I’ve written in the past about an awful experience I had in prison a decade ago while serving 23 months in prison after blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. I was doing my time at the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania, a low-security prison in the Appalachian Mountains. One of the very first things I found, on my very first day, was that the food was bad. Very bad. I arrived in prison on a Thursday. The next day, Friday, was “fish day.” A fellow prisoner warned me to skip the fish. “We call it sewer trout,” he said. “you don’t want to put that in your body.” Sure enough, when I got in line in the cafeteria, I saw boxes stacked behind the servers.
Last weekend, hundreds of people detained at the Stewart Detention Center announced plans for a hunger strike in response to inedible food and inhumane conditions inside the notorious Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in rural southwest Georgia. Though detainees have continued to eat while they negotiate with the facility’s staff, as many as 800 people are set to refuse food starting this week if their demands are not met. On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 26, roughly 300 people held inside the Stewart Detention Center were brought out of their holding cells for their morning meal.
Meet Wake Robin Fermented Foods, a small company based in the city of East Cleveland, Ohio, focused on local sustainability. About 90% of its vegetables are sourced from farms in Northeast Ohio; all vegetable waste goes to compost; paper, cardboard and metal is reused or recycled; fermented products are packaged in reusable glass jars. Wake Robin would be impressive if it stood on its own, but it’s part of a larger vision to establish a closed loop, community-owned supply chain in the three square miles comprising East Cleveland. The organization leading the work is called Loiter.
The prevailing globalised agrifood model is built on unjust trade policies, the leveraging of sovereign debt, population displacement and land dispossession. It fuels commodity monocropping and food insecurity as well as soil and environmental degradation. It is responsible for increasing rates of illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, chemical runoffs, increasing levels of farmer indebtedness, the undermining and destruction of local communities and the eradication of biodiversity. The model relies on a policy paradigm that privileges urbanisation, global markets, long supply chains, external proprietary inputs, highly processed food and market (corporate) dependency.
The BBC has been accused of “selling the public’s trust” by producing “totally biased” documentaries on the future of sustainable food sponsored by Corteva, one of the world’s largest pesticide firms, potentially in breach of the broadcaster’s editorial guidelines. The “Follow the Food” documentaries, which featured a total of 28 episodes over three series, showcase “solutions” to climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and food security in the farming sector. Sustainable farming advocates have criticised the content for favouring industrial agriculture, which is heavily dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
One of the central insights emerging from research on degrowth and climate mitigation is that universal public services are crucial to a just and effective transition. Capitalism relies on maintaining an artificial scarcity of essential goods and services (like housing, healthcare, transport, etc), through processes of enclosure and commodification. We know that enclosure enables monopolists to raise prices and maximize their profits (consider the rental market, the US healthcare system, or the British rail system). But it also has another effect. When essential goods are privatized and expensive, people need more income than they would otherwise require to access them.
Washington, DC – UNITE HERE Local 23 on Thursday released the results of a survey of 76% of the Compass workers who staff food service at the World Bank that detail ways workers struggle to afford necessities like food and housing. Workers are in negotiations for new union contracts that keep up with the cost of living and additionally announced a picket line action on the Compass-operated cafeteria at the World Bank on Wednesday, April 12. UNITE HERE is in negotiations with Compass Group for workers in cafeterias at several high-profile DC locations in addition to the World Bank, including the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the National Institute of Health, Freddie Mac, pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, American University, Catholic University of America, and George Washington University, among others.
Jonshell Johnson-Whitten’s path to farming started when she was a teen living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. The area is known as a “food desert,” a low-income neighborhood with limited food access. But when Johnson-Whitten connected with a network of backyard gardeners, she discovered the potential for not just healthy food options, but also for community empowerment. “Being able to put [neighborhood] growers next to the folks who want to grow was the biggest part of inspiring people,” she says. That was just the beginning. Now, Johnson-Whitten takes seriously her role as a Black community farmer.
