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Archive for January, 2011

Last night I watched my beloved President give the State of the Union address.  And all I could think was how much this is all a bunch of B.S.

Not so much his words, as the whole thing really.  I mean seriously? Is this what the world has come to? A bunch of tinted actors reading soap-opera worthy speeches off of teleprompters? (and no I am not referring to my fellow yellow President when I say tinted)

What about sincerity and real concern for the ridiculous amount of problems we face right now?  The poor, the struggling, the injustice, the completely wrong direction we are headed with our environment and our health?

All I heard was how we have some of the best universities on Earth and the best inventions and how we’re gonna kick everybody else’s ass!  Um, hello! Our students’ education ranks lower than most European and Asian students’. We pride our universities more on their athletic programs than on their curriculum.  So why the front?  And don’t even get me started on our innovative techno-corporate industry vs. our land and our livelihood.  Or the America vs. the World rhetoric.  It’s like straight out of that Team America cartoon movie : America F*ck Yeah! Here to save the motherf*ckin Day!

Vomit.  I mean everything that was said last night that made everyone stand up and cheer, from the words of the Constitution to the pride for dominating the world, just made me shake my head, sad about our inevitable fate as a power-hungry, blind nation.

Am I supposed to be happy about Obama’s call for increasing exports, i.e. sending more American crap to places like South Korea? Or dumping more subsidized corn and grains on countries in Central America, putting their farmers out of work,  forcing them to illegally emigrate here, thus adding more fuel to the immigration reform fire? (of which Obama halfheartedly addressed for about .5 seconds)

What about all of our immigrant farmworkers? Have we connected the dots to these international trade agreements we’re so hungry for?  What about poverty, hunger and discrimination?  What about food? Why is that never a policy anyone cares to talk about? (Otherwise known as the Farm bill)

What about race? Having a black President, I never hear him talk about racism in this country. And just yesterday I read one of the scariest articles I’ve read in awhile with racism as the main culprit of the crime –> click here to read.

I just feel like it’s all a big dance. We already know what he’s going to say before he says it – because it’s what he has to say  to appease our greedy, egocentric citizens and Corporamerica.  All the while sweeping our real problems under the rug.

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world!”  “We do Big Things!”

Nobody wants to talk about the serious shit we’re in.  We just want to hold our hands to our hearts, looking misty-eyed into the Red, White and Blue and clap wildly at how awesome we’re gonna be this year in kicking global ass (and doing it “bound as one people across race and religion”).  Um.  Maybe the State of the Union should start with actually telling the truth.

I get it.  Debbie Downer never made a great motivational speaker.  Wasn’t so good at lifting peoples’ spirits.  But am I alone in thinking cheesy, empty promises (most repeated from two years ago) just don’t do it for me anymore?  I need real talk.  I want honest, open, frank statements like : “America, we need to stop effing around. We’ve  done some f*cked up ish  for a really long time and that’s all gotta end now if we want to be around in a hundred years”

That’s motivation!  Addressing the truth, admitting our faults and going forward with honest intentions.

Trust me, I’m more surprised than anyone at my lack of enthusiasm compared to all the other commentary on the speech.  I hate to admit, as an activist, that I’m at a loss for hope.  Maybe I drank too much of the jaded flavor Kool-Aid during my time in DC.  Maybe I’ve lost it and need to go join the caravan of other super-idealist hippies already planning their trip to the next Burning Man.  Maybe I’m getting too close to 30, the magic age of cynicism. Or…maybe I’m not losing it, I’m perfectly sane and the rest of the world just needs to wake up.

You decide 😉

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I’m not sure how I ended up in a plane no bigger than the tiny Toyota I drove around in high school, flying across the state of Florida on a Sunday afternoon, but I’ve just learned to flow with it…yet another of the random situations I tend to find myself in.

I looked out past the propeller to the horizon cutting across the Everglades, and giggled nervously when the pilot told me to take the stick and keep her steady. umm…ok!

The pilot, Rick Neyman, was a friend of my parents and had recently gotten his pilot’s license and invited me up for a spin.

We flew out of Ft Lauderdale, across the belly of the state, past Lake Okeechobee and landed on the west coast in St. Pete.  Our route took us directly over the deserted swampland of the Everglades (which oddly made me feel like I was back in Australia) and above the smoky center of Florida’s sugarcane industry.

Sugarcane has been grown in South Florida since the 1920s and it’s one of the most important crops  for the state’s economy…but one of the most damaging for its ecosystem.

About 450,000 acres of the sweet stuff are grown every year, mostly around the lower half of Lake Okeechobee. Sugarcane is a tropical perennial grass that can reach up to 19ft and it’s super sensitive to the cold…much like us spoiled Floridians. But it does enjoy the mucky soils along the edges of the Everglades and the sandy soils common to Florida.

Two major problems that arise from the sugarcane industry are 1)heavy air pollution from burning the fields, which they do at harvest to more easily reach the cane and kill any lurking snakes, and 2)polluted and overused water from the Everglades.

