Tag Archives: Food policy

What’s happening with the Washington Metro Food System?

Star Gazing Farm, Boyds, Maryland, photo by Sheila Crye

Star Gazing Farm, Boyds, Maryland, photo by Sheila Crye

Sheila Crye
Young Chefs, Inc.

The National Capital area is home to more than 6.52 million socioeconomically and culturally diverse people. Urban areas are surrounded by a rich agricultural community that comprises 28 percent of the region’s land mass and contributes about $1 billion per year to its economy. Because the much of population is relatively well-educated and affluent, there is an increasing demand for locally-sourced foods.

The food movement provides both an opportunity and a dilemma for regional farmers and producers of value-added products. There are growing numbers of new farmers and food entrepreneurs ready to expand small-scale, local food production. Local governments support the training of more table food producers to meet the growing demand for local, sustainable food, because they see it as a long-lasting element of their economy.

Farming is only sustainable if it is profitable. The dilemma for the prospective farmers comes from agriculture’s many challenges, particularly the high cost of land, labor and housing. Because the average cost of an acre of land in the Washington region is more than $75,000, prospective farmers often rent or lease land.

In an effort to control nutrient runoff that continues to foul the Chesapeake Bay, farmers must deal with extensive Federal, State and County regulations. Small-scale farming yields a low return on investment, and many farmers must seek off-farm income to make ends meet. Farming is hard physical labor. Unirrigated farmland is a high-risk endeavor, but water access can be difficult. There are comparatively few new farmers. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, the average farmer is 60 years old.

Much of the Chesapeake region’s 1.5 million acres of agriculture is dedicated to growing corn and soybeans for animal feed. Most of this goes to the Eastern Shore poultry industry, ranked sixth among the nation’s poultry producing areas. Delmarva chickens consumed over 104.3 million bushels of corn and soybean feed in 2013.

Some counties, such as Loudoun in Virginia, have begun developing a food hub to aggregate local produce and work out the logistics of implementing farm to school programs. The D.C. Central Kitchen is the only USDA-recognized food hub in the District of Columbia, aggregating and redistributing more than 200,000 pounds of local produce each year. In northern Virginia, the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture includes a farm, mobile market, food hub and new farmer education program.

Without a doubt, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), affiliated with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is the region’s leader in educating food policy councils and coalitions as well as high school and college students.

On October 5-8, 2014, the CLF hosted the Chesapeake Food Policy Leadership Institute. The goal was to build a network of food policy leaders who can more effectively lead food policy groups and better understand food policy actions.

“Teaching the Food System” curriculum, created by CLF, is free and downloadable. It includes topics like food history, food and animal production, processing, and distribution, food marketing, and food security. The curriculum is geared toward high school and college students and aims to give them a big-picture understanding of agriculture today.

“Introduction to the US Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity,” edited by Roni Neff, PhD, CLF Research and Policy Director, was published last month, October, 2014. The textbook looks at a variety of food system issues and focuses attention on connections to public health and other fields.

Silver Spring Fresh Farm Market, Silver Spring,  Maryland

Silver Spring Fresh Farm Market, Silver Spring, Maryland. Photo by Sheila Crye.

In 2012, CLF published a Baltimore City Food Environment map of businesses where residents could buy food, along with neighborhood demographic data. The map pinpointed where healthy food choices were and weren’t available. It was the precursor of CLF’s Maryland Food System Map, an interactive mapping tool and database to investigate Maryland’s food system, including how food is grown, processed, sold and consumed.

Currently CLF is working with Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture to develop a foodshed plan for the mid-Atlantic region. They’ve partnered with the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission to better understand what food deserts mean in rural areas and how to map them accurately. And they’re working with the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, which approved use of the map for city programs and policy development.

Sheila Crye is a founding member of the Montgomery County Food Council, where she chairs the Food Literacy Working Group. Her business, Young Chefs, teaches healthful home cooking skills to disadvantaged middle school youths through a grant-funded after-school program called Excel Beyond the Bell.

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Filed under AAA 2014 Washington DC, farmers market, food policy, Food Studies

CFP: Trusting the hand that feeds you

Conference of possible interest to readers of this blog:

The interdisciplinary research group Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel invites papers and panel proposals for its 2015 conference, Trusting the hand that feeds you. Understanding the historical evolution of trust in food, which will held in Brussels from 7 to 9 September 2015.

