Category Archives: food security

The Flint Water Disaster: A Perfect Storm of Downplaying, Denial, and Deceit

Gregory V. Button

Flint, Michigan, the city portrayed as the embodiment of a rust belt city abandoned by deindustrialization in Michael Moore’s allegorical documentary, Roger & Me, has recently become a morality play of a different sort as it captures national headlines highlighting a controversial series of decisions creating a major public health crisis that threatens the health of Flint’s children.

After numerous complaints of the rising costs of the City of Detroit’s water and sewerage system, which the city had been dependent on for decades, the City of Flint’s controversial, non-elected, state appointed emergency manager decided in 2013 to switch from Detroit’s water system, and obtain water for the city from the Flint River until an alternative source could be developed.  The decision insured, if nothing else, that banks and bondholders to which the city is indebted, would be paid.

The decision ended up being a tragic mistake of major proportions. After the switch was made in April 2014 problems soon developed because the Flint River’s water proved to be highly corrosive, releasing lead from the old plumbing fixtures in Flint’s homes, factories, and schools. The water was so corrosive that the local GM engine plant switched their plant’s water system to another supplier because the automaker was concerned that the Flint River water would corrode their auto parts.

Tragically, the situation could have been avoided if the state had followed the EPA mandate to install corrosive preventative measures when lead levels in drinking water exceed recommended levels.  State officials further undermined the state’s integrity and the public’s confidence by claiming they were not required to install mandatory corrosive controls.

As lead levels rapidly rose to levels far exceeding the U.S. EPA’s recommended lead levels in public drinking water, Flint residents complained of malodorous, darkly colored water flowing from their home faucets, hair loss, headaches, and itchy eyes. Eventually some residents, including children, were diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Local officials downplayed the residents’ complaints and insisted that the water was safe to drink. For over a year, during which a series of mind-baffling decisions were made by the state, officials continued to downplay and deny the existence of a crisis. In an effort to avoid the scrutiny of the public, researchers, and federal authorities, state officials seemed to have chosen state and bureaucratic interests over and above the public good, creating a vortex of uncertainty and unnecessarily and inexcusably prolonging the crisis. The river water increased the exposure of Flint residents to lead, a potent neurotoxin that crosses the brain’s barrier and can adversely affect nearly every system in the body. Lead endangers the health of both children and adults causing slow growth, learning disabilities, anemia, and hearing problems. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of lead.

As evidence continued to mount that there was a serious public health problem, local and state officials continued to downplay the situation, deny that there was a problem, and deceive the public even when scientific evidence emerged contradicting their claims .  Residents were stunned when documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) revealed that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and state public health officials had, in an effort to deceive the public, altered documents contradicting the officials’ claim that the water was safe to drink.

In the ensuing months as state officials continued their denials and cover-ups local residents and independent public health researchers accused officials of hiding data, misleading the public and ignoring solid scientific research that clearly demonstrated the public was at risk. Independent researchers from the University of Virginia provided robust evidence demonstrating that lead levels in sampled city water exceeded 100 parts per billion.

This was a staggering finding: the EPA allows only 15 parts per billion in drinking water and, in reality, there is really no level that is considered to be safe. Additionally, a team of physicians and public health researchers published a report that showed that elevated lead blood levels increased after the water switch from 2.9% to 4.9% and in some neighborhoods rose as high as 6.3%.

Residents were further shocked when it was eventually revealed, through yet another FOIA request, that city, county, and state officials believed in the aftermath of the water switch that a deadly Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, resulting in the death of ten people, may have been attributable to the switch of the city’s water to the polluted waters of the Flint River.

Outrage continued recently when it was revealed that top administrators in the EPA’s regional Midwest office were aware, as long ago as last April, of Flint’s failure to install mandatory corrosion controls and the potential for adverse public health effects. Instead of informing the public of their concern, they delayed releasing the information to the public for several months while they battled with the state over EPA’s legal authority to enforce the federal mandate requiring Flint to install corrosion controls.

