On our last couple days of programming for World Food Week, Link TV spoke with co-founder of FoodCorps, Curt Ellis. Want to get inspired and spread the word about taking real action in communities around food justice? Read this interview. And continue to visit our food page for "Hungry Planet" airtimes, to watch programs online, and to learn more about these critical issues.
FoodCorps works with a network of young leaders around the country in a kind of Peace Corps for healthy school food. Our service members teach children about healthy food and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens that help kids to grow and cook healthy food themselves, and work with school food service staff and local farmers to bring high-quality food into school lunch. Taken together, these three things -- knowledge, engagement and access -- address two big problems at once: childhood hunger and childhood obesity. It sounds paradoxical, but those two problems are closely linked. Kids who don't have reliable access to healthy food don't get a balanced diet, and all too rarely get reliable access to healthy fruits and vegetables -- so food insecure populations are often the ones with the highest rates of both hunger and obesity. As we see it, school is the best place to start fixing both these problems: 32 million children eat roughly half of their calories 180 days of the year in school. In helping to make that food fresher and healthier, we're setting kids on a path out of hunger and into lifelong health.
We have a serious health crisis in this country, and it's directly related to the food we eat. Studies show that the relationships we build with food -- healthy or unhealthy -- start in childhood. Children who are eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, as children will grow up to be adults who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. And, likewise, children who grow up being served fast food in their school cafeterias will feed their own families' fast food someday. If we help kids understand from an early age that healthy food tastes good, that it's fun to grow and prepare, that it makes you feel good, and that it doesn't have to be out of reach financially, we can put powerful and positive change into motion.
Unfortunately, much of the food that is seen as affordable in America -- fast food, processed food -- is also some of the least healthy. So we have a shocking number of people in our country who are simultaneously obese and malnourished. Until we have solved problems of access to fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high-quality protein -- both in terms of physical access and financial access -- we'll continue to have these problems of hunger and obesity.
As I see it, if that solution is going to start anywhere, it's going to start in our schools. My grandparents' generation made an important decision: that the children in our country should have lunch in school, so we can be sure they all have an opportunity to get at least one healthy meal a day. Now, with the addition of school breakfast and after-school snack, school food is even more important than it was a generation or two ago. But the food we're serving kids these days looks all too much like fast food, and too little like carrots. We need to change what's on the lunch tray and make sure the tools we're using to fight hunger -- like school lunch -- are really solving the problem they set out to fix.
For a long time, the food industry -- and its consumers -- prioritized quantity over quality. I applaud the efforts to give all people access to an abundant food supply, but I think we took that ideal too far. It's hard to think of anything more important than food, yet we don't treat food, or farmers, with the respect they deserve. I think the food we produce and consume as a nation should have integrity. It should be grown and processed in an ecologically sustainable way, by farmers and workers who are compensated fairly, it should be safe and healthy for people to eat, and it should be accessible to all -- even the least fortunate members of our society. I think those are standards that are important to uphold for something as fundamental as the food we eat. And if we live out those ideals, hunger won't be a problem anymore. Diet-related disease won't be a problem anymore. We won't see Florida tomato growers getting brought to trial on charges of slavery in the fields. And the soil we depend on will continue producing high-quality food for eons to come.
Locally grown foods are fresher, so in most cases they'll taste better and be more nutritious to boot. Vitamins are fragile, so vegetables that are trucked long distances can lose half their nutrient content! Also, sourcing locally grown food keeps a huge amount of money in the local economy, and the reduction in transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on oil. In some ways, though, I think the most important thing that comes from eating locally is the sense that food comes from somewhere. That it's grown by someone. And that's a reminder that those people and places matter.
Before joining the effort to start FoodCorps, I got to collaborate on a few films that explored the food world. I worked with Ian Cheney and Aaron Woolf on a documentary called King Corn, which was about a year we spent in Iowa growing an acre of corn (well, an acre of corn syrup and corn-fed fast-food meat, as it turned out). I worked with those two again on a follow-up to King Corn called Big River, which explored the ecological consequences of modern agriculture. And then I helped Ian make a film about the wacky and amazing people who are bringing farming into urban places. That film was called Truck Farm, and it starts with a project we did planting a vegetable garden in the back of an '86 Dodge Pickup. You can find the first couple films on Netflix, and the third on Amazon.
That's a big question, and if it could be answered in a paragraph I think someone would have done so already. But I'll highlight a few things. On the individual level, I think it's important that we learn -- and help others learn -- how to grow and cook healthy, affordable food. During World War II, home gardeners were producing more than half of America's food. There's no reason we shouldn't be planting our window boxes and truck beds and vacant lots in healthy, high-quality, incredibly affordable food. On the societal level, we have some powerful building blocks for creating a healthy food environment for all. The national school lunch program is a powerful place to start. If we use that existing program as a way to make sure all children in America grow up having regular access to real, healthy food, we'll go a long way toward solving hunger in America.
