we inhabit.  Big agri-business and the whores (with apologies to honest sex trade workers for the use of the term) in all three branches of government that are responsible for this disgrace are criminals by any logical definition of the term.

The great reporter Edward R. Murrow titled his 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame on the merciless exploitation of the migrant farmworkers by the large growers and their local government allies. Over fifty years later, it is still the harvest of shame for nearly two million migrant farmworkers who follow the seasons and the crops to harvest our fruits and vegetables.

(Photo: FLOC)

As a student I went through migrant farmworker camps and fields and wrote about the abysmally low pay, toxic, unsafe working conditions, contaminated water, housing hovels and the complete absence of any legal rights.

It is a perversely inverted society when the people who do the backbreaking work to harvest one of the necessities of life are underpaid, underinsured, under-protected and under-respected while the Chicago commodity brokers – where the white collar gamblers sit in air-conditioned spaces and speculate on futures in foodstuffs’ prices – are quite well off, to put it modestly.

It probably won’t surprise you that the grapes, peaches, watermelons, strawberries, apricots and lettuce that you’re eating this week are brought to you from the fields by the descendants of the early migrant workers. Their plight is not that much better, except for the very few working under a real union contract.

Start with the exclusion of farmworkers from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Then go to the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which is aimed at protecting farmworkers and their families from pesticides but is outdated, weak and poorly enforced.

Continue on to the unyielding local power of growers and their campaign-cash indentured local, state and Congressional lawmakers. The recent shocking description of the tomato workers in central Florida in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, shows how close defenseless migrant workers can come to involuntary servitude.

In a recent television interview, featuring Baldemar Velasquez – a vigorous farm worker organizer – Bill Moyers summarized the period since Harvest of Shame: “Believe it or not, more than fifty years later, the life of a migrant laborer is still an ordeal. And not just for adults. Perhaps as many as half a million children, some as young as seven years old, are out in the fields and orchards working nine to ten hour days under brutal conditions.” (See the full interview here.)

Among the conditions Moyers was referring to are the daily exposures to pesticides, fertilizers and the resulting chemical-related injuries and sicknesses. Far more of these pesticides end up in the workers’ bodies than are found in our food. President of Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein writes: “Short-term effects include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, blindness, nausea, dizziness, headache, coma and even death. Pesticides also cause infertility, neurological disorders and cancer.”

In a recent letter appeal by the United Farm Workers (UFW), the beleaguered small union representing farmworkers, these ailments were connected to real workers by name. Focusing on the large grape grower – Giumarra Vineyeards of California – the UFW describes one tragedy of many: “After ten hours laboring under a blazing July sun, 53-year-old Giumarra grape picker Asuncion Valdivia became weak, dizzy and nauseated. He couldn’t talk. He lay down in the field. The temperature was 102 degrees.

Asuncion’s 21-year-old son, Luis, and another worker rushed to his aid. Someone called 911. But a Giumarra foreman cancelled the paramedics. He told Luis to drive his father home. They reached the emergency room in Bakersfield too late. Asuncion died on the car seat next to his son.”

For backbreaking work, kneeling 48 hours a week on crippled joints, 29-year-old Alejandro Ruiz and other farmworkers are not making much to live on. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour does not apply to farmworkers. Workers without documents are often paid less than those with documents. In most cases, they are too frightened to consider objecting.

It is so deplorable how little the members of Congress from these farm Districts have done to improve the plight of migrant farm workers. Members of Congress could be raising the visibility of deplorable working conditions faced by farmworkers and allying themselves with urban district Representatives concerned about food safety. This partnership could raise awareness of the safety of the food supply, the careless use of agricultural chemicals, and press the EPA to issue a strong WPS that emphasizes training, disclosure of chemical usage, safety precautions prior to spraying and buffer zones.

Is there a more compelling case for union organizing than the farm workers who sweat for agri-business? Federal labor laws need to be amended to improve national standards for farmworkers and eliminate existing state fair wage and health barriers. California has the strongest law, passed under the first gubernatorial term of Jerry Brown in 1975. Even this law needs to be strengthened to overcome the ways it has been gamed by agri-business interests.

Next time you eat fruits or vegetables, pause a moment to imagine what the workers who harvested them had to endure and talk up their plight with your friends and co-workers. Remember, every reform starts with human conversations and awareness. (For more information see the United Farm Workers of America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.)

