Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's Move in the right direction

Last June I was lucky enough to join the team at Vermont Works for Women - Fresh Food Enterprise as summer intern.  This organization has a very unique model tackling some of America's most trying issues of today; an unsustainable food system, and health related issues such as obesity.
There are three layers of service that VWW- Fresh Food provide.  First it is a training program for women with barriers to employment to learn skills in kitchen work to place them a step ahead in the job market.  Next, the enterprise provides nutritious meals beyond the standards of USDA standards to child care facilities around the Burlington and Winooski area, promoting good health and awareness of fruits and vegetables amongst young children.  On top of all of that, VWW- Fresh Food utilizes local resources of fruits, vegetables, and other local products to create their meals.
This compilation of efforts makes this program a mouthful to explain, but also a wonderful example of how these broad issues can be tackled in clever and effective ways.

Since my time at VWW- Fresh Food has ended, I have been lucky enough to watch them grow exponentially in the past year.  They recently received a high mention on First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign blog!  In this blog post they discuss the importance of nation wide access to fruits and vegetables.

Access to fruits and vegetables continuously pops up on TheLocalGraze and many other discussions of food system issues.  How can we make local and healthy food less a matter of class and elitism, and transform it into a humans right to live a healthy lifestyle.  It is easy to dismiss the importance of food as a need for health and well being, but when push comes to shove it is the preventative measures such as a healthy diet that will transform our nations issues.  Creative ways to tackle some of the grand issues our nation has come to observe, such as Vermont Works for Women - Fresh Food and the Let's Go! campaign have done, are all ways this country is working together to innovate new systems to provide a healthier community.  We are building new (or some would even say reverting to old) ways to think about food, and its importance on this planet.

Children enjoying Fresh Food vegetables

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Food Feelings

As a food systems minor I have begun to feel as if there were no end in sight to the magnitude of problems our current food system faces.  Where do we start to make change?  By making this post? By purchasing the organic broccoli over the conventional that one time?  By making my own pickles? Sure.

By further understanding the objectives and values of the various food movements attempting to fix these problems, there is a clearer picture of how these changes might be made, slowly, but thoughtfully.  The local, organic, slow food, and other movements have independently had criticisms in their methods, though each movement is able to collaborate to fill in the gaps of the other.  Local is too expensive, organic is just a marketing tactic... yadda yadda.  I believe that if each movement grows in capacity, eventually the movements will overlap to shift the current food system paradigm.  This new food system will incorporate the health and wellbeing of the environment, the farmers and their workers, all the way to consumers.  This idea is validated by the ideals of the article Beyond Voting with Your Fork by Josh Viertel, president of the Slow Food Movement.  In the reading he explains the standpoint that though values on the food movements differ between groups, any positive value is a step in the right direction.  He states that “The problems with food and farming don’t come from people holding the wrong values, they come from people not applying the values they hold.”  (p. 139).

There have been many critiques of the organic movement concerned that it has watered down its beliefs and values and some say is even following the path as agribusiness.  The organic movement originally was comprised of multiple groups’ values.  Those that value an alternative to production technologies, those that value healthy food, those that value efforts back to the land, and those that value the health of the environment.  Through organic standard setting, organic has become a marketable practice, and since been manipulated so that large corporations are able to use it as a profitable act.  While some believe this has mainstreamed the organic values, and brought organic movement to the attention of the broader population, activists believe it has compromised its main objectives.  While I agree that some of the objectives of organic farming to revolutionize our food system have been lost, I agree with Josh Viertel’s statement that any value will do.

In order to compromise on a value through a broader population, a social movement must choose some objectives to focus on, while letting go of others.  When you look at the benefits of organic standards, it is clear it has made an impact by creating a market for organic food, when prior to the standard may have only been important to the early adopters of the movement.  Now, organic labeling and the organic standard have given individuals the opportunity to purchase organic no matter where their values in organic are held.  It has given consumers the ability to apply their values by making purchases that are a step in the right direction toward the food system they want.  We see that consumer demand for better food is what has created the need for an organic labeling system, and how in a sense consumers hold the power in controlling what corporations will do based on their demand.

So yes: As Josh Veirtel says, if you eat, then you are part of the agricultural system.  Today I ate a local and organic egg, I wrote this blog post, I contributed to making a paradigm shift… slowly but surely.

WP 5/7

Monday, April 29, 2013

Access to Food Access: WICked Local

USDA research on food access has shown some pretty frightening statistics.  For instance, 23.5 million people in the U.S. live in low-income areas that are more than 1 mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.  In 2008 86% of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) redemption were redeemed at these grocery stores.   Not only is this statistic alarmingly high, but on top of that, how much of the food being purchased is promoting good health?  In a culture where more is better, many people tend to substitute cheaper unhealthy foods for nutritious fruits and vegetables that they have no idea how to even cook.
Woof, so many barriers.

