Larkin Schmiedl's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘sugar

Sugar free: inside food banks controversial no junk food policies

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Controversy erupted in August after Ottawa’s Parkdale Food Centre announced it would stop accepting junk food, such as Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, effective immediately. Some wholeheartedly agreed with the centre’s stand; others virulently opposed the new restriction. Those in favour felt, like Karen Secord, Parkdale’s co-ordinator, that food bank users’ health is worth as much as anyone’s, and Parkdale should strive to provide healthy food. Those opposed to the move, however, asked why the food bank felt it had the authority to restrict people’s diet choices. Some former food bank users shared the opinion hotdogs were better than nothing, while others pointed out they didn’t have refrigeration to store so-called healthier food. Yet, for or against, and whether the commentary was rooted in personal experience, politics or stereotypes, the public conversation revealed something essential: our own attitudes toward those using food banks.

Parkdale isn’t the first or only food bank to restrict food donations. Founded more than 30 years ago, Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre, has made it the centre’s policy to only accept healthy food—a policy created after the community members it serves told the organization they wanted it that way. “We started as a food bank in the traditional sense, and over time our community members told us the food that we were providing was not enough,” says Kathe Rogers, The Stop’s communications manager. “It was not healthy enough, it was not meeting their dietary needs. And so over time, we became a healthy food bank. Because that is what people really need when they’re struggling. When they’re out there on low incomes, or they’re living in poverty, these are the items that are beyond their means.”

“I often joke that the folks at the food bank in The Stop have, without question,  more organic food than my kids do,” adds executive director Rachel Gray. “And that’s one of the things we think is really important.” Her philosophy is people can’t get or be healthy without healthy food. Heavily processed food loaded with sugar, salt or fat is unhealthy no matter how you slice it, she adds. Gray says people can debate whether it’s nice to have a box of macaroni and cheese, but if that’s all a person has to eat it becomes problematic: there’s no choice; it may be culturally inappropriate or irrelevant; and it’s not a balanced diet. “It’s not the way to good health,” she adds. “And if we’re not supporting people to get healthy, what are we achieving?”

Ideas such as “any type of food helps”—which goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that low-income people should be grateful for whatever they get—can belie fundamental assumptions about people’s worth. Stigma that blames the economically disadvantaged for their situation is often included in conversations about food banks, as are the stereotypes “poor people don’t like to cook” and only like junk food. A report from Washington, DC-based organization Cooking Matters, found that while assumptions about the eating habits of low-income Americans were rampant, the reality is poor families most often cook dinner at home, mostly from scratch, and are highly interested in making healthy meals. The stumbling block for many families is the price. An article by Jesse Bauman entitled “Poor People Can’t Cook and Other Myths,” published on Food Secure Canada’s website, reflects similar data for Canadians. In a small survey that asked low-income people about their food skills, Bauman found those who have to carefully budget a meal plan simply can’t afford to eat out. Instead, he writes, people “have developed many of the skills necessary to make the best of their situation.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the food bank discussion will go away anytime soon. Every month, more than 830,000 Canadians access a food bank, according to HungerCount 2013, a report created by Food Banks Canada. Of these 37 percent are children. And, despite being once envisioned as a short-term solution to economic crisis in the ’80s, food bank usage is on the rise. “Within the food bank network,” HungerCount 2013 reports, “crisis has become the norm. Canadians continue to give generously, and food banks continue to stock, give, and re-stock.” While Gray would like to see food banks become obsolete—The Stop advocates for increases to social assistance and minimum wage that would put solid safety nets in place—she agrees they’re double-edged swords. “Food banks are still around because people are still hungry,” says Gray. “Our food bank is busy and thriving because food banks don’t work as a means of addressing poverty and hunger.”

First published in This Magazine, Nov/Dec 2014

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Colonialism and food

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I am interested in bringing the effects of colonialism (and work on de-colonization) into my work on food.  I want to consider how colonization has affected diet, how this links to culture and health, how it relates to power, and ultimately how it relates to interaction with/use of the land in terms of both agricultural practices, gathering and hunting practices and plant life in non-agricultural spaces.

Colonialism has drastically shifted food practices on the landscape many of us now know as ‘Canada’, and in our local area here in Kamloops.  I’d like to know as much as possible about the topic both in general and specific terms.

There is lots of knowledge about this topic out there, and it’s something I know some about already.