Over a year and a half after the crisis began, the state finally relented. Governor Snyder tardily apologized for the tragedy to the citizens of Flint, declared a state emergency, called out National Guard troops to distribute bottled water, and eventually asked President Obama to declare a national emergency, which would enable the state to receive federal assistance. On January 16, 2016 President Obama declared a ninety-day federal emergency, thereby qualifying the city of Flint to receive bottled water, water filters, filter cartridges and other items. Unfortunately, the declaration does not provide the state of Michigan with an estimated $600 million dollars necessary to replace Flint’s deteriorating water system, which may be the only way to fully alleviate the problem in the long-term.

Local and national media coverage of this tragic event has garnered considerable national attention resulting in calls ranging from a demand for a federal investigation to the arrest of Governor Snyder (a man whose corporate approach to government and reliance on unelected, state appointed emergency managers is thought by many to undermine local democracy). There are even some people who embrace a conspiracy theory that the children of Flint were poisoned intentionally.

Outrage has been propelled not only by what some believe to be gross malfeasance but also because of the fact that Flint, one of the poorest municipalities in the State of Michigan, has long suffered from racial discrimination, and ranks at the bottom of the state in rates of childhood poverty – as well as the glaring fact that 41.5 % of its residents live below the poverty level and nearly 60% of Flint residents are African American (see  Hanna, A. J. Le Chance, R.C. Sadler, A. C. Schnepp. 2015 “Elevated lead levels in children associated with the Flint drinking water crisis: A spatial analysis of risk and public health response.” American Journal of Public Health. Available online: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2015.303003); all of which, even upon initial observation, makes a compelling case for a  morality play about structural violence.

The author has been investigating the Flint water crisis since its inception and is currently writing a journal article and a report on the ongoing crisis. He can be reached at gregvorybutton@mac.com and 734-417-3371.

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Filed under anthropology, disaster, Flint, food security, neo-liberal public policy, water

CFP: Dystopian Underbellies of Food Utopias

With visions of Soylent (or the original, here) in the news these days, who can resist the following call for papers for a panel at the upcoming International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) conference in Zagreb, June 21-25, 2015.

Here is the panel description:

THE DYSTOPIAN UNDERBELLY OF FOOD UTOPIAS
Meltem Türköz (Işık University), António Medeiros (ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon)

This panel aims to bring together papers that explore the moral, aesthetic and philosophical axises around which food utopias are invoked, practiced and performed. Alan Warde’s insight that “the structural anxieties about our age are made manifest in discourses about food” invites us to explore the dystopian underbellies of food utopias. Whether they appeal to authenticity, peace, safety, equality, or plenty, food utopias inherently imply their physical, moral or aesthetic dystopian inverse: of industrial process, adulteration or contamination, distasteful palates, and of unshared bounty. In a cross-cultural parable about the difference between paradise and hell, people sit around a great pot of delicious food, holding spoons too long and large to feed themselves, only to be able to eat when they feed each other. Food-related responses to the industrial food complex, neoliberal globalization and militarization invoke the reciprocity and interconnectedness implied in this parable. The imaginary of un-alienated labor informs the marketing of otherwise industrially prepared foods. In the discourse of purity in extra virgin olive, of authenticity in heirloom fruits and vegetables, food imaginaries in film or literature, the spectacle of hospitality in tourism, or the practice of gift economies in social movements, actors highlight various stages of production, consumption and preparation. We hope to explore the following questions, among others: How are food utopias acquired or cultivated and manifested in daily life? What aspects of food production, exchange, or consumption do these practices and performances reify and make visible—and across which temporal, geographic and spatial boundaries?

The deadline for submissions on the conference web site is January 14th, 2015.

Send inquiries about the panel to Meltem Türköz (fmturkoz@gmail.com) or António Medeiros (antonio.medeiros@iscte.pt).