The conference will bring an historical perspective to the study of consumer anxieties about food. Paper proposals are due on December 15, 2014.  For more details, visit the conference web site.

 

 

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Filed under anthropology, CFP, food policy, food politics, Food Studies, history

What FoodAnthropology is Reading

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

An occasional and somewhat random list of articles, books, web sites, movies, television shows, and other sources of inspiration from anthropologists of food and nutrition. Feel free to send us items we should include in future installments.

The adventures of a French ethnographic film maker traveling across the United States, exploring local foodways. This is a very intriguing web project and a stunning web site. Settle in and enjoy the experience.

Watch  a lecture by Yale historian Paul Freedman on the history of celebrity chefs, at the annual MAD symposium in Copenhagen. If you visit the Mad site, you will find lots of other interesting lectures.

An interview with historian Elizabeth Abbott, author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History, about the role of sugar in contemporary diets, spotted by anthropologist Leslie Carlin.

Anthropologist and former SAFN president Janet Chrzan sends in this article in Mother Jones , which looks at a few recent studies about the American diet and concludes that while some people are eating better, any overall change in national eating habits will need to be driven by changes in the economy (income inequality, for example), rather than in the food system.

From Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet, to Green Acres, people have made fun of city folks who want to be farmers. But if you are seriously considering it, this piece from Modern Farmer might be a helpful read.

The U.S. Postal Service is honoring chefs with a new series of stamps. The article that explains this also discusses stamps in other countries that honor iconic foods. It might be even better if the stamps were scratch and sniff (maybe not the chef stamps, however).

School lunch has become one of the battle fields for the American culture wars. This article, by Franco-American journalist Hélène Crié-Wiesner, tries to make sense of the fight for French readers. The article, which is in French, suggests that the debate is less about food and kids and more about anti-Obama propaganda.

We have not seen the first issue of Render: Feminist Food & Culture Quarterly, but the web site is pretty interesting and you may want to take a look. For example, Phylisa Wisdom’s article on loving Mexican food in the context of U.S. immigration debates poses some sharp questions about culture, representation, labor, immigration, and other issues and might help start a robust discussion in a food studies class.

On the subject of journals, there is a new(ish) Canadian Food Studies journal and it is open access, so you can go ahead a read it even now. And if you want, you can also submit articles. Details and issues (well, 1.5 issues, it looks like so far) on the web site.

And on the subject of immigration and labor, this recent article in The New Yorker describes the efforts to organize fast food workers that have resulted in increasingly large protests, sit-ins and strikes in the last few years. The central demand is for a $15 hourly minimum wage in the industry along with recognition for unions, but the industry objects that this is too much. From the daily lives of workers, to the history of unions, the organization of the fast food and broader restaurant industry, there is much in this article for class discussions.

What are other food anthropologists reading? Let us know!

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Filed under anthropology, food activism, food policy, Food Studies, labor, nutrition

Food Forward on PBS

Food-Forward-COVE-16x9-288x162

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Food Forward is a new documentary series on PBS focusing on people experimenting with new (and sometimes very old) ways of producing food in the United States. The broadcast schedule is available on the PBS website and you can also watch full episodes there. There is a great deal of information about the show available on the Food Forward website as well.

If you visit the web site, you will see that the directors try to distinguish their shows from the cooking competitions, restaurant rescues, and searches for exotic foods that populate food television. But this is PBS, so that is not really a relevant comparison. Instead, Food Forward differentiates itself by not being another documentary about why our food system is inexorably leading us to nutritional and environmental doom. The makers of Food Forward argue that we need a way out, a plan, a way to save ourselves. The episodes document the stories of people who are trying to make food better. They call them “Food Rebels,” because they are taking on the industrial food system, finding ways to produce foods that they claim are environmentally sustainable, healthy, tasty, sometimes even affordable.

I have watched two episodes and the food rebellion looks delicious, the landscapes look beautiful, even the people seem spiritual and remarkably handsome. It would be easy to be cynical about all this — so much optimism in the face of our massive industrial food system might be a bit quixotic. But there is in fact quite a lot to think about here. There are fascinating food innovations, including sustainable farm raised fish in the very first episode. A lot of the innovations are described as efforts to return to older ways of doing things–from fishing with weirs to raising grass-fed beef without antibiotics or hormones. The farmers and fishers who are doing these things are also finding ways to make these methods profitable. These are hopeful films and, frankly, it is easy (and pleasurable) to get swept up in the optimism.

