Archive for November, 2007

A month ago, I wrote an essay entitled Recognizing Accents. I wrote on the importance of knowing and acknowledging all the different voices that contribute to the movement for nutritious food, land stewardship, and local community.I have had to acknowledge recently, while I listen to these voices, that I tend to work hardest on my own, that I resist compromising my ideals and priorities just to collaborate with an existing group or organization, though my contribution to an established system might be more powerful than the actions I take on my own. Admittedly, ego plays a role in how I work, and ignorance too, of those whom I might join. But predominantly there is a feeling of responsibility in me to function independently, so I might control the way I live and act as much as I can. An event this week gave me a perspective on how to achieve something needed in this life of mine, and I think by many of us who are socially and politically active: a balance of personal control, collaboration and solidarity, and appreciation for the variety of actors with whom we collaborate.This balance focuses on biodiversity: a recognized asset of nature, and, as I’m coming to recognize, a value that can indicate a certain way of life.mono.jpg For as long as I’ve been interested in agriculture, I’ve learned why biodiversity is on the top-ten list of the advantages of small-scale family farming, and why monocropping and seed loss are some of the most destructive aspects of industrial agriculture. But only after listening to Andrew Faust this past Wednesday, did I consider that there could be more to supporting biodiversity than staying small, rotating crops, and saving seeds.

Andrew Faust is the founder of the Center for Bioregional Living in Lyndell, Pennsylvania. Faust has recently moved to Brooklyn, and normally leads workshops on bioregional permaculture, or teaches courses on creating self-sufficient, “permanent” landscapes. This week, the Gallatin Consciousness invited him to lead a workshop at NYU on “Permaculture: Natural Design and Ecological Consciousness.” Faust mentioned in the final hour of his talk (unfortunately, the only part I was able to attend) how permaculture is decidedly “anthropocentric.” It focuses on developing a biological infrastructure, or landscape, that is admittedly centered around human needs. But our destructive capacity as humans, Faust said, indicates our generative capacity, and the power we have to affect the environment we inhabit. It is the loss of biodiversity that is perhaps our greatest problem, he said, and a life that encourages biodiversity is the key to caring for the earth and ourselves, and improving our quality of life. For all the ideas Faust shared, about oil use and chemical exposure, agrarian thought and biological philosophy, military infrastructure and the pros and cons of modern technology, these were the two concepts that stuck with me: that he used the word power to describe what we, as humans, have within Nature, and that the best way to focus our efforts for change is to encourage biodiversity.


Similar to the Real Food movement I strive to support, an ecosystem focused on preserving biodiversity has no independent actors. There’s no one who lives “on the outside,” and from there “has an impact” on the environment. Living responsibly in a biologically diverse landscape means acting within it, and being acted upon. It means being a link in a cycle of life, a circle of distinct living organisms without hierarchy or rule. Imagining that we, individually or as a species, are somehow superior, or have the right to take control over this system, separates us from the circle, and disrupts the cycle. We are not superior. What we are is powerful. We have the ability to tear the circle apart, to destroy the biological system, to ignore the way we contribute to a network that we need, and in which we are needed. We are capable too of adopting the responsibility that comes with our power, of controlling not the system, but ourselves. We can play our part, knowing we are a powerful presence on this earth. We can have our ego if we must, and act with proud control over ourselves, knowing we are powerfully dependent. We depend upon others, and others depend upon us.Encouraging biodiversity in agriculture is best for the fertility of our land, the health of our diets, and the security of our farmers. The more crops we grow, the less our land is stripped of particular nutrients. The more variety in the food we eat, the more nutrients we ingest. And the more crops a farmer produces, the less he risks in the failure of a single crop.Whether referring to soil or society, biodiversity indicates a balance in life that we would do well to embrace. Not only do monocropping and genetic modification threaten natural biodiversity, but the modern societal pressures to be independent, and even to make change and have an impact, can be detrimental to our human need to work with each other, and recognize the contributions we each make to each others’ lives. As humans, we can literally protect and support the natural diversity of our landscapes, and socially, we an act in concert as powerful individuals, living with eyes open and hands held, acknowledging our differences, and our mutual dependence on each other. As Faust described to the crowd of NYU students and village residents this week, “We are constantly being indoctrinated” with values and ideas about how we should live. “We need to learn to turn off to the barrage of information,” he said, “and tune in, to what we really need, and what needs us.”