Tens of thousands of acres of the Everglades have gone from teeming sub-tropical forest to near lifeless marshland due to the sugarcane field’s excessive fertilizer run-off and drainage for irrigation.

As we flew over these fields, we saw pillars of black smoke rising up all around us. It tainted the puffy white clouds stretched out in front of us, kinda like car exhaust stains fresh snow.

It left me wondering what the future holds for Florida’s sugarcane industry. Will it turn into a biofuel giant like Brazil’s sugarcane?  Eating up more of the Everglades as quickly as the SUVs caking I-95 eat up fuel? Will it bring in thousands more Latino and Haitian immigrant farmworkers to underpay and abuse?  Will it increase the rate of asthma that seems to be an epidemic among so many people I know in Florida?

When we landed in St Pete and got some breakfast, the waiter asked me if I wanted sugar in my tea… I made a sour face… and asked for honey.

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Food Justice = from seed to table there are countless opportunities to cheat workers, consumers and the environment. Food justice is about making sure the way our food is grown and distributed is fair for everyone involved.

This is the first book I’ve heard of that is written just about this issue.  (And I have searched!)

Check it out: Food Justice, by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi

Published in October 2010, Food Justice takes the reader through a narrative analysis that relates the struggles and triumphs of food system change in the United States and abroad. Food Justice is about how, what, and where food is grown and processed, and who gets it.  It’s about the pieces of our history that have come to shape the lives of the world’s hungry, its minority and migrant populations, and our food cultures, and what individuals and organizations are doing to change it.

Read More >>

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I spent my Sunday lying by the ocean here in South Florida, reading one of three books I currently have in rotation, Caucasia by Danzy Senna (the other two are Food Fight and Malcolm X Speaks).  Caucasia is a novel that ventures deep into race from the perspective of a young girl who almost transcends it as she grows up in a biracial family in the 1970s Boston “race wars”.  It’s also the first novel I’ve read by a biracial author, and I find it inexplicably soothing.

In my iPod earbuds, the words of MLK played out in the background – how I was reading and listening, I don’t know… like I said I have three books in rotation, so I guess I’m somewhat of a hopeless multi-tasker – but I thought it fitting, since we just marked the birthday of this great leader, whose words are tragically still relevant today, on Saturday, January 15th.

Some of his words were eerily applicable to the political state we find ourselves in now.

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

This made me think specifically of the most current chain reaction of hate we saw and still see pre- and post- Tuscon, and the seemingly endless bickering and finger-pointing we are all guilty of within our own democracy, while trying to give health, food and rights to our own people, and on a grander scale with respect (or lack thereof) to our global neighbors and cultures different from ours.

But it also inspired me to do some digging about this prescient man and what inspired him to want to transcend race like Danzy Senna in Boston, or what moved him to want to help and empower people like I and so many other young activists want to do…and I was surprised to find that MLK had spent some time on a farm during his youth and was inspired by what he found there.

Here are some excerpts from an NPR article on King’s life-changing time in the country up North:

Martin Luther King Jr. could hardly believe his eyes when he left the segregated South as a teenage college student to work on a tobacco farm in Connecticut.

“On our way here we saw some things I had never anticipated to see,” he wrote his father in June 1944. “After we passed Washington there was no discrimination at all. The white people here are very nice. We go to any place we want to and sit any where we want to.”

Byer says King and other students often worked in temperatures that reached 100 degrees or higher. The students, who were earning money to pay for college, made about $4 per day, Byer said. They lived in a dormitory built at the edge of the tobacco field.

Until then, King was thinking of other professions such as becoming a lawyer, Conard-Malley said. But after his fellow Morehouse College students at the tobacco farm elected him their religious leader, he decided to become a minister.

“Perhaps if he hadn’t come to Connecticut, hadn’t picked tobacco up here, hadn’t felt like a free person, hadn’t felt what life was like without segregation and been elected the religious minister, he may not have become such a leader in the civil rights movement,” Conard-Malley said.

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You never know where you’ll find inspiration or what experience may change your life course.  As one of the students from this article, Nicole Byer, who is working on a documentary about King’s life said, “Everything right now influences us. Any small experience can change the direction of what we do right now.”

And when we do decide on what we want to do, I like to remember these words (which seem indispensable to community work and the theme I keep bringing up in the issue of food justice) …

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Happy MLK Day

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Many of you have been following my Color of Food series on Grist.org, in fact that’s how some of you found my blog! But for those that haven’t, I wanted to share the complete series here now that the season has ended along with my articles there.

See below for any articles you may have missed!

The Color of Food

In search of black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement

6 Oct 2010

In search of black and Latino farmers in the sustainable food movement image I’m stuck on this concept of blending contrasts. It may have to do with being the only brown girl I know interested in farming (although this really shouldn’t be a contrast at all); or maybe it has to do with going from D.C. political advocate to farmer-girl overnight.

