Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Brooklyn, Fall 07’ Category

pollanquote.jpgLast week I attended two events featuring journalist, author, and professor Michael Pollan.  He joined chef and restaurant owner Dan Barber on Tuesday evening in a lecture hall of the 92nd Street Y, and Wednesday he spoke at a Just Food fundraiser, in a beautiful Flatiron District apartment.  Prompted by the queries of Joan Gussow at both events, Pollan had to address the “elitist” question with which he’s become familiar.  Aren’t you (and your ideologies) a little out of touch with the average American eater?  How can the average American afford the foods you recommend we eat?  And she wasn’t talking a meal at Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill.  It’s the farmers markets with $4 tomatoes, and mixed greens at $6 per ¼ pound. 

Barber is finally admitting he’s an elitist.  And, he added, a day at Stone Barns (including enjoyment of the grounds, hiking trails, farm facilities, and food) still costs less than a day at Disney World. 

 

pollan2.jpg Pollan responded that the prices of local products will go down as demand goes up.  He also pointed out that Americans currently spend 10% of our income on food in America, while “when he was a boy,” we spent 18%.  Meanwhile, while we once spent 5% of our income on health care, we now spend 15%.  According to Pollan, there’s a direct correlation: factory farmed, processed foods lead to diabetes, obesity, and heart problems.  Add the costs together, and we may think (industrial) food today is wonderfully cheap, but our expenditure on food and health care has risen from 15% to 25% in about the last thirty years.

Amidst my Pollan-event-hopping, flush with a Christmas check, and increasingly nervous at the prospect of leaving an apartment in Brooklyn and friends I love (for Berkeley, California), I decided to prepare a farewell feast that would be as local as possible.  Fifteen people, lots of money: it would be a final splurge. After working at Saxelby Cheesemongers for two months, it seemed about time I bought a significant poundage of local cheeses.  Plus, I’d been waiting for a reason to try Karen’s lamb from Three Corner Field Farm. A search for less-than-$12/lb. local honey took me to Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg.  And I bought apples and pears from Migliorelli Farm, to dip in whipped heavy cream from Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery.  I prepared an elitist meal, by all accounts.

As far as I’m concerned, the meal for a party of fifteen cost about the same as one pair of jeans from Seven.  It’s a lot for food, but the evening was worth more than any clothes I’ve ever owned.  Granted, most people can’t afford Seven jeans, and they can’t afford the dinner I served.  The meal essentially spoke to Pollan’s point on the expenditure of our income.  We need to learn to spend more on food.  We will be healthier people.  As Joan Gussow pointed out, we don’t want the prices of local, organic, family-farm products to go down too far with the market demand, because there is a bottom-line cost of production for the types of food we want to support.  For small farmers to stay in business, they must make a profit.  Real food costs something.  What we actually need to work on is the other side of the equation: minimum wage should be enough that people can afford real food.

There is something else to be said, however.  If market demand won’t take care of affordability, and if we agree that minimum wage isn’t anywhere close to paying for $4 tomatoes, we must look elsewhere to defend our local food movement from the damning critique of elitism. 

The connection between health care and what we eat is a pretty good hint at some other solutions.  Medical centers can establish nearby farmers’ markets and source their institutional food locally.  Their patients might get healthier than they do now, eating from nearby falafel and hot dog stands.  The government could increase the allotment of food stamp funding to the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs.  Medicaid costs would go down.  Health insurance programs could support clients who purchase CSAs.  Emergency food organizations, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters can coordinate with local farmers and restaurants that source their food locally, and through donation, receive fresh produce, meats, and dairy products much more healthy for their eaters than the canned and processed surplus foods they are normally given.  Pollan didn’t particularly expand on these possibilities, essential to the movement he has come to represent, even while he spoke for Just Food, a leader of food justice efforts in New York.  But he did say: we need to vote with our votes, not just with our forks.  Those who can afford farmers market prices must learn to accept them.  But we also need to support policies that recognize the correlation between our health and our diet, and that recognize the (financial, and hedonistic) prudence of spending government money to support the production and consumption of real food.  