As I brought up in my last post, farmers markets are a great way to make sure you are getting fresh, healthy food, though can be expensive and less accessible to those who need it most.

Many programs are available that combat these barriers such as using SNAP benefits at the farmers market, or WIC (Woman Infants Children) that provide food vouchers for those who lack the access.  But there are still issues that stand in the way.  How does one use the voucher?  Where can you use it? What vegetable is healthy and filling, and HOW THE HECK DO I COOK THIS GOLDEN RADISH? (is that even a thing?)

Media can hold an important roll in passing along information and mimicking desired behavior.  I recently came upon a video tutorial for how to use WIC food vouchers at the farmers market.  It was very easy to understand, and made a trip to the farmers market seem way less intimidating.

Though the video is slightly cheesy, the presenter does a really great job making it clear and easy to understand.  The virtual tour also makes it less intimidating by calmly showing all the exciting parts of the farmers market, and showing it in a positive frame.  Not only that, but at the end she shows how much she was able to get, and how you can prepare it simply!

It is interesting to compare this trip to the farmers market to The Barefoot Contessa's trip.  I wonder if Ina was at that farmers market? Maybe local food wouldn't seem so elegant and elitist if they framed it more like Sarimin Rivera from WIC... They could call her show WICked Local!

N/P 4/30

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bursting My Vermont Bubble

As my time at the University of Vermont quickly comes to a close, I try to appreciate all the unique factors that Vermont has to offer.  One important part of my life here in Vermont is the Locavore mentality that Vermont supports.  I came upon an article on NPR about little Vermont, and surprise surprise, it was about their ranking as top in the nation on the Locavore Index.  This article just pointed out further that Vermont makes it much easier to support this movement, though I want to do my best to bring this mentality with me wherever I end up.

I investigated this Locavore Index a little further, and found a radio segment on the Vermont Public Radio interviewing the head marketer of Strolling of the Heifers, the non-profit that created and calculated this index.  It also features listeners to chime in with thoughts and questions about the topic, which created an interesting mix of opinions.  Considering Strolling of the Heifers is a Vermont-based company there are many things to examine before accepting this ranking.  Coming from the Boston area originally, the ranking did not surprise me very much.  The effort for local is quite loud and clear in my opinion, though others had great points to bring to the table.

One Vermont farmer from Montpelier brought to attention the fact that Vermont still only supplies less than 10% of the state through local food systems.  Even at the top of the Locavore Index, what can be done to make it mean more?  The interviewee acknowledges this as an issue, but explains that it is a slow moving process and can be built through the institutions that support it.  I found this to be a very interesting point, especially as I move out of the state of Vermont, I have been able to see best practice examples of institutions like the Fletcher Allen Hospital, Farm to School, Vermont FEED, Vermont Works for Women- Fresh Food, and gazillions more that are supporting this practice.

Another caller brings in the question of why local food is more expensive, especially if the transportation and processing costs are much lower by keeping it local.  This was a thought that has lingered my mind a few times.  The answer was formed quite eloquently, and nice to hear. The term local has been used as a value-added term for the farmer allowing the farmer to request a fairer, and therefor higher price.  Another thing they mention is the scale to which farms are producing.  According to the economic model the less a farmer produces, the higher a price they must place on the product.

I really enjoyed this discussion on VPR, and though it was based in Vermont, it had diverse opinions that allowed me to think for myself about how to move forward.  It doesn't surprise me that Vermont is on the top of this movement.  With such passionate citizens conversing about this issue, and recognizing its flaws and how to fix them shows the solidarity within the state.  I look forward to seeing the index change in the coming years.  I hope to see Vermont continue to grow (no pun intended), while watching other states fight to top the charts!

NP 4/23

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Second Age of Aquarius?

Is it the end of the 'Neocaloric era'?  This is the leading question in the article I mentioned in my latest post from The Economist.  Not only is the issue of sustainability facing future economic misfortunes, but there is also a demand from a new age of consumers, damaging the 'neocaloric era'.

Perhaps Mcdonald's, Coca Cola, and other calorie dense food products were appealing to the baby boom (also known as Generation X), but a new generation (Generation Y) is emerging leading consumer demand into a possibly new direction.  The ripple effect has been labeled The Millennials, and has marketers all over the country re-evaluating their target audience.  Millennials have birth dates ranging from the late 1970's to the early 2000's.  Millennials are the first generation to grow-up most connected to internet and technology, are turned off by fast-food, and are attracted to healthier alternatives.  They are also known as the new progressive America that "places high value on social responsibility, sustainability, and local, organic, grass-fed and hormone-free dishes." according to an article written by the Public Relations Society of America.  

