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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Friday on ViewChange: Starting Over

Starting OverEach year, Oxfam estimates that more than 500,000 people are killed due to armed violence with countless more left devastated, displaced, traumatized, and angry.  Armed violence destroys lives, drains government resources, undermines development efforts, and fosters a culture of violence, fear, and corruption. It is big business with huge ramifications. 
   
At the moment, there is no global arms trade treaty regulating the transfer of arms. Too often, cheap yet highly destructive weapons land in the hands of those who use them to assert power insidiously and further continue a vicious cycle of violence. For developing countries, particularly those in conflict or post-conflict situations, the low-cost accessibility of weapons wreaks havoc on efforts to achieve reconciliation and development. While decades of tensions slowly settle, an arsenal of cheap, available weapons remains—stunting efforts to move forward peacefully.  Families are left displaced and devastated by the loss or injury of a family member; their home may be destroyed or no longer safe to live in, and they may be left virtually income-less with no able-bodied workers or farmland. Already struggling health care systems are overburdened; schools are forced to closed or get by with meager support; access to food becomes limited. Anger, hopelessness, and fear grow. Any tensions that may arise or continue in communities—ethnic or religious conflicts, neighbor or land disputes—are resolved through violence. And when you are angry and disempowered with no job or education opportunities—no potentials to grow or support your family, when an AK-47 or grenade is as cheap and accessible as a pint of beer, as is the case in Burundi, it is easy to see how violence remains the preferred medium for conflict resolution. Violence infiltrates every aspect of the culture; it becomes a daily part of life.
   
“Weapons call out to other weapons,” says Teddy Mazina, a journalist in the documentary film Bang for your Buck. The huge supply of cheap weapons leftover from Burundi’s civil war has contaminated his country, he says, causing an intractable cycle of violence and corrupt power that undermines all development efforts. Underlying issues such as why violence is so easily resorted to are obscured by the sheer supply and availability of cheap grenades and Ak-47s. There needs to be regulation: a path towards disarmament.
   
Bang for Your Buck beautifully illustrates this need. As winner of Oxfam’s "Shooting Poverty” contest, the film was made to galvanize the Control Arms Campaign, a global civil society alliance, of which Oxfam is a part of, calling for a universal Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) would outline universal standards for arms exporters and importers, eradicating any loopholes or variance in regulation that could be used to evade responsibility and further fuel armed conflict, poverty, and human rights violations. The Campaign calls on members of the United Nations to secure this urgent treaty—one round of negotiation is underway this week in New York with the final conference scheduled for July 2010.  You can join the campaign and help ensure the government takes this opportunity to comprehensively regulate the deadly weapons trade.
   
Starting OverA universal Arms Trade Treaty is an important step towards ending irresponsible arms transfers that promote corrupt agendas and violate human rights, drain resources, and hinder development efforts in countries striving to rebuild, particularly in the aftermath of civil war. Much more needs to be done, however, in order to start over. To learn more about the struggle for new beginnings check out ViewChange.org’s new episode, Starting Over, where Bang for Your Buck is featured along with two other powerful films. In the episode you will meet Teddy Mazina as he walks you through the realities of daily grenade attacks in Burundi, learn about Rwanda’s Gacaca justice tribunals, and witness one ex-patriot’s dream to promote economic development through tourism in Sierra Leone. 

 

Starting Over airs on Direct TV Channel 375 and DISH Network Channel 9410 on:

Friday, July 15th 4 pm PST
Sunday, July 17th 12am PST
Tuesday, July 19th 8pm PST
Wednesday, July 20th 3am and 10am PST
Friday, July 22nd  5am PST
Saturday, July 23rd 11:30pm PST.

And can also be viewed online at LinkTV.org.

 
 

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Syrian Tanks 'Bombard' City Residents

(Euronews: 0726 PT, May 11, 2011) Syrian tanks are reported to be shelling Homs, one of the country's biggest cities. Loud explosions were heard in the residential neighbourhood of Bab Amro. Syrian security forces are continuing their crackdown on anti-government protests. It's thought hundreds of people have been killed and thousands arrested after protests which began in Daraa in March.

 

The Syrian government says it is pursuing armed gangs of terrorists while a state news agency has reported that two soldiers have been killed in clashes in Homs and Deraa.

 

 

Weapons Sales to Syria 'Increase'

(Al Jazeera English: 0722 PT, May 11, 2011) Various weapons are available on Lebanon's black market, and arms trading is reportedly on the rise since the unrest in Syria began. Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reports from Beirut.

 

 

 
 

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The Closest Enemy: All US Paths Lead to China?

(Russia Today: 0604 PT, May 10, 2011) The world's two economic giants have ended a first day of talks aimed at easing the strains in their relations. But there are still many areas in which China and the US are struggling to find common ground. Beijing says Washington is trying to stunt its economic growth; America hit back with criticism of China's human rights record. And, all the while, the threat of a growing arms race rumbles in the background. RT's Kristine Frazao has been following the difficult negotiations.

 

 

 
 

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Gaddafi Arms Civilians

(ITN News: 0114 PST, April 28, 2011) Libya trains a volunteer army for possible Nato ground invasion.