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, food politics, food security, Food Studies

Global Food Security Opportunities

Interested in global food security? Here are two opportunities to deepen your knowledge and pursue your research.

The U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program, based at Purdue University, offers a graduate research grant program and a summer institute. Funded by United States Agency for International Development, the programs are intended to develop the pool of American scientists with expertise in food security issues. Details on the program objectives are here.

The research grant funds research projects for U.S. citizens to study in foreign countries, in collaboration with mentors at an International Agricultural Research Center (IARC), or a  National Agricultural Research System (NARS) unit (visit the website to find out what those are, exactly). Applications are due on April 14, 2014. Details, including application materials, are here.

The Summer Institute on Global Food Security will be held from June 8, 2014 to June 21, 2014 at Purdue University. It is meant to help graduate students from U.S. institutions learn about the fundamental concepts and issues in the study of global food security. Except for travel to the institute, food and lodging are provided to anyone admitted to the program. Applications for the summer institute are due on March 10, 2014, with materials and details here.

Questions? Visit the website or send an email to borlaugfellows@purdue.edu.

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Filed under anthropology, food policy, food security, Food Studies

Book Review: The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence

BieseleJu

Biesele, Megan and Robert K. Hitchcock (2013) The Ju/’hoan San of Nyae Nyae and Namibian Independence. Development, Democracy, and Indigenous Voices in Southern Africa. Berghahn, 2011, 2013.

Ellen Messer
Tufts University

Biesele and Hitchcock offer a probing and insightful multi-decadal account of social and cultural change among an African people, including critical discussion of the roles of anthropologists and other outsiders in constructing external and internal trajectories of change. Mainly a political analysis, with very thorough discussions of changing cultural and national political institutions and their interactions, this volume should be required reading for any international development, education, food and environmental policy course. It also should be required reading in business school, organization and management courses, which increasingly incorporate ethical discussions. All chapters contain facts and institutional analysis by outsiders and insiders, and feature indigenous voices responding to internal and external challenges. The topics are the most important topics for the twenty-first century, namely, on what or whose terms will peoples be integrated into multi-national states, or be able to move fluidly across international borders? Who will make these determinations, and what kinds of education and political ideology will inform transitions from local to community and trans-local, and finally national or transnational identities?

Social scientists tend to throw around word-concepts implying that “development” and “democracy” are universal goals, without specifying who evaluates them or what paths get people closer to what the international community asserts are universal human rights. Here  indigenous voices illustrate how such ideas conflict with traditional cultural values, and how basic democratic concepts such as “representation” simply do not work routinely in traditional situations undergoing change. Instead, so-called democratic processes introduce new pathways and structures of social, economic, gender, and age inequality and violence, pitting young against old, male against female, and the few privileged individuals and strategically politically-geographically positioned and connected families against everyone else.  Millennium Development Goals suggest important narrative themes, rather than numerical targets.  Certainly poverty- and hunger-reduction, employment, child survival including reductions in malnutrition and improvements in education and health, access to water, health care, and hygiene, and environmental management and conservation are on the agenda, as are more productive connections between localities, developing country governments, and international agencies and agents of change. But such processes do not proceed without conflict at multiple levels, which the authors try to present from contending perspectives.

The most illuminating material here is on conflict-fraught activities of community-based and non-governmental organizations, whose large numbers and interactions are supremely important, ideologically and instrumentally, in shaping this people’s history, their historical communities, and the emergent independent nations who claim and seek to regulate them as citizens.  Given the long and multi-layered anthropological engagement with the San, the authors tell a story that is not entirely upbeat; for example, they witness young educated males learn and integrate less attractive aspects of modernity into their practices and ideas of the good life. These negative traits include gender violence and discrimination against both younger and older females. Educated males may also embrace increasing inequality and concentration of resources and power among their privileged few. As institutions of cultural change scale up, they consequently may benefit some few families over most. The historical ethnography furthermore raises the question of acceptable or unacceptable anthropological advocacy influences, as the narrative uncomfortably showcases some questionable actions and selective reporting on the part of anthropologists, such as John Marshall, whose films record a remarkable history of contacts and interactions with San over three generations, but then stops short of providing a reliable testimony about current politics and future implications.