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Black Cat Chrysler

The place has magic in it. “…Recalling certain men of other days who made of drink one of the pleasures of life, rather than one of its evils.”This article is about neither food nor soil, though merry collaboration it does involve. The collaboration of gin and ginger, of honey and rum and cream, relationships built among unidentifiable flavors. Bees’ Kisses, Ginger Gin Mules. The drinks were more than dishes, and the night a masterpiece of art and ambience. Where we were must not be named. It was behind a curtain and a tailor-masked window, dusty and distinguished. And as we stepped finally from the unmarked threshold into last night’s late night chill, the Chrysler building shone in the distance, and a black shadow darted ‘cross our path, too big to be a rat.chrysler.jpg Back behind the curtain, the man of bottles and pitchers, spices and spirits, resembled a cobbler, we’d thought, or a tailor. His salt and pepper hair swung low above old-school suspenders, well-pressed trousers standing in a space the size of a cupboard, where he mixed each sweet, savory, bitter, or spicy concoction of the hour. The brick and embossed tin walls and ceiling turned our minds to memories of Colonial Williamsburg and Renaissance Fairs. Long dark hair and luring hats led us into the candlelit corridor of booths, as soft piano keys played in the background and we sipped our first of two rounds, gins and whiskeys with lime and ginger, a negroni straight up with a twist of orange. The tables were wooden thrones for each delectable drink dispersed, each cushioned with a ribbed napkin, and flanked by water one might easily neglect. Our attention repeatedly forwent conversation as each sip’s flavors hit our senses. We were tired to begin with – a midnight reservation got us a table by 1am – but something was mesmerizing about the place, quieting and soothing, relaxing us into forgetfulness of the hour. We sat simply noticing: a soft white hat glowing in the dim candlelight of the bar, the flicker of dangling earrings, our server’s thick hair, pinned with a large black bow that reminded me of the poofy holiday dresses of my childhood. At Carla’s suggestion for the second round, we switched to creams. The Bee’s Kiss, the Dominicana, and something incredible with strawberries. The layers of cream, coffee, and whiskey flowed flavor-by-flavor onto my tastebuds, a jigsaw puzzle joining together at the tongue. The sweet, cool warmth of Jesse’s rum, cream, and honey brought to our table the silence of complete thankfulness, and of growing admiration for the cobbler-like man in suspenders. We shamelessly cleaned our cocktail glasses, licking our fingers, wishing for more, beaming smiles of exhausted, beloved bliss.We may not have consumed anything locally grown last night, nor did we ask the origins of the ingredients of our drinks, but we did devote several hours to the appreciation of skillful preparation and taste. Our appreciation led to reflection, of the year that’s ending, and consideration of the future that’s beginning, excitement in the present we’re enjoying, and immense comfort, in the sharing of a lovely, memorable evening with others.May all who need it have such an evening this season.

Read Full Post »

As we sat down finally in the evening, each with a glass of wine or a beer, Benoit laughed at the silly, silent grins the three of us had let spread over our faces, our bodies propped up at the table in exhaustion. “We look like deflating balloons!” he said. “It is like our brains are bizzzzing about, releasing the bliss of this day!”

Anne, Benoit, and I had come straight from the Wintermarket, from the Saxelby Cheesmongers table where we’d sold regional cheeses, yogurt, butter, and grilled cheese-and-pickle sandwiches to an ongoing, enthusiastic crowd of customers from 11am to 4pm. Thanks to Professor Robert LaValva, the New Amsterdam Public, and to all who support this man and the vision of the organization he founded, the market was an outstanding success. It seemed a moment in history, an historical day, for all who were present.

The New Amsterdam Public is an organization with the mission of establishing the New Amsterdam Market, a year-round, indoor, public market where grocers, butchers, fish and cheese mongers and other purveyors would create and foster a regional, sustainable food system in the City of New York. Wintermarket was the first important step towards achieving this goal. The New Amsterdam Market would embrace not only the historical significance of the Seaport, but the historical meaning of a public market. The Seaport has been the site of public markets since 1624, spaces that celebrate the mutual depedence of city and region, and that exert strength, relevance, and vibrancy when they are established to serve the common good.If the success of Wintermarket is any sign of how beloved such a location would be to New York City, the one-day event assured we who were present that the New Amsterdam Market shall become a permanent reality.