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and “Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us” (a novel).

Wendy’s, What Are You Waiting For?: Calling on the Fast Food Giant to Stand up For Farmworkers May 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
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Who has freckles, pigtails, and is still holding out from joining the Fair Food Program? If you guessed the fresh-faced mascot of Wendy’s, give yourself a gold star. As part of its efforts to improve conditions in the fields, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers based in Florida, is calling on the fast food giant Wendy’s to step up for farmworkers and their families.

The Coalition has had an impressive wave of wins as many companies — eleven to date — have signed an agreement to improve conditions for farmworkers.  Of the top five fast food chains, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Yum! Brands (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and A&W) have all joined the Fair Food Program. In response to pressure from the Coalition and its allies, the list has grown to include Chipotle, food retailers (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s), and food service companies (BAMCO, Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group). The overwhelming majority of tomato growers now participate in this farmworker-driven commitment through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the industry.

By signing on to the agreement, companies must now comply with a code of conduct that includes protections for cases of wage theft, sexual harassment, and forced labor. Companies also agree to pay a small premium for tomatoes — just a penny more per pound. As a result, workers have safer working conditions and have started seeing increases in their paychecks for the first time in more than 30 years.

Think a penny a pound doesn’t sound like much? It adds up. Over $10 million has been paid out through these victories since January 2011. That number will only keep growing as more companies sign on.

Hey, Wendy’s, are you listening?

Wendy’s, of all companies, can afford paying this premium. One of the highest earning fast food chains in the country, Wendy’s comes in at number two behind McDonald’s. Nearly 6,600 restaurants in the U.S. and around the globe afford the company serious market power– influence that can go a long way to shift purchasing practices. Instead of leveraging that power to demand lower prices from suppliers, Wendy’s could be rewarding growers who respect workers’ rights.

Other fast food companies have stepped up, like Taco Bell. The fast food giant was the first company to sign on to the Coalition agreement back in 2005, after four years of pressure and organizing. In its announcement, Taco Bell said:

“As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields… We recognize there is a need for reform… We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” – Emil Brolick, Taco Bell President (2005)

 

Brolick and Taco Bell showed that signing on to the agreement wouldn’t threaten a company’s bottom line. In fact, Brolick’s tenure is credited with boosting sales and ‘turning things around at Taco Bell. Proof that profits don’t come at the expense of workers’ rights.

Seven years later, Wendy’s is still dragging its feet instead of following Taco Bell’s example — or more accurately Brolick’s own example, since he has now taken over as CEO of Wendy’s.

This week, as Wendy’s convenes its annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City, the Coalition is in town to make sure the company has its priorities straight. On Saturday, May 18th, farmworkers and allies will march from Union Square to nearby Wendy’s locations, reminding shareholders that farmworkers aren’t an abstract budget line item, but hardworking women and men who deserve respect. (And, sure, to give Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick a dose of déjà vu. He already has some experience with this, after all.)

If you’re in or around New York, show your support: join the march from Union Square this Saturday at 2pm. And if you’re miles from the action: raise your virtual voice and sign the e-petition!
As farmworker and organizer with the CIW, Gerardo Reyes Chávez says, “The change we are seeking is underway–and it is unstoppable. And it is unstoppable not because we say it is — but because there’s people like you taking action.”

Anna Lappé

Anna is the author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope’s Edge. She is a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute.

Christina Bronsing

Christina Bronsing is an activist and researcher supporting social movements that protect the rights of producers and farmers in the face of a largely industrial, corporate food system. Based in New York, she is currently engaged in research, writing and web roles with Food MythBusters, ongoing research around the social and environmental impacts of global quinoa production with Food First, and editorial support for the Food Security Learning Center at WhyHunger.

Care about Your Food? Then Care about Your Farmworkers Too January 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Labor.
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Published on Thursday, January 31, 2013 by YES! Magazine

It’s organic. It’s local. But did the workers who picked it have health insurance?

 

by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern

These days, most people involved in buying and advocating for local and organic food say they want to support their farmers. They imagine (Photo: MRader)

the people that grow their vegetables as sweating in the fields, cheerfully smiling as they pull carrots from their own land, which they till until the sun goes down.