The two episodes I watched, “Go Fish!” and “The Meat of the Matter,” are about fishers, ranchers, and farmers, documenting both production (on ranches, boats, fish farms, etc.) and distribution (community supported fisheries, community supported farmers, restaurants, markets, etc.). There will be episodes that explore urban farming, GMOs, obesity, school lunch, and even hunting (at least 5 episodes are currently available on the PBS site; I assume more are to come). If all the episodes are as good as the first two, any of them could be usefully shown in anthropology classes dealing with food and culture. There is a great deal here to generate discussion among students, many useful questions to be raised. The length of the episodes (about 25 minutes each) also lends itself to class use. Take a look. Let us know (in the comments section) what you think.

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Filed under anthropology, farming, film, food activism, food and health, food policy, Food Studies, nutrition, sustainability

Food not Mines? Questions Regarding Sweden’s National Mining and Food Policies and Sami Rights

Amanda S. Green
Oregon State University

On September 14 Sweden will hold its national and municipal elections. What is most remarkable about these elections – from my perspective – is the increasing popularity of Sweden’s right-wing, nationalist party (the Swedish Democrats) that only gained parliamentary standing in the 2010 elections (with 5.7% of the vote) and the unprecedented attention paid to questions of Sami and reindeer herding rights.

In a recent interview on national radio with the Swedish Democrat’s leader, Jimmie Åkesson, the reporter asked for the party’s position on Sami land use rights and Sweden’s intention to continue mining in the north (the historic lands of the Sami people). Åkesson’s response was typical for his party: “by Sami I suppose you mean reindeer herders, the 10% of Sami who engage in herding on nearly one third of the country’s land. Mining is important to Sweden, and if it has to take account of reindeer herding it will be hindered. A balance has to be found, and the national interest must take priority.” Åkesson then dismissed the reporter’s question regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

At this moment, most of Sweden’s leading political parties (including right-wing, center/moderate, and socialist) are strongly promoting the mining of iron in the north to largely foreign companies, but not without debate. Much of this discussion has been occurring in Jokkmokk, the rural town where I have been conducting ethnographic research for the past year. Jokkmokk is unique in northern Sweden. It is in one of the few regions that has no mining industry, has a strong reindeer herding industry, and has a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Laponia, within its borders.

Where does food come in to a discussion of mining? Sweden’s leading political parties have simultaneously been building the national Matlandet program (the Culinary Nation) that is intended to revitalize Sweden’s rural regions by building artisanal and local food production. In 2014 Jokkmokk was selected as Sweden’s Matlandethuvudstad, or Culinary Capital, partly in recognition of the Sami culinary and reindeer heritage that is so strong in the region as well as the wild products that come from its mountains and forests.

Jokkmokk’s inhabitants live between the tensions of these two national programs: mining town or food town. Government representatives from both the food and mining sectors have visited the town during the past year, each there to promote or explain their programs. In interviews, food producers expressed positive and negative views to mining, acknowledging that more customers and more money help any business at the same time that Jokkmokk’s nature-based image and the land base for wild food production are destroyed. They are also unsure that food production or mining alone are the solution to revitalizing rural areas.

Sami Slow Food

 

Interesting forms of protest occur within this tension. For example, Slow Food Sapmi released a beautiful and informative cookbook this spring Smak på Sapmi (Taste of Sapmi) involving many individuals from the Jokkmokk area. On the same day of the cookbook release, the below image of a Swedish open pit mine began to circulate via Facebook. Overlaid on the image is the text: Taste of Sapmi: The Colonizer’s Best Recipes, New Chapter, Mining Boom 2.0.

Sami Open Pit2

 

The context raises questions about national policies, the role of food in rural development and imagination, not to mention questions of indigenous rights and recognition. For anyone headed to Slow Food’s biannual Terra Madre this year, check out the Slow Food Sápmi booth and cookbook (send me your impressions!). Until then, I will be writing and awaiting the results of this election. Thus far, polls indicate increasing support (10%) for the Swedish Democrats, and yet quite interestingly, support for Sami cuisines also continues to grow.

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Filed under anthropology, food activism, food politics, human rights, indigenous people, Sweden

Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students

SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market

Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food activism, food politics, students

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