I’m in the midst of what feels like the most terrible two weeks of my semester: researching, writing, crying about researching and writing… but then there was this enormous sunburst of light on my food news radar last Thursday:
This is HUGE news. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a year overdue. The child nutrition reauthorization bill (the bill’s more generic name) is supposed to be renewed by Congress every five years, but Congress chose to postpone renewal last fall. After over a year of advocating on the part of sustainable food organizations and most notably Michelle Obama, the bill has finally passed.
It is an imperfect bill for sure, mainly because it takes HALF of its increased funding from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. Democrats and food advocates alike winced at this provision, but felt it necessary to compromise or else risk not passing the bill at all.
Here are some of the highlights of the bill:
- It will raise the federal reimbursement by six cents per meal. This doesn’t sound like much, but it is the first non-inflation increase since 1973.
- It provides $50 million in funding for Farm-to-School programs. I’m definitely most excited over this part of the bill. Check out some more info on farm to school programs at www.farmtoschool.org.
- It outlines better nutrition standards that cover all of the food sold in the cafeteria, rather than just the food prepared at the school. The New York Times (via Center for Research in the Public Interest) featured a sample before-and-after menu.
- It allows easier access for low-income students to register for the free and reduced lunch program, something that is shockingly relevant according to new data from the USDA, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, that 15 percent of all households in the U.S. didn’t have enough money to feed themselves at some point in 2009. On top of that, 6.8 million of these households had to skip meals regularly; that includes at least one million children who didn’t have access to consistent meals. For some children, these free or reduced lunches may be the only meal they have throughout the day.
The bill’s passage seems especially pressing considering the Republicans will take over the House in January. Check out who voted yay and nay on the bill, according to the New York Times story:
On the final roll call, 247 Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for the bill. Four Democrats and 153 Republicans voted no.
This bill is definitely something to be grateful for, especially after hearing that the Food Safety Modernization Act will likely die during this Congressional session due to a silly bureaucratic typo in the Senate’s version of the bill.
For more coverage, check out the Slow Food USA blog post on the bill.
On Monday night I attended the NYU Hunger Banquet sponsored by Oxfam NYU, Slow Food On Campus, and the Gallatin Cooking Club. It was a great event that included a discussion of the farm bill by two very important men: Mark Dunlea from the Hunger Action Network of NY State and Rev. Robert Jackson, an urban farmer from Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy Farm.
The two discussed problems with the current farm bill that threaten to continue with the new bill in 2012. These issues include (among many others) unfair farm subsidies, insufficient school lunch nutrition, and drawbacks of the SNAP program. But as I looked around the room, I noticed a discrepancy in demographics between who was listening and who was speaking: out of about 25 people in the room, only seven were men, two of whom were speaking. This moment felt emblematic of what I was seeing in the current food movement’s gender dynamics.
This exploration of gender and the sustainable food movement began with a research paper. Last year around exactly this time, I was beginning to write a final paper for one of my food studies classes about women farmers. I was prompted by a 2007 Census of Agriculture statistic:
Between 2002 and 2007, the total number of women operators increased 19 percent, outpacing the dismal 7 percent increase in the overall number of farmers.
The number is staggering. However, no one seemed to be talking about the issue. Why was there a sudden rise in women farmers? And who are these women? Out of this paper rose my current senior project on The Contemporary Farm Women. The more I read about women farmers throughout history, the more aware I become of the discrepancy between women in sustainable agriculture and the men that lead it.
This brings me back to the Hunger Banquet and my current experience with food centered non-profits. The offices are comprised mainly of women, yet we’re supporting the men who lead the organizations.
But as a friend pointed out, why should I complain about men being the face of the movement? Shouldn’t I be thankful that any work is being done, regardless of who’s doing it or how it’s progressing? Yes…and no.
This is not to say that I am against men’s participation in the cause. I think it’s important for men to participate in a movement that is largely feminine, and I would be genuinely excited to enter a room of advocates that includes more men.
Currently the movement is largely perpetuated by women, but its men who seem to hold the positions at the top of these organizations and they’re the ones getting media coverage. Men are the face of a largely female movement. Again, this isn’t to discourage men from contributing, but it’s rather to make women aware that we have this knowledge and we should claim it as ours. This needn’t be an aggressive awareness either because neither party is particularly at fault. The existing power structures (yes they exist even in non-profits, just at a less active level) foster typically masculine attributes as modes of promotion.