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newyork.jpg This Sunday, Real Food New York will be holding our
First Statewide Meeting! As students in New York who attended the Real Food Summit, we would like to invite all students and campus stakeholders in the area to join us!

We’ll be discussing our future plans and projects as an organization, hearing from a few knowledgeable speakers (who are also presenting at Good Food Now!, Just Food’s Regional Summit on Saturday), and of course sharing resources for bringing Real Food onto our campuses and into our communities across the state.

RSVP to ahm259@nyu.edu, if you’d like to attend.

Sunday, December 2nd
10am-5pm (Lunch provided).
Eugene Lang College, 66 West 12th Street

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My sister was concerned that an essay based on political theory and poetry might turn out a little heavy for Thanksgiving. The sources of my thoughts today are theoretically Hannah Arendt and Wendell Berry. Arendt was a German Jewish political theorist, and one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. Berry is a farmer and prolific writer, the poetic voice of modern agrarianism. They are not so heavy. I hope I might convey something of the weightless depth with which they write. And while I will work with the words of Arendt and Berry, I consider them now only because of the beauty of the trees on my street this morning. Before going home to the soups and the bird and the pecan-laden pie crusts, and the coma of gluttonous fullness only cured by a walk in the crisp late-night air…it seems appropriate to write of unprepared, under-analyzed beauty.hannah.gif

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt wrote that Aristotle “distinguished three ways of life which men might choose in freedom.” These three ways of life had in common that “they were concerned with the ‘beautiful,’ that is, with things neither necessary nor merely useful: the life of enjoying bodily pleasures in which the beautiful, as it is given, is consumed: the life devoted to the matters of the polis, in which excellence produces beautiful deeds.”Arendt wrote also on the way Greeks viewed mortality, in their cosmos where everything but humans was immortal. “This is mortality: to move along a rectilinear line, in a universe where everything, if it moves at all, moves in a cyclical order.”wendell.jpg

Upon returning to Kentucky after six months in California, Wendell Berry wrote Notes from an Absence and a Return. He wrote of walking on the woods floor, and being reminded of “the sense, joyful if anything is, of time passing beautifully, of time passing through beauty, fulfilled in it in degree and detail beyond calculation, and so not wasted or lost. Walking among all these flowers…One is aware of the abundance of lovely things – forms, scents, colors – lavished on the earth beyond any human capacity to perceive or number or imitate. And aware of the economy, the modest principle of the building earth under the dead leaves, by which such abundance is assured.This is the enemy in man’s ‘war against nature.’All these places of unforced loveliness, whose details keep touching in my mind the memory of great paintings, now lie within the sound of the approach of an alien army whose bulldozers fly the flag of the American economy (hardly the economy of the topsoil). This country is an unknown place suffering the invasion of a people whose minds have never touched the earth.”Berry wrote that the redeeming aspect of his sense of involvement with and responsibility to the earth “is that it does not stand alone, but is only part of a process, a way of life that includes joy. Not always or necessarily or even preferably the dramatic joy of surprise – though that is one of its possibilities – but the quiet persistent joy of familiarity.”ginko.jpg

Walking down my street this morning in Brooklyn, where the fall yellows and reds shown bright and clean from an overnight rain, the thoughts of Arendt and Berry drifted round me, as though sounding quietly from the two books in my backpack. “The life we want is not merely the one we have chosen and made;” Berry wrote, “it is the one we must be choosing and making. To keep it alive we must be perpetually choosing it and making its difference from among all contrary and alternative possibilities.”What I heard, in these words, on my street,was that we may choose and make a life concerned with the beautiful, in which excellence produces beautiful deeds. Man’s war on nature is a result of the rectilinear life that we choose instead, in which we value only that which is necessary and useful. Our sense of involvement and responsibility need not be a battle, as we so often frame it, the activist struggle of strength and victory. Our involvement and responsibility is a way of life, that includes joy. This quite, persistent joy of familiarity may be one we feel at the Thanksgiving table tonight, or it may not. But I write in the hope that this joy, as the familiar beauty of the trees on my street, might remind us we have a choice: to join the immortal cycle acknowledged by the Greeks, and live in its dance, of unforced loveliness.

