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Leslie Hatfield

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A Movement Is Growing: A Look Back at the Last Year in Green(er) Food

Posted: 04/22/2009 4:36 pm

Aside from Earth Day, today marks the Green Fork's one-year anniversary. That we launched this blog one year ago today (with 20 Ways to Green Your Fork) is no coincidence -- the team at Eat Well, along with a growing number of consumers, are concerned about how our food choices impact the environment. Social justice concerns, especially access to healthful foods, and labor rights, are at issue here too, as well as animal welfare and public health issues. There is a lot to chew on, if you will, and we were excited to add our voices to the growing choir of sustainable food enthusiasts.

This past year has been huge for Eat Well. We started producing videos, published the educational booklet Cultivating the Web: High Tech Tools for the Sustainable Food Movement (of which we've distributed over 20,000 copies -- you can download the digital version here) and launched the beta version of our interactive mapping feature, Eat Well Everywhere. We also added hundreds of new listings to the Guide and yesterday, we were named "best local food blog" in Treehugger's "Best of Green" (you can help us win the Reader's Choice Award by voting for us before midnight tonight) .

It's also been a big year for the larger food movement. To recap, we've tapped some of our favorite foodie writers, bloggers, activists and advocates to answer this question:

What is one of the most powerful things you've seen and/or learned over the last year? And what is one thing you'd like to see happen over the next year?

For my part, even as author of the question, I'm finding it really hard to narrow it down one thing, so I would just say that the the idea of "good food for all" has gained tremendous momentum over the last year. The New York Times prints a story about good food nearly everyday, and they are not alone -- all across America, people are talking and writing and organizing for more farmers' markets, more community gardens, more nutritious lunches and better food in general. Today, I'm writing from the W.K. Kellogg Food & Society conference, where over 500 good food advocates have gathered to work on what last year, many were hesitating to call a "movement," but these days, there hardly seems to be a question of whether or not what's happening qualifies as one. Given all that has been achieved over the last year, I can't wait to see what unfolds over the next one. If you have yet to join us, do yourself and your fellow global citizens a favor and get on the bus.

Marion Nestle, of Food Politics: One person really can make a difference, and a big one, as shown by what's happening with community gardens, school food, and organic gardens at the White House. Let's have lots more people out there making a difference, each in their own way.

Michael Pollen, of MichaelPollan.com: We'll look back at Michelle Obama's work --planting an organic garden on the White House lawn and talking about the importance of real food, as the most important food-and-ag news of the past year. She has already changed the conversation, inspired a counter-attack, and raised people's consciousness about food more than anyone else.

Joan Dye Gussow: After more than 30 years of playing Cassandra, of living in opposition to the dominant myths about our truly gross national product and our unhealthy food supply, I've been shocked into hopefulness by what simple truth from the top has managed to transform despite a continuing din of misinformation.

My hope is that we can revive the real economy-the one where people build, grow, feed and care for each other-without the need to resuscitate our still unsustainable "consumer society."

Kerry Trueman of Eating Liberally: Oh, geez. I thought this was gonna be easy until I started to think of all the great things that happened over the past year: the resounding success of Roger Doiron's Eat The View campaign to get a kitchen garden established at the White House; the MacArthur Foundation awarding Growing Power's Will Allen a much-deserved "genius" grant; the support that the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has received in their struggle to improve conditions for our farm workers; the passage of Proposition 2 in California thanks to the tireless efforts of our friends at the Humane Society; the extraordinary and ever-growing influence of Michael Pollan, who's got Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer talking about food sheds and urban ag; and Slow Food USA's shockingly savvy decision to make Josh Viertel its new president.

The most powerful thing may be that folks like Pollan and Viertel have actually been granted access to our new administration, giving us an opportunity, at long last, to loosen the stranglehold of Big Ag and Big Food on our agricultural policies.

According to Pollan and Viertel, President Obama is receptive to the sustainable ag agenda, but demanding evidence that we are, indeed, a real force to be reckoned with. "Show me the movement," he's reportedly saying.

We're fighting "some of the most powerful and moneyed interests in the United States," as Joan Gussow noted in a speech at Columbia a couple of weeks ago. We must be doing something right, 'cause Monsanto and the rest of the bio-tech brigade have stepped up their disinformation campaigns to confuse consumers who are rethinking our fossil-fueled food chain.

