Terra Madre 2010

November 8, 2010

Hi, everyone!

On October 20th, 2010 I hopped on the plane from Boston to Turin, Italy for the fourth-ever Terra Madre (“Mother Earth”) conference. This international gathering occurs every two years and is sponsored by Slow Food International and the City of Turin, the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Turin, and a number of private donors. Terra Madre aims to be the largest gathering of food producers, activists, academics, and youth leaders from all six continents.

As a concentrator in the Environmental Studies department, I’ve been able to work with Professor Kathy DeMaster as a Teaching Assistant for the course Sustenance and Sustainability in Spring 2009. With the great support of Brown’s Center for Environmental Studies, I was able to attend this year’s conference. While there, I spoke with farmers, hunter and gatherers, educators, journalists, and chefs about Brown’s growing reputation as a hotbed of activity surrounding sustainable agriculture, food justice, and urban farming. I also represented the Youth Food movement by sharing the work I had done with Real Food at Brown over the past two years. For those who don’t know, Real Food at Brown is a great student group under the umbrella of the national Real Food Challenge, and we aim to increase spending in Brown’s Dining Services towards just, sustainable, organic, and humanely produced food.

Regardless, posts and photos about my (brief) stint in Italy are forthcoming. Hopefully, some of my questions and experiences can serve the discussion in Kathy’s class this spring. And if anything, I hope my opportunity to show up at a gathering like this – where over 5,000 attendees and volunteers converged in one Italian city – illustrates just how strong a movement this is, and how great the potential is to connect.


Inspiring Article on Chemical Regulation

May 8, 2010

I just thought this article was very optimistic, showing how real health concerns could shift regulation policies.
-Emily V

New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer
Published: May 5, 2010

The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.

The cancer panel is releasing a landmark 200-page report on Thursday, warning that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.

I’ve read an advance copy of the report, and it’s an extraordinary document. It calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals.

Traditionally, we reduce cancer risks through regular doctor visits, self-examinations and screenings such as mammograms. The President’s Cancer Panel suggests other eye-opening steps as well, such as giving preference to organic food, checking radon levels in the home and microwaving food in glass containers rather than plastic.

In particular, the report warns about exposures to chemicals during pregnancy, when risk of damage seems to be greatest. Noting that 300 contaminants have been detected in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies, the study warns that: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted.’ ”

It’s striking that this report emerges not from the fringe but from the mission control of mainstream scientific and medical thinking, the President’s Cancer Panel. Established in 1971, this is a group of three distinguished experts who review America’s cancer program and report directly to the president.

One of the seats is now vacant, but the panel members who joined in this report are Dr. LaSalle Leffall Jr., an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University, and Dr. Margaret Kripke, an immunologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Both were originally appointed to the panel by former President George W. Bush.

“We wanted to let people know that we’re concerned, and that they should be concerned,” Professor Leffall told me.

The report blames weak laws, lax enforcement and fragmented authority, as well as the existing regulatory presumption that chemicals are safe unless strong evidence emerges to the contrary.

“Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.”

Industry may howl. The food industry has already been fighting legislation in the Senate backed by Dianne Feinstein of California that would ban bisphenol-A, commonly found in plastics and better known as BPA, from food and beverage containers.

Studies of BPA have raised alarm bells for decades, and the evidence is still complex and open to debate. That’s life: In the real world, regulatory decisions usually must be made with ambiguous and conflicting data. The panel’s point is that we should be prudent in such situations, rather than recklessly approving chemicals of uncertain effect.

The President’s Cancer Panel report will give a boost to Senator Feinstein’s efforts. It may also help the prospects of the Safe Chemicals Act, backed by Senator Frank Lautenberg and several colleagues, to improve the safety of chemicals on the market.

Some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and they include Democrats and Republicans alike. Protecting ourselves and our children from toxins should be an effort that both parties can get behind — if enough members of Congress are willing to put the public interest ahead of corporate interests.

One reason for concern is that some cancers are becoming more common, particularly in children. We don’t know why that is, but the proliferation of chemicals in water, foods, air and household products is widely suspected as a factor. I’m hoping the President’s Cancer Panel report will shine a stronger spotlight on environmental causes of health problems — not only cancer, but perhaps also diabetes, obesity and autism.