Even in the cold rain, despite the markets’ location outside the gates of the New Market Building, the crowds came in droves. Our first customers had left New Jersey three cold hours earlier, to be at the market by 11am sharp. The chef of Jimmy’s No. 43 had cleaned out his bread supply by noon, and the Salvatore Ricotta from Brooklyn was sold out hardly an hour later. Salvatore’s wooden bowl of fresh-made cheese, drizzled with local honey, sat next to our table, and I snagged the last spoonful at 1pm, just in time. Mario Batali’s rolled porchetta, an entire pig, whole to the head, stretched beautifully across a board to the left of our cheeses, and was sliced for sandwiches till it too was gone, far before the market’s final hour. Other farmers, growers, breeders and foragers served tastings for free, and sold food for the cupboard and gifts for the holidays – meats from upstate New York, oysters of Long Island, apples from New Hampshire, eggs laid in New Jersey, hard cider from Ithaca, pickles made in Brooklyn, berries fresh from Vermont, cheeses from sheep, cow, and goat farmers as close as Poughkeepsie, honey from Amagansett, and ice cream made with regional ingredients, a crowdpleaser even in the cold. There were breads made by immigrant women in Queens, nuts foraged in Westchester, beans and oats from Brooktondale, New York. A few farmers even came down from Maine with freshly milled grains and cereals. Chefs from throughout the city served seafood chowders, pork stews, chilis, and toast with pate.

My job: was to grill the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches of Saxelby Cheesmongers. And I therefore tasted few of the goods at the market. We were kept so busy all day that my memory is primarily of expectant faces and outstretched hands, eyes looking hungrily at my makeshift panini grills. Two sets of two pans, each pressing down upon the sizzling sandwiches: Sullivan Street ciabatta, slices of Grafton Classic Cheddar from Vermont (until we sold out, and switched to the less-classic, Grayson), butter from Evan’s Farmhouse Creamery, and Rick’s Picks Bee ‘n’ Beez pickles. One elderly lady told me in excited expectation, “That’s exactly how I make mine at home! But I like to put a full teapot on top of the top pan, to really squash the sandwich down!” Another woman took one bite of her sandwich and melted in smiles, allowing that the grilled cheeses at Neal’s Yard in London were only nearly as good. There were only a few grumbles, claims of having been skipped in line, of having waited too long for a sandwich ordered. Overall, this was an incredibly enthusiastic, supportive crowd, together with overjoyed, proud purveyors, in a setting of almost boisterous, excited interaction. Our Saxelby stand gave endless tastings of yogurts, cheeses, and even butter, and sold our cheese-and-pickle sandwiches for $4.50 a piece – what more could one want in the winter? We sliced and chopped and spooned and grilled: Anne, Benoit, and I thawing our cold feet in a dance of height, haste, and heated excitement. It was a day that we were meant to end as deflated balloons, grinning in bliss.

We drank our wine in the evening with visions of the New Amsterdam Market and its genius potential: the ease of transportation to the seaport from all directions, the beautiful view of the bridge and the water, the abundant purveyors and products available. I imagined bikes piling in over the bridge from Brooklyn, Wall Street execs hurrying over from work, and the chefs calling out ‘cross the indoor space of the New Market Building, for more bread from the baker, more cheese from the monger, truffles from the forager, and honey from the rooftop beekeeper. New York has the food, and we have the people. Our region and city have a history of food production, commerce, and stewardship that we have so much to benefit from maintaining. The Wintermarket was only a seed, as they say, planted in dormant soil. Before long, to be sure, it will grow. And if this city has any idea what it needs, the New Amsterdam Market will open for all.