So, can we do away with Agribizness as usual? Yes, we can! Well, that's my hope, anyway...

Sam Fromartz of Chews Wise: What I'm most encouraged by is the way people are thinking about food - understanding that how it's produced effects people, health, animals, fish, the environment, oceans, the climate, everyday lives. That consciousness is even more important than making the right food choice according to a rigid guideline. My only hope is that this continues to spread, altering the marketplace in ways we can only imagine.

Anna Lappe of Take a Bite: One of the most powerful things I experienced last year was visiting communities on the outskirts of Seoul with farming activists from Southeast Asia who are part of the La Via Campesina movement. La Via Campesina, now hundreds of thousands strong, is a powerful reminder that small-scale farming is a viable way of life and can be a powerful tool for both helping us mitigate and adapt to global warming. As they say, small-scale farming can "feed the world and cool the planet."

But perhaps the biggest consciousness shifting experience for me in this past year has been becoming pregnant. All the abstractions about toxins in our environment and on our foods, about the future of the planet and the species, feel very real to me as I sense my baby daughter swimming around inside me. At 29 weeks old, she already has all the eggs she will ever create, so that in me is literally the seeds of my grandchildren, as in my grandmother was the seed of me. The generational frame of sustainability is no longer an abstraction.

Paula Crossfield of Civil Eats: The most powerful thing I've come to know about the sustainable food movement this year is how eager young people are to farm (myself included). I would love to push Vilsack to start a young farmer corps program, recruiting interested new farmers and paying them as apprentices and continuing to support them as they seek out land and begin their new occupation.

Kim O'Donnel of A Mighty Appetite: A lot of yin yang this year -- Increased awareness on a consumer level about the state of our food system, which is horrifying, yet inspiring to hear the very good work being done to re-establish the farm-to-table connection. Seemingly unprecedented press coverage on food safety, the Farm Bill, immigrant worker rights and global food shortages, all disheartening news, yet bright sparks of light and encouraging reports of vegetable gardens and from the White House south lawn to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. More hunger and demand on food banks yet communities pulling resources to feed one another.

Severine von Tscharner Fleming of the Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles: An incredible surge of young people making bold professional choices, entering agriculture, starting businesses, becoming engaged in the foodsytem.

From Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore: The highlight of my year was the appointment of Kathleen Merrigan. And my top thing to change? The control of corporations over our food system. Yeah, I know... I dream big.

From Gwen Schantz, frequent contributor to the Green Fork and also to Alternet:Last summer I was living in an Alaskan fishing town when the US Supreme Court ruled that Exxon Mobil would pay an insultingly low $500 million in damages for its role in the worst oil spill in the history of our country. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez spill left much of coastal Alaska covered in crude oil, crippling aquatic ecosystems and obliterating the livelihood of thousands of fishermen. At the time, fishermen put their bodies and their boats to work scrubbing beaches and hauling supplies and volunteers to cleanup sites. Twenty years later, these men and women continue to act as stewards of the sea, working the most environmentally-sustainable fishery in the world. Even as the Supreme Court's ruling last June illustrates the struggles and frustrations of the environmental movement, it gives me hope and pride to know that Alaskan fishermen carry on a tradition of stewardship through the act of putting good food on my table.

Annie Meyers of Thoughts on the Table: One of the most powerful initiatives that I've noticed (and hope!) is gaining ground is the effort to bring fresh, local produce into hospital kitchens. The specific hospitals that have made this link (in Connecticut and California, for example) have had to do a lot of creative work with their food service providers or with individual distributors to connect with local farmers, but many hospitals are also starting to use common language to describe the type of foods they hope to source. Hospitals that have signed the Health Care Without Harm pledge have agreed to "create food systems which are ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially responsible." Of course we'll see whether health care reform will place value in the preventative care of healthy food, but at least for now, some hospital representatives are taking the initiative to do this themselves!

One thing I look forward to in the next year is the establishment of a year-round wholesale regional market in New York City. The New Amsterdam Market project is the primary force building the foundation for this institution, and will be holding Monthly Markets starting on June 28th this year. The New Amsterdam Market will eventually provide a critical meeting point for the growing infrastructure of New York's regional food system, so that institutions, supermarkets, bodegas, and ever more families will have physical and financial access to the fresh food of the Northeast!

 

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