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The Rural Climate Dialogues: A Community-Driven Roadmap for Climate Action in Rural Minnesota

By Tara Ritter - Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, November 17, 2020

Rural America has a central role to play in meeting the climate crisis and rural residents have innovative ideas about how to do it. Rural America encompasses 97% of the land area in the United States and is home to nearly all the nation’s energy production, including wind and solar farms, oil drilling and power plants. The nation’s vast agricultural and forested land, which are essential natural resources in responding to climate change, are managed by the 19% of the population that lives in rural America. It seems obvious that rural Americans should be deeply involved in developing climate policy; yet, rural perspectives and ideas are too often not part of the discussion.

There are real challenges in engaging rural communities on climate policy, including longstanding political obstacles that run deeper than views on climate change. The divide between rural and urban is not just geographic, but also cultural and political, and here in Minnesota the gap is widening. Urban and rural Minnesotans have grown apart in many ways — age, income, educational attainment, race and culture. Ignoring these differences, or trying to ram through them, has thus far delayed action on climate change.

Climate change offers an opportunity to engage differently with rural communities in a way that focuses on solutions rather than assigning blame. Instead of trying to “sell” climate policy to rural communities, we must engage organizations and leaders rooted in rural areas in the development stage to identify solutions that work for them. As important, we need community-level engagement tools designed to overcome our current toxic political environment and map out rural-appropriate responses to climate change that feed up into policy and concrete action.

Since 2014, IATP, in partnership with the Jefferson Center, has hosted Rural Climate Dialogues (RCDs) in five Minnesota counties. This method of civic engagement emphasizes listening and empathy building; focuses on each community’s distinct hopes, challenges and sense of place; and ultimately creates locally driven climate action plans. This report will discuss the context in which we have done this work, provide an overview of each community’s recommendations and actions, and share what we have learned.

Read the text (PDF).

From Scarcity to Sovereignty: Food in a Time of Pandemic

By various - The LEAP, July 28, 2020

The pandemic has shone a glaring light on a food system that was already in crisis long before COVID-19. Millions of animals euthanized, lakes of milk poured down drains. Migrant farm workers, on whose labour the system depends, getting infected and dying because of utterly inadequate housing and lack of access to medical care. All within a context where entrenched racism and inequality already determines who does and doesn’t experience food insecurity.

The flip side of this disaster: the crisis has expanded our political imagination, and made clear how essential is every person and every link in the food system’s chain. The ground is laid for vastly more radical policy changes than were being discussed even a few months ago.

We have worked with allies across the food system to gather these political demands, and map them across the stages of a Just Recovery. We can seize this moment to build a food system that respects Indigenous sovereignty, treats producers with dignity, reconnects us to the nurturing power of the earth, and celebrates true diversity – from crops to cultures.

To mark the launch of this phase of our project, we are bringing together some of the most visionary thinkers and activists in the Food Justice community for a conversation on food and farming. It’s a big one, because it intersects with every aspect of our lives. And it’s crucial, because the food system is the site of some of the biggest challenges and opportunities of this crisis.

Speakers:

  • Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, film-maker, academic
  • Dawn Morrison, Secwepemc Nation, Founder/Curator of Research and Relationships of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty.
  • Evelyn Encalada Grez, Co-Founder of Justicia/Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW); Assistant Professor of Labour Studies at Simon Fraser University
  • Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto

Food for Health Manifesto

By Renata Alleva, et. al. - Navdanya International, 2019

The Food for Health Manifesto aims to give voice, hope and future to all those who wish to commit themselves to act and consume in keeping with a new sustainable food for health paradigm. Additionally, this Manifesto is intended to be used as a tool to help mobilize the urgent transition to local, ecological and diversified food systems. The Manifesto asserts that health, starting with the soil, to plants, animals and humans must be the organizing principle and the aim of agriculture, commerce, science, of our lives and of international trade and aims to create convergence between consumers, producers and stakeholders for a common vision of sustainable development in line with the Millenium Development Goals.

Read the report (Link).

