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Food Justice discussion generates local campaign idea

July 15, 2012

Yesterday, a group a people gathered at Garfield Park, near the South East Farmers Market, to discussion the idea of Food Justice.

The discussion was divided into two sections, with the first being a look at the current food system and what is wrong with it. The Bloom Collective provided a handout, which promoted looks of ideas and questions about agribusiness, food policy and environmental destruction.

The second part centered around how to create a food justice system. People talked about some local efforts with food justice, the work of Our Kitchen Table, the treatment of migrant workers, CSA’s, food co-ops and ways to target or dismantle the local agribusiness system.

There was also acknowledgement that food justice is inter-related to other justice work and systemic change – immigration policy, trade policies, the health care system and abolishing capitalism.

One local idea that was discussed would be a campaign to investigate the existing food contract that the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) have and then develop a campaign to have the food served in the schools be local and organic. People also suggested that students could learn more about local food production, how to prepare food and the nutritional benefits of eating healthy.

If anyone is interested in being part of such an effort, send a message to The Bloom Collective, bloomcollective@gmail.org.

Understanding the Current Food System

The current food system we have in the US is both the result of a century of policies and food functioning as a commodity within the capitalist economy. This food system is extremely unsustainable, relies on massive government subsidies, fossil fuels, pesticides and migrant labor. Many Americans are unaware of where their food comes from and what entities are involved along the way.

  1. Agribusiness – While there has been a resurgence of small farmers in recent years, most of the food grown/raised in the US s done so on a large scale by operators within Agribusiness. These growers and factory farm owners rely on huge taxpayer subsidies. For instance, in Michigan the amount of subsidies for growers between 1995 – 2011 was $4.61 Billion. Agribusiness also operates in such a way that makes it dependent on the use of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Agribusiness usually engages in mono-cropping and often relies on migrant labor, which is highly exploitative.
  2. Food Brokers – another player in the current food system are companies that buy and see food. They have nothing to do with growing or raising food, but they often determine what price farmers will receive and see food as a commodity that is trading on Wall Street. Food Brokers determine the value of crops based on speculative capital, not on the amount of labor that went into it or the nutritional value of individual food items.
  3. Food Processors – These companies turn the bulk of food available in grocery stores into processed foods that are often food-like products with artificial flavoring, preservatives and other additives, which allow them to have a significant shelf life. Sometimes these companies have their own brand names such as Green Giant or operate purely in the processing realm and have nothing to do with the marketing or branding of food.
  4. Food Distributors – Food distributors sometimes are just involved in transporting foods. The average food item travels over 1,000 from where it is grown/raised to where it is consumed, since it relies on relatively cheap fossil fuels and the public road system. However, food distributors can also be companies like Gordon Foods, which distribute food to institutions such as schools. Companies like Gordon Foods do not generally have anything to do with growing food, but they often determine the kind of food that is provided in schools, hospitals, jails, nursing homes and other institutional settings.
  5. Food Policy – Food is highly regulated in the US and has been determined by the agribusiness sector. One example of this was the introduction of high fructose corn syrup into the US food system in the 1970s by Archer Daniels Midland. Since then the corn by product has infested a great deal of processed foods and contributed to a tremendous amount of poor health in the US. This was a decision made by the Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz, who was part of the Nixon administration. Butz, like most Ag secretaries came from agribusiness or went to work for them after working for the government. However, most food policy is determined by what is referred to as the Farm Bill. For a solid analysis of the US Farm Bill go to Food & Water Watch.
  6. Grocers – Most people buy their food from grocery stores, which are dominated by large chain companies like Wal-Mart, Kroger and Meijer. These grocer chains deal in high volume, which allows them to offer lower prices. However, their operations rely heavily on government subsidies, access to lots of land and tax breaks, which is why they are in suburban areas near highways or main roads. These grocery chains spend a tremendous amount on advertising and have resulted in small, family owned food stores going out of business.
  7. Fast Food – The fast food industry has also been a beneficiary of food policy, food subsidies, public roads and massive amounts of advertising. The fast food industry has radically altered how Americans eat, contributing to poor health and environmental destruction as is well documented in the film McLibel. The fast food industry also relies heavily on advertising. According to the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, the fast food industry spends $3 billion a year on advertising that targets children.
  8. Animal Cruelty – The factory farm system in the US is based on massive cruelty done to animals. Animals are essentially seen as nothing more than a commodity and are tortured, injected with growth hormones & anti-biotics to keep them alive long enough before they are slaughtered. The factory farm system is also environmentally destructive.
  9. Advertising, branding and Product Placement – The fast food and the thousands of processed food items consumed daily rely heavily on advertising, which costs billions of dollars annually. Fast food and processed food ads are highly deceptive and tends to target younger audiences in order to develop brand loyalty. These companies also engage in product placement in films and video games and use viral advertising as a technique. In addition, these companies engage in a great deal of sponsorship of community and sporting events that not only normalizes their products, it gives them leverage in public policy.
  10. Global Warming – It is also important to note that the way food is grown and distributed contributes significantly to global warming. The agribusiness system, along with the burning of fossil fuels, heavy industry, cars and the military, is one of the main causes of climate change in the last 100 years.
  11. GMO’s and genetic diversity – The agribusiness model isn’t interested in food diversity and would rather produce fewer types of food than the generically rich diversity that nature has given us. Agribusiness genetically modifies foods without having to label foods that are GMO and they create seeds called terminator seeds, which means that the seeds in more and more fruits and vegetables can’t be used for growing.