The mainstream media has really embraced food as an important issue in the last decade, and that's been great to see. Unfortunately, before that, I think they were missing much of the story, and it was independent outlets that were the first to highlight the way that food shapes our environment, our health and our sense of justice and equality.
Most importantly, I'd like to see us reverse the present statistic that this generation of children is the first that is likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. In fifty years I hope we have healthier children: children who feel connected to their food and have an enduring and healthy relationship with it.
I hope we can come together as a nation around the simple belief that food is important. That it's important enough that no child should go hungry. That it's important enough that it should be produced responsibly, sustainably, and ethically. That it should be available to all. If we can do that, I'll feel pretty good about our ability to solve some of the other tough problems we're facing as a society.
For young leaders, the best way to get involved is to apply to become a service member in FoodCorps; applications for next year's class will be available this winter. For everyone else, if you support FoodCorps with a financial contribution, no matter how small, you can help us meet our goal of expanding our program into all 50 states by 2020. With your help, we can make sure more than a million kids are eating healthy, high-quality school lunch every day.
In this next addition to our World Food Week blog series on key people in the field tackling hunger, we talked with Tekiah Jones, a 17-year-old High School Student from Washington DC. She works as the New Media Producer on a campaign called Revolution Hunger. Link Media is working in partnership with Revolution Hunger to engage teens and their communities around hunger and malnutirition at home and around the world. Continue to visit our food page for "Hungry Planet" airtimes, to watch programs online, and to find out what you can do.
It was actually through Revolution Hunger. I had seen the position online from a friend, so I applied for it, but I didn't know much about hunger. I remember seeing commercials with children in Africa with flies on their face, but that's all. I didn’t know much about it, and didn't learn about it until I joined the campaign.
Revolution Hunger is a campaign that is trying to get more teens involved in bringing awareness about world hunger, and hunger here at home. We are really dedicated to trying to get people involved and dedicating their future careers to helping to solve it.
My role as New Media Producer is to really expand out the mission and vision of Revolution Hunger, (we in the DC area -- District of Columbia, Virginia, Marylan) -- and to reach teens in schools, and in our community using new media and online tools. We are using social media to get the word out, especially because that's where young people are at. I also work with the Regional Coordinator and we do some outreach projects together, like organizing a youth team in DC, attending events, and doing in school presentations. I write blogs and do things that are online, to really reach out to people and show them what we’re doing, though the new media age.
To me, all teens are on their phones and the computer at some point in the day. All of our networks are on the new Android or EVO, and people are on Twitter or Facebook, so the best way to really get to teens is to blog and Tweet and get on their Tumblr accounts. I think that when you use something that teens go to every day, that's what will maximize our impact. When the Tsunamis hit a couple years ago, people weren't talking about Twitter, but people on Twitter were the first to talk about it. I think New Media can take organizing to a new age, and it already is. It's so much more accessible to click on a link. It helps teens get more involved, and allows them to learn about something new. Even in our school, we don't hand in paper assignments, we send them online. With so much online, you don't have an excuse not to be involved. With Revolution Hunger, we are trying to get kids engaged both online and then to get off their computers and go do something positive.
Go to revolutionhunger.org and create an account! Teens can start educating people about hunger, blogging about it themselves, and make it a trending topic. When you start getting into it it, really consumes you. When you know that every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger, that's a big thing. The ways that teens can get involved is starting up a club at their school to bring awareness to global issues and hunger. Really just educating each other about it. Not enough people really know about it yet, or care about it. Going up to your friends and talking about it, wearing t-shirts from our campaign, or re-Tweeting our posts help a lot. I have so much more knowledge about the issue. To me, it seems so much greater than the presidential debate.
For the campaign, I wanted to go viral like the Trevor Project. I would have expected it to start, we're later in the year. I wanted people to be like "have you heard about this campaign?", or one of those things where people are like "are you going to that event today? I want to help out." I really want people to get involved in hunger. People are living off absolutely nothing and don't have anything to eat. We make a big deal out of a new Walmart, but there are people starving.
I want to see lots of people involved. I want to see it on the Ellen show. I want it to go viral so badly. I want people to see it and see the pretty colors and really get into it, into Revolution Hunger. But more then that, make a life long commitment to stay involved and do your part.