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On Monday, November 12th, the Wagner School of NYU hosted a panel entitled “The Farm Bill 2007: Understanding the Political, Agricultural, and Nutritional Impact” with guests Marion Nestle, Dan Barber, and Christina Grace.Michael Pollan must have come up eleven times in the two-hour event. With all due respect for the author to whom I might as well dedicate most of my writing, I can’t help but wonder who the next hero will be. We need a new one.First up of the three guests on the Monday night panel, Marion Nestle lowered a magnifying glass on one, minute proposal of the Farm Bill, that of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), regarding nutrition standards for school lunches. The rather dysfunctional proposal has brought on excitement and anger from all sides, including both emotions from the very people who had advocated for just such a bill. The “its-better-than-nothing”s endorse the proposal, the “its-too-easy-for-corporations”s say no, and Nestle herself supports the bill with extreme hesitation, and a roll of the eyes. Her reason for speaking about the proposal at all was that “no issue is too small” for the Farm Bill. Even this one little provision attracted pages of published controversy, and it’s one of a gazillion clauses included in a monster legislation. Over a thousand pages long, the Farm Bill is accessible to no one, and understood by not a single member of the House of Congress. Clearly, Nestle concluded, there’s something wrong with how this legislation works.Nestle was hinting at a perspective I’ve found particularly lacking in the movement for agriculture guided by sustainable, worker-supportive, fair trade principles. We who are up for it sludge through the Farm Bill, and the best of us – whether we’re organizations, institutions, or just crazy individuals – come up with proposals that cut subsidies, end subsidies, fund specialty crop research, or at least somehow cut down on this CORN production, that we’ve all learned from Michael Pollan is a major reason for why we’re stingy, fat, and hated.What we DON’T consider, is scrapping the Farm Bill altogether. It’s demonstrably ridiculous, in and off itself. To address 3 million square miles of land with 1 Farm Bill simply doesn’t make sense. Agriculture is regional, for one thing. Not only are the culture and politics different in Iowa than in New York, but the land is too, and the climate. A bill with provisions for avocados in California should not be legislating the cows in Maine. Nutrition and Hunger and Agriculture and Trade may be much like adults playing Twister – mischievously intermingled, entirely inseparable, and always (somewhere) hurting – but these forces of the economy need not share the same budget and bed. Money to support agricultural research should not detract from Emergency Food Programs, and whomever pens provisions for popular exports should not simultaneously sign off on subsidies deemed illegal by the WTO. Not to mention that politicians hassled by agricultural lobbyists shouldn’t be forgiven for forgetting nutrition programs in the meantime! And New York City representatives who disregard something called a “Farm Bill” just because they’re city folk shouldn’t have to be told that the “ag” legislation is crucial to aid New York City’s nearly 1.3 million food insecure individuals. How can we blame politicians for siding with big industrial agribusiness, or settling for the status quo, when the alternative (of actually reading the Farm Bill, and figuring out what’s best for one’s state) is as daunting as Tolstoy! It’s much easier to let Monsanto, Archer Daniels, or Cargill explain the Farm Bill like a bedtime story.Of course, the Farm Bill proposals of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oxfam, and the National Family Farm Coalition, for example, are innovative and progressive, and are certainly steps in the right direction. But we need to think bigger than a Farm Bill proposal. We need to take the twister-playing issues in the Farm Bill and get them interacting through a different game: synchronized swimming, perhaps, or a maypole dance.In response to my concerns, Nestle said that election funding really has to change. As long as we have the Iowa Caucus, she said, no presidential candidate is gonna stick their neck out for truly progressive agricultural policy. Maybe she’s right. I’m not sure what we need. But we can at least take the new, trendy interest in the Farm Bill further than the “Buy this! Buy that! Vote with your dollar!” mantra, and foster some truly innovative, political thought. If people did it in the ‘30s, and the ‘70s, we can sure as hell do it now.LinksInstitute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working GroupMidwest Sustainable Agriculture Working GroupOXFAMAnd for more coverage of the panel, visit the Wild Green Yonder.Some Parties with PotentialNyeleniLandless Workers MovementVia Campesina

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Students across the country have become aware of the powerful influence of food systems on our lives, and we have become active leaders in sustainable initiatives at our institutions, coordinating with local, organic, often small-scale family farms, so that we might feed ourselves and our neighbors with nutritious, fairly-traded, worker-friendly, community-supportive products.  What we demand is Real Food: food that nourishes land, community, and people.

On Wednesday, one hundred and nine Democrats in Congress crossed party lines by voting in favor of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement. The 2007 Farm Bill that awaits passage in the Senate doesn’t look so different from the corporate-friendly legislation of the past thirty years. And 1.3 million New York City residents are accessing emergency food programs, an increase of 24 percent since 2004. The student movement for Real Food has a lot of work to do.