A serious issue facing the successful companies of Generation X, are how to keep up with this new generation.  Let's just say, it has not been easy, and has sometimes been hard to watch:

Here is a new commercial by McDonald's trying its best to appeal to Millennial's with its new healthy alternative the 'McWrap':

Not bad, though it's hard to think healthy any time I see the golden arches.  

Now compare that to the Chipotle Mexican Grill commercial:

Chipotle nailed it in terms of reaching the progressive Millennials.  One could even say "Back to the Start" is a reference encouraging this new progressive generation.

No matter what McDonald's does, they will always have a controversial reputation.  Not only that, but healthier, more sustainable fast food restaurants are gaining loyalty among Millennials, pushing others further and further away  from the top.  

What meal would you choose?

WP 4/19

Monday, April 15, 2013

Don't Forget the Farmer!

There is nothing like going back in government history by watching old presidential campaign videos.  It's interesting to see what issues were important in the past, and sometimes which issues have yet to be tackled.  I was casually browsing The Living Room Candidate from the museum of the moving image, when one ad in particular gathered my attention.  The ad that caught my eye was "Don't Forget the Farmer" produced in the 1952 campaign by Governer Adlai Stevenson running against Eisenhower.  The light-hearted cartoon, and cheerful song of "Old Macdonald" does not quite give this issue the urgency it deserves. The particular ad I am speaking of comes in at 5:20:00 in the montage of ad's from the Stevenson Campaign.

 According to the message of this ad, farmland has been on the decline since 1931!  Not only that, but farming and food systems have not been a key issue in political campaigns since this time.  It is clear that even then this was not an issue that sparked American citizens to vote for Stevenson.  Eisenhower proceeded to win the election by a landslide, which may be a reason you don't remember hearing of President Stevenson.  How long will it take for food system issues to reach political campaign highlights?

Assuming that target issues highlighted in campaigns come from economic problems, perhaps theres a chance food could be a hot topic in the next generation.  According to The Economist's report of The World in 2013 festival in New York,
"As energy and food production becomes more complex and expensive... Western society will be forced into changing its diet to a more ecologically sustainable model... the high cost of cheap food will be one of the big drivers of change"  
Not only that, but perhaps the high rates of obesity will start to correlate with the high rates of debt in this country.  We can only hope that food issues simmer their way to the political stage, and then perhaps shape what we as Americans find important.  It is amazing the influence political campaigns can have on what citizens openly fight for.  Maybe if the topic of food systems comes to the campaign agenda, people will find a true voice and opinion about it.

NP 4/15

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ina Dips her Barefoot into Local Waters

Honey vanilla pound cake with fabulous local honey from the farmers market, m√Ęche with atlantic mist cheese and apples from Mecox Dairy, garlic and lemon oil, and basil mayonnaise.  Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, always presents her recipes with the utmost elegance.  Her Food Network show along with her line of cookbooks has also been one to shed light on local food, and producers who make it.  In one episode called "Going Local", Ina challenges herself to make a full meal of local Hamptons Ingredients, while another titled "Local Food Heroes" highlighting some great local food artisans.

In the specific episode I watched called "Market Day", Ina creates a menu that is inspired by the local food producers of East Hampton, NY where she resides.  Ina does a great job marketing and romanticizing the local foods as special and exquisite.  She emphasizes the freshness and the color of the ingredients, and the loveliness of knowing where she got it.  To many people, Ina provides a elegant and exciting way to connect with local producers.

While I personally am highly attracted to the Barefoot Contessa meals, and the elegant edge of the show, I believe it could potentially do the opposite to promote the values of the local food movement.  The local food movement has had its critiques of being an elitist practice.  From my experience as a college student, I understand it is not as accessible to all as it should be.  The Barefoot Contessa's elegant and gourmet appearance does not do much to counter this argument.

As a pioneer in local food on television, I believe Ina does a wonderful job creating a vicarious warm feeling of utilizing local food and attending the local farmers market.  Though, if local food is going to be portrayed as a trend for the privileged of the world, I am not sure I can be on board.   I believe local food should be accessible to all.  There are ways to support local without getting the finest artisanal cheeses and honeys.  In fact, there are ways to grow your own local produce, or pay very little by participating in a community garden.

A fine example of the elegant life of Ina

NP 4/9

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eating till your hearts full

There is a heavy correlation between college students, and their excitement with all you can eat food settings.  In most situations, if given the opportunity to eat as much as we want, college students have no reservations. 

Every Friday night, my Ultimate Frisbee team has a pasta party potluck after our practice.  It is almost an impossible task to implement portion control to hungry college athletes given mounds and mounds of pasta.  I decided to try my best to exercise portion control for myself, as well as observe this phenomenon known as mindless eating.  Brian Winsink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, describes mindlessly eating:
“Most of us don’t overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.”
What is it that is influencing us to over-consume and throw away our inhibition?  Listening to our body is no longer a cue to stop, so what is cuing us? 
Winsink answers in an article about mindless eating that larger portions may make us eat more.  For example, he did an experiment that gave one person a large bag of popcorn, and the other a small, and found that the person given the larger portion size ate more.  He determined that if given larger portions, people are shown to consume more despite what they’re tummy is telling them. 
Another cue I recognized at our potluck was that variety might make people eat more.  Our pasta party was filled with deferent types of pasta, and we wanted the chance to try all of them.  Then when I found one I liked I helped myself to seconds.   