Such caveats do not in any way distract from the seriously critical record of local cultural participation in the San’s forging their transitions into modern statehood identities, and of the shifting politics of NGO activities, relative to the real politics of states and international agencies. From my “anthropology of human rights” perspective, this is the only volume I know that discusses rights AND responsibilities in a multi-leveled, multi-dimensional, and coherent fashion, and successfully bridges “needs-based” and “rights-based” analysis of changing social structure and content, while incorporating local voices every step of the way.  Let it serve as a model for what is possible and desirable, and inspiration for so many Africanist colleagues, who otherwise choose to tangle, or remain hopelessly entangled in tropes.

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Filed under Africa, anthropology, book reviews, development, economics, food security, history

New Prize: The Thomas Marchione Food-as-a-Human-Right Award

Post by John Brett, President, Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition

The Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition is pleased to announce an endowed award that honors the seminal work Dr. Thomas Marchione did on behalf of the poor and undernourished in his scholarly work and through his work as a Peace Corps volunteer, at The Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, The Great Lakes Project on the Economic Crisis and USAID.  Made possible through generous donations of family and friends, this annual award will be given to a student whose work continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food security and access, and most directly, food as a human right.  Students applying for this award should demonstrate active and productive engagement with food security and food sovereignty issues.  The award can be in recognition of exemplary work already accomplished, in progress, or for proposed research in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.  It should show concern for the poor and undernourished and a willingness to take an active role in working on behalf of food sovereignty.  Ideally, it would be given to those who are trying to work, in Dr. Marchione’s words, on “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  Given Dr. Marchione’s legacy, preference will be given to proposals from students actively engaged in the central issues that animated his career as a scholar-activist.

There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work.  The award will be presented to the awardee at the SAFN annual business meeting at the AAA annual meeting.  For more information and application materials, click here. The application deadline is October 4, 2013.

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Filed under Announcements, anthropology, awards, Call for Papers, food security, human rights, Thomas Marchione

Did Feasting Promote Cooperation in the Ancient Andes?

The author excavating a camelid jaw. Photo by Jordan Farfan.

The author excavating a camelid jaw. Photo by Jordan Farfan.

post by Kasia Szremski
Vanderbilt University

Since 2008, I have been studying the relationship between intergroup interaction and agricultural production on the Western slopes of the Peruvian Andes. One of the areas that my research highlights is the way in which food was key to political maneuvering that took place during this time period.  The search for food was one of the driving forces behind pre-contact Andean geo-political maneuvering, particularly during the Late Intermediate Period (1100-1472 CE).  The steepness of the Andean slopes creates stacked microclimates and each of these microclimates is suited to growing a different suite of crops.  As such, Andean farmers had to maintain fields at various different elevations in order to add variety to their diets as well as to mitigate the risk of crop failure (see Murra 2002 for a complete explanation of this system).  This movement up and down the Andean slopes in search of agricultural space led to a great deal of interaction between different cultural groups in different regions and the outcomes of these interactions sometimes often wide reaching impacts on regional geo-politics (c.f. Dillehay 1979; Rostworowski 1973; 1988).

My research takes place in the Huanangue Valley, which runs through an ecotone known locally as the chaupiyunga.

Research area.

Research area.

The chaupiyunga serves as the cultural and ecological boundary between the coast and the highlands.  My data shows that the Huanangue Valley was the setting for intense sets of interaction between the coastal Chancay, highland Atavillos and local chaupiyungino  groups, all of whom wanted access to the very limited, but very rich, agricultural lands which were ideal for growing highly valued crops such as  maize, coca, chili peppers and fruit.  In contrast to other regions of the Andes, where coastal and highland groups tended to come into violent conflict with each other over access to agricultural land, the different groups in the Huanangue Valley seem to coexist peacefully with each other.