Read Full Post »

As a scholar of the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship, I have recently felt saturated with stories about successful non-profits and NGOs, and with bullet-pointed presentations on what made them functional, how they raised money, and how they scaled up their impact from a local to a national or global level.These “exemplary” organizations are usually working towards social, environmental, or political justice, particularly in the form of “systemic change,” the (somewhat disputed) goal of “social entrepreneurship.” Such organizations include City Year, Teach for America, Environmental Defense, and Habitat for Humanity. They combine direct action and activism, in order to make a positive and significant impact on our world. As Leslie Crutchfield, co-author of Forces for Good, mentioned in a Reynolds Expert session this morning, these organizations are “network oriented,” meaning they have a collaborative mindset, a strategy focused on “growing the network” (rather than the organization itself), and they work to share resources with other NGOs, to function with open source intellectual property, to develop their competitors, and to cultivate leadership rather than hoard talent.” As far as I’m concerned, that sounds great. But it’s a schpiel with a lot of buzzwords.Real Food New York, before this past weekend, was a group that had come together because of a single, inspiring, well-planned event: the Real Food Summit. We had stayed in touch since the Summit, as an email-by-email network of kids sharing notes on our efforts to bring Real Food onto our campuses. We had significant potential to slowly evaporate in buzzwords, “networking,” “collaborating,” and “building solidarity,” and eventually perhaps just wasting our time.This Sunday, many members of Real Food New York came together formally, to decide who we are as a group, how we can use each other, and what our plan is for the future.First of all, Real Food is food that nourishes land, community, and people. Real Food New York is a bunch of students who are at various stages of increasing the amount of Real Food on our campuses and in our communities. We are helping our schools to hire a Sustainability Director, or negotiating stringent contracts with our food service providers, collaborating with these food service providers to develop sustainable menus, or formally requesting comprehensive purchasing information from our Directors of Dining Services. All of us are trying to raise student awareness of the benefits of Real Food. We have our own organizations, at our own schools. And as Adam pointed out last week, the last thing we need is another organization, demanding more of our time, working to advance the same projects within which we’re already engaged, and only further dividing and devaluing the meager time of our meager numbers. We knew the existence of “Real Food New York” could easily be more of a burden than a blessing.But the students of Real Food New York recognize: We are useful to each other for our personal experience with institutional sustainability projects, our resources (natural and personal), and the moral support of like-minded friends, who understand each other, and share meals together. On a larger scale, our institutions together have a formidable purchasing power, whether we’re working with the same food service provider, the same corporation, or the same farmer. As individuals, each of us can barely represent our school. Together, and as we gain members, we have the ability to represent the student voice of the local food movement in the New York area.071202rfny.jpgThis Sunday morning, we hashed out the details. By 11am, we had voted unanimously to label our region inclusively. We are New York State, and her neighbors. We represent urban and rural, large and small, private and public institutions. By noon, we decided we’d meet formally once a semester, and informally by topic or project as we deem appropriate, by consensus. We recognized that the listserve wasn’t working. We decided to start an online open source resource pool, a wiki/blog combination, in which all members would have contributor status. At 1pm we ate lunch, potluck style: pasta with pesto, squash bread, brownies, and roasted carrots with parmesan. At 2pm, in a whirlwind of inspiring pict5594.jpgexpertise, Thomas Forster explained to us the concept and logistics of the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development, which this year will focus on land and agriculture. A group of students from Real Food New York decided to prepare to attend the CSD, and to lend their material knowledge to the youth presence at the UN. Finally, at 4pm, Kerry Trueman and Matt Rosenberg instructed us on the digital world, and explained how to actually design the “wiki/blog combination” (very helpful of them, as the technological savvy of our group ranges from Google-expert to decidedly anti-computer). So we left The New School this Sunday evening, with a plan.Our blog is http://www.realfoodnewyork.org, and links to our Wiki.Our self-defining blurb is here.Any type of collaboration requires constant communication and commitment, and generally a good dose of never-enough outreach, secretarial scheduling, and detail-heavy event planning. We are not exempt from these requirements. But as collaborators, we will simply help each other as much as we can, and we hope to do so enjoyably and productively. Check out our group, and if you’re a student or campus stakeholder in the New York area, join us! Post on the site, come to our meetings, host us for dinner, we’ll host you. We are no passing flurry of meaningless buzzwords. We are the students of New York.

Read Full Post »

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.

biodiverse.jpg

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.”

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »