Archive for the Glad to be Food Category

The Economist: It’s OUR view for the future of FOOD

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

There was an article in a November issue of the Economist titled “How to Feed the World.” The article begins: “In 1974, Henry Kissinger, then America’s secretary of state, told the first world conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry.”

The article blames the rise of crop prices on agricultural ‘failings,’ that have not gone away. What those are, it does not specify quite enough–however, we do know that the world’s population will rise by a third in 2050 and demand for agricultural goods will rise by 70%, demand for meat, will double.

Here is another little snippet: “Countries need to do two things, invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets. Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.”

This is partly something I can agree with, and partly not. I believe that what this article is trying to get at ignores the complexity of the uneven food market, the fact that rich countries can subsidize crops and boost their products and then sell them to poor countries for cheap, for example. The fact that markets for rural farmers have to grow is true, and acting at a local level (which I think has been undermined by the Bigger levels) is crucial. The article says, GM crops have to have a role in the agriculture and thankfully suggests that the technology should be distributed in a localized level as opposed to controlled by Monsanto.

Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of opening up trade between nations as opposed to shifting towards a self-reliance in agriculture. This, the article argues, is ‘in nobody’s interest.’ I don’t disagree, but I would add the importance of fair trade and a further examination of the inequality in the market.


Solutions coming from different actors for the Meat problem

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

The issues present in the industrial meat industry are especially pressing in this period when developing countries continue to grow and expand their markets and adopt unsustainable production methods. China, within the Asian developing nations is of particular notoriety because of its rapidly expanding middle class, economic and environmental influence in a global scale. In view of the problems described, there have been measures taken by diverse governmental and non-governmental agencies in order to counteract some of the most harmful effects of the industry.

An influential buyer of meat, McDonalds, has taken measures to reduce some of the most criticized aspects of its distributors. Under pressure, they agreed to sign a two-year agreement not to buy soy from Brazil’s deforested land, and also promised to expand cages for hens and abstain from the practice of starving them in order for them to lay more eggs. A number of other fast food chains have promised to take similar steps to make slaughterhouses more bearable for animals.

There are a number of efforts from other non-profit organizations such as Heifer international that are trying to find alternative more sustainable ways of producing meat. Heifer international helps small livestock farmers in developing countries stay in business, by directly acting in communities and finding ways to fund the construction of slaughter houses and educating producers and consumers about the benefits of locally produced meat. Helping small livestock farmers maintain a market for their products is a crucial part of the project as well.

In the efforts to conserve genetic variety for the future, the leaders of traditional pastoral communities, non-governmental groups and governmental representatives in 2003 signed the Karen commitment for the protection of animal genetic  resources from patenting  signed in Kenya.

In 2001, the World Bank reversed its previous commitment to fund large-scale livestock projects in developing nations. In its new livestock strategy, the bank stated “there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security threatened.” It has promised to use a “people centered” approach to livestock development projects that will reduce poverty, protect environmental sustainability, ensure food security, and promote animal welfare.

This turnout did not happen out of a sudden visit from the consciousness fairy, but rather from the fact that large-scale intensive animal production methods the World Bank once advocated fro are proving to be too costly. Past policies drove out smallholders because economies of large scale do not internalize the environmental costs of producing meat. The Bank’s new strategy includes integrating livestock-environment interactions into environmental impact assessments, correcting regulatory distortions that favor large producers, and promoting development of markets for organic products.

Stone Barns: Center for Food and Agriculture

Posted in Glad to be Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Stepping on the farm of Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills upstate New York is first and foremost, quite beautiful. The Center for Food and Agriculture is home to the most avant-garde methods of growing food and raising animals. It is avant-garde ironically, because the methods actually take from ancient conceptions of sustaining a whole ecosystem. Throughout the 60-acres of working land there are a variety of agricultural principles applied but as Evan Thaller-Null, an intern in the farm explained, it is the idea of biodynamics that is most present in the farm’s consciousness. Biodynamics (a term coined from Rudolf Steiner’s ideas) tries to treat the farm as a self containing organism so that in a closed loop, everything is supported by each other and the health of each organism affects and is dependent on the health of everything else. Much attention is payed to seasonal and environmental factors in growing the food. This closed system allows for food to be grown organically, pesticide and hormone free.

The farm has made it its mission to be a center for education catering for young, novice and older more experienced people who wish to learn about the farm’s methods. Stone barns is a leader in new techniques and methods and people come by constantly to learn about it.

The pigs on the barn will come charge at you and try and eat your hand

The farm is only five years old, it emerged from Peggy Rockefeller’s desire to invigorate an area that had become an agricultural desert. The land used to be a dairy farm in the early 1900’s, but the high taxes on property and land had been driving out food production. Thanks to the endowment from the Rockefeller’s big bank account, the non-profit, Stone Barns is emerging as a center for agriculture and education situated only 30 miles from Manhattan. It also survives on volunteer help from students who wish to learn invaluable lessons. “I’ve gotten the chance to work with the most knowledgeable mentor in the field, and that is not easy to come by in agriculture,” said Evan about his internship in the farm.

There is a restaurant, Blue Hill located on the property that serves food from the farm at relatively expensive prices. I left the farm with a feeling of hope, but also with a number of  questions about this being a model or an ideal for our agriculturally troubled society.

Although the barn has taken the mission of spreading awareness about food and sustainable agriculture, it caters its food to a very specific population, mainly the higher class who can pay the price of the expensive food. If we are employing the principle of biodynamics say, to the entire country, (maybe even the world) wouldn’t it be necessary to spread access to healthy foods to everyone? Is it a ludicrous idea? I think not, and although it can seem like an impossible task, too costly, too difficult, if someone doesn’t begin with an idea of inclusiveness, then all attempts to ameliorate the problems in society will remain in the hands of a few–a secret to the rest of the population.

The greenhouse sustains fresh greens and roots all year round. These are some of the sweetest carrots I have ever encountered in my life

The Cuban Garden Revolution

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on October 27, 2009 by alejandracuellar


The campaigns in Cuba to promote urban and organic agriculture was a novel idea in the highly urbanized country. When Cuba faced food shortage in the 1990’s, the government was forced to create new pathways for the distribution of food. Interestingly enough, part of the problem in Cuba was due to a shortage in fossil-fuels which impacted the production through fertilizers, and the distribution through vehicles. Sounds terribly similar to the threats that face us today..

By proposing and creating incentives, the Cubans began to plant gardens in their homes that grew fruits and vegetables, a departure from the traditional Cuban diet which was ‘redundant in carbohydrates’ as white rice, sugar and sugarated drinks. It was easier to grow vegetables and fruit in the urban setting, as grains and meat require a higher input of energy and are better to grow in rural areas. Before the special period obesity, rates in Cuba were 30% and then fell to 16% due to food depravation. It should be noted that nutritional programs were implemented in order to educate people on the value of a balanced diet composed of fruits and vegetables, and debunking the myth that greens are food for rabbits.

The creation of these gardens was interesting because of the attempt to make them sustainable. Compost for example, can be a misplaced resource. The Cuban ‘Green Revolution’ (not to be confused with the Green Revolution in India) was attempting to reduce waste and use every output and so compost was used as a fertilizer. By being organic and diversified, they eliminated the need for pesticides. Then packaging, refrigeration and transportation were eliminated from the equation, taking away the dependence on fossil fuels. The output of these farms tripled during the 90’s city farms now grow enough food to meet the minimal nutrition needs of the population.

Another interesting element that arose from this system was the creation of an exchange market. When people had a surplus of a vegetable or fruit, they would exchange it for other goods instead of selling them. That way less food goes to waste. Sometimes people would give away their produce, because the focus of this program was to feed its people–not to depend on a market that can thrive in throwing away food in order to maintain a desired market price, while people die from hunger.

What can be taken from this story? That people. in the face of urgency are forced to come up with creative solutions. That people survive and adapt, and that it is possible to bring about positive change through difficult times.

Learning from History: Cuba’s Campaign Against Hunger

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on October 26, 2009 by alejandracuellar

“Famines are not caused by lack of food, but lack of rights”

“Hunger is a many headed monster; people suffering from hunger likely suffer from a disempowering combination of racism, sexism, prolonged poverty, illiteracy, lack of health care, water, jobs, and above all, money with which to buy food.”

