Published Jun 21 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jun 21 2009

Food & agriculture - June 21

by Staff

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Viva la Vegolución! Guevara's Granddaughter Stars in New PETA Ad

Alisa Mullins, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
"The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall."
—Che Guevara

Well, it looks like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Che Guevara's granddaughter, Lydia Guevara, is following in her revolutionary granddad's footsteps by calling for a "vegetarian revolution."

"PETA's fight for animals was one of the reasons why I went vegetarian," Lydia told the Spanish news agency Efe. "Moreover, this lifestyle has become a true revolution that is attracting more people and is an alternative that is healthier for the planet and for humankind."

The ad was shot in New York this week by top celebrity and fashion photographer Gavin Bond—look for it this fall.
(19 June 2009)
Striking photo of Ms. Guevera at the original post. -BA

New Allies For Food Reform
(American Medical Association)
Ezra Klein, Washington Post
I think Tom Laskawy is way too hard on the American Medical Association here. If they're saying the right things on food -- namely, that

"the current US food system is highly industrialized, focusing on the production of animal products and federally subsidized commodity crops, such as corn and soybeans. This has resulted in a highly processed, calorie-dense food supply, instead of one rich in a variety of fruits vegetables, and whole grains ... The poor quality diets supported by this system contributes to four of the six leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers."

-- then they're saying the right things on food. That's good! They don't need to devote lobbying dollars to the effort to be judged "serious." Indeed, I'd think food reformers would welcome the AMA's statement: It allows them to say that the country's leading doctor organization has officially found that our food system is oriented toward making us fatter, sicker and poorer and that reform is needed.

One of the issues I tackle in my article on the difference between health and health-care reform is the difficulty of expanding health-care reform to include things that would make us healthier but that don't happen in a hospital. One of those things is making it more affordable for low-income Americans to eat well.

In the movie Food Inc. -- which I'll have more to say about soon -- there's a segment in which a poor family (pictured above) goes through a fast food drive-through. The mother admits that she knows better. They shouldn't eat like this. Her husband, in fact, has diabetes, and they spend more than a hundred dollars a month to purchase his medications. But they have no choice. They can't afford anything else.

This gets to an important point about cheap food: It's not necessarily cheap. It's cheap now. But given the health costs associated with obesity and diabetes -- and given their stunning prevalence in low-income communities -- it's really a way of borrowing money from your future self.
(19 June 2009)

1.02 Billion People Hungry

1.02 Billion People Hungry: One Sixth Of Humanity Undernourished, More Than Ever Before
World hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009 with 1,020 million people going hungry every day, according to new estimates published by United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment. This has reduced access to food by the poor, the UN agency said.

"A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security. We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world and to take the necessary actions."
(20 June 2009)

Detroit: Food fighters

Michael Jackman, Metro Times (Detroit)
Taking control of our food supply, from the kitchen garden to the community
Detroiter Holly White says what started her gardening was stark staring fear. After getting rattled by theories about "peak oil" — with its scenarios of a future where fuel prices soar so out of control that people can't afford to eat — she wanted to find a way to make a change.

"I got sort of freaked out," she says, now relaxing in the comfortable condo apartment she shares with her husband in a smartly refurbished old building near Cass and Canfield. "After freaking out, I figured the easiest thing to do was to take control over the food I was eating — to concentrate on food to ease my mind.

"But then I tasted my first fresh tomato and the flavor blew me away."

Wary of big food and eager to explore natural options, White quickly revolutionized her shopping, at first vowing to buy "nothing with a bar code" — these days as little as 5 percent of their purchases bear a UPC. Depending on the month, the couple buys between half and 90 percent of its food at Eastern Market.

... Not all people have joined the good food revolution for political reasons. Mark Covington found a new purpose in gardening.

In early 2008, the environmental services worker found himself between jobs, spending most his time in the neighborhood surrounding his grandmother's house near Harper and Gratiot avenues. Looking to do something productive with his time, Covington started clearing rubbish out of the three vacant lots at the end of his block, where locals had beaten a diagonal path over to the low-quality groceries and liquor stores along Harper. At first, he only intended to police the lot's litter and garbage. But as he cleared away the corner, he became inspired to turn it into a community garden.

Yesterday's shortcut through scrubby earth is now a rustic scene: a small garden, piles of slow compost, a stack of wooden pallets, and a path softened with wood chips. Using Adopt-a-Lot permits from the city, donations and his own gardening skills, Covington has built the corner into the hub of the Georgia Street Community Garden.

It was hard at first. Covington says he had to overcome a lot of indifference ...