 

 

 
 

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Loading Libya: UK Red-Faced Over Arming Gaddafi

(Russia Today: 0753 PST, April 6, 2011) Britain may now be considering arming Libya's rebels, but lawmakers in London are furious that their colleagues allowed weapons to be sold to the Gaddafi regime as recently as last year. Libya is among several Arab nations who bought firepower from the UK, and which later saw uprisings. The ministers accuse them of misjudging whether those guns would be turned on civilians, as Laura Emmett explains.

 

 

 
 

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NATO Considers Libya Options

(Al Jazeera English: 1133 PST, March 10, 2011) NATO secretary-general Angers Fogh Rasmussen has announced that NATO will be increasing the presence of its maritime assets in the central Mediterranean, and to "direct NATO military authorities to begin detailed planning with regard to supporting humanitarian operations", as well as more active work on enforcing an arms embargo.

 

Rasmussen was speaking at a meeting in Brussels, where NATO leaders also decided that the military alliance would only act if it had "a clear legal mandate" and "strong regional support". Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher reports from Brussels, Belgium.

 

 

 
 

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Stalled START: A New Arms Race? Or Not.

In this week's episode of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker asks if the U.S. and Russia could be entering a new arms race. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!

 

As a young child in the mid-1980s, thoughts of total nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Russians would occasionally prevent me from sleeping. On one family holiday to Maine, I actually wondered if we were far enough away from major cities to be safe from an atomic blast.

 

Looking back on the decade it is easy to see why a little kid would be so uneasy. The threat of nuclear war was ingrained in popular culture, lurking in everything from movies to songs. In 1982, Time Magazine devoted nearly 3,500 words to an article entitled, "thinking the unthinkable."

 

Today such fears seem nearly as dated as the all-out nuclear panic that resulted in this 1950s public service announcement that acknowledged the imminent threat of the bomb, while advocating questionable albeit, hilarious, blast survival techniques. Picnic blankets and newspapers, anyone?

 

However, with negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) stalling in recent months, the global media have taken notice. As Ariel Cohen points out in a New York Times editorial, the failure to agree on a new treaty by the December 5 deadline, has left the two countries in "uncharted waters."

 

Or has it?

 

Calling Cohen's argument "alarmist and misleading," William D. Hartung argues that despite the delay in sorting out the new START agreement, Russia and the U.S. are still “abiding by the basic principles of the agreement”  as they craft a new one. 

 

The director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, Hartung notes that even if both sides chose to ignore START's provisions, "it is absurd to suggest that either side could gain a strategic advantage in the few weeks (or in the absolute worst case, months) it will take to hammer out a new treaty."

 

Hartung is also quick to dismiss what he terms the "unsupportable notion that there is a resurgent Russian bear out there, and that it cannot be trusted and should not be cooperated with in any substantial way." Such thinking, according to Cohen, is obsolete—the detritus of the Cold War—and is no longer relative today.

 

So are the media overreacting, then? Is it only a matter of time before the U.S. and Russia iron out the details of the new START, or is Hartung being cavalier about the whole thing? In today's world, how crucial is U.S.-Russia arms control to global security?

 

 

 

 
 

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Karen Armstrong's Charter for Compassion

Karen ArmstrongLink TV has been honored to have Karen Armstrong, one of the world's most respected thinkers on religion, as a guest on our Global Spirit program "The Spiritual Quest". So when we heard about Armstrong's inspiring new project -- the Charter for Compassion -- we knew that Link had to get involved somehow.

Armstrong's wish for her TED Prize was for help to create this Charter, which officially launched on November 12, 2009. Billed as "a call to bring the world together," Armstrong's Charter aims to unite all religious and spiritual traditions under the principle of compassion, based in the ethical code of the Golden Rule: "…Treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves."

Charter for CompassionThe names of all signatories to the Charter will be sent to world leaders on December 31, 2009, so your time is running out to add your name to a list of distinguished individuals -- including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and author Isabel Allende -- who affirm peace and compassion as the core principle of our divided world. As our friends at YouthNoise have pointed out, the "coolest parts of this Charter is that we can all join in its message by signing, and the signature isn't only a personal pledge, but a pledge that will be sent to world leaders who have countries in conflict."

You can learn more about the Charter for Compassion by watching this video below. We also encourage you to watch Karen Armstrong on Link's "The Spiritual Quest" episode of Global Spirit here, where she gives background on the Charter at the 45:10 mark of the video.

 

 

 
 

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Who's Afraid of Kim Jong Il?

This week, Global Pulse examines international reaction to North Korea's weekend missile launch. According to most world media, the launch was a failure and resulted in the missile's harmless fall into the Pacific Ocean. But Pyongyang insisted the missile reached outer space as a satellite, using the event to reintroduce Kim Jong Il in his first public appeareance since August.

 

Photo footage of Kim in front of North Korea's Parliament showed the leader suffering from weight loss, though he appeared more healthy than some had predicted in the wake of a rumored stroke in August. The Financial Times speculated that Kim's actions could push East Asia into a new arms race as South Korea and Japan escalate their military response capabilities. The Washington Post though noted that a similar 2006 missile launch was followed only weeks later by North Korea's willingness to return to diplomatic negotiations.

 

Is Kim Jong Il a leader to be feared, and perhaps met with military force? Or is this most recent missile launch merely the work of an increasingly frail and marginalized despot?        

 
 

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