Based on preliminary excavation data, I am beginning to understand why.  We know that the local chaupiyunginos controlled the uptakes for the irrigation canals which also allowed them to indirectly control agricultural production in the valley.  As such, when the Chancay moved into chaupiyungino territory from the coast, they would have had to find a way to convince the local people to give them access to water so that they could water their fields.  As the Huanangue Valley was relatively far away from the Chancay heartland, Chancay settlers did not have the support they needed in order to forcibly take the irrigation uptakes.  However, the Chancay did have access to highly valued coastal foods such as shellfish and peanuts.  During excavation, we found ample evidence of feasting at the Chancay site of Salitre.  My hypothesis is that the Chancay held feasts at Salitre and invited their local chaupiyungino neighbors to these feasts.  At these feasts chaupiyunginos were provided with shellfish, camelid meat and other delicacies as part of a strategy of alliance building, through which the Chancay hoped to ensure their access to water.  Thus, not only did the desire for food bring the Chancay into chaupiyungino territory, forcing the two groups to face each other, but the sharing of food helped alleviate tensions between the groups, allowing them to share water and land peacefully.

DSC06505I am working to prove my hypothesis through analyzing soil samples taken from Chancay and chaupiyungino sites in order to better understand where crops were being grown and consumed.  More information about my efforts can be found at  https://www.microryza.com/projects/feasting-interaction-and-the-middle-ground-understanding-local-geopolitics-through-agricultural-production.

References Cited

Dillehay, Tom. 1979. Pre-Hispanic Resource Sharing in the Central Andes. Science 204(6):24-31.

Murra, John. 2002. El Mundo Andino: Población, Medio Ambiente, y Economía. Fondo Editorial PUCP, Lima, Perú.

Rostworowski, María. 1973. Las Etnias de Valle del Chillón. Revista del Museo Nacional. 38:250-314.

Rostworowski, María. 1988. Conflicts Over Coca Fields in XVIth-Century Perú. Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology. no 21. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Note from the editor: Readers will notice that the author of this post has provided a link to a Microryza web site. This is a crowdfunding web site for science research. It seems that at least some graduate students in anthropology are using this as a way to fund their research. SAFN welcomes blog postings from graduate students whose work is related to the anthropology of food and nutrition that follow this model. Such postings must, of course, follow our other guidelines (see the Blog Contributors page for more details) for contributions to the blog.

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Filed under agriculture, Andes, anthropology, archaeology, economics, farming, feasting, food security, Food Studies, history, Peru, war

Zucchini as a Gateway Drug: Cultivating food security in Iowa through gardening

cultivateia_fbook_cover2

Elizabeth Danforth Richey, PhD, MPH and Angie Tagtow MS, LD, RD
Iowa Food Systems Council, info@cultivateiowa.org

Do more with less. This mantra has become virtually universal in public health and social programming. In the face of the obesity epidemic and rising food insecurity, food pantries are increasingly taking on the role of nutrition educator and healthy lifestyle coach. Unfortunately, this work is expected to be done without the necessary resources. When healthy eating messages are provided in emergency feeding settings, too much of the food distributed through these networks is processed, shelf-stable foods with limited nutritional value. A food pantry staff explained, “It’s hard to ask clients to do something and not be able to give them the right foods to do it.”

One approach to creating accessible, affordable and healthy food environments is food gardening. Food gardening has become increasingly popular among community-and faith-based organizations, workplaces, schools, and among the general public. Food gardening can not only provide food insecure household with fresh local produce, but it can also infuse food bank and pantry food supplies with healthier foods through produce donation.

cultivateia_newspaper_ad_gardenersIn 2012, the Iowa Food Systems Council (IFSC) received a grant from the Wellmark Foundation to create a social marketing campaign to encourage food gardening as a way to increase the amount of healthy local produce in the food system accessed by food insecure Iowans. The goals of this campaign are to encourage: 1) low-resource Iowans to engage in food gardening and 2) gardeners to donate extra produce to emergency feeding networks (food banks and pantries) in their community. The project was designed and implemented by the IFSC’s Food Access and Health Work Group, a community of practice of 250-some partners engaged in some aspect of household or community food security research and/or programming. The multidisciplinary nature of community-based food security programming lent itself to an anthropological approach to understanding target communities within political, economic, historical, cultural and environmental contexts.