This is not to say that chemicals are evil, and in many cases the evidence against a particular substance is balanced by other studies that are exonerating. To help people manage the uncertainty prudently, the report has a section of recommendations for individuals:

¶Particularly when pregnant and when children are small, choose foods, toys and garden products with fewer endocrine disruptors or other toxins. (Information about products is at http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com or http://www.healthystuff.org.)

¶For those whose jobs may expose them to chemicals, remove shoes when entering the house and wash work clothes separately from the rest of the laundry.

¶Filter drinking water.

¶Store water in glass or stainless steel containers, or in plastics that don’t contain BPA or phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics). Microwave food in ceramic or glass containers.

¶Give preference to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones. Avoid meats that are cooked well-done.

¶Check radon levels in your home. Radon is a natural source of radiation linked to cancer.

Composting workshop

May 7, 2010

Hi Sustenance! Did you enjoy learning about composting in the gardening workshops? Do you want to learn more or get started on your own? At the farmers’ market this week there will be a composting workshop and a worm sale! The market is Saturday, 11-2 at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket, easily accessible from the #99 bus! I’m not sure what time the workshop will be, but probably around noon I would guess. And if you’re going to see your mom soon, you could get her something nice for mothers’ day too! There will be potted plants and cut flowers and delicious jams and jellies…Definitely stop by!



May 5, 2010
Food Waste

Food Waste

With the recession forcing thousands of Rhode Islanders to turn to food pantries for the first time in their lives, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank is under unprecedented strain.

For many Rhode Islanders, it’s a choice between medical care, paying their rent and buying food.

We’ve talked a lot about food justice this year, and there are exciting projects happening around the country like urban gardens and the Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Yet hunger persists.

Without adequate food at critical stages in their lives, children are more likely to suffer from behavioral and psychological problems, difficultly concentrating and reduced performance in school, increased aggression, increased rate of disease and hospitalization, and may not even grow to their proper height.

Hunger is one of those problems, like chronic debt or disease, that compounds itself over time, perpetuating cycles of poverty and powerlessness. But hunger is a unique and hopeful case because of the plenitude of obvious, available, non-political solutions. America wastes somewhere between 14 and 50% of its food, depending on your source (read this enlightening article about a 2004 study on food waste, or this 1997 USDA policy brief, or this 2010 article on freeganism; then decide for yourself!) — but regardless of the exact figure, even 14% could feed millions.

So donate to a food bank, dive into a dumpster, or join a campaign — at the very least, clean your plate! Whatever you do, remember that there’s more than enough food for everyone, if we share.


An entry in this year's Canstruction Contest, sponsored by the RI Community Food Bank
An entry in this year’s Canstruction Contest, sponsored by the RI Community Food Bank

Food Buying Cheat Sheet

May 1, 2010

USDA Food Environment Atlas

April 26, 2010


“Food environment factors—such as store/restaurant proximity, food prices, food and nutrition assistance programs, and community characteristics—interact to influence food choices and diet quality. Research is beginning to document the complexity of these interactions, but more is needed to identify causal relationships and effective policy interventions.

The objectives of the Atlas are:

  • To assemble statistics on food environment indicators to stimulate research on the determinants of food choices and diet quality
  • To provide a spatial overview of a community’s ability to access healthy food and its success in doing so

The Atlas assembles statistics on three broad categories of food environment factors:

  • Food Choices—Indicators of the community’s access to and acquisition of healthy, affordable food, such as: access and proximity to a grocery store; number of foodstores and restaurants; expenditures on fast foods; food and nutrition assistance program participation; quantities of foods eaten; food prices; food taxes; and availability of local foods
  • Health and Well-Being—Indicators of the community’s success in maintaining healthy diets, such as: food insecurity; diabetes and obesity rates; and physical activity levels
  • Community Characteristics—Indicators of community characteristics that might influence the food environment, such as: demographic composition; income and poverty; population loss; metro-nonmetro status; natural amenities; and recreation and fitness centers

Posted by Spencer Lawrence.