On Monday, March 20, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the final part of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), called the Synthesis Report (SYR). The report is a compilation of the IPCC’s three previous assessment reports, which covered the science of climate change, its risks and impacts, and the means of adaptation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The text also covers the 2018 report on the impacts of global heating beyond 1.5°C and special reports on climate, oceans, and land. The IPCC notes that human activities have “unequivocally caused global warming, with global surface temperature reaching 1.1°C above 1850-1900 [pre-industrial levels] in 2011-2020.”
The biggest supervillains in the world are not human: they’re corporations. And one of those corporations owns nearly our entire food system. This year, food prices have soared and Americans are feeling it. For example, egg prices have doubled since last year to nearly $3 a dozen, which is especially difficult if you make your living as an egg-juggling busker down by the condemned jungle gym. But the supervillain companies that set those prices aren’t struggling at all. The largest one is Cargill. And this year, Cargill’s revenue jumped to a record $165 billion. That’s $30 billion more than the year before. Let’s learn a little more about Cargill. Known to friends as the evilest company in the world – and to enemies as even worse than that – Cargill Inc. is the biggest privately owned company in the U.S., and they own a large chunk of every portion of the food that ends up on your plate.
Portland, United Kingdom - As one of the recipients of Transition Bounce Forward’s Seed Funding in 2020, Portland 4 the Planet is a beautiful example of what dynamic community action, when combined with little pots of funding, can unlock. Laura started the initiative in March 2019 as “my response to finding out about the climate and ecological emergency and thinking ‘what can we do to help our community try and resolve the situation?’”. Having realised the scale of the challenge, read everything she could, changed her diet, cut out plastic, transitioned to a vegan diet, her focus turned to what her community could do. She lobbied her local council to declare a climate emergency, which they did. However, her interactions with local government made her realise that given the speed at which bureaucracies move, however willing and supportive they might be, it was best to not wait for them and to get started.
When you encounter a rural, farming and food community as the one encountered in Loire-Atlantique, one which to some extent is actively seeking out opportunities to work together and to share, this resonates with an old idea – that of mutual aid. Each of the four main sections above displayed this – community wellbeing, institutional relationships, systemic cooperation, engagement and alliance building. Each can be seen as an iteration of the spirit of mutual aid as a strategy for building solidarity economies. This community and institutional engagement work also chimes with ideas as developed in the English speaking world in Cleveland and Preston (UK). With these models, community wellbeing means institutions are asked to step up to the plate, as it were, and be a reliable, core, not-for-profit hub in the region, helping drive the required transition via local circular economic activity where possible.
This week, two Teamster locals won new contracts with the behemoth food distributor Sysco, ending a nearly monthlong strike that drew national support. More than 200 workers for Sysco — America’s largest food distributor — went on strike in Syracuse, N.Y., on September 27. Days later, more than 300 drivers for Sysco Boston went on strike in Massachusetts. Workers in Arizona also reportedly struck in solidarity. On October 17, workers at a Syracuse distribution center ratified their new contract with Sysco — one that Sean Miller, a warehouse worker and shop steward with Teamsters Local 317, says involved “zero concessions to the company.” In one key victory, Sysco agreed to limit the grueling six-day workweeks and the 16-hour days some drivers spoke of, and dropped a plan that would prevent new employees from taking consecutive days off.
More than 70 animal rights activists stood outside a courtroom in St. George, Utah on Tuesday holding up a giant image of Utah Attorney Gen. Sean Reyes. A word bubble hovered above his head saying “I cover up animal cruelty.” The group had gathered in support of whistleblowers Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, a global network of activists working to achieve revolutionary social and political change for animals in one generation. Both currently face felony burglary and theft charges that could amount to over 10 years in prison. In March 2017 Hsiung, Picklesimer and three other DxE investigators infiltrated Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farms in Utah to document the conditions of its pregnant pigs.
A new report from the The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – which is often described as the “IPCC for biodiversity” – found that billions of people depend on 50,000 wild species for food, medicine, fuel and income from activities like tourism. “70% of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species. One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking and about 90% of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing,” assessment co-chair Dr. Marla R. Emery said in a press release.