Additional analysis can be found at: Food First http://www.foodfirst.org/ Food & Water Watch http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/ Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicconsumers.org/.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. tyco permalink
    July 16, 2012 3:45 pm

    I wasn’t able to make it to the event, but I was surprised to see that The Bloom Collective distributed a zine (available on thebloomcollective.org) that favorably cites author Lierre Keith and in particular her book The Vegetarian Myth. That book is very problematic and Keith’s writing and research is pretty flimsy. You can look online for plenty of reviews that call into question her claims.

    Worse though is that Lierre Keith is very anti-transgender and has made some disgusting comments about trans people. Again, these are widely available online. I’m not re-posting them here because they could be triggering to people. In fact, the comments are so bad that The Flying Brick (an infoshop in Virginia) actually decided that they were unwilling to host a Deep Green Resistance speaking tour (DGR is the movement of which Keith is one of the practical and theoretical leaders) because Keith’s despicable views violate their safe space policy. You can read more (including a sample of Keith’s anti-trans attacks) at:

    https://flyingbrickrva.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/why-deep-green-resistance-is-not-coming-to-the-flying-brick-library/

    I’d strongly urge The Bloom Collective to consider the message you are sending when you promote Keith’s work.

    • Jim permalink
      July 22, 2012 11:11 pm

      Few things about this: To start, it seems you have a problem with the reference and Keith’s “flimsy” writing and research, however you never really make any points here. Saying people can look up reasons online is like saying you can find trees in a forest. I’m sure I can find plenty of reasons to hate every book on my shelf online, that doesn’t make the reasons I find sound or valid. If this is what you’re really concerned about, then you should actually present a relevant argument.

      However it is clear that this is not your real concern, but instead a thinly veiled red herring that allows you to attack Keith’s stance on a completely unrelated matter. For this we are provided at least a location on the internet to read further. And there we find you are misrepresenting the truth. The statement “The Flying Brick actually decided that they were unwilling to host a Deep Green Resistance speaking tour because Keith’s despicable views violate their safe space policy” is a flat out lie. Yeah, I actually followed the link and read the content.

      There anyone can see that The Flying Brick asked DGR to include within their discussion matters of gender oppression (specifically targeting Keith’s views), and that DGR saw this as an attempt to control the content of their presentation and thus declined. That’s right, DGR chose not to go to The Flyer Brick, not the other way around. There folks can also read the “despicable views” you mention, but don’t feel confident enough to actually argue. I’d cite all this, but again, you already did and conveniently twisted the truth to align with your agenda (at least the Bloom accurately cites Keith).

      Your agenda is my final concern. You clearly have appointed yourself watchdog over all things radical in GR (and maybe even the internet), and are letting everyone know that The Bloom is on notice (yeah, I saw your comment on their site too; your contempt for them is also thinly veiled). Do you actually think the message the Bloom is sending by citing The Vegetarian Myth is that trans folk are a part of the patriarchy, or did you just find a potential weak point in their armor in which to thrust your dagger? I find this sort trolling to be very damaging to the radical community in Grand Rapids, which is small and fractured as it is (I wonder why).

      Your taste for blacklisting authors is a bit puritanical and authoritative for my taste as well. Do you actually think that every political idea must flow from a person with whom you align with exactly on every issue? Who meets that criteria? MLK was a homophobic misogynist, Che Guevara practiced capital punishment, Guy Folkes was a Catholic monarchist, and so on forever. Does this mean that only the pure are allowed to speak? Do you hold yourself to this standard? I certainly hope whatever future society you envision does not allow people to be silenced, blacklisted, and ostracized so easily.

      • tyco permalink
        July 24, 2012 1:42 am

        Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this.

