Natasha and Jill (OrangeClouds115) moderated a wonderful panel today called A Recipe for Change. The topic was how do we find a way to have healthier food and what are the obstacles from getting that. The panelists were great and covered a broad range of interests and knowledge.
Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap talked about the connection to hunger and poverty and the problem of how terrible, cheap food is undermining the health of our country. One of the real problems for so many poor communities are food deserts, communities where the closest grocery store is up to 20 miles away while KFC is on the neighborhood corner. One other issue he talked about was how often policies that are handed down by the bureaucrats are too heavy-handed. A few years ago there was an E Coli scare that arose around apple cider. The proposal from the bureaucrats would have put most of the small farmers that produced apple cider out of business so in his state they worked with the state agricultural council and came up with a much better solution: providing education for cider makers so they could manufacture cider with better and cleaner practices. Working with the agriculture councils can be a good way to influence farming policies in the state.
Michele Simon is a public health attorney and author of Appetite for Profit. She explained how food corporations have been controlling the message about food and are trying to convince the public and government that they should not be regulated. However, voluntary self-regulation doesn't work and it is essential that our politicians do not believe that they can ignore this problem. And she says that we need to realize the problem is not that people aren't making the right choices because of some "personal failure." Instead of blaming people for bad decisions we need to make clear how the corporatization of food has created the systemic problems that have created our current problems. Finally, she noted that people today have access to much better and healthier food, but it isn't available for many people and it is a moral obligation to make sure everyone has the same good access to nutritious and healthy food.
Judith McGeary is an organic farmer outside of Austin and someone who has proven that you can make a living as an organic farmer. She debunked the lie that organic farming practices cannot feed the world. In fact, organic farming practices actually is more productive and more nutritious than the current petroleum based agriculture. She encouraged people to learn about and use CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to find better locally grown food and to encourage local farming.
Margaret Krome who leads the Michael Fields Agriculture Institute talked about food policy and how we need to use the farm bill to support better food policy. Natasha had met Margaret last year when she was working as an intern with the Institute and was blogging about her experience in the Congressional Farm Committee meetings. Margaret talked about how they were able to get some long needed policy changes and money in the last farm bill. And she noted that we need to continue to be involved in what's happening in Congress and let our representatives know what we need them to do. She told us that we need to know in regards to farm policy many of the programs hit all states, but when contacting someone about farm policy in the government, it often is much better to have the contact be local, but because it is local you can influence the outcome. Finally, she asks us to provide feedback about what are the critical focus areas they should prioritize first - because they can't cover everything and they would like to make sure they cover the right things.
It was a very informative and educational session which left me with much food for thought.