SXSW Eco: Feast and Famine: The Global Food Paradox

By Marcie Barnes

A panel of three experts on the discrepancy between obesity and hunger, and the global food crisis.

Panelists: Peggy Neu – President of Monday Campaign: Kristen Sitchler – Garden Grants & Legal Manager of FoodCorps; Neil Miller – Farmers Around the World, Executive Director of World Farming Relief.

Moderator: Marla Camp – publisher of Edible Austin Magazine.

Feeding the world with cheap calories has only exasperated health problems, etc. will explore solutions, collectively come up with imperatives to take back to use in our daily lives.

Miller: A lot more interest from people wanting to train for starting small farms, urban gardens, school gardens, etc. in the last 5 years. Works with international partners as well as local school systems. Has an international and local perspective on hunger.

Sitchler: FoodCorps was born out of a concern for the obesity epidemic in America. Goal of how to best address those issues. Great way to reach out to children is to engage them in schools, where some eat 3 meals a day. Engage children in school gardens, bring produce from local farms into schools.

Neu: Started the modern Meatless Monday – which actually started in WWI to conserve food and help feed war-ravaged areas. The modern incarnation started in 2003. Goal to get people to eat less meat due to health and environmental impacts. Spread virally through the internet and has been featured by celebrity chefs and on major outlets.

Nuggets from panel:

Reference to Bittman’s recent article on “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?

We’ve created an economy/policies that create cheap food that leads to obesity when those foods are readily available and cheap.

In Haiti, the local rice costs 2x what the rice imported from America costs due to Haiti being forced to reduce their rice tariffs, and US rice farmers were receive huge subsidies, which have been increasing each year. After the earthquake in Haiti, President Clinton made a public apology for his policies which he acknowledged ruined their rice economy in order to help the US farmers. We need to look more towards production of fruits and vegetables in America and not to compete with farmers in countries where they need those kinds of calories.

Statistics on FoodCorp’s first year – built 20 new school gardens, 49 revitalized, delivered 1600 lbs. of produce to families in need, started thousands of programs. The communities are receptive. Kids are thrilled to get outside and have a “salad party.”

Policy issues regarding school gardens vary by location, FoodCorp finds it is often a misunderstanding that they can work through, barriers can be removed at the local level in many cases.

Kids are taught to give back to the community, grow a row for the Food Bank, sharing through community gardens, etc.

How to challenge the issue of subsidies – the farm bill, surveys are showing that a slight majority of people want the subsidies cut. It is a very complicated issue, it would be hard to pull out subsidies all at once and watch the farm economies in rural America tank. Perhaps we should subsidize healthy foods instead.

The American Agriculture Alliance (industry-funded) is publicly against Meatless Monday, etc. – which means they are making a difference. The US Farmers & Ranchers Association want to change the perception of farmers and big ag. We don’t want to put these companies out of business but influence they way they operate, shift their paradigms.

Cargill’s new “natural turkey” is a product of what consumers want but within the USDA guidelines they are still barn-kept, corn-fed.



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