Two weeks ago, many members of this movement felt we were each working alone, that we were constantly reinventing the wheel, struggling to raise public concern, and butting up against bureaucratic red tape and stifling No’s to many of our practical proposals. We loved our work – it’s a part of how we’ve decided to live, and it connects us with the people in our community, and the land we inhabit – but progress was slow. And our isolated ignorance of similar efforts at other schools was an obstacle we barely recognized.

One week ago, we closed the gaps. We came together. The Real Food Summit sent a rush of adrenaline through every student and non-student present. The event was a gathering of invaluable knowledge, dedication, accomplishment, and energy. The current of thrilled excitement we created at the Summit is flowing through all of us still.

The Real Food Summit brought together 145 students from 47 colleges and universities across the Northeast, as well as university and college staff, dining services employees, university professors, executive chefs, representatives of non-profit organizations, and various community members. John Turenne shared his stories and advice as a former Aramark Executive Chef, turned president of his consulting company Sustainable Food Systems. NYC City Farms Trainer Cecile Charles-King urged us to reach out, beyond our schools, to existing networks of community gardners and community-organized farmers markets. Chef (/Lawyer) Kate Adamick, president of Food Systems Solutions LLC, explained the need to write our demands into our institutions’ contracts, and assured us of our absolute right to set measures of accountability. General Manager of Bon Appetit Stuart Leckie explained his sustainable goals and efforts at Saint Joseph’s College. Gerardo Reyes-Chavez shared his history as a farm worker in Florida, and urged us to support the successful campaigns of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Melina Shannon-Dipietro and Josh Viertel advised us from their experiences as Co-directors of the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Josh reminded us of the immense value of what we are doing, of devoting the energy and passion of our twenties to this work, of changing the food system in which we live.Whether in individual conversation, small workshop, or panel discussion, every guest and speaker at the Summit seemed nearly overwhelmed with the efforts and accomplishments of the students present. Each breakout session could have been led by any one of the 30-50 students in each room (and each, it was clear, would have shared an entirely different and eye-opening message). We created a neutral space in which all ideas were welcome, and conflicting perspectives productively merged. We each made mosaics with the RISD students, while our thoughts fit together for us to realize the greater whole we have become. We sang, we danced, we shared meals. We were comfortable together, we exchanged between us what each of us needed, and our thrilled excitement was contagious.

The Real Food Summit sent over a hundred students on their way home, coordinating and collaborating for the next move, the next project, the next result of the newest ideas. Each region represented at the Summit will be having their own meetings before the end of the year. Each of us is back at school, working hard, with the adrenaline of excitement in a support network we never knew we had.

The Real Food Summit was the kick-off event for The Real Food Challenge (website coming soon), an entity created by The Food Project in Boston that has set a goal to increase Real Food procured by university dining services by 20% in five years. That’s 20% of the $4 billion that the colleges and universities in the United States spend on food every year.Given the energy and the literally joyful dedication expressed at the Summit, I believe we will achieve this, and far more than such numbers can even convey.


The Real Food Summitpresenterbios.doc

Bon Appetit

Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The Food Project

Slow Food on Campus

Sustainable Food Systems

Yale Sustainable Food Project

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Real Food: New York!


Hey New York,
To those of you who attended the Real Food Summit, you were wonderful. Thank you for an incredible weekend. There will be more written about the Summit in the near future, but for now, we have logistical information to share.

1) We have a listserve. On it (so far) are the people from New York universities and colleges who attended the Regional Meeting at the Summit, or just attended some part of the Summit, and even those who registered for the Summit and didn’t end up making it. Also, Sam and I have included everyone who came to the Pre-Summit BBQ in Brooklyn. Please invite people to join the group! We are not an exclusive bunch.

Real Food NY Listserve

2) We’ve planned two simultaneous meetings on November 17th or 18th. The city folk will meet in Westchester, somewhere near Sarah Lawrence. The upstaters will meet at Hamilton College.

City Contacts: slipschultz@gm.slc.edu, ahm259@nyu.edu.
Upstate Contact: jbarnes@hamilton.edu.

3) We signed The Real Food Declaration! Here it is. Bring it to events, meetings, gatherings…invite the world to sign!


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Schools Network at “Potluck” Real Food Summit

Publication: Yale Daily News
Date: November 5, 2007
Author: Zachary Abrahamson

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