Most of my teammates left the pasta party feeling uncomfortably full and incapacitated for the remainder of the night.  Though, while eating we were mindless of our destined future.  Any time we do not listen to our body, chances are we are not making the healthiest decisions for our body.  Also, chances are, mindless eating does not occur in the same manner when we are given endless amounts of lettuce.  I mean for goodness sake, haven’t we all learned from the book “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”?  It ends in a tornado of spaghetti.

What other cues do you think influence over-consumption?  And how do we prevent from feeling like this 'lil guy:

WP 4/5

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Daring Sail from Vermont to NYC

One question I continue to ask myself as an activist of the food system movement is: How can consumers reconnect with the food they eat and the farmers who grow it?  As the distance between farm and plate stretches further and further, so does communication between the people on either end.

I recently came across a Kickstarter project featuring a rice farmer in Ferrisburgh, Vermont planning to transport non-parashable Vermont-produced food items from Vermont's Lake Champlain all the way to New York City's Hudson Bay, all via sail boat!
Kickstarter is an online resource for innovators to display their creative projects to the public with an aim to generate funders.  The creators are able to explain the project to as much depth as they would like, and create a vivid and hopefully engaging video to spark the interest of individuals to fund their projects.

The Kickstarter project I watched was called The Vermont Sail Freight Project.  Right off the bat I was intrigued, and thought why do such an unheard of task?  Publicity?  Boredom?
The video opens with Erik Andrus, Vermont rice and beef farmer standing proud with his model sail boat named the Ceres.  Throughout the 4 minute video a local folk band plays a thematic sea chantey written specifically for the project, and perfectly composed to highlight the trips unique throwback to historic food-way transportation.  The film is composed of different scenery shots of Vermont's natural beauties, Erik, and the model boat.  The video stays consistent in its theme, and highlights the excitement and sincerity of the project.  For such an insane and seemingly inefficient task, the argument that the video provides makes it seem extremely rational.  Erik explains:
"There is no rational reason why non perishable foods need to travel at 75 miles an hour on rubber down the interstate.  We can transport 12 to 13 tons of goods without consuming a drop of gasoline 300 miles."
The video appreciates the "time honored practice" of sailboat food transport, whiles also explaining what the project represents today as a new way of business, and a new way to think systematically.   The project's message is articulately put.  Though Erik does not mention his personal beliefs as a farmer of local practices, he shares the importance of resiliency on a regional scale, and how transportation and other food chain factors are important to penetrate.  To make a paradigm shift in the food system, there is a need to spread these ideals outside the farm and consistent throughout the whole system.

This project is a very symbolic and innovative way to tackle a global issue locally, one farmer at a time.  I encourage you to look out for The Vermont Sail Freight Project for yourself.  It is nice to finally connect communication from the farmer to the consumer, and understand what the farmers growing our food believe in.  They are not just the growers of our food, but they are activists reinventing the food system from the roots.

NP 4/2

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Is That Kosh?

 Happy Passover to all of those celebrating the Jewish holiday.  As Dee Dee, from the hit children's television show The Rugrats explains, "Passover is a time for Jewish families to come together and re-tell the history of their people".  A brief and entertaining explanation of the Passover holiday can be provided by "A Rugrats Passover".  For those of you who do not know, Passover has very specific dietary restrictions for its 8 days.  The primary restrictions are of these five grains: Wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt.  Though, there are different types of practicing Jews, and there are different levels strictness.

As I write this post I sit in the kitchen to cook matzo ball soup, one of the traditional Jewish meals made for most holidays.  Personally, I celebrate Jewish holidays by making a certain food items, rather than following the traditional religious rituals that I am not as familiar with.  Though I was raised Jewish, I often don't spend the time on the religious affiliations as I used to when living at home with my family.  Let's just say I rarely paid attention in Hebrew School, but when it came to food I have always been able to remember.  I'm not sure the last time I was able to fast for the full 8 days of Passover because my parents were lenient on me, and as an adult I have not had the budget to throw away perfectly good bread!  So, I try to honor the holiday in the best way I can, by making a big pot of matzo ball soup.

As I was reading up about Passover for this blog post, it came to my attention in an article appropriately named "A Gentile's Guide to Keeping Kosher".  One specific paragraph about matzo read:
Matzo. For reasons that are unknown to most Jews, some people willingly eat matzo at other times of the year. These matzo boxes are labeled “not kosher for Passover” and should not be eaten as a part of observing the holiday. The difference? Rabbinic supervision to ensure that any matzo made for Passover is untainted by any leavening agents. 
As I read this excerpt, I decided to check the matzo meal I had just bought yesterday from Hannaford's to make my matzo balls with. Very small in the corner I read the words Not for Passover Use! 

