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World Food Week: Interview with Slow Food USA

This week on Link TV, we are airing a week of programming uncovering various global perspectives on food. Visit this page for airtimes, to watch programs online, and to find out what you can do. In addition, we are interviewing key players and partners who work around issues of hunger and food justice. In today’s report, we interviewed Jane Sung E Bai, Director of National Programs for Slow Food USA.

 

Slow Food USA

 

Thanks for doing this interview, Sung E. First and foremost, can you tell us a bit more about what Slow Food USA does?

Slow Food USA is part of a global, grassroots network with supporters in 150 countries who believe that food and farming should be sources of health and well being for everyone and for our planet. In the US, Slow Food USA brings people together through food, organizes them to improve their local food systems, and garners that power to change legislative policies that shape our food and farming system. Slow Food USA has more than 250,000 supporters, and 25,000 members working together in 225 local chapters.

 

What are a few programs you are currently working on with Slow Food USA?

We are currently developing a campaign to ensure that the next reauthorization of the Food & Farm Bill (the single largest piece of legislation that shapes our food and farming priorities) in 2012 protects and invests in the efforts of those working to make food sustainable, healthy, accessible, and affordable.

 

While our chapters are running diverse projects to raise awareness and to change people's relationships with food and farming locally, we are specifically supporting local efforts that are focused on improving children's relationship with food (both in and out of the classroom), as well as on providing alternatives to industrial agriculture (e.g. fast food). Such efforts were illustrated by our recent $5 Challenge campaign to take back the 'value meal,' and are part of our long-standing work to promote and to protect plant varieties and animal breeds that are under the threat of an increasingly homogenized food system. We provide resources, trainings, and other forms of support to those already doing this work, and to those interested in initiating a project.

 

As our network of supporters is sizeable and has varied interests, we regularly run activities that raise awareness of the challenges of our current food and farming system, provide opportunities for individuals to come together with others (especially through eating and growing food), and inspire people to take collective action.

 

Can you describe what the "Good, Clean, and Fair" Movement is?

Good, clean, and fair refers to food that is good for us, good for those who produce it, and good for the planet. Slow Food USA believes that all are vital to our vision for a different food and farming economy. Workers must be paid fair wages, farmers need to sustain themselves and their families, all people have a right to food that is good for them, and we all have a responsibility to protect our natural resources.

 

What is the importance of eating "Good, Clean, and Fair" food over factory farmed foods?

There is a correlation among the growth of factory-farmed foods, decreased income for farmers, stagnation/decline of wages, surge in diet-related diseases, and continued damage to our climate and ecosystems, among other socio-economic problems our society faces. Rather than supporting farmers to grow biodiverse non-GMO crops, grass-fed animals, and sustainable practices, factory farming has unfortunately become the solution to feeding people who cannot afford good, clean, and fair food, as well as those who can! This contributes to the massive healthcare costs of nutrition-related illnesses, the contraction of family-run farms and jobs, increased greenhouse gases, and dwindling diversity of food sources -- just to name a few consequences.

 

We are what we eat. And what we eat is based on the economic and political priorities of government and corporations. Unfortunately, the health of people and our environment is not the priority right now. And it needs to be the number one priority.

 

Slow Food USA believes that we need to reshape the story of food and farming so that it is one that we can feel proud of and we can be sustained by. Our organization's story includes producing food humanely, treating workers fairly, increasing job opportunities, adequately compensating farmers, preserving (rather than depleting) natural resources, and appreciating food traditions of diverse cultures and communities.

 

What would you say are the current root causes or main factors that contribute to hunger both within the United States and globally?

The UN has found that the number one factor leading to hunger is access, whether to land for growing or to income for purchasing. The issue is not innovations in farming or distribution. Rather, it is an issue of poverty. In order to eradicate hunger we have to eradicate the root causes of systemic poverty.

 

Rather than seek to elevate solutions to hunger through supporting communities to grow food and earn a living, the drive often seems to be towards 'cost efficiency' and 'profit.' There is an invisible expense to this drive. Investment in genetically modified foods means a divestment in the livelihood and health of people -- food is not just about nourishment. Food is part of a larger ecosystem, which includes working the land to grow the food that feeds us. We need more farmers, not just more scientists. Study after study shows that we as a global community can in fact produce enough food to feed the world. We produce more than enough food for every human being, yet 1/3 of all annual food production is wasted. We need solutions that are based in values of human dignity, health, and well being.

 

How do you feel can people help alleviate hunger both on an individual and societal level?