I have asked readers the question “How does (and did) colonialism affect food? I want to hear your thoughts.”

And here are some responses….

  • “Colonialism changed the diets of the societies that were colonized to their detriment. When you drastically alter the food of a society you are then subjecting your “acceptable” practices onto them, and the ill health effects that come with it!”
  • “Over-processed foods are creating epidemics in indigenous communities: diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc. all have roots in Western diets that are high in grain and sugar consumption.  Here in the Columbia River Gorge (the river between Washington and Oregon), the colonists built a series of dams that swelled the river to create hydro power. It also flooded natural falls (Celilo) where, for hundreds of generations, indigenous people would go to catch salmon during the season for such a thing. Now the salmon population has been decimated, which has affected the culture, the food system, and the ecosystem.  [It’s a] big effing deal.”
  • “Neocolonialism in the form of “international development” has forced North American farming techniques (nitrogen-based fertilizers, nuclear family farms, factory farms) onto “developing” nations, disrupting cultural practices, local agricultural knowledge, and land use patterns. Countless were forced out of subsistence farming, where they shared generations worth of local know-how, into cash crop farming. Instead of growing their own food, people who used to know the land they lived on are forced to buy food that is often priced according to a global economy they never consented to being a part of.”
  • “They slaughtered 60 million wild buffalo, almost to extinction to raise inferior cattle like brainless idiots!”
  • “The process of colonialism included killing off the buffalo not just for hides, not just for profit, but to wipe out the indigenous communities. In 1873, Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano said “The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”
    A year later In 1874, Delano testified before Congress, “The buffalo are disappearing rapidly, but not faster than I desire. I regard the destruction of such game as Indians subsist upon as facilitating the policy of the Government, of destroying their hunting habits, coercing them on reservations, and compelling them to begin to adopt the habits of civilization.”
  • “Enclosure of commons is a big deal too.”
  • “I am (hopefully) writing my PhD dissertation on this very topic (food sovereignty and colonialism)! Right now i’m thinking about things in terms of land and enclosure… farms were among the first enclosures on Vancouver Island, as land was surveyed, divided, sold, cleared, and farmed. The mechanization of farming allowed capitalist farmers to exploit farmland more intensively, and it was only the wealthiest growers who could afford the latest technology. That meant that smaller farmers got squeezed out… and we are still in that process today: the larger farms tend to rely on the exploitation of precarious migrant labour (primarily people of colour), they use high-tech machinery to maximize efficiency, and they use chemical fertilizers/pesticides (or tons of amendments in the case of organic agribusiness)… and they are all based on the enclosure and privatization of indigenous lands… but this history throws a wrench into a lot of the mainstream settler narratives of food sovereignty, which are often about a yearning for a return to the good ol’ days of the (white supremacist, patriarchal) family farm against the big bad corporation… so where does that leave us settler foodies who want to grow food here? What are our responsibilities/obligations? Can there be decolonizing settler farming practices?”
  • “Have you read “Empires of Food” by Fraser and Rimas? It looks at the historical development of food systems over the last 2,000 years or so; one of the stories I learned is of landless Tamils being brought to Sri Lanka in the 1800s to farm tea on plantations for the British – there was a major drought, as well as a recession in Britain that lowered the price of luxury imports, and tens of thousands of workers died because, despite being surrounded by tea, there was no food to eat.”
  • “We (Europeans) brought diabetes amongst other things. We took tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and we have lost countless foods because we have lost languages and the knowledge that they contain.”
  • “Colonialism influences our understanding of food and how it is distributed. Food as something you can (or cannot) afford and thus can or cannot eat. It’s produced and distributed through the free market and by huge corporations who operate based on profits and using people, farmers, the environment.”

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 27, 2012 at 5:49 pm

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Percy Schmeiser went up against Monsanto

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Percy Schmeiser at TRU Jan. 25. Photo by Larkin Schmiedl

Percy Schmeiser is a well-known Saskatchewan canola breeder and organic farmer who came into contact with Monsanto when he found unwanted genetically-modified (GM) canola plants growing in his field.  His struggles, lawsuits and victories are well documented in the press, and I had the chance to see him speak live here in Kamloops on Jan. 25 at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).  He is in his eighties now, and sometimes goes on speaking tours to educate people about what he sees as the dangers of GM foods.  He spoke to around 175 people in the Clocktower auditorium.

Monsanto is now the largest seed company in the world.