The image of the independent and industrious farmer is upheld in places where “alternative” or sustainable food is sold and promoted, such as farmers markets and food stores, which often encourage consumers to “get to know their farmer.” Grocery stores that carry natural, local, and organic foods, such as Whole Foods and food purchasing cooperatives, commonly post large, glossy photographs of local growers.

But who, exactly, is a farmer? Is it the person who owns a farm? The person who sells food at a farmers’ market? Or could a farmer be the immigrant who follows the work from place to place and picks the fruit of the season?

Almost all farms, even small and organic ones, require hired help. In most cases, that consists of immigrant farmworkers who are paid less than a living wage.

People need to ask not only, where does my food come from, but also, who performs the labor to grow this food? For a food system to be truly sustainable, we must prioritize the well-being of workers as well as consumers.

For a food system to be truly sustainable, we must prioritize the well-being of workers as well as consumers.

Who’s behind your food?

Farm labor is one of only a few occupations exempt from most federal and state minimum wages and work-hour limitations. Of the farmworkers who responded to the most recent National Agricultural Workers’ Survey (NAWS), about one-third earned less than $7.25 an hour and only a quarter reported working more than nine months per calendar year. The California Institute for Rural Studies found that one-fourth of farmworkers live below the federal poverty line, and 55 percent are food insecure on average. (An individual or family is considered food insecure when members of a household lack access to enough food for an active, healthy life at all times, according to the USDA.)

In reality, however, farmworker conditions are even worse than those numbers suggest. Much of the research concerning farm labor is based on information gained from formal systems of employment, such as labor contractors. That leaves the majority of farm laborers who work informally, such as daily workers, unaccounted for.

Are conditions better on organic farms? Not as much as you’d think. Entry-level workers on organic farms in California make only 29 cents an hour more than their counterparts on non-organic farms do. That’s still less than a living wage.

And those workers on organic farms are actually less likely to have paid time off, health insurance for themselves and their families, and retirement or pension funds. Certified organic farmers have proven resistant to including labor standards in organic certification, according to a study published in 2006 in the journal Agriculture and Human Values.

Looking beyond the city

Some in the sustainable food movement work with the goal of directly addressing human rights issues in the food system. These groups and individuals make up what many call the “food justice movement.” Yet even in these circles, some organizations seem to have trouble focusing on the rights of farmworkers.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance has worked to bring farmworker injustice into the picture on college campuses.

Why are these workers so hard to see? Maybe it’s because most of our organizations are located in cities and staffed by young people attracted by urban life. Consider a group like Planting Justice, an organization in Oakland, Calif., which describes its work as “democratizing access to affordable, nutritious food.” It does this by “empowering disenfranchised urban residents with the skills, resources, and inspiration to maximize food production, economic opportunities, and environmental sustainability in our neighborhoods.”

Groups such as Planting Justice often work on initiatives to encourage and popularize urban gardening and to increase the availability of fresh food in poor urban neighborhoods. Although these are important efforts to improve the health of often underserved urban residents, they tend to limit the conversation to the urban core. Issues that affect rural places—including the plight of farmworkers—are left out of the discussion.

If the growing food justice movement is to truly confront injustice in the food system, it must address the rural poor as well as the urban poor. The fact that the workers who actually grow and harvest the food we’re talking about are also poor provides a natural opportunity for solidarity and makes this even more important to the movement.

Good news and next steps

Some in the food justice community are starting to work more broadly on issues of farm and food system labor, coordinating with farm, food processing, and restaurant worker unions. These new coalitions include The Food Chain Workers Alliance, The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, The Rural Coalition, and the Student/Farmworker Alliance.

Working together, many groups are finding more power to motivate policy change and raise working standards, increasing the visibility of food worker issues in the mainstream food movement.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance, for example, has played a major role in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food, bringing farmworker injustice into the picture on college campuses. In addition, The Food Chain Workers Alliance is working directly with rural as well as urban food justice groups, bringing labor issues into the conversations of foodies who may previously have thought only about whether their carrots were local and not about whether the people who picked them had health insurance.

By working in coalition, people who are used to advocating for healthier food in urban centers are beginning to learn from rural activists, as well as the other way around. If we are to truly see the creation of a more just food system, then organizations, individuals, and communities that claim sustainable and food justice ideals must start to expand their vision for a food system that is just in both environmental and social terms. That may mean pushing for revised agricultural trade and immigration policy, including stricter labor regulations and higher minimum wages.