On an individual level, we need to have the awareness that we are all part of the problem, and part of the solution. This means that we need to reflect on our own practices: How are we living? Sharing information (with our children, families, and friends)? Reducing waste? And, how are we supporting the survival of those who are seeking to address hunger? What can we do to volunteer or support (through money or in-kind donations) those organizations that are dedicated to eradicating hunger? You can dedicate a patch of your own garden to a local soup kitchen or volunteer to tend a community garden plot whose produce is donated to a food bank. Get involved in gleaning projects. Reduce waste.

 

As a society, we must first embrace the responsibility to be part of the solution. Then, we need to make a choice to start doing something with the intention of supporting the eradication of hunger. Each act contributes to the possibility of a greater motion of change.

 

What role does independent media play in raising awareness about these issues?

Similar to the way that our food system is structured -- largely controlled by a handful of corporations -- so is our media system. This has meant that we are hearing the same stories again and again through mainstream media, and they are sometimes skewed to uplift the interests of those who benefit from the current food system the most. Even as 'healthy living' and 'eating healthy' has taken center stage due to both grassroots activism and political interests, they are conveniently absorbed, and repackaged by the same corporations who contribute to a broken system. What is too often ignored are the root causes for why it is so hard to have access to affordable good, clean, and fair food. It is only through independent media that everyday people can hear other sides of the story -- the stories of those who are most impacted by a broken food and farming system, the stories about root causes. And as people become more aware, they are able to act from a more informed and powerful position. And as more people act, mainstream media will be more compelled to cover such stories.

 

What changes do you hope to see in the next 50 years?

In 50 years, my daughter will be 54 years old. I hope that she is part of raising a next generation where every day, every child in this country and around the world has a belly full of healthy food that comes from the calloused hands of farmers and workers who are able to live sustainably and peacefully. I hope 54 is the new middle age because domestic and global priorities have shifted to pool together resources and knowledge to eradicate poverty and human-made illnesses. I hope that farming and working in the food chain are embraced as dignified and valuable work. I hope that food continues to be the common ground for breaking bread and building relationships across difference.

 

How can someone get involved in your organization or work?

First, go to our website -- www.slowfoodusa.org -- or call us at 718-260-8000.

 

Once you have signed up to receive our communications, you will be able to find a meal to attend or a garden to volunteer at. If you do not find one in your local area, host a meal with some friends or start a conversation about the food system in your community. We also have a fast growing and active Facebook community, blog readership, and Twitter following. If you are interested in doing work related to children and food or alternatives to processed foods, please do not hesitate to contact us and join a community of volunteers who do this work locally across the country. You can also get involved in our national campaign around the 2012 Food & Farm Bill to improve legislation that shapes our food and farming system. By becoming a member, you can join a chapter, start a chapter, and/or keep up with the latest food news; obtain tips on cooking slow food, gardening and buying local; and start advocating for better food for all.

 

More about Jane Sung E Bai: After 25 years of racial and economic justice and immigrant rights organizing, she embraced food justice when she enrolled her daughter in a daycare that serves low-income children. Dismayed by the Board of Education-provided meals, Sung E made a commitment to prepare her daughter’s breakfast and lunch everyday and to work towards improving access to nutritious food for working people. Along with being the executive director of a community-based organization for almost 12 years, Sung E has held teaching appointments in higher education, been a certified advocate for domestic violence survivors and trainer for grassroots organizers, and served on various leadership bodies of local and national organizations. She believes in the power of everyday people making change every day.

 
 

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Breakthrough in the Fight Against HIV

(Al Jazeera English: 0125 PT, May 13, 2011) The fight for global access to anti-Aids drugs has been given added urgency as a research study found that people with HIV who start taking anti-retroviral drugs early can dramatically reduce the danger of passing the virus to their partners.

 

 

 
 

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Ten Sources for Information on Haiti

The crisis in Haiti has been dominating the headlines since Tuesday's earthquake. Link TV has already given you some ideas of how you can help, and your help, particularly in the form of cash, is urgently needed by the aid agencies working to save lives in Haiti. Now, we've put together this list of some of the best sources for information and news on Haiti. Feel free to add more links to the comment section!

1. Democracy Now! on Link TV
Democracy Now! has been providing impressive coverage of the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath at democracynow.org (click here for broadcast times on Link TV). Today's show reveals a Haiti that is growing increasingly desperate for aid. DN! also looks at angles glossed over by the major media networks, such as the decades of U.S. policies that have contributed to Haiti's terrible poverty.

2. Twitter

The microblogging site Twitter is a natural source for real-time news on Haiti. You can search for all posts in the Twitter-sphere on Haiti, or avoid some noise by trying a Twitter list, such as the ones set up by the LA Times or CNN. You can also look back at Twitter posts from individuals -- like this feed from Christian missionary Troy Livesay -- to see a timeline of the disaster from the perspective of one individual.