More of the Food Issue:

Turning the tables
by Michael Jackman
If we want to fix the broken food system, we'll have to do more than eat our way out of it

Weird Science
by Todd Abrams
Fermentation is a metamorphosis right on your kitchen counter

Desktop lunching
by Sandra Svoboda
Making the most of eating in the office

Get it fresh
by Metro Times food staff
A guide to farmer's markets in metro Detroit

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Michael Pollan
Reviewed by Jane Slaughter
Michael Pollan makes the world safe for food again
(27 May 2009)

The Campesino Struggle for Sustainable Agriculture in Paraguay

April Howard, Monthly Review
Saying No to Soy

When Paraguay elected Fernando Lugo, its first non-Colorado Party president in more than sixty years, the mood was elated. In the streets of Asuncion that night in April 2008, “Grandmothers, wrapped in the Paraguayan flag, danced with children in the streets, and cried at the top of their lungs that this [was] the moment they’d been waiting for their whole lives.” ...

One sector of Paraguayan society that has the most to gain from this transfer of power is the dwindling, poisoned, and often criminalized campesino (peasant farmer) population. Across Latin America, incomplete or corrupt agrarian reforms have left farmers fighting for their right to grow food for themselves. The flourishing soybean industry in Paraguay is leading towards an industrial agricultural export model that leaves no room for small food producers. While many Paraguayan campesino families have moved into urban peripheries, tenacious farmers have fought not only for their right to land, but also to redefine and recreate the agricultural model based on cooperative, organic, and people-friendly alternatives.

... The need for change in the Paraguayan countryside is urgent. Paraguay has the most unequal land distribution in Latin America; 83 percent of Paraguayan campesinos occupy only 6 percent of the land. Forty percent of all property is possessed by 351 owners of large estates.

... The Agricultural Export Industry — A Poisonous Green Desert

A biologically diverse Interior Atlantic Forest once covered 85 percent of Eastern Paraguay. Intermingled with the necessary shade and fruit-bearing trees of the forest, farmers grew diverse crops and raised a variety of livestock. However, today only 5–8 percent of that forest remains. The land now resembles the rolling hills of a green desert. Brazilian industrial farmers have invaded Eastern Paraguay and bought up the much of the land, bit by bit, in order to grow monoculture crops for export. Their bounty is sold to such companies as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge. They transform communities and strong-arm farmers to produce soy, corn, and cotton for export. Paraguay and parts of Brazil and Argentina have become “soy republics.”

Soy production has increased exponentially in recent years to keep up with worldwide demand for animal feed, as well as the ecologically bankrupt, but still thriving, agrofuel industry. Industrial soy is directed toward these markets, not human food. Today, Paraguay is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of soybeans. In 2003, five million acres of land were devoted to soy cultivation — more than double the amount ten years before that.5 Today, according to sociologist Javiera Rulli, that number is closer to thirty million acres, and is expected to continue rising exponentially.6

The expansion of the soy industry in Paraguay has occurred in tandem with the violent oppression of small farmers and indigenous communities.

... While many of the campesino organizations in Paraguay share the vision of “agroecology,” Zayas believes that the movement needs a “philosophical and theoretical framework so that it can become a project not only of resistance, but of the construction of a new society that prioritizes human life.” ASAGRAPA promotes small-scale organic farming of a diversity of crops for community needs, and community ownership of land to protect farmers from isolation, land speculation, and fumigation. In this context, it started the Stop the Fumigation: In Defense of Communities and Life campaign in December of 2007.

In 1989, Zayas helped found the community where the Ramírez family now lives. El Triunfo (The Triumph) is a community with a vision. It was formed by farmers involved in ASAGRAPA, and it is designed to prove that small-scale, non-chemical agriculture is possible.15 In February 2007, I visited El Triunfo. The shady agricultural town seemed like an oasis in the soy desert. Each family has two parcels: one in the residential center for their house and small gardens, and another for larger fields of crops. Over the years, the community has built a health clinic, school, and soccer field. The community started as a squat, and has been attacked several times by what the farmers call the local “soy mafia.”

The land is communally owned and the charter does not allow farmers to sell their land. If they decide to leave, the community assumes possession and can give the land to a new member. Members see the formation of a democratically led collective (minga, in Guaraní) with indivisible and non-transferable ownership of land as the only way to ensure that members do not sell their land to soy growers. In this, they are fighting against fumigations and the pressure to grow soy. While all farmers may choose what to grow on their land and may sell some of their produce, they must use their land to plant diverse crops for their own consumption without pesticides.16

April Howard is a journalist and teacher of Latin American history at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and of high school social studies in Vermont. She is also an editor of, an online magazine reporting on politics and social movements in Latin America. Contact:
(June 2009 issue)