-Amartya Sen


It is a combination of ills that create famine today, and always has. When looking at the hunger problem as a multi-layered, full of smaller problems, problem, the curtains begin to shed light into the reality of our world. Jaques Diouf of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says the food problem is not caused by a shortage of food, but the lack of political will to mobilize resources to the benefit of the hungry. In Cuba during what is called the special period, when Cuba’s ally, the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba faced big problems with food shortages. Food intake was lowered by about a third, going from an average of 2,900 calories per person a day during the 1,980s to 1,863 in 1994. During this time Cuba also experienced a time of ‘the NGO explosion,’ where 3,000 young activists began foundations to help raise money from other international donors. This was a time of creative outlook when the government had to act in ways that would circumvent the number of difficulties Cuba faced in this period.

What is very interesting about the Cuban case is the fact that it so happens to coincide with drastic declines in the availability of fossil fuel energy for the machinery that helped in the mobilization and the production of food. Sound like something out of a work of fiction? Close enough to the issues that are happening today that it’s worth looking at Cuba’s solution for the problems we are facing around the world today. The following posts will look at the Cuba Garden Revolution in greater detail and the Brazilian Zero Fome, Zero Hunger campaign, to provide more examples of pioneering countries in the issue of famine.

Sweetness Beyond Measure: Red Saccharine Orbs

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on October 22, 2009 by alejandracuellar
In the Garden of Eden

American settlers viewed the insertion of apples to the United States from the old world (originally the mountains in Kazakhstan) as a re-building of the garden of Eden on earth.

In the sweet story of the apple, malus domestica lays the truth about human nature. You question this, you might think it a ludicrous idea. In part you are right, and your doubts might spring from the question: was there ever such a thing as human nature? If we take the history of the apple and call it ‘a natural history’, and we take the history of humans and argue we are agents of nature too, then Henry David Thoreau comes out of the closet and screams out: “It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man!” Did you know that apples as we know them are a result of many years of human intervention with the sexual cycle of the trees? If you plant an apple seed, you are going to get a completely new variety of apple. That’s how apples ensure a wide genetic variation and defense against possible pests and intruders. Now that we have made sure to repress the sexual desire of apples to reproduce in their natural way, we have been able to selectively choose and arrive at the sweetest, the prettiest and the most generic types of apples. That’s right, as Michael Pollan put it, it is the blemish-free-plastic red saccharine orb that we have come to adore and then treat as irrelevant to society. What do I think is important about this story? It reminds about how the ingenuity of human beings can be found in so many places. We tend to think of ‘nature’ as untamed, untouched: an apple tree in the middle of a field charged with beautiful red fruit, a symbol of natural beauty. However, give that apple tree another look and you will discover it is a symbol of human’s pursuit of a deep seethed desire for SWEETNESS beyond measure, and how sweet can the apple get? How pretty, how red, how green can we make it now? As super-sweet as your wildest dreams go. It would be a folly to forget that messing with nature’s way has repercussions: if a resistant breed of pest hits the super model apples, they could all be gone without a word, as is the case with many other varieties of grain, fruits and vegetables treated in the same way. Humans have created the beautiful red, unable to fend for herself, at our expense and hers.  sweetness beyond dimension

Food Not Bombs: Taking Control of Our Rights

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on October 12, 2009 by alejandracuellar


Food Not Bombs is a movement dedicated to promoting peace and community building through the sharing of our most basic good: food. The group was started in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1980 by anti-nuclear activists. It has now spread to more than a hundred independent charters based in the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. If you want to know more about the history of the group click here.

The Food Not Bombs effort in the Pioneer Valley has been happening in Amherst and Northampton for some time. From the various occasions I have eaten with the group I have noticed trends that are both amusing and telling of a culture unaccustomed to friendly invitations from strangers. “Free food!” Someone will say to the passer-by who looks up briefly in a state of shock that very quickly turns into indifference. Sometimes people will offer a bemused smile and comment on the curious things on the table. “What is that? Stew?” As if it were a rarity. A thing  tainted by being on the street, a thing offered for free (disgusting) by both young and old people who just want whoever is hungry to sit and have a meal.

I should mention that all the ingredients used come from vendors who give away perfectly good food that fails to meet a protocol. What protocol are we talking about really? I would deem it the protocol of planned obsolescence, a term coined in the post World War II reconstruction era. It is “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary”. In terms of produce, it is the art of pushing expiration dates a little sooner than necessary, in order for vendors to have to keep buying in higher quantities and forcing them to throw out much of the food they buy.

The people who do sit, like I have in several occasions, get to enjoy delicious home vegetarian cooked meals and get the chance to share conversation with a diverse group of people. It never fails to be uplifting and better yet, it is a reminder of what basic community forming is in the simplest way.