A few others have written about this issue, including a recent article on Grist by Tom Philpott and a book by Temra Costa. This is why I’m studying women farmers, because their voice has been silenced throughout history. I’ll write more on this issue later, but for now women, come out from behind the man and lay claim to your knowledge!
This is a little late, but here are the most important stories in food from last week!
Doctors as Farmers: How Food ‘Prescriptions’ Can Save Our Cities – Michel Nischan – Atlantic, Food
FVRx relies health practitioners in underserved communities to serve as “dispensers” of “prescriptions” that can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. The concept is receiving tremendous excitement, but especially from the practitioners who are charged with providing health services to people who have no access to healthful food and, in most cases, no health insurance. Quite a charge—steward the health of folks who can’t afford the stewarding.
Where Front-of-Package Food Labels Are Headed – Marion Nestle – The Atlantic, Food
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its first front-of-package (FOP) labeling report (view PDF here) yesterday morning. Phase I is a tough, detailed examination of about 20 of the existing FOP schemes along with some recommendations about what such schemes ought to do. This scheme, like the many others developed by food companies singly or together, is designed to help the public decide whether one highly processed, packaged food product is nutritionally better than another. As I have discussed many times on my blog, this approach raises a philosophical question: Is a slightly “better for you” food product necessarily a good choice? I hope the committee will ponder this and some of my other questions as it enters Phase II.
Wal-Mart Plans Drive to Buy More Locally Grown Produce – Stephanie Clifford – New York Times, Business Day
Wal-Mart Stores announced a program on Thursday that would focus on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers, as the retail giant tries to expand its efforts to improve environmental efficiency among its suppliers. The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-sized farmers particularly in emerging markets and begin to measure the efficiently of large suppliers in growing and getting their produce to market.
President Obama Proclaims National School Lunch Week – Obama Foodorama
National School Lunch Week 2010 began on Sunday and runs through Oct. 16. In a proclamation issued to observe it, President Obama maintains that healthy school lunches are crucial for ending hunger, eliminating childhood obesity, and boosting academic achievement.
Post-Recalls, a New Way to Clean the Greens – Wiliam Neuman – New York Times, Business
the nation’s leading producer of bagged salad greens, Fresh Express, says that washing them in a mild acid solution accomplishes the task. The company plans to announce on Friday that it is abandoning the standard industry practice of washing leafy greens with chlorine and has begun using the acid mixture, which it claims is many times more effective in killing bacteria. The new wash solution, called FreshRinse, contains organic acids commonly used in the food industry, including lactic acid, a compound found in milk.
Pacific Tomato Growers, Coalition of Immokalee Workers Sign Landmark Agreement for Social Responsibility in Florida Tomato Fields – Ag Observatory
Pacific Tomato Growers, one of the country’s oldest and largest tomato producers, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Florida-based farmworker organization spearheading the Campaign for Fair Food, have signed an innovative agreement that sets new standards for social responsibility and accountability in Florida’s tomato industry. “This breakthrough is a testament to the leadership at Pacific Tomato Growers, who truly came to the talks that led to today’s announcement with an open heart, ” The agreement represents a significant step forward in CIW’s decade-long campaign for labor reforms in Florida’s tomato industry. Not only is it the first formal agreement between CIW and a major tomato grower, but the new accord establishes several practical systems designed to implement cooperatively the key principles of the Code of Conduct at the heart of the Campaign for Fair Food.
What a scientist didn’t tell the New York Times about his study on bee deaths – Katherine Eban – CNN Money
Bayer Crop Science, a subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG (BAYRY), has tangled with regulators and fended off lawsuits from angry beekeepers who allege that the pesticides have disoriented and ultimately killed their bees. The company has countered that, when used correctly, the pesticides pose little risk. What the Times article did not explore — nor did the study disclose — was the relationship between the study’s lead author, Montana bee researcher Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, and Bayer Crop Science. In recent years Bromenshenk has received a significant research grant from Bayer to study bee pollination. Indeed, before receiving the Bayer funding, Bromenshenk was lined up on the opposite side: He had signed on to serve as an expert witness for beekeepers who brought a class-action lawsuit against Bayer in 2003. He then dropped out and received the grant.