Project funding provided the luxury of 12 months of initial mixed-methods research to assess how messages could be effectively conveyed and the content of a social marketing campaign for each target audience. The assessment investigated the multi-layered challenges related to accessing healthy food, perspectives on gardening and produce consumption, produce donation, accessing fresh produce at food pantries, and other factors that could influence message distribution.

Key findings from the assessment were used as the basis for the state-wide social marketing campaign, including:

  • Broad partner support exists for the campaign, but financial and staffing challenges limit the expansion of garden promotion at an organizational level. 
  • There is low staff/client interaction time at emergency feeding locations.
  • Cost is the main barrier to housing, household resources, and food choice, all of which impact produce consumption rates among food-insecure Iowans.
  • Low-resource Iowans lack space for yard-based gardening, and perceive gardening as a time consuming activity.
  • Gardeners lack awareness of produce donation activities in their community, but are very supportive of the idea.
  • Gardeners are have specific concerns related to produce use and liability.

An executive summary of the initial research can be accessed here.

A marketing team took the key findings identified by researchers, and created the Cultivate Iowa campaign. This campaign was designed to be fun, positive and broad based. Rather than explicitly focusing on gardening as a way for resource-poor people to become less food insecure, it aims to provide general messages about cost savings, ease, and low-input gardening strategies. Implementation strategies, rather than the messages themselves, will target desired audiences. For example, materials will be distributed at WIC clinics and food pantries, and billboards will be placed in low-resource areas. Produce donation messages will focus on community engagement and donating any amount available. Cultivate Iowa aims to empower both low-resource and gardener audiences; a main concern is to avoid paternalistic or negative messages. As a key informant explained, “Zucchini is a gateway drug. Once you get growers hooked on how good donating feels, they will find other produce to share as well.”

The Cultivate Iowa campaign was launched on April 19, and will continue through the 2013 growing season. It will be promoted statewide through the Food Access and Health Work Group. Partner resources include campaign talking points, promotional items, brochures, postcards, posters, and vegetable seeds. In addition, a public and social media strategy will be implemented, including radio and TV, billboards, newspaper ads, Facebook and Twitter.

Beyond the marketing campaign, the initial research identified other issues cultivateia_poster2integral to the success of the campaign, such as supporting food pantries to expand their produce acceptance practices, promoting food panties to register at AmpleHarvest (think on-line dating for gardeners and food pantries), and creating educational materials about safe produce handling and storage practices.

So, how can you engage with the campaign? Regardless of where you live, visit the website to learn how you can cheaply and easily increase the fresh local foods in your diet. Pledge to donate produce in your community and find the nearest produce donation site to you. Help to support local and state level policy that creates garden-friendly communities, including public garden space, and tax incentives for commercial and private produce donation. More information about the campaign can be found at www.cultivateiowa.org.

Research will continue to assess the campaign’s impact on food gardening and produce donation in the state. Future strategies may include more focused efforts to promote state and local gardening-related policy, increasing engagement of retail partners, and more targeted messaging to specific populations such as SNAP users. (A little known fact is that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase edible plants and seeds.) Bringing anthropology to the table has worked to create a more effective program that situates the program objectives within the larger social structures in which the target audiences exist. Ultimately, our goal is to continue to encourage Iowans to Plant. Grow. Share. and to Plant. Grow. Save.

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food pantries, food security, gardening, markets, methods, nutrition, obesity, policy, SAFN Member Research, sustainability