What you should be watching: "Food Forward"

I finally got a chance to watch a few episodes of PBS's Food Forward series, and, well, it's totally worth checking out. My favorites so far? "Food (Justice) For All" and "Quest for Water" (find the full episodes here).

As of late, there seem to be a number of issues that cripple us from moving forward. But, food can be the gateway to taking back our lives and helping people realize their full potential. Food is also a vehicle to recognize our place in nature. This isn't a hippy dippy realization, but, rather, in the case of food and water, we cannot have one without the other or neglect the connection.

As daunting as the task is to, oh, you know, reshape our food system, I'm so inspired to watch all these amazing individuals participate in and lead a fair food revolution. This series is hopeful and enlightening - two elements very much needed for change to occur.

You can watch season one of Food Forward here.

"Lake remediation starts with soil restoration" | VTDigger

An excellent op-ed about how the health of Lake Champlain is directly tied to our historical agricultural waste problem in the U.S., and a call to action about soil restoration. In sum: Displacing actual sh*t doesn't make a food system more efficient! 

I want to see dairying remain an important way of life on the land here in Vermont. I realize that change is difficult especially when profits are low and margins are slim. When the next round of public money is directed at remedying the high levels of phosphorus in Lake Champlain, it will be absolutely essential to be as creative and open minded as possible. We need to restore the health of our soils however we can.
— Jack Lazor, farmer/owner Butterworks Farm & author of The Organic Grain Farmer

True Cost Accounting | The Lexicon of Sustainability | PBS Food

Nothing says love and romance like exposing the myth of cheap food!! Not quite Valentine's Day material, I know, but this project by The Lexicon of Sustainability - an incredible resource - is a good reminder of the costs of production, consumption and waste not reflected in prices. Hope you gave ethically traded/homemade/organic/local this Valentine's...or at least begin to think about how to become more conscientious as a consumer and don't take labels or food trends at face value.

"Walmart Joins Initiative To Help Tomato Farmers" | Huffington Post

Statement-of-the-obvious: Farmworkers are a severely underrepresented, under-appreciated and undervalued population in our food system. They are responsible for the growing, harvesting and processing of the vast majority of food that ends up in a store near you. Tomatoes are no exception. (If you want to read a equally enlightening and horrifying tale about the beloved fruit, read Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland. It makes The Jungle look tame.) 

I'm, of course, an advocate for reforming and improving workers' rights for farmworkers. Yet, even with Wal-Mart putting pressure on Florida tomato suppliers to reform working conditions, it's not enough. Yes, Wal-Mart has incredible clout in the marketplace and the food system. (Statement-of-the-obvious #2 - you're welcome!) Signing onto the initiative is an incredible way to educate consumers on the often unpleasant backstory of food production. Hopefully, Wal-Mart's action will encourage other retailers to make the same social considerations into their sourcing standards and business ethic. And, yes, Wal-Mart's participation should be considered a victory for the Coalition for Immokalee Workers and its Fair Food Program as well.

But, to use a farm-ism, it's like putting lipstick on a pig. It further magnifies the backwardness that is our food culture at present: We don't emphasize prevention or a holistic approach to food production. We need to reevaluate the environmental, ecological and human toll of producing crops or food products of any kind on a mass scale. Spoiler alert: Estabrook explains many times throughout his work that Florida is a horrendously unsuitable place to grow the popular nightshade. Further, beyond the growing conditions of the plants themselves, workers are often and frequently exposed to biocides while picking fresh tomatoes in the field, which has been linked to birth defects, cancer, neurological disorders...just to name a few.

If there's one resounding, paradoxically frustrating and hopeful point that can be garnered from my studies in sustainable food systems it's this: There's no one starting point for reform of and to our food system. In the case of tomatoes, it'd be naive to think that large monoculture farms will disappear and be replaced by small to mid-sized diversified operations. Or that mega-retailers will suddenly switch to supporting all local or regional produce and food suppliers. Or that the responsibility to feed a nation will become a shared duty for all Americans, rather than one placed on the backs of migrant, often illegal, labor.

In the case of Wal-Mart's participation in the Fair Food Program, we can treat it as a shift toward a better food system. Now, there's a need among consumers and advocates to put continued pressure on retailers to force them to look more critically at the food system and the ramifications of signing onto such good/just food agreements.

That's my rant. What are your thoughts on the mega-store's participation in the Fair Food Program? Will this boost awareness among consumers? Could the "Wal-Mart effect" lead to other changes in the food system? Leave your comments below!

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s participation in the Fair Food Program is the most visible catch for the coalition, whose activists have been asking corporate grocery chains and restaurants to put pressure on growers to improve farmworker conditions for the past decade. Participants now include McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Chipotle, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s and Yum Brands — the company whose restaurant chains include Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.
— Mike Schneider, AP, as published in the Huffington Post