If We All Became Vegan Tomorrow

By Chris Saltmarsh and Harpreet Kaur Paul  - New Internationalist, June 6, 2018

If everyone became vegan tomorrow, between 14.5 to 15.6 per cent of anthropogenic (human-made) global greenhouse gas emissions would be wiped out. That is huge. You would be forgiven if you thought it was higher, as a recent viral Guardian article, based on a new study out from the University of Oxford, sensationally reported that meat and dairy accounted for 60 per cent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, without stating the proportion of global anthropogenic emissions attributable to agriculture specifically.

With a current global average surface temperature increase of approximately 1.2°C, climate change has already caused harms, and any reduction in emissions would curtail further damage. Land currently used for meat and dairy production could be reforested, grains fed to cattle could be directed, water would be saved, and environmental damage caused by animal agriculture would cease.

While noteworthy, prioritizing dietary solutions is not only insufficient, but problematic. Imposing veganism on the majority world would hurt the rural poor. A survey of 7978 households in 24 countries across Latin America, Asia, and Africa, found that reliance on wild meat is highest among the poorest households and fills a gap when other food sources are not available. Many traditional and indigenous cultures surviving in relative harmony with natures have hunted meat sustainably long before the capitalist industrialization of agriculture. They’ve done so often with a profound respect for the animal and their role in the co-production of natures.

A Green New Deal for Agriculture

Raj Patel and Jim Goodman - Jacobin, April 4, 2019

The food system is breaking the planet. Nearly a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gases are driven by how we eat, and it’s impossible to tackle climate change without transforming agriculture. So the Green New Deal is wise to call for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” Better yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey’s proposal includes a call to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”

This has the makings of a bonanza for rural America. Healthy food costs more and is harder to access than processed food. Under a Green New Deal that helped Americans eat better, more cash might flow back to the land. And if the federal government were paying more for better food, and understood that well-managed soil can sequester carbon, sustainable farming might be a way to end America’s rural poverty.

Yet almost as soon as the Green New Deal was released, members of the American Farm Bureau criticized the proposal as misguided and uninformed. Early in March, the National Farmers Union, one of the more left-leaning of the large farm organizations, snubbed the Green New Deal for not recognizing “the essential contribution of rural America.” And the recent Senate vote united fifty-seven members of the chamber in opposition. So, why the haters in farm country?

Of course, not all farmers are conservative. Nor is everyone living in rural America a farmer. Farmers carried Jimmy Carter to the White House in 1976. Farmers and others active in America’s rural social movements have written enthusiastically about the Green New Deal and its possibilities for family farms, about how it might spur things like rural repopulation, new farm pricing models, and climate-friendly agriculture. But those ideas are written against what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called “hegemony.

A key idea in Gramsci’s work on hegemony is that of a historic bloc, a coalition that licenses and polices a dominant social order. The power within that bloc extends beyond brute force — it tries to establish dominance at the level of “common sense,” styling ideas of what’s socially acceptable and what’s unthinkable. The dominant historic bloc in the United States today is an assembly of property owners, fossil fuel corporations, war-makers, tech giants, media outlets, health care management firms, industrialists, monopolists, and financiers, but involves cultural leadership from some workers and farmers. The reflexive criticism of the Green New Deal, before its details have even been hashed out, is an indicator of the bloc’s hegemony.

The Green New Deal’s success depends on refashioning this common sense. To rewrite common sense is to unpick the alliances that the current bloc works to maintain, to find the fault lines that can pry that bloc apart, and to develop the organizational links that can build a counter-hegemonic bloc. To do that, it’s worth understanding the source of some of the most important alliances in the current configuration of forces in America’s food system: the first New Deal.

The original New Deal today appears as a miracle, an incredible moment in which the nation stood united behind Keynesian policy to accomplish big things. Yet they were achieved not because the nation united behind them, but because the nation was profoundly divided. The New Deal was a project precipitated by class struggle, and is best understood as a series of victories and defeats in the management of that struggle by an anxious bourgeoisie, across rural and urban America.

