A message from Link TV's President & CEO, Paul S. Mason:
Like all of you, I have watched the tragedy of famine as it continues to threaten the lives of millions in the Horn of Africa. I've watched and read the news reports, and I've followed the efforts of humanitarian groups and governments as they supply aid to millions of people in need. And now, as we prepare to recognize World Food Day on October 16, the urgency is particularly acute. The world is in a recession, and extreme weather patterns -- drought and more -- will likely increase. Status quo will not be enough to avert further crises -- we must do better.
In recognition of this global crisis, Link TV has teamed up with international relief and development organization, Oxfam America, to produce a half-hour documentary special that examines possible solutions to famine and hunger around the world:
ViewChange: Africa's Last Famine features the story of an Ethiopian farmer, Medhin Reda, and interviews with Francis Moore Lappé, humanitarian, activist and bestselling author of Diet for a Small Planet. The show takes a hard stance on food justice and disputes the notion that famine is simply caused by a lack of food in the global supply. According to Moore Lappé in the documentary, "the world produces more than enough for all of us to thrive...the real crisis is the crisis of human relationships, how we share in power."
I hope you will join us in watching the show online or on Link TV, in spreading the word to others, and in joining Oxfam America's efforts to end global hunger. Please sign Oxfam's pledge and click here for more information about what you can do.
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.
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?
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.
Can social-issue documentaries play a role in helping to end global poverty?
Link TV thinks so.
Almost one year ago, the nonprofit global affairs media organization and broadcast network launched a project based on the idea that documentary storytelling, combined with social actions and the latest news, could make a meaningful contribution to the challenge of global poverty. The idea became ViewChange.org, an online portal built on the foundation of semantic Web technology that connects documentary stories to news and social actions in global poverty. In other words, in one place, people can watch character-driven stories, read the latest news about issues covered in the films, and then connect directly to action campaigns around each social issue. It’s a site and tool that’s primed for grassroots awareness and action.
The ViewChange.org platform is now a curated documentary hub with more than 400 short- and long-form character-driven documentaries from around the world – and all of them illustrate real progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which together comprise the world’s “blueprint” for ending global poverty. The portal site now includes the best stories from top global development organizations and filmmakers around the world.
I work on the project in a kind of hybrid role that combines documentary producing, communication campaign strategy and partnership cultivation with top global development organizations, including Devex, InterAction, Save the Children, UNICEF, PSI, Global Health Council, ONE, Comminit, Bread for the World and more. And thanks to the expertise of these groups, combined with the amazing repository of films now licensed to ViewChange.org, we’ve started producing half-hour TV specials in partnership with several top global development organizations – the ViewChange TV series. For each show, the narrative is informed by the expertise and objectives of the partner organization, and the main story and outreach campaign are developed simultaneously against the backdrop of the group’s organizational (and sometimes advocacy) objectives, creating a powerful campaign-style approach.
But one key to the project is simple and so powerful for those in the social-justice community to organize around specific issues – the fully-sharable/embeddable formatting of the acquired films and the final jointly-produced shows. By giving the videos, films and global development shows to groups and blogs to embed and share for their own purposes, we’re offering a tool that’s useful not only in our own campaign outreach, but for others to use in theirs. Interested in raising attention about the connection between climate change and drought in developing nations? Want to support innovative hunger relief programs in poor areas of the world? Need a documentary story that can be used in your own awareness/activist campaign to organize for purposes of advocacy or other goals? Navigating through the ViewChange.org tool provides all of these opportunities.
Just last week, one of these jointly-produced documentary specials premiered on Link TV (Friday, August 12 and 16) and on ViewChange.org. Working closely with Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy organization, the “ViewChange: Challenging Hunger” documentary special combines filmmaking from Bread for the World itself, along with short films from Oxfam and the Sundance Institute. In this particular show, the organization’s advocacy goals – to use foreign aid more effectively to help poor and hungry people – provide the narrative thru-line.
The call to action is urgent: With more than a billion people suffering from chronic hunger, the timing of potential budget cuts would be particularly devastating to developing nations. And the special debunks a key foreign assistance myth and provides new insight into the ripple effects of chronic hunger: Most Americans believe that about 25 percent of the U.S. budget goes toward foreign assistance, but, in fact, less than 1 percent supports crucial foreign assistance programs—including anti-hunger programs and food aid. The funding is vital to the continued development and management of innovative programs that provide long-term solutions to hunger.
The outreach includes a grassroots campaign to reach out to Bread for the World’s network of thousands of individual members, churches and denominations around the country, as well as reaching out through its college-age hunger activists group. Teams at both Link TV and Bread for the World are working jointly in an integrated strategic communication campaign model that includes traditional media outreach, blogging, sharing the show via embeddable links, outreach to top global development influencers, and social media.
To support Bread for the World’s work directly, check out its fact sheets and advocacy opportunities on its site: Tell Congress to create a circle of protection around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people in the US and abroad.
There are a select few public figures alive in the world today that have transcended fame and entered the realm of living legend. It is difficult to separate person and myth when they have reached this level, and rare to get a glimpse into who they really are. The Dalai Lama is one such figure, someone who has been in the public spotlight for the majority of his life, a person who is seen as a holy symbol by his people and revered the world over for his courage and outspokenness against oppression. Yet, behind the public persona there is a man who few outside of his inner circle have seen. Filmmaker Josh Dugdale gained unprecedented access to His Holiness for a three-year period and was able to elucidate not only the Dalai Lama’s true political intentions, but also his humor, joy, pain, and humanity as well. The result is Sunday’s DOC-DEBUT premiere of The Unwinking Gaze.
Throughout his lifetime, the Dalai Lama has struck a tenuous balance between spiritual leader and political activist. It is an amazing feat for a person to be able to carry such gravitas spiritually while also being a savvy political operator and inspirational leader. And to think that this person was discovered as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in a far flung village at the age of two makes one wonder whether the Tibetan leaders who found him really did come upon the true reincarnation. One of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding this man is whether he has become the individual he is through teaching, meditation, and life experience, or whether divine lineage through past lives really do account for his extraordinary character.
Josh Dugdale’s film gets closer to this answer than any movie that has come before: there is no clear explanation beyond the Dalai Lama’s humility and humanity. Dugdale follows him from the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, to Canada, England, and the United States. The film shows the Dalai Lama as an oasis of composure in a sea of chaos. He is surrounded by Chinese misinformation techniques, radical Tibetans who are impatient at his approach, opportunistic Western politicians, and fiery emotions on all sides. Dugdale is able to get inside the calm eye of the storm and see what makes the Dalai Lama tick. His Holiness is indefatigable despite his frenzied calendar and advancing age. He remains patient in pursuit of a solution despite his people’s growing anxiety. He is aware of Western countries’ attempts to use him as a pawn in their power plays against increasing Chinese influence, and like a skilled chess player, strategically sees several moves ahead.
On his motivations for making The Unwinking Gaze, director Dugdale says, “I had seen a number of films on the Dalai Lama, but I felt they didn’t show who he really was. It seemed that he was being wheeled out for the cameras, for stage-managed set pieces.” This film strips away the veneer and gets at the man behind the curtain. It presents fair critiques from both sides, and the measured responses of the Dalai Lama. In an age of fiery political rhetoric and few admirable leaders, it is refreshing to see someone confront maddening politics with reason. It is even more refreshing to see the internal struggles that the Dalai Lama confronts, just like any other human being has to. Tune in this Sunday at 11pm EST/8pm PST and meet the real Dalai Lama for the first time.