I took some audio and pictures of his talk, and here is part of what he had to say:

Schmeiser says these are the fundamental issues that were on the line when he took Monsanto to the Supreme Court of Canada: Video

Schmeiser says Monsanto threatened him in various ways: Video

He said that farmers fall under Monsanto’s contracts even if they haven’t signed.  They are bound by virtue of what is in their fields–so if Monsanto’s GE plants pollinate with your plants and begin to grow on your property, even if you don’t want them there, you can be held responsible.  He read out the contract, and it was, frankly, shocking.  Here is some more information about the contracts Monsanto produces.

Monsanto has its own investigation and police force, and puts out ads encouraging people to let them know if they see ‘Monsanto’s’ plants growing in their neighbour’s fields.  The company offers gifts to anyone who provides information.

For more information on Schmeiser, his history with Monsanto, and his views, search his name in Google and you will have plenty of information on your hands.

***

Here are some more bits of information about GM foods for folks who are not familiar:

GM crops were first introduced to the world in 1996.

Genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) are not labelled in our food in North America, despite all the unknowns.  In Europe, GM food is banned.  (As one consequence of this, North America cannot export GM crops, or crops contaminated with GM genes, to Europe.  Canola is one of these crops, since it can no longer be guaranteed GM-free even if it’s organically grown, due to cross-contamination where the GM plants breed with the plants in the organic field.)  Percy Schmeiser took Canada to court at the U.N. in Geneva over lack of GMO labelling.

The science to date about GM foods is not conclusive.  The largest factor concerning GM is that its effects are unknown.

The social and political effects of GM, and the workings of Monsanto, are however much better known.

The Institute for Responsible Technology publishes the “Non-GMO Shopping Guide.”  One useful piece of knowledge I found when scanning through it is that, “If a non-organic product made in North America lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets.”

Here are some links to further reading about Monsanto and some of the controversies the company is involved in (and this is just the tip of the iceberg).

Monsanto, World’s Largest Genetically Modified Food Producer, To Be Charged With Biopiracy In India, HuffPost Canada, Oct. 2011

Monsanto Accused In Suit Tied To Agent Orange, NPR, Feb. 1, 2012

Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Hybrid Seeds, The WIP, May 2011

Occupy Wall Street Stands with Farmers, Says Enough! to Monsanto, CommonDreams, Jan. 31

This WordPress blog has many articles relating to both Monsanto and food issues generally: Food Freedom

A couple of Monsanto’s technologies:

Round-Up

Terminator Seeds

There is so much to learn about GM, and it’s an ongoing discussion in the larger community as well as the scientific community, with new discoveries being made all the time as we deepen our understanding of this extremely powerful and potentially very dangerous technology.

It’s important to separate the social structure and corporate structure of GM foods from the science of it so that we can understand each piece of the puzzle as we consider the problem.  And it’s equally important to be able to unite these factors and see it as a whole, for that is how it is presently operating in our world.  A big part of that whole is determined by what Monsanto is up to.

Reader ideas

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Quoted from feedback to this question:

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?
What do you think is important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • I want to talk about class and food more. About how poor people can’t afford to eat all the “Right Things.” And how to feed the world sustainably without making more class striation and cost prohibitive products.
  • Pork production! Pigs are intelligent like dogs and they are treated savagely.
  • Where does my food come from?  How does my food choice impact other folks economically, environmentally, socially, da da da?
  • The decline of food quality. Not only are we eating less nutritional foods but more interesting is how natural foods are becoming less nutritional. Modern agriculture is degrading the food quality of natural foods.
  • Race and food access, environmental racism, and racism in the alternative food movement!!!
  • I think about how if more people choose gluten free lifestyles the healthier they will be.
  • The disgusting things they put in food (modified ingredients, artificial flavours, fillers, sugar, sugar, sugar, etc!) including labels and the fact that the food policy doesn’t require items to be labelled as GMOs… food policy is kinda scary.
  • David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things”, (22 Jan 2012) aired an episode in which Obesogens were discussed [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesogen] and their effects on world obesity rates, contaminated seafood, bPH-A and bPH-S, food supply, etc. It was quite interesting: featured Canadian content in the way of Canadian food scientists.

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?

  • How healthy is salsa? Is it a good substitute for other foods? Can you get salsa with protein?

What sorts of food issues do you think are important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • Corn. Its frickin eveywhere.
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