Everyone who owns a gasoline-burning car has noticed that fuel prices have shot up in recent weeks. And most of us have read headlines about high energy prices driving inflation. But very few Americans have any inkling just how profound the current energy crisis already is, and is about to become. This lack of awareness is partly due to economists, and those who depend on economists’ readings of the tea leaves of daily data (a group that, sadly, includes nearly all politicians and news purveyors). Recently I heard an NPR staff commentator confidently state: “The only way to get gasoline prices under control is to get inflation under control.” Anyone who understands recent events and how economies work will immediately realize that the statement is ass backwards.
Honeybees are a declining population. Indeed, between October 2018 and April 2019, commercial beekeepers reported a loss of 37.7% of the managed honeybee population. There are a plethora of reasons that can explain the rapid decline of the honeybee numbers, such as the varroa mite entering hives and spreading diseases, loss of habitat, pesticide exposure, and poor management practices. That being said, the good news is that Native American tribes are joining the government to turn the situation around. Also, there’s a lot you can do to help save the most important pollinators in the world and the billion-dollar crops they aid every year. Yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg of this complex topic that is paramount for humans, flora, and fauna. Read on to learn more about how Native Americans are doing their part to keep the bees alive.
Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one of those rare ideas which combine transformative potential with an elegant simplicity. The CSA model of funding and sustaining locally-rooted agriculture has grown exponentially around the globe over the past four decades. Since the first formal CSA at Robyn Van En’s Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts in the early 1980s, CSAs have become a household fixture across the US and elsewhere; the most recent estimate by the USDA (2012) counted approximately 13,000 CSA farms in the US alone. The success of community-supported farming has coincided with rising demand for organic food since the late 1970s. But the model’s popularization has meant that, sometimes, CSAs can be misreprented as ‘just another way’ for consumers to purchase fresh, seasonal food.
Dolores Lameira Galvan, 91, remembers hearing from her mother, aunts and uncles about their time working as housekeepers and laborers at Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s opulent mansion in what is now Pleasanton. She still prefers not to speak of the time her Ohlone family spent as servants on what had been the Indigenous people’s own land, says her nephew, Vincent Medina. For the Ohlone, it represents just one painful chapter in hundreds of years’ worth of trauma and loss in the East Bay and beyond. But decades later, Medina is working to reclaim his tribe’s history by opening the world’s first Ohlone restaurant in a space that carries the Hearst name. Cafe Ohlone, which he started as a pop-up with partner Louis Trevino in 2018, will debut in June at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley.
Three years ago, Jorge Palacios, David Roper and Josh Placeres came together with a shared vision to make a better world for communities of color in Miami. They wanted to create a space where Black and Brown families can access fresh produce and learn how to live a healthy lifestyle. Borne of their own social justice and community activism, the trio cultivated a food movement by transforming an empty land lot into a lush community garden in the heart of the historically Black Overtown neighborhood. Carrots, eggplant, garlic chive, kale, cranberry hibiscus, papaya, Thai basil, and moringa are in abundance for a community that has limited fresh produce options. The three launched the Green Haven Project in 2019, to expand their efforts.
“We’re now proudly B Corp certified!” chirps a green banner on the homepage of Amy’s Kitchen, the organic packaged and prepared-foods giant. It’s positioned above an image of the company’s founders, the Berliner family — Andy, who is currently the CEO of Amy’s Kitchen, with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Amy, after whom the company is named — dressed in down vests and worn-in scarves, smiling and windswept in front of a blue sky. “B Corp certification is awarded to businesses that use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: Positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment,” Amy’s explains in a blog post from March 2021. “The B Corp community works toward reducing inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”
Their names are Ben and Karah. And they grow my food. I shake hands with and hug them on most Sundays when I visit the farmer’s market in my town. Sometimes I drive out to see Ben and Karah on their farm just outside of town where I pre-order and pick up my food for the week. I walk the farm. I take it in. The pastures, bull calves grazing in the distance, Ben and Karah’s children running down the lane. I duck into a hightunnel greenhouse to see the purple kale variety bursting through the soil in the middle of January (yes, with the right farming practices, you can grow fresh green vegetables in the dead of winter in the soil in Pennsylvania). The same kale that I will sauté for dinner that evening. This is my spiritual practice.