McDonald’s Happy Meal resists decomposition for six months (PHOTOS) – Yahoo News
Vladimir Lenin, King Tut and the McDonald’s Happy Meal: What do they all have in common? A shocking resistance to Mother Nature’s cycle of decomposition and biodegradability, apparently.
World Food Prize Conference Considers Small-Scale Farming – United States Agriculture & Food Law and Policy Blog
The goal of the conferences is to find ways to provide small-scale farmers with technology so that they can grow food for others in their respective countries instead of only being able to grow food for themselves. This is a complicated issue, however, because according to Howard Buffett, “Western-style farming, which relies heavily on expensive fertilizers and equipment, may not work in poor countries.” Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “said a combination of high-tech and low-tech solutions are needed to help” small-scale farmers.
Banning Soda for Food Stamps’ Recipients Raises Tough Questions – Andy Fisher – Civil Eats
There is one very important point neither the anti-hunger nor the public health advocates are making. Our tax dollars, especially the $80-90 billion spent annually on federal food programs, are a powerful force in shaping the food system. Food stamps, like school meals and WIC, should be the cornerstone of a food system that is grounded in principles of environmental sustainability, social justice, and health. Directed toward the small farm economy, community-oriented retailers, brokers, and processors, even a modest percentage of these funds could ignite a transformation of our food system.
Which Organic Egg Brands Are Factory Farms in Disguise? – Kiera Butler – Mother Jones
A recent Cornucopia investigation revealed that conditions at many facilities that produce organic eggs are often just as crowded and industrial as those at conventional egg farms.
Amid mounting safety concerns, technology helps track food from farm to table – P.J. Huffstutter – Los Angeles Times
IBM Corp. is in talks with a leading growers association in California to roll out a computerized tracing system for its members.
Court rules rBGH-free milk *is* better than the kind produced with artificial hormones. Now what? – Tom Laskawy – Grist, Food
While the “compositional difference” debate may seem to be semantic wrangling (although that “pus” mention sure is eye-catching!), the appeals court’s determination suddenly and unexpectedly undercuts the FDA’s entire rationale for allowing the sale of unlabeled rBST milk for human consumption.
Sun Chips Bag to Lose Its Crunch – Suzanne Vranica – Wall Street Journal, Food & Drink
Frito-Lay, the snack giant owned by PepsiCo Inc., says it is pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks, following an outcry from consumers who complained the new bags were too noisy.
Monsanto’s Fortunes Turn Sour – Andrew Pollack – New York Times, Business Day
Monsanto, the giant of agricultural biotechnology, has been buffeted by setbacks this year that have prompted analysts to question whether its winning streak from creating ever more expensive genetically engineered crops is coming to an end.
School Food and Nutrition
The USDA published this study titled “How Food Away From Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality.” Below is the summary they’ve provided, but the link also provides a link to full study.
Compared with meals and snacks prepared at home, food prepared away from home increases caloric intake of children, especially older children. Each food-away-from-home meal adds 108 more calories to daily total intake among children ages 13-18 than a snack or meal from home; all food from school is estimated to add 145 more calories.
Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Bill Protecting Farm Workers’ Health – Sarah Parsons – Change.org, Sustainable Food
A new law aims to offer California’s 700,000 farm workers a little more protection from the onslaught of chemicals they face on a daily basis. The Farm Worker Health Act (A.B. 1963) requires medical facilities that test farm workers for toxins to report their findings to state agencies.
Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery – Kirk Johnson – New York Times, Science
Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food. Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem,.
Obama taps food-industry exec for top ag-research post – Tom Philpott – Grist, Food
Earlier this month, Congress approved Obama’s nomination of Catherine Woteki, the USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics. Woteki comes to her new position after a five-year stint as global director of scientific affairs for Mars, Inc., the multinational junk-food giant.
Kimchi Crisis Leaves South Koreans In A Pickle – NPR
At markets in Seoul, shoppers were up before dawn fighting to buy heads of Napa cabbage that once cost about $4 but now go for as much as $14.
Plan to Ban Food Stamps for Sodas Has Hurdles – Anemona Hartcollis – New York Times, N.Y. Region
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg may face legal and political hurdles in carrying out his ambitious plan to bar food-stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy sugar-sweetened drinks, food policy experts said Thursday.