In my community, I hope to see more people getting along with each other, and less hungry people. I want everyone to get along in the different quadrants. There's all this hatred, gang violence, people getting shot or stabbed, fighting in high school, and poverty. I want people to understand we have bigger issues than what hood you're from or who said what at lunch. We have some many bigger problems in DC alone, like hunger or our education system. I want to really be one of those communities where everyone helps each other out.
In the world I want the same things on a bigger scales. Like the wars, people don't know about each other's cultures. I want people to get to know about different world religions and cultures. Different cultures. I want everyone to be a part of fixing social injustices. Hunger is one of those. I really want everyone to just love everyone, to love humanity. That's my wish, that's what I want.
Several months ago I had a conversation with a great American Shaman, Sandra Ingerman. It was my first interview in a long time and I have to say I am so happy it was with her… for there is an ease about her, a homeyness and deep presence that made me quite comfortable and allowed for a certain kind of flow to happen between us. I had committed to myself to make this Podcast something that was alive, in the moment and interactive... a conversation between two people trying to become fully human and I feel we really hit the mark (although I do cringe a bit when I hear my voice!!)
Listen to Part 1:
There are two parts that we will be posting. In this first one which is 25 minutes long, we discuss how we as individuals can actively participate in the healing of the world. We talked specifically about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but what Sandra says can be applied to any world event... even those that are extremely positive, like what is going on in the Middle East, and the demand for the right to govern oneself. How can we support positive things and how can we work with the positive in seemingly negative situations? We also talked about what is being taught to us through world events and how we might listen to the symbolism, the news behind the news, and support what is being born.
And then we moved into the idea of spiritual responsibility. How our individual shadow and dreams contribute to the collective, and what we manifest in the world together. And then lastly, we discussed what can we do to champion what is coming alive in us and around us and how our joy and following our hearts can guide us beyond ego desires to contribute to the health of the whole.
Seems like a lot! But somehow... she made it simple and I am so grateful for her participation in this podcast and her great wisdom.
I also want to thank Adrianne Anderson, super producer, for all her input and help, for without her this would not have been made.
I hope you enjoy it and PLEASE comment... We want to hear what you know and what you want to hear more of.
For this week's Global Pulse episode, Swine Flu: The Vaccination, host Erin Coker asks, Will you get vaccinated? Share your thoughts and watch this episode below!
When I first learned of swine flu, I dismissed the general reaction as unnecessary panic over something no more threatening than – well, catching the flu. Inconvenient and uncomfortable, but hardly the second coming of the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Then I caught the H1N1 virus myself. After being diagnosed, I took comfort in the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the estimated 1 million Americans believed to have been infected with the virus between April and June, only about 593 have died. To provide a bit of perspective, seasonal flu can result in up to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. So if you do get swine flu, chances are it will not kill you, or even result in serious symptoms. I am living proof, although there were times over the last week when I wasn’t so sure.
"Uncomfortable and inconvenient" is an understatement. I am a generally healthy young person, but I was immobilized by a high fever, chills, severe muscle pain and fatigue. I would be dishonest if I said that there weren't a few scary moments when I felt compelled to inhale deeply to make certain my lungs were still working. The normally benign shadows on my ceiling took on a menacing hallucinatory quality. Would ever feel like myself again?
Six days of bed rest, fluids and the antiviral Tamiflu later, I am starting to feel better. So, have my feelings about swine flu changed? Yes and no.
As ABC News reported earlier this week, thousands of people have contracted swine flu in recent months and have made a full recovery. Global mortality rates to date are lower than those associated with seasonal flu -- the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 2,837 H1N1 deaths worldwide -- but health experts have noted that H1N1 may cause more severe illness and death in younger adults and children than does the seasonal flu. Reuters reported that the WHO has also warned of a severe strain of swine flu that can cause acute respiratory illness in otherwise healthy young people.
More disturbing is the potential threat to developing countries, which often lack the resources to produce vaccines. A recent report released by a UK-based global risks intelligence firm (PDF) notes that while Western nations may be at the greatest risk of spreading H1N1, they also have significant resources to contain the proliferation of the virus. In contrast, Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the area least able to contain an influenza pandemic. Underdeveloped health facilities and the difficulty of accessing doctors in rural areas could pose further risks to vulnerable populations.
Nonetheless, as I read recent reports warning of a more aggressive second wave of H1N1, or speculations of a deadly mutated super virus, I recall what Indian blogger Hariharan Krishnamurthy wrote in mid-August after a swine flu outbreak killed 20 people in Mumbai and in the western city of Pune: "There is a mass hysteria about the swine flu... The news channels are adding fuel to the fire... and newspapers showing only the negativity... I am not trying to undermine the seriousness of the issue but also so much panic is also not at all required."
A good reminder that prudence and preventative measures are best combined with a healthy dose of perspective. Take it from one of the latest statistics.