Here I am, trying to make my small contribution by honoring the holiday, and I already feel like a failure.  Let's just say I was more than disappointed to find out my balls were not even kosher, especially because this was the only matzo meal at the grocery store and it was under the kosher section.  They are really putting it on the consumer to know their stuff.  Unfortunately as a college student I no longer have my mom and dad as a reference for what is and is not kosher to eat for Passover.  HOW WAS I SUPPOSE TO KNOW?

In my case, I just trusted that all matzo meal was going to be kosher, and I was not aware that there was a difference between kosher and kosher for Passover.  I'm sure there are many situations where either people have realized this factor too late, or never even realized at all.  This tiny little difference can mean a whole lot to someone trying to practice their religion.  But who's responsibility is it to make this clear?  Should we trust specific brand's?  Should we put the expectation on the consumer to know what they are buying?  This is very similar to other labeling laws such as GMO laws.  Can we expect the consumer to know everything about what they are buying?  It is not often that I get tricked by labeling, but I now see how easy it is to be slightly misinformed, and the large implications one simple label can have.

NP 3/26

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mocking the Mockumentary: Portlandia and the Locavore

Though Portlandia is not a show amongst the most popular television series, it carries its niche market with its witty, quirky, and seemingly hipster/liberal character.  The show is known for its light mocking of residents of the city of Portland, and other more progressive cities which I believe Burlington, VT to follow similar characteristics (possibly why I am such a fan).  An article in The New Yorker describes it as "a television comedy in which precious concerns spin into giddy lunacy".

The clip above is a wonderful example poking fun at the most extreme locavores supporting the local food movement.  Portlandia creates this scenario where the restaurant guests go through somewhat excessive information gathering to find out where their food is coming from.  They ask if the chicken has friends, and reach the point where they actually go to visit the farm as the waitress holds their table.   While this scenario is not the most realistic example of what types of questions a locavore goes through before ordering, I do believe the dialogue is a quite accurate representation of food movement issues.  These questions bring light to the types of things we often do not think about when ordering or purchasing food.  Some issues it targets: How the farmer treats their animals, the distance the food is coming from, and the relationship between the farm and the restaurant.  The scene also models what type of role an individual can hold in creating change in the food system.  After the waitress leaves the table to get the papers about the chicken, the characters reaffirm that they are doing the right thing by asking these questions.  In many situations asking these questions can feel awkward and obnoxious, but that uncomfortable feeling is shared in this scene for others to relate to. This educational entertainment [Edutainment] models the behavior of asking thoughtful questions about your food, while also being highly entertaining.

It is important to recognize that the audience of this show is compiled of like-minded individuals that relate to the scenarios being mocked.  It is hard to say how much this show is a source of information for people not already part of the local food movement, but for people who do support the movement it seems extremely relatable.  In fact these are things I want to know about my food, but often don't have the guts to ask.  By watching this scene I feel more confident in my individual role as a supporter of food movements.

Entertainment does not often model food system issues, which is what makes Portlandia such a unique show.  This "Food Dialogues" video made by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance argues that food system issues are becoming a larger part of pop culture, though I have yet to see these practices as I watch my daily television.  Perhaps as popularity of the movement grows, so will its presence in media.  My hope is that the mocking can again be reflected into everyday practices beginning with how we think about food.

WP 3/22

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miles and miles of food miles

There is nothing like a 20 hour car ride up and down Interstate 95 from Vermont to Georgia, to Tennessee and back to Vermont to get you to think about food miles...

Okay, this may not be your first instinctual thought, but after a while on the highway the scenery out the window becomes quite repetitive.  After passing billboards for fast food, food trucks, more billboards, and more trucks transporting food side by side your car for 10 hours, its hard not to think where that truck is headed, where that truck came from, and my specific thoughts; 
Why are there so many trucks hogging up the lanes, and is it so necessary to drive cross country to sell that? 

The definition of a food mile according to the Oxford Dictionary is: 
"a mile over which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer, as a unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport it."
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or lack of entertainment, but these trucks really began to rile me up.  While most often I think of the environmental impacts of food miles, this time I took a different perspective of just how inefficient these trucks seem.  I can't imagine it is very cost effective to drive $.75 muffins across the country to sell in a gas station 1500 miles away.  Then stemming from that thought, to think that a large fraction of that money is going to the transportation, another fraction to the producers, and almost none to the farmer that happens to be my neighbor!  For those of you who do not know 1500 miles is the average distance food travels in the U.S.  This appalling fact, along with other valuable insights on the industrial food system came from a video produced by PBS e² series entitled Food Miles. 
This short 25 minute video, though not very in depth, has some great insight into the topic of localization of food and the positives and negatives of industrial food production.  If food mile is a term you are not familiar with, I recommend this video.  It is easy to understand and I felt it was put in non-threatening or urgent terms that are often present in advocacy films.  It is great because it really pinpoints the main issues of the industrial food system, while also recognizing other opinions.  

