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