Russia is a large consumer of the Latin American banana—but western sanctions have dealt a devastating blow to farmers who can no longer get their products to market. For Ecuador, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, the setback has been disastrous. Around 25% of Ecuador’s banana exports go to Russia and 90% of all bananas consumed in Russia come from Ecuador. However, commercial ships carrying the bananas can no longer reach the port of St. Petersburg due to sanctions imposed by the US and EU. The sudden drop in demand has left producers with excess supply. Prices have collapsed as a result. Richard Salazar, Director of Arcobanec (exporters association) said that Ecuador usually exports bananas for up to $US 5.50 per box.
Calling attention to the lack of fresh food in their lunches at Milwaukee Public Schools, student leaders have launched a "school lunch justice" campaign outside the district's central offices. The students are part of Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), the multiracial youth arm of Voces de La Frontera, an advocacy organization for the rights of immigrants and workers. "Our lunches are cooked in a central location and distributed to the schools to be reheated, resulting in undercooked food and of substandard quality," said YES leader Katherine Villanueva, a senior at Milwaukee School of Languages. "This is not acceptable." Villanueva said YES surveyed more than 1,000 MPS students and found that the quality of school lunch was the "most pressing issue" with the school environment.
During a recent event at SXSW organized by Food Tank, Huston-Tillotson University, Oatly, and others, food system scholars and activists discussed the intersection of food, culture, and economics. Cortlin Harrison, a barista at the first unionized Starbucks in Buffalo, New York and a member of Starbucks Workers United highlighted some of the deep inequities perpetuated by food corporations. “We were seeing partners who can’t afford their rent, partners struggling with food insecurity,” Harrison says. “Meanwhile we’re seeing the corporate elite make billions of dollars in profit,” Panelists also pointed to many challenges on the farm. Sue Beckwith, Executive Director of the Texas Center for Local Food notes, “Black farmers and ranchers are losing heritage land to predatory developers every single day.”
In March 2020, nearly all U.S. K-12 school buildings closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal government’s National School Lunch Program, quickly granted waivers to increase program flexibility and accommodate the challenges of the pandemic. These waivers, which have been renewed several times, were critically important for school food service programs as the programs abruptly shifted away from serving meals in cafeterias and designed new distribution models to continue to feed students. Many school meal staff across the country created grab-and-go meals that families could pick up, which was particularly important in the spring of 2020 and the following school year.
The principle in Transition of focusing your energy on what you are passionate about is beautifully captured in the work of Transition Toronto in Canada. While COVID meant that some of their key projects, such as their annual EcoFair, which they co-present with the Green Neighbours Network, had to go virtual, two key projects, TreeMobile and Food Up Front really came into their own. TreeMobile (pronounced in the same way as ‘Batmobile’) is described by the group thus: “TreeMobile delivers and plants food-bearing trees, shrubs, and other perennials to improve local food security, reduce food miles, reforest urban communities, and create delicious food”. The idea is simple but effective. In the winter, Virginie Gysel, landscaper and the founder of the TreeMobile project, contacts tree nurseries, reserves trees and shrubs (edible species only) which will do well in the local climate.
Though a global pandemic and ease of technology has sent millions of grocery shoppers online to order from Instacart and Amazon, the most grassroots and socially connected form of grocery shopping has been surprisingly untouched. In fact, grocery co-ops have grown during the pandemic, with overall sales increasing 10% during 2020, a year full of supply and social disruptions.
Valley Proteins, the Virginia-based rendering company at the center of an ongoing union organizing effort and a large class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft, has been sold. On Dec. 28, sustainable food processing multinational Darling Ingredients, headquartered in Texas, announced it was acquiring the privately owned Valley Proteins in a $1.1 billion deal. But current and former Valley Proteins employees are fighting to ensure that the sale doesn't provide cover for a company they say has long fostered a toxic and abusive work environment that has led to exploitative, unsafe conditions across its plants — a point driven home by the deaths of two workers over the summer.
On January 15, 2022, the organizations Puentes de Amor, The People’s Forum and CODEPINK are sending a cargo plane loaded with 15,000 pounds of powdered milk from Miami to Cuba. Representatives of the organizations are traveling to Cuba with the shipment. The aid will be received by the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. It will be distributed to pediatric hospitals in Havana. Since the pandemic and the disruption of food supplies it has caused, there has been a shortage of powdered milk in Cuba, which is normally given out by the state—for free—to children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with medical needs. Due to the reluctance of U.S. companies and banks to deal with Cuba for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions, Cuba buys imported milk—at an inflated cost—from places as far as New Zealand and Uruguay.