» read more

 

 

Hitting the Big Apple’s food-justice buffet

26 Oct 2010

Hitting the Big Apple’s food-justice buffet imageAdded-Value’s website says its mission is to grow a “just food system” and empower youth, so I was a little surprised to walk onto the farm and see no signs of this. For the most part, the farm seemed to be a commercial operation catering to restaurants and a Community Supported Agriculture program and market serving a wealthier, white consumer base…It’s become clear to me that the lack of  direct involvement by community members in some of these projects is the first problem with this movement.

» read more

 

Food justice: It’s not black and white in Detroit

18 Nov 2010

Food justice: It’s not black and white in Detroit imageThroughout my journey I have found that white folks still fill most of the paid jobs at many food justice organizations and even urban farms that promote and support farmers of color. What does that matter? Some say it doesn’t, as long as the intention to get the work done is there. Others argue that the black community should be leading the fight. I stand somewhere in the middle. (Go figure.)

» read more

 

Chicago has got it growing on

15 Dec 2010

Chicago has got it growing on image“In under-served communities there is often an undercurrent that things are owed to us. In a way they definitely are, but we owe some things to ourselves,” said Kern. “When I talk about farming with black youth, slavery comes up in the first 20 minutes, but the only reason I know anything about agriculture is because of my grandma. She had a garden in her backyard, but she didn’t do it for fun; she did it because she had to. Growing was her empowerment.”

» read more

 

Postcard from the first annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference

30 Nov 2010

Postcard from the first annual Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference image

Gary Grant spoke to those of us who don’t live in the South about how alive racism still is there, especially for farmers. He painted a clear picture of how some of these regional USDA offices have Confederate flags and lynch nooses hanging on their walls. That sends an undeniable message to any black farmer walking in the door asking about why their loan is delayed.

» read more

 

Brightening up the dark farming history of the Sunshine State

3 Jan 2011

ScottRobertson/CIW

It’s actually fitting that the end of my farming and food justice journey for this season has brought me to Florida. It is where I grew up and is home to my family, and it’s also home to many farmers of color that have emigrated here from the Caribbean and Central and South America.

The only problem is that some of the employers in these agricultural areas of Florida apparently think they’re the Spanish colonizers of 1565 … meaning slavery is OK in their book.

» read more

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Juice is one of those things we all grew up with.  Gulping down a tall glass of OJ at breakfast, wiping your upper lip on your sleeve and running outside to play is a classic scene – at least from my childhood.

Our parents thought giving us juice was a healthy thing to do, maybe because of the vibrant images of fruit plastered all over the cartons, and “vitamin-packed” claims covering up the ingredients. But now, we all know that most of that “fruit juice” we were drinking was actually “fruit drink” loaded with sugar and just a drop of fruit.

Today, juicing whole fruits has become quite the trend. Especially with new gadgets and blenders that allow you to get all the pulpy, fibrous bits that are so good for you.

But I’ve also seen this trend skipping right over the black community, where unhealthy fruit drinks, sugary juices, flavored sodas and even Kool-Aid (a staple of my childhood) still fill the shelves of corner stores and supermarkets.

But, then, I met the Juice Man.

Anthony Scaife, a personal chef and culinary expert from Chicago, gave me the most delicious juice I’ve ever tasted…and it was healthy too. I drank his blends of natural, whole fruit juices with fruits like pomegranate, watermelon, grapefruit, and seven kinds of oranges and I was hooked.

I found him in Gainesville, Florida while visiting my brother and his wife for the Holidays. Or should I say, my brother found him and took us to the local farmers’ market to prove to us that the Juice Man was a Godsend.  My brother has been addicted to juice since he could walk, and was sick of hearing my soapbox sermons about his unhealthy habits.  So to shut me up, he took me right to the source of his changed ways. (He also used to eat Checker’s burgers on the regular, but now buys most of his food from the local farmers at the market – yay!)

My goofy brother Jarad and me

I was happy to talk to Anthony because I think he serves as a great role model for healthy eating in the black community (similar to Bryant Terry who’s famous for showing how healthy Soul Food can be). He was the only black vendor in the whole farmers’ market and his stand was packed with customers.

Come to find out, Anthony has long been creating amazing juices and serving up recipes that he gathered from all over the world during a six-year tour in the Navy. He’s made delicious and healthy dishes while running his own catering and personal chef company, Anthony’s Apron, in Atlanta, combining Southern comfort food and traditional West Indies and Mediterranean cuisine, like his famous “Southern Fusion Hash” , “Kicking Poo Wings” and his BBQ ribs. But he also loves his juices and has a magic ability to fuse different flavors of fruits from all over the world together in one healthy, delicious sip.

I think chefs are often left out of the discussion in the good food movement, and they really shouldn’t be.  So here’s to Chef Anthony, the Juice Man, changing the way we eat and drink juice.

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