Live(ish) from Immokalee, Day 2: Radicals, Reformers, and Revolutionaries

April 23, 2010

Brian Moore, 2008 presidential candidate of the Socialist Party USA (far right), sported a sign reading: “Reform System, No! Radically Transform System, Yes! Educate About Socialism, Not Sloganeering or Provacative [sic] Rhetoric!” Despite this, he marched alongside us while we chanted provocative slogans like Up, up with the fair food nation! Down, down with the exploitation! and El pueblo unido jamás será vencido [“The people, united, will never be defeated”]. Moore told me he considered himself a revolutionary, and criticized the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) for demanding change within the existing agro-industrial complex, rather than seeking to transform the system itself. Before long, however, a couple of students affiliated with the International Socialist Organization (ISO) introduced themselves to Moore and me. They insisted, somewhat comically, that they, not Moore, were the true revolutionaries, because whereas Moore sought to work within the existing political system (i.e. by running for President of the United States in 2008 – he earned 6,555 votes nationwide), these students (left and center – no pun intended) and the ISO do not trust established governments to bring about meaningful change. Soon after these students appeared, they engaged Moore in animated conversation and before long I lost them all in the vast, vibrant parade.

This man saw us picketing at Publix, shouted “No fair wages for farmworkers!” from the parking lot, then rushed home to scribble this sign in counter-protest. It reads: “Don’t like your wages? Get another job! Immigrant = migrant, Migrant = nomad. Follow the season. Most “pickers” have MANY kids they DONT [sic] take Care of… THE STATE DOES. Lower Wages NOW.” Clearly, nobody took the time to educate this man about the realities of farmworker conditions. Workers can’t simply “get another job” because they are held in physical bondage or in debt bondage; or because they have not been educated about the rights and opportunities legally available to them in America (imagine not being read your rights!); or because, as undocumented immigrants, they lack access to the political and linguistic resources taken for granted by most Americans. Furthermore, it’s useless to ask workers to “follow the season” when consumers clearly refuse to do so; the year-round demand for tomatoes is precisely what leads to such intensive, industrialized systems of agriculture. And the argument about “kids they DONT take Care of” is of course absurd. The state doesn’t take care of the children of Immokalee workers… the state doesn’t even take care of Immokalee workers.

From as far as New York City and Chicago, artists of all kinds convened in Tampa to support the CIW. The rhythms of the drums imparted persistence and regularity to our steps, and unity and resonance to our chants. The melodies of the jaraneros kept our spirits light and our energies focused. Dancers clad in ceremonial feathers, accompanied by the pungent smell of Mexican incense, gave our procession the solemnity of a rite and the joie de vivre of a carnival. Photographer extraordinaire J. J. Tiziou, who has worked with the CIW since 2003, documented the gestures, colors, and expressions of the weekend; he would sprint ahead of the line, climb onto overhanging branches, and crawl in the gravel and dust to get the perfect shot. The union of art and activism in this movement is truly inspirational.

From Tobacco Town to Local Food

April 21, 2010

Check out this article from today’s NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/dining/21carolina.html?th&emc=th

Farmers in Durham, NC are abandoning their tobacco fields and to grow produce and raise livestock.  One person said that on the menus at restaurants, they might as well just list what’s NOT local.

The Brown Dining Services Sustainability Program: Now Hiring

April 21, 2010

BDS has posted the two positions that are available for next fall to the Brown Job website.  See the job descriptions:
One is the Real Food Progress Coordinator, a fantastic opportunity to really dive into the practical side of Real Food. BDS is very supportive of the initiative, and in just a few short months current coordinator Emily Viggiano has been able to learn an incredible amount about how BDS operates and about all the different factors that go into our purchases.  As Progress Coordinator, tasks range from creating sustainable purchasing guidelines, evaluating suppliers based on the Real Food calculator, and proposing items to
switch, to facilitating communication between local producers, processors, and distributors.

The other position is the former Community Harvest internship, currently held by Maddie Brown.  This intern will work closely with the nutritionist and menu-planner, Gina Guiducci, more specifically on local, community relationships.  There will be a lot of potential next fall to shape the new direction of these internships and their relation to the Real Food internships.  All four positions (2 Real Food and 2 Community Harvest) will be working together under one larger sustainability program.

Iron Chef Cook-Off Postering

April 20, 2010

This is the event the Food Justice group has been helping the Environmental Justice League prepare for. The poster was designed by our own Brigid Rau! Amelia Rose, our contact at the EJL, has asked for volunteers from this class to put up posters in the next few weeks. If you’re interested, email me (molly_bledsoe@brown.edu) and I will put her in touch with you. If you’re still around on May 21, go to the event!