        I was hoping to raise an issue with The Bloom Collective (and people that read this site, so the comment was posted here and on their website), but instead got a meandering 5 paragraphs of long winded sentences, condescending attitude, and side-stepping the issue of Lierre Keith’s anti-trans comments. All this from someone who doesn’t claim to be involved with The Bloom Collective, but seems to have a pretty deep interest in it defending it.

        Okaydokay…

        First, your right I chose not to cite the numerous articles that argue against Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth. Ya got me! But you know, I typed “vegetarian myth crap” (or something like that, I know you will hold it against me if I can’t remember the exact keywords) into Google and got some good stuff. I figured if people here were on the Internet they could look it up if they were so inclined, I guess not. But, maybe you could try it sometime? For example, I found this that calls into question many of the claims:

        http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/09/review-of-the-vegetarian-myth.html

        … open the floodgates, there’s plenty more out there. I didn’t make a good (or any) argument on the point, but you kinda did the same thing you accuse me of by diminishing the concern by not looking into it either and saying some crapola about how you could find a reason to hate every book on your shelf on the Internet, but that doesn’t make them valid. Whatever. The point is it’s a crappy book with all sorts of stupid emotional appeals, misrepresentation of research, and a watered down anti-agriculture argument. The Bloom Collective could have found other authors who make similar critiques of agricultural civilization but don’t make anti-trans comments. If they knew about Lierre Keith’s anti-trans views and still think The Vegetarian Myth is cool, they are just creating a hierarchy of issue and deciding what’s more important (i.e. a radical argument against civilization is more important than trans liberation).

        Anyway, the main thrust of the comment was to mention that I (me, myself, and I – speaking for nobody else and acting in no official or unofficial capacity) find it disappointing that The Bloom Collective chose to positively cite an author who has such disgusting ant-transgender views. I articulated my feeling that it was f—ed up. I cast no judgment on what’s considered radical, I said I personally had an issue with an author who’s comments against trans-people I find disgusting. By extension I was therefore disappointed in a radical library who chose to promote a person with such strong anti-trans views. Oh and I chose not to publish Keith’s comments not because I wasn’t “confident” to do so in an argument (thanks for the psycho analysis, it’s real ground breaking… I thought the gnawing feeling I felt in my stomach was just intimidation from trying to call people on their crap in a radical community that advocates harmony at all costs. Turns out it’s my own inadequacies, go figure) but because they are F—-NG disturbing and might be TRIGGERING for people that read this site. I have no idea what the identities of people who read this are, so the last thing I was going to do was post some gross comments that make people feel like crap about who they are.

        And yes, I think you should take into account the whole picture of what an author has to say on a variety of issues and across their different books. Maybe The Bloom Collective didn’t know about Keith’s anti-trans views (I have no idea since they didn’t respond), but maybe they saw them from the comment and will think about the person who’s work they are promoting. That was the goal, my earlier comment said as much (you are the one who turned it an attack on the radical community in Grand Rapids). Does it mean The Bloom Collective hates trans people or supports patriarchy? Of course not. But they should be aware of Keith’s comments. Nobody is infallible and we need to hold each other accountable.

        I don’t really want to nit-pick over the statement the Flying Brick put out. Maybe I summarized it poorly, if that’s the case, I’m truly sorry. My sense (again, maybe my comprehension isn’t as spot on as yours or The Bloom Collectives whom you praise for getting their citations right) is that they put it out there that they were going to put on the event, people called them out on it, they told Deep Green Resistance that they would host them if DGR was willing to address gender issues and the criticism, and DGR said no and that The Flying Brick wasn’t ready to fight the “real fight.” Then The Flying Brick chose to reiterate their commitment to being a safer space that doesn’t tolerate transphobia and that people who are unwilling to accept this and that all struggles are connected, should take their “oppressive and destructive beliefs elsewhere – because they are not welcome” at the Flying Brick. It doesn’t really matter whether The Flying Brick said no or DGR said no first, THE POINT IS THE EVENT DIDN’T HAPPEN BECAUSE OF LIERRE KEITH’S ANTI-TRANS VIEWS because DGR was unwilling to dialog about it. I thought it would be helpful for The Bloom Collective to see how another infoshop views Lierre Keith.

        And just as a final bit to chew on, why would I even bother trying to put out an argument at this point? It’s clear that you aren’t going to take it seriously and you aren’t from The Bloom Collective, so what is the point? You seem to just want to make me feel dumb, invalid, and wrong, which I now I do. Thanks, you win! That will help build up that radical community you are concerned about.

        Cuz it will probably blow your mind: I do think we should be free to ostracize and silence folks that say f—ed up things, such as anti-trans comments. In fact, I can’t think of a world I’d rather live in. Do I want to be the one that makes those decisions? Good god no – I never said I did. But if we can’t collectively (and that’s the point, not just me, but all the others who are against what she is saying) decide that someone’s views are unwelcome, we might as well pack it up and go home.