Part of the 1st Ecosocialist International

By various - Ecosocialist Horizons, November 2017

It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when, with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts, we initiated a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a combined strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International: To reverse the destructive process of capitalism; to return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity; to live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within us, between us, and among all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another meeting, nor another conference of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; based on what we do and what we are. Nor is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization or a rubber stamp in constant danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join, by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon here in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process can be owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We invite all peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to join the First Ecosocialist International, and to undertake the collective construction of a program for the salvation of Mother Earth. By restoring a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality with a new imagination and a new heartbeat, which may carry us to unity and diversity. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our roots and our original ways; we shall see the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth towards a loving upbringing; we are an immortal embryo… Let’s dream, and act, without sleeping!

Read the report (PDF).

Double Whammy On Farmers

By Colin Todhunter - CounterPunch, December 12, 2016

Washington’s long-term plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world and tie it to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market and indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

This result has been the creation of food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the Global South mirror food surpluses in the North. Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture for the benefit of transnational agribusiness and the undermining of both regional and global food security.

In the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. India was advised to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies and run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops. As the largest recipient of loans from the World Bank in the history of that institution, India has been quite obliging and has been opening up its agriculture to foreign corporations.

Together We Can Cool the Planet

By Eugenia Izquierdo and IvanZigarán - La Via Campesina and GRAIN - December 2016

Based on the video Together we can cool the planet! co-produced by La Vía Campesina and GRAIN in 2015, we have created a comic book to support training activities of social movements and civil society organisations around climate change. This comic book looks at how the industrial food system impacts our climate and also explains what we can do to change course and start cooling the planet.

La Via Campesina and GRAIN have pointed out that the industrial food system is responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa, we have been denouncing the false solutions to climate change such as GMOs, the “green economy” and "climate-smart agriculture".

We say loud and clear: it is peasants and small farmers, along with consumers who choose agroecological products from local markets, who hold the solution to the climate crisis.

We must all rise to the challenge!

Read the report (PDF).

Watch the video, too:

No relief: Denial of bathroom breaks in the poultry industry

By staff - OxFam, 2016

As poultry workers are routinely denied adequate bathroom breaks, they face dangers to their health and blows to their dignity.

While the poultry industry today enjoys record profits and pumps out billions of chickens, the reality of life inside the processing plant remains grim and dangerous. Workers earn low wages, suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, toil in difficult conditions, and have little voice in the workplace.

Despite all that, though, workers say the thing that offends their dignity most is simple: lack of adequate bathroom breaks, and the suffering that entails, especially for women.

Routinely, poultry workers say, they are denied breaks to use the bathroom. Supervisors mock their needs and ignore their requests; they threaten punishment or firing. Workers wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline.

Workers struggle to cope with this denial of a basic human need. They urinate and defecate while standing on the line; they wear diapers to work; they restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security. And it’s not just their dignity that suffers: they are in danger of serious health problems.

The situation strikes women particularly hard. They face biological realities such as menstruation, pregnancy, and higher vulnerability to infections; and they struggle to maintain their dignity and privacy when requesting breaks.

Supervisors deny requests to use the bathroom because they are under pressure to maintain the speed of the processing line, and to keep up production. Once a poultry plant roars to a start at the beginning of the day, it doesn’t stop until all the chickens are processed. Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than the body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load—rapidly and relentlessly.By its nature, it is demanding and exhausting work.

But it does not have to be dehumanizing, and it does not have to rob people of their dignity and health.

Read the report (Link).

From Uniformity to Diversty: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems

By Emile A. Frison - International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems - June 2016

Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.

Many of these problems are linked specifically to ‘industrial agriculture’: the input-intensive crop monocultures and industrial-scale feedlots that now dominate farming landscapes. The uniformity at the heart of these systems, and their reliance on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and preventive use of antibiotics, leads systematically to negative outcomes and vulnerabilities.

Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.

Tweaking practices can improve some of the specific outcomes of industrial agriculture, but will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates.

What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

There is growing evidence that these systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods.

Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in the places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits.

Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.

Read the report (PDF).

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