In the teachers guide to this video episode they provide questions to think about before viewing the video.  The question I encourage people to think about before viewing the video is: 

Think about a typical dinner that you eat. What foods does it include? Do you know where that food comes from (before it ends up in the supermarket)? Where it is grown? Using what methods? Where it is processed, if it is processed?

By thinking about the external costs associated with the food we eat, it may become easier to understand how these issues apply to you or effect you as a consumer on this planet.  A line that stuck out from the video was from Michael Pollan, a famous scholar, author, and advocate of the food movement: "The fact that we are catching salmon in Alaska, filleting it in China, then flying it to New York".  Sounds bonkers! The truth sometimes hurts to find out.

Video Hyperlink:

N/P 3/19

Photo Credit: Susannah Clark Parsons

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Maya & Jerry ! (I wish)

Last Friday, March 1st I had the great opportunity to listen to Jerry Greenfield speak of the greatly known Ben & Jerry's ice cream company.  There were so many reasons that this was an exciting opportunity for me.  One, as a current resident of Vermont Ben & Jerry's gives us great pride in our state, and in many cases is one of the few companies that help make our state recognizable.  Another reason was that Ben & Jerry's as a company holds quite a specific character, including their very liberal and progressive values.  I was very interested in seeing how these views came to be, and whether these views will be upheld. 
Jerry Greenfield (Right) and I (Left)

For those of you who do not know, in 2000 Ben & Jerry's was bought by the giant brand owner Unilever that owns brands from A (Axe body) spray to Z (Zendium Toothpaste).  This change has since made me skeptical about the change, and I was very interested to see how much of their image is put into the action of their mission. 
I was very pleased to see Jerry as the face behind the brand.  He spoke of the 60's, and how in the beginning he and Ben were against businesses until they realized that they could reform business to do good.  Ben & Jerry's is one of the first companies to use the idea of a triple bottom line.  They have an entire tab on their web page about activism which openly represents their views as a brand on political activism, environmental concerns, and views social injustice.  As a top company with such brand recognition, this activism can be quite powerful in supporting certain issues. 
Ben & Jerrys and Political Views
Throughout the lecture, Jerry upheld his view points, and even expanded on his opinion of Unilever.  As one audience member asked how Ben & Jerry's is able to uphold their values, he exclaimed that the board of directors of Ben & Jerry's are people that work for the same values Ben & Jerry's does, and they decide on almost all ventures.  Even though Unilever has one view point on an issue, Ben & Jerry's is able to speak openly about opposing viewpoints.  As Ben & Jerry's continues to grow, my only hope is that they continue to hold the same values, and hold their activism strong.  I am hopeful that they will succeed in this with their new stance on GMO labeling laws in which they hope to source all non-GMO products by the end of the year, as well as their mission to create more fair trade items.  All of these movements are close to my heart, and it makes me happy to see a company as passionate about these issues as I am.  Of course there are always going to be disappointments when big business gets involved.  But there has to be hope that true individual values can be upheld. 

NP 3/12

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where did you hear that?

A text message from my mother (sorry mom): "New report says car accidents are increasing. I'm worried."  
My first response to such a claim: Oh yea? Where did you hear that?

Just as I like to question the fact sources coming from friends or family members, I like to validate news articles I hear in the media as well.  Information that gathers readership can sometimes be more important to a media outlet than validating the source, and its important to validate it before you start spreading the findings to the world.

“Do Parents Really Know What Their Kids Are Eating?” is the title of an NPR youth radio segment I listened to today.  It is based on a poll conducted by a collaboration of NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health.  As far as credibility, I felt certain that NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health would give accurate validity, and be very holistic in their research methods approach.  What was most interesting about reading a Harvard School of Public Health article was that I was able to analyze their article using the recommendations they made on how to read research findings in the media. 

It is not uncommon for news media to attempt to diffuse information about a new study or finding in the science world, and misrepresent the data for readership.  We have seen this in many cases such as the “Organic food is not healthier” food issue, which was based on one study that in the end was not the most reliable study to provide such a claim.  These outbreaks of information could have quite severe consequences for the general public if you are not questioning the study's validity and reliability.
Unlike many other media outlets attempting to spread information about a new study or research topic, this NPR segment seemed to be in collaboration with the research it was discussing.  While the segment did not necessarily state the numbers and methodologies of the poll conducted, it was able to shed light on some of the survey questions asked, and represent the sample well – choosing answers that were representative of the original findings. 

