Category Archives: markets

Solving the World Food Crisis

IRAS image
THE INSTITUTE ON RELIGION IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE
Fifty-ninth Annual Summer Conference
Silver Bay, New York
July 27 to August 3, 2013
 

Co-Chairs: Solomon H Katz and Pat Bennett

Food occupies a central place in human life. Not only are its nutrients necessary for our survival, but feasting, fasting, and sharing are integral to our history, cultural identity, and religious traditions. Yet, today, and for the foreseeable future, nearly half of the world’s people cannot enjoy the fullness of their potential due to problems with food affordability, safety, and access. Serious problems with food production and price increases currently leave about one billion people experiencing hunger, and many of them facing starvation. Another billion spend over half their entire income on food, but still have only marginally enough to eat. Yet, concurrently, at least another billion people in the world are experiencing problems from consuming too much food and/or from dietary imbalances and safety problems that result in serious chronic diseases and infections.

Among the questions to be addressed at this conference are the following:

  • What are the origins and evolution of human diet and the food system, and how does this knowledge provide new insights about our contemporary food problems?
  • What is the status of world food resources? How does it relate to macro and micro food problems locally and nationally in the United States and throughout the world?
  • How does food serve as a symbol and a substance of various religious traditions? Has the loss of social traditions surrounding food production, preparation and consumption contributed to the problems noted above?
  • How can the human food system be made more sustainable? How can healthy diets be safely and economically made available to all humanity? How can new scientific and medical knowledge optimally help with sustainability, safety, and access?
  • What are the tensions created by climate change; population growth; demographic change; global trade and commodity pricing; market and business forces; water management; energy resources; food to fuel; new GMO technologies; agricultural practices; land use and agricultural practices; increased meat, dairy, and egg production; food sovereignty at local, national, and international levels; increased socio-political interests; and the demands for human rights and just food policies?
  • What secular and religious ethics and values can help to balance and/or solve food problems at all levels of the food system? What human and institutional resources are now available or need to be developed to catalyze meaningful solutions to food problems?
  • What are the potentials of a combined science and religion approach to achieving sustainable solutions to world food problems?

One of the conference’s aims is to derive, develop, and disseminate a statement of principles for achieving sustainable solutions to some of these issues, based on such a combined approach;  and to issue an accompanying call to appropriate action at personal and communal levels.

An IRAS conference is a rather unique interdisciplinary experience, combining serious cutting-edge talks with many opportunities for in-depth discussions and workshops, as well as relaxed, informal conversation. Most speakers spend the entire week at the conference, giving plenty of opportunity to follow-up points over coffee and meals. Also, since conferees represent a wide spectrum of disciplines in the sciences and humanities, as well as coming from many different religious traditions, discussions are eclectic, stimulating and sometimes robust! And alongside the hard work of thinking and talking, and our traditional reflective sessions, there’s plenty of less serious stuff to enjoy too – music, art, laughter and jokes at Happy Hour, and all the rich and varied recreational facilities on offer to us guests at Silver Bay.

The deadline for poster proposals is April 19, 2013 and for workshop proposals is May 6, 2013. Visit the conference website for additional information, including a list of confirmed speakers that include several SAFN members.

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Filed under anthropology, Call for Papers, culture, economics, farming, food policy, food security, Food Studies, foodways, GMO food, markets, nutrition, obesity, sustainability

Dumpster-Divers and the Smoothies of Wrath

by David HGB Giles,
Fellow, Society of Scholars, Simpson Center for the Humanities
Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology
University of Washington, Seattle

My favourite Dumpster is locked.

I’ve been coming here for a few years, but now the lid is closed, and there’s a cable lock threaded through it to keep scavengers out. Scavengers like me.

The author researches the Burrito Dumpster, 2011.

Until now, I’ve poked happily about in the soggy detritus without obstacle. Hiding in plain sight at the end of a gravel driveway, outside the chain-link fence of a warehouse in Seattle’s industrial district, the Dumpster always promised at least a few unopened bottles of top-dollar organic fruit smoothies to the intrepid Dumpster-diver. Mango Madness. Orange Carrot. Hermetically sealed and conserved by Seattle’s frigid night air, they were nonetheless too close to their sell-by dates to be worth shipping, so they ended up here. On the right night, there were hundreds of them. There probably still are.

So why lock them up? My research with Dumpster-divers and grocers in Seattle and other cities around the US, Canada, and Australasia, explores the politics and the cultural economy of waste—particularly food waste. It echoes John Steinbeck’s dry observation of depression-era surplus and scarcity in The Grapes of Wrath: “The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price.” According to the USDA, for example, 5.4 billion pounds of unspoiled food are discarded by US merchants each year. A simple thought experiment and some rudimentary economics suggest that, if these edible surpluses were given away indiscriminately, the principles of supply and demand would undercut food prices. To paraphrase Steinbeck: Who would pay five dollars for a smoothie when they could pull ten of them out of the trash for nothing? In other words, what we throw away remains significant in its absence.