Both sustainable food proponents and food justice organizers have shown interest in addressing labor-related injustice. But to truly make that change, those that care about our food system must broaden their views of food sustainability to include the rights and health of all producers and consumers of food.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern has spent many years working on farms and with agriculture and food organizations in Guatemala, New York State, and California. She holds a doctorate in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Goucher College in Maryland.

Can Healthy Food Eaters Stomach the Uncomfortable Truth About Quinoa? January 19, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Bolivia, Food, Latin America, Peru.
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Roger’s note: this article illustrates clearly the notions of “use value” versus “exchange value.”  These are categories used by Karl Marx to explain how under capitalism what gets produced depends upon its capacity to generate surplus value (profit) for the owners of capital.  Third world countries wallow in poverty while giant agribusiness use the land to produce single crops (monoculture) for exportation.  In a word, capitalist economic relations are incompatible with human needs and values.
The Guardian / By Joanna Blythman

The people who first cultivated the grain can’t afford to eat it.
January 18, 2013  |
 Not long ago, quinoa was just an obscure Peruvian grain you could only buy in wholefood shops. We struggled to pronounce it (it’s keen-wa, not qui-no-a), yet it was feted by food lovers as a novel addition to the familiar ranks of couscous and rice. Dieticians clucked over quinoa approvingly because it ticked the low-fat box and fit in with government healthy eating advice to “base your meals on starchy foods”.

Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.

Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes”, a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That’s the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.

Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.

In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.

There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat. But in the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.

• This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.

Farmers Rally at White House to Protest Monsanto’s GMO Empire January 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food.
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Roger’s note: this is not a very high-profile issue, but it affects each and every one of us.  We all eat food!  Under capitalist economic relations, huge amounts of wealth (capital) accumulates, and this creates a kind of unstoppable power that has the capacity to smother small and independent enterprise.  The result is that the interests of those who own and control capital trump the interests of the general public.  The destruction of our environment and the material destruction caused by endless war are far more dramatic than the contamination of our food supply, but, as we used to say, “we are what we eat.”

 

Published on Friday, January 11, 2013 by Common Dreams

As court hears pivotal case for small farmers and organic seed growers, opponents to industrial agriculture speak out

  – Jon Queally, staff writer

Hundreds of small farmers and advocates for organic seed growers gathered outside the White House Thursday, calling on President Obama and other lawmakers to come to their aid as they continue their fight against Monsanto, one of the world’s largest, most powerful—and to them sinister—industrial agriculture corporations.

 (Image: Ecowatch.org) The farmers and citizens assembled demanded the end of Monsanto’s “campaign of intimidation against America’s family farmers” and their relentless push for GMO (or genetically engineered-GE) crops. The rally followed a court hearing earlier in the day in the ongoing and landmark Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto case, in which OSGATA and other plaintiffs sued the biotech firm for its continual and aggressive harassment of organic farmers and independent seed growers.

“Family farmers need and deserve the right to farm. We have a right to grow good food and good seed for our families and our communities without the threat of trespass and intimidation,” Jim Gerritsen, an organic potato farmer from Maine and President of OSGATA, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the enthusiastic crowd.

Since 1997, Monsanto has sued, or brought to court, more than 844 family farms over “patent infringement” after their GMO seeds spread to nearby farms. The legal battles are more than most small farmers can battle, and Monsanto’s size and financial muscle make it nearly impossible for individual farmers to fight back. Many are forced to settle and submit to Monsanto sanctions.

“We need Court protection so that our families will be able to carry on our farming tradition and help keep America strong,” said Gerritsen.

Those that gathered called for President Obama to fulfill his promise to support the labeling of all GMO products, and also halt pending approval of GE salmon until independent long-term safety tests can be conducted.

“America’s farmers deserve to be protected from unwanted contamination of their crops and the continued harassment by biotech seed giant Monsanto,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots farmer advocacy group and plaintiff in the case.

Additionally, he said, “our current regulatory structure here in the U.S. has failed America’s farmers and consumers. The Obama administration needs to do the right thing to protect our farmers and make sure that new GE crops go through rigorous safety tests,” said Murphy. “It’s time that President Obama live up to his campaign promise to Iowa farmers in 2007 and label genetically engineered foods. It’s the least that he could do.”
And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:

The protest suggested an uptick in efforts to demand labeling, which was defeated in a California ballot initiative in November. Creve Coeur-based Monsanto spent at least $8 million in an industry-wide effort to sink the California proposition.