After listening to the radio segment, I was interested in finding out more about how they gathered this data, and what the numerical findings were.  I clicked the link to the summery of the poll, which was the closest I could come to the original article.  From reading the summary I was able to gather that the media source was utilizing real data.  Besides the fact that reliable research was put in to find this information, I felt more confident in this data because it was not necessarily pressuring viewers to change their behaviors.  It was simply bringing light to an idea that could potentially improve the health and diet among children... I can't argue with that.

WP 3/1

Sunday, February 24, 2013

ALERT! ALERT! Kellogg Special K with berries...

A title like this can be quite the eye catcher.  One may be thinking:  WHAT ABOUT SPECIAL K BERRIES?  As a regular consumer and Special K with berries fanatic, this headline made me stop what I was doing and read.  In fact, the alert was referring to the recall of this quite popular Kellogg Product:

for full alert click the link: http://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/alerts/

After confirming that I was not a victim of this recall, I sighed in relief and ate a bowl of cereal.  The funny thing is, I probably would not have eaten a bowl of cereal that morning if I had not heard about this recall.  Kind of a weird reaction to a recall, but I can imagine I am not the only one with this reaction.  Did other people react to this as a subliminal message as I did? 

Recall announcements can be interpreted in many ways.  I feel it is more typical to have a negative reaction to a recall, seeing a product as unsafe, and further associating a producer as untrustworthy.  As a critical ad observer, I often dislike ad's and tend to discount the persuasive nature of ad's.  Though, something about the recall announcement blocked those critical thoughts because I originally saw it as truly informational and sincere. 

As I read deeper into the announcement I began to see some of the marketing, and customer loyalty tactics that were in many ways able to combat the negative reactions that could come with a recall. 
For instance, in the Consumer Alert Kellogg's choice of words such as "voluntary recall" could give the impression that they are truly putting the consumers safety first.  Another method they used was the pledge to give a replacement coupon for those customers who may have received a product described in the recall.  Repeat customer coupons are tactic #1 to gaining customer loyalty in any business class I have ever taken.  And finally, there are "no reports of associated injuries", unlike other recalls that have had very negative effects. 

Oh, I almost forgot to mention how viral this recall was!  It was reported on many of the major news stations across the nation such as CBS, ABC, and FOX, on the Huffington Post, and it was the top news item on Yahoo!.

I now see where the common phrase "all publicity is good publicity" comes from.
Do you agree with this phrase?  What was your initial reaction?

NP 2/26

Monday, February 18, 2013

Never Judge a Food by its Label

The seemingly simple image to the right is much more loaded with information and value than meets the eye.  When you step into a grocery store and pick out your food, the label often holds great power in your purchasing decisions.  But just like a book, you can't always judge a food by its label. 
This label is only used on products certified by the Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), which is a branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT).  The message that this label holds is sometimes underestimated by consumers, and the criteria behind it sometimes takes research that can often be unappealing to a buyer. 
While speaking with a NOFA-VT staff member at their annual Winter Conference: Generations of Innovation this weekend, I was able to get a sense of the importance of this message, and the effort behind it.

There are two motivating factors addressed in the creation of this label: as a source of information for consumers, and as a marketing tool for farmers.  Both factors are meant to be mutually beneficial for those supporting the organic movement.  It seems quite impossible to serve both purposes evenly, but I think this labeling is quite holistic in its approach.  For instance, it is important for consumers to know what is going into their food product, and to trust the information on the label is not manipulative against their liking.  On the other end of the spectrum comes the organic practicing farmers who deserve to earn benefits for their trustworthy practices.  The labeling process is a way for the farmer to communicate with their customers that they are growing food with the best practices possible.

Unlike the Whole Trade Guarantee from my previous post which was created by a profit driven company, Vermont Organic Certification is created by VOF and NOFA-VT non-profit organizations.  As an independent third-party certifying agency, I feel there is less of a bias in their practices.  As stated on the NOFA-VT website:
VOF’s purpose is to provide a highly credible program for independent third-party verification of organic food production, and to assist Vermont farmers and processors of all types to achieve the highest possible organic standards.
Though, for this labeling system to work, consumers must understand their benefits to purchasing Vermont Organic Certified products.  One benefit that can be appealing to customers of organic products is that they are required to be GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)-free.  With the recent buzz about the denied GMO food labeling law in California, non-GMO labeling is becoming a hotter topic.  Since there has yet to be a mandated labeling system for GMO products in the U.S., purchasing organic certified products ensures no GMO's were used in the process.  If you are interested in some of the other benefits of Organic Certification, I recommend you check out the standards and guidelines required for Organic Certification. 

NP 2/19

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Beyond a Pepsi Deal

It's almost impossible not to hear about Beyonce in the past few weeks.  She has been gaining attention even more than before with her performance of the national anthem at President Obama's Inauguration, The Superbowl Halftime show, and of course it was inevitable to have her presence be known at The Grammys.