3. NGOs

Relief NGOs such as Partners in Health and Direct Relief International have updates on the aid efforts in Haiti. See this blog post for more relief organizations on the ground, and to learn how you can help.

4. Boston.com's Big Picture with Photography from Various Sources
These are photos not for the faint-hearted, but they do convey the true horror in Haiti after the quake struck. Boston.com does a nice job with its photo essays as part of its "Big Picture" series.

5. Global Voices Online
Global Voices, an online network of bloggers around the world, has a webpage with special coverage of the Haiti disaster, including a list of Haiti-based bloggers covering the story.

6. The Miami Herald
Miami has a substantial Haitian population, and the Miami Herald is serving its local community well by providing information in Creole (which, along with French, is one of two official languages in Haiti). The Herald's "Haiti Connect" forum includes a gallery for photos of missing loved ones.

7. Ushahidi - "Crowdsourcing Crisis Information"
This open-source web platform aggregates data on Haiti to support the relief effort. The interface is a little tricky to follow, but it's a great use of the web, compiling user-generated incident reports from the ground including reports of missing persons, emergencies and other threats. The incident reports - such as "Collapsed School", "…Stuck Under Rubble" - will break your heart.

8. New York Times Interactive Map
This map is another great visualization from the New York Times' impressive interactive team, complete with photos and audio.

9. NewsTrust.net
The amount of news articles available on Haiti is overwhelming, but NewsTrust curates the best from the mainstream and independent media. You can weigh in on the quality of the news articles with a review of your own.

10. U.S. Geological Survey Podcast
If you're interested in the science behind this horrific natural disaster, check out this podcast with Michael Blanpied of the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program. Here's the official USGS report on the Haiti 7.0 magnitude quake.

 
 

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Health Care: Bestselling Author T.R. Reid Speaks Out [Video]

In this must-see speech author T.R. Reid touches on the many points brought up in his New York Times Bestseller “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”

Moving and humorous at turns, Reid begins by posing the question: How come all the other advanced, industrialized, free market democracies -- countries just like us -- manage to provide health care for everybody, of high quality, and still spend half as much as we do?

He then retells his own experiences traveling the world, interviewing everyone from health ministers and leaders of state to doctors and patients about the realities of their own health care systems.

We’re so used to seeing the health care debate chopped down into sound bites or insults, or talked around in political speeches. But take a moment for this serious topic, one that -- as Reid argues --  is just as much about our own sense of morality as it is about economics or politics.

 

 

You can also catch excerpts from the new documentary by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), Money-Driven Medicine, which is airing as part of the Link TV special Can We Really Fix U.S. Health Care? Money-Driven Medicine provides the essential introduction Americans need to become knowledgeable participants in health care reform, and asks the central question: Can a health system designed to turn a profit also meet the needs of the people it serves?

 

Also, check out Reid's "Five Myths About Health Care in the Rest of the World" from The Washington Post.

 

 

 
 

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Health Care: Democrats Flounder, Conservatives Bring Guns, and Insurers Win

The debate over health care reform in the United States has now turned into more of a battle, replete with guns andGeorge Lakoff anger. The divisive rancor that had seemingly disappeared following Obama's election amid calls for national unity has resurfaced at contentious town halls on the health care issue, fueled in part, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, by "conflict-driven cable news." Linguistics professor and author George Lakoff, featured previously on Link in the special "There You Go Again: Orwell Comes to America," takes the Democrats to task in this video for failing to sell a national health care plan to the American public. (Video courtesy of our partners at FORA.tv!) Instead, according to Lakoff, conservatives are successfully framing the debate with phrases like "death panels" and "government takeover," while Democrats refuse to risk touting the real and tragic failures of insurance company-based health care in the United States. (For an interesting look at the ill effects of the American health care system on ordinary folk, check out Andrew Sullivan's blog series at the Atlantic Monthly, "The Views From Your Sickbeds," and another article in the September 2009 edition of the Atlantic, "How American Health Care Killed My Father" by David Goldhill.)

Yesterday, Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! also looked at the health care debate, interviewing Chad Terhune, a senior writer at BusinessWeek covering health care issues. Terhune's article, "The Health Insurers Have Already Won," looks at the real potential winners in health reform -- the health insurance industry. He writes, "The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable." (Watch the complete interview below, and read more at DemocracyNow.org.) And what do you think -- is a better health care system on the horizon for the U.S.? Or will insurance companies be the only winners in this battle?

 

 
 

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