Vermont state Sen. David Zuckerman said at the rally that he is leading an effort in his state seeking legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified food.

Organic farmers, who are pressing a lawsuit against Monsanto, often complain that their products are threatened by wind-blown pollen from genetically altered crops.

“We want and demand the right of clean seed not contaminated by a massive biotech company that’s in it for the profit,” Carol Koury, who operates Sow True Seeds in Asheville, N.C., said at the rally.

Complete background on the OSGATA et al v. Monsanto lawsuit is available here.

A Death in the Family — and the Question Is: Whodunit? December 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Food, Labor.
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Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by Creators.com

twinkies

Born in 1930 in Schiller Park, Ill., the deceased was 82 years old at the time of passing, which ironically was the day before Thanksgiving.

Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed’s estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers. This left 18,500 surviving family members in dire straits. Indeed, the family contends that the octogenarian’s death was not due to natural causes, but to foul play — a case of corporate murder.

This is the drama behind the sudden death of Twinkies. Fondly remembered as “the cream puff of the proletariat” (and less fondly as a sugar-and-fat bomb that delivered a toothache in one bite and a heart attack in the next), this industrial concoction of 37 ingredients became, for better or worse, an icon of American food processing.

The father of the Twinkie was James Dewar, a baker at the old Continental Baking Co. who saw the goo-filled tube cake as a way to keep the factory’s confection machinery busy after strawberry shortcake season ended. Yes, the Twinkie was actually conceived as “food” for idle machines. How fitting is that?

But us humans happily swallowed this extruded marvel of comestible engineering. As a teenager, I probably downed my weight in Twinkies each year — and my long years on this Earth might well be due to the heavy dose of preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals baked into every one of those cellophane-wrapped two-packs that I consumed.

The Twinkie was the best-seller of Hostess Brands, a conglomerate purveyor of some 30 nutritionally challenged (but moneymaking) brand-name food products, ranging from Wonder Bread to Ho Hos. In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses. Thus, on Nov. 21, Ripplewood Holdings, the private equity outfit that had taken over the conglomerate in 2009, pulled the plug, solemnly announcing that Hostess simply couldn’t survive.

Why? Because it was burdened with overly generous labor contracts, the firm’s executives declared, adding that greedy union officials refused to save the company by taking cuts.

Wait a minute. They claim that the bereaved loved ones of the Hostess family killed the Twinkie? Holy Agatha Christie, that can’t be right.

Remember the horrible murders in 1978 of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk? At the killer’s trial, his lawyer argued for leniency on the grounds that his client subsisted on a steady diet of junk food, which had addled his brain. This claim entered the annals of American jurisprudence as the “Twinkie Defense.”

Even less defensible is the campaign by Ripplewood financial manipulators to lay the death of Hostess at the feet of loyal, longtime employees who, after all, need the jobs. In fact, far from greedy, Hostess workers and their unions have been both modest and faithful. Their wages are decent but not at all excessive — only middle class. And the charge that unions would not make sacrifices to help the company is a flat-out lie, for they had previously given back $100 million in annual wages and benefits to help it survive.

The true perfidy in this drama is not in the union, but inside Ripplewood’s towering castle of high finance in New York City. After buying Hostess in a bankruptcy sale, these equity hucksters proceeded to feather their own nests, rather than modernize Hostess’s equipment and upgrade its products, as the unions had urged. For starters, these profiteers piled an unbearable debt load of $860 million on Hostess, thus diverting its revenues into nonproductive interest payments made to rich, absentee speculators. Also, they siphoned millions of dollars out of Hostess directly into their corporate pockets by charging “consulting and management fees” that did nothing to improve the snack-makers financial health.

But it was not until this year that their rank managerial incompetence and raw ethical depravity fully surfaced. While the Ripplewood honchos in charge of Hostess were demanding a new round of deep cuts in worker’s pay, health care, and pensions, they quietly jacked up their own pay. By a lot! The CEO’s paycheck, for example, rocketed from $750,000 a year to $2.5 million.

Like a character in a bad Agatha Christie whodunit, Ripplewood — the one so insistently pointing the finger of blame at others — turns out to be the one who killed the Twinkie. Along with the livelihoods of 18,500 workers

© 2012 Jim Hightower

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Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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