There could not be a better time for Pepsi to hop on a $50 billion deal with Beyonce to promote their product.  If there was one single thing I would choose to shake my head at Beyonce's publicist(s) for it would be this deal.  Personally, I am not a fan of the Pepsi Corporation and the snowball of negative effects it has had on the beverage industry.  Though, even I am a victim of the Beyonce trance.  Luckily, as an educated student learning media literacy, I am able to separate Beyonce's performance in a commercial with that of a sip of Pepsi soda.  What I am not able to say, is that the rest of the U.S. is going to make that same differentiation.

Little does Beyonce know, but her promotion of Pepsi comes with a promotion of sugar sweetened beverages, and even more cynical (and possibly extreme) obesity and diabetes.   If Beyonce and her publicist's knew what types of health effects would directly hit her fans, they might find out that $50 billion dollars in healthcare bills would only be a fraction of the costs.  I am not the first to backlash Beyonce's Pepsi deal, though instead I intend to put some perspective on the matter, and perhaps some suggestions.  Perhaps Beyonce should do as large corporations disturbing the environment should do, which is pay for the external harms caused by their business.
I will forever be loyal to Beyonce for her talent, beauty, and woman empowerment.  My only hope is that she learns to use her power to support a healthier more sustainable livelihood for Blue Ivy Carter, and the rest of America (her other children).

NP 2/12

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Loving Consumer

As Valentine’s day is fast approaching, what better way to show your love than using your purchasing power to spread your love (money) to the world, and send someone flowers!  The most well-known natural food store in the U.S. Whole Foods  launched their Whole Trade® Guarantee in 2007.  This certification program supposedly requires products to meet the four key criteria required by Whole Trade® Guarantee: quality, premium price to the producer, better wages and working conditions, and the environment.  

This label is wonderful right?  It takes away the guilt that could come from being a consumer, and leaves you feeling great about your purchase!  But what is the purpose of this guarantee?  Who benefits most from this stamp of approval? 

There are three stakeholders involved to compare: us (as consumers), them (third world countries), and The Whole Foods Market . 

We as consumers like to feel that we hold purchasing power, and can vote through what we buy - of course, this too has its problems when dealing with socio-economic power – and sometimes will spend extra money to create change.  Our consumer power in fact has shaped the growing demand for socially responsible goods. 

Then there are the “third world countries”, which I prefer to reference as the global south.  Are they truly benefitting from our flower purchase?  According to the Whole Trade® Guarantee, the purchase of a certified product contributes to building schools, better worker wages, and 1% of profits goes towards Whole Planet® Foundation, a foundation meant to help give micro-loans in third world countries.  (Micro-loans in fact have an ethical debate attached to them as well). 

So the quest continues, who holds the real benefit here?  I would argue that the greatest benefit is going to Whole Foods Market.  This seems like the ultimate marketing tactic to reach their target market of health and wellbeing conscious upper-class consumers.  Notice how every single aspect of this certification involves Trademark symbols, and whole foods branding recognition.  It seems to me that if they were serious about benefitting the consumer, third world countries, and the planet, they would use third parties such as Fair Trade, Equal Exchange, and other tools to certify that they are truly being as socially conscious as can be.  With their own certification they hold the power to set the criteria for themselves within lines of their bottom line.

There are endless debates about labeling, and whether it should be governed publically, privately, or through a third party.  I think the Whole Trade® Guarantee is a great example that brings fourth some of these integral questions.  

MLW 2/5

The Sustainable Food System Blogosphere

There is a whole spectrum of issues within the food system that are slowly surfacing to the public through social movements.  Many of the supporters of the food movements aim to encourage new ways of thinking about food, and the processing of food.  The goal of the food movement blogosphere is to make public the information that is not shown otherwise about the harsh realities that go into the production of the food U.S. citizens eat.  In this attempt to inform, also comes the aim to grow a movement, and empower a shift in paradigm to a more sustainable food system.  Through different ideas in how we can shift this food system model, and actions that can be taken by individuals, the messages of this blogosphere has the potential to truly change the food system we see today into a more sustainable, healthy, and affordable food system.  This blogosphere attempts to do this by informing, educating, and consulting their audience, by spreading knowledge and experiences they may have in an entertaining and engaging manner.  It can provide an academic standpoint, yet in a non-condescending manner, or too academic in nature so that many people can understand it.  This blogosphere is a references for like-minded affiliates of the local food movement to discuss and forum about sustainable food movements.  Most likely this is not a blog that is meant to bring people into the movement, but it is for people already supporting it and looking for current information or ways to engage more in the movement as a consumer, parent, or professional.

To give you a very brief preview of some of the issues food movements are targeting, here is a short video made by the Roots of Change Network:

MLW 1/29