        And after all your writing, you never really comment on what you think of Lierre Keith’s views and instead just make excuses (by saying crap like nobody’s pure) and sidestep the issue. THAT IS F—ED UP.

  2. Jim permalink
    July 24, 2012 2:52 am

    My intention was not to make you feel dumb (or any kinda way). I’m sorry my comment wasn’t the discussion one you were trying to raise, but you know, gotta hold each other accountable…

    Because this is already too much of a pissing match, I’m going to try and stick to a few important points.

    You say that if people are aware that Keith is “anti-trans” and still promote her other work then “they are just creating a hierarchy of issues”. While I’ve not heard of that phrase before and now will certainly be on the look out for such a trap (and I sincerely mean that), it’s important to recognize that that is not what’s going on here. No one is arguing food issues are more important than sexuality issues (or anything of that nature). I am arguing that someone can be wrong on one issue and still BE HEARD on another. Period. Judge each work based on its own merit. This blacklisting mentality is authoritarian and dangerous. That is what I feel needs to be examined. At one point you say The Bloom promotes Keith, another point you say they promote her work. There is an important distinction here that you ignore at considerable consequence to the freedom of ideas. It seems the Bloom is in fact able to make that distinction, and I believe most people can be trusted to do so as well.

    As far as Keith’s views on trans folk, let me start by pointing a contradiction: you attack me for not discussing it (apparently, that’s pretty “fucked up”), but defend not doing so yourself because your trying not to trigger people. I don’t appreciate the value assignment any more than you, and it’s no more accurate. Here’s why I chose not to bring it up (I too had a reason): First, you already made it clear you felt her views were “disgusting”, and horrendously so. How is that a safe place for dialog on the topic? You’re so concerned with safe space issues, maybe I am a lesbian women who has been raped by a man and doesn’t feel comfortable with a male born individual with male genitalia in a venue that was previously reserved for female born individuals. Maybe I want to be accepting, but am finding that particular aspect is difficult because of the trauma I have gone through. Why would I discuss that with you when I already know you’re not open to accepting opposing view points? Second, I am that women. In fact, I don’t consider myself anymore than an advocate and an ally within the LGBT community. I do not feel it is my place to weigh in on this issue at this juncture. This is a very unique issue that needs to be resolved within the LGBT community first, because they are the ones most effected by it.

    I know you don’t want to focus too much on the lie you were caught in, but the fact you’re not overly concerned with the truth seems relevant. It’s hard for me to really try and have this discussion with someone who is so quick to condemn and dismiss others while excusing themselves from any sort of scrutiny. I mean, you call my sentences meandering as an attack, then write meander in response and try to bring me down for being attacking. You’re just holding people accountable, while I’m actually the one whose hurting the radical community by calling you to task. It’s all very hard to take seriously.

    • tyco permalink
      July 24, 2012 12:04 pm

      Regarding the accountability thing, by all means go for it. I do think it’s reasonable though that I found your response not to be what I was looking for, since you aren’t (or are you?) part of the Bloom Collective.

      I apologize for having a different reading of the Flying Brick thing and argued that it was Keith’s anti-trans views that made the event not happen. You can keep calling it a lie, whatevs.

      If at some point I write differently that the BLoom Collective promotes Keith and promotes her work, that’s just due to the fact that I’m bad at the interent commenting. I see them as one in the same and that you can’t separate them out. Just like I don’t feel that you can fight racism without addressing patriarchy or that you can stop the destruction of the environment without trans liberation. We’re up against a system of total domination and it must be attacked in its sum, not in isolated parts. I don’t think you should take seriously what Keith says in The Vegetarian Myth because of her anti-trans views and I don’t think you or The Bloom Collective or whoever should promote her or her books as a result. It sounds like a difference that we have.

      And finally, since you are so big on my apparent logical inconsistencies and problems writing, apply them to Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth. You should have a fun time spotting all the errors.

      • jim permalink
        July 24, 2012 3:57 pm

        OK.

        I wasn’t going to reply again but I realized an important typo in my last response. While I am choosing to remain anonymous (my identity seem no important than yours), I want to point out that I am NOT the women I used in my last example, and that’s why I’m not commenting on Keith’s comments publically. I have my own opinion of them, but, again, I don’t think it’s prudent to share them at this point. If someone from the LGBT community asks, I’ll cross that bridge then. The reason I got involved in the first place was not to defend or even debate Keith’s opinions or research, but to comment on something I found problematic in your writing.

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