Of course, Dumpsters are not locked out of sheer Machiavellian cunning. Nor is food discarded with a calculating twirl of the capitalist’s moustache. Rather, food is wasted because it circulates according to its exchange value rather than its use value. Eleven perfectly good eggs and one cracked one are no longer legible in the way an intact dozen is, for example. And a bruised apple merely takes up space on a shelf next to another perfect one. A thing’s exchange value is, by definition, reckoned through comparisons. The apple that won’t sell, or won’t sell quickly enough, disappears from the shelves to make room for newer stock. So right up until the point of sale (or disposal), its value is virtual. Like Schrodinger’s cat, its fate waits upon one decisive moment.

Of course, what makes that moment decisive is the finality of the Dumpster—the “point of no return” in the social life of a thing. In other words, most people are averse to digging through the trash. And for this reason, businesses often don’t see a need to lock up their waste. Increasingly, however, Dumpster-divers are showing up on their radar. For many of Seattle’s Dumpster-divers, for example, the aforementioned “Juice Dumpster” had become as much a household name as the company’s brand name itself. (Along with the “Chocolate Dumpster,” the “Burrito Dumpster,” etc.) Until now, they didn’t trouble the distributor enough to lock it up. I’ve known Dumpster-divers to openly clamber into it in front of the employees—I even once met a sanitation worker who saved some bottles for himself before emptying the rest into his garbage truck. However the popularity of this Dumpster has grown over the four years in which I’ve been conducting this research. And recently, a threshold has been crossed. Dumpster-divers I have interviewed in other cities have told me similar stories—of certain Dumpsters’ high profile and their consequent enclosure.

The proliferation of locked Dumpsters, then, may be proportional to the growing public profile of Dumpster-divers’ cultural and political activities in general. From the appearance of subcultures like freeganism which embrace Dumpster-diving, squatting, and other modes of surplus living, to movements like Food Not Bombs and Occupy Wall Street which depend on free access to food, space, and other resources to take direct political action, urban scavengers represent an ongoing effort to turn commercial waste into new kinds of food sovereignty, non-market value, and political influence.

This raises a variety of questions about the ways in which businesses, governments, and the scavengers will respond to each other. It seems likely that more Dumpsters will be locked up, for one thing. In turn, Dumpster-divers have always been creative about gaining entry. They’re bound to become more creative. I’m left wondering what will become of my favourite Dumpster.

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Filed under anthropology, economics, food policy, food security, Food waste, garbage, markets, SAFN Member Research

AAA 2011: Montreal Markets!

by Amy Trubek
University of Vermont

Atwater Market, click the picture to visit the market's web site.

Living in rural Vermont, there are many food related pleasures available to me on any given day. Our vibrant artisan food movement means that I can procure delectable farmstead cheese, crusty slow-fermented breads, and grass-fed beef easily and often. However, there are many foods that are difficult to find, especially those that represent cuisines less bland and less focused on wheat, dairy, and beef. Our Yankee heritage remains. And so what to do? For my husband and I, and many of our friends, the solution is to go to our nearest metropolitan center, Montreal, and shop at the two amazing year-round indoor/outdoor markets: Atwater and Jean Talon. Anyone interested in food and food culture should definitely make a visit to one or both of these markets when you are in Montreal for the AAAs!

Atwater Market is in the English-speaking Western part of Montreal. The Lachine Canal bike path goes to the market. Atwater is the smaller of the two markets and specializes in fresh meats, prepared meats and charcuterie. Paté et Terrine is especially good. Another great find at Atwater is Les Douceurs du Marché which stocks amazing olive oils, European and Canadian cheeses, and much more. Of course there is a stand that sells sirop d’erable, or maple syrup, and many maple syrup based products!

Description and directions: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/atwater-market and http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Atwater/.

Jean Talon Market photo

Jean Talon Market, from montrealfood.com

Jean Talon is larger, located in Little Italy, north of downtown off of Rue Saint Laurent. There is a Jean Talon stop on the metro. Jean Talon is the largest outdoor public market in North America. Jean Talon has a huge array of fresh produce, much of it from Quebec, although some is also imported from the United States and beyond. There are a number of fascinating small stands right near the produce section, including Jardin Sauvage that sells locally sourced foraged foods, especially mushrooms. The outdoor market also has several stands selling maple syrup (in Canada sold in cans) and maple syrup products.  In the neighborhood around Jean Talon are numerous ethnic specialty stores, including Maya which sells wonderful corn and flour tortillas.

Click here for a photoessay on Jean Talon in Cuizine, an ejournal about Canadian food culture. For further description and directions, visit: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/What-To-Do/Shopping/jean-talon-market

 

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Filed under AAA 2011 Montreal, markets, SAFN Member Research