Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Your Pantry!

This is just the beginning of a post that I suspect I'll be adding to through the week. The Occupation is a fascinating phenomenon, and its lack of a clear, central points or goal is, I think, one of its best virtues. It exists, like a white screen, ready for our every projection. And now that the media is finally taking the movement seriously, a lot is being said, and much projection is being done.

In this post, I'm concerning myself only with food. It's one of my favorite things, we need a steady supply of it to keep us moving, and it is quite political in many ways -- we have policies ranging from farm subsidies to government cheese. Food can be an armament, even (Emmie wrote her departmental honors thesis in History on that very thing: food as a weapon in the Cold War).

And that is exactly where some of the Occupation discussion has headed: food and revolution. On one hand, it fuels the activities of everyone participating in the protests, and on another, our approach to it often fans the flames of discord.

So here is the beginning of a collection of links about the current discussion of food, often in the context of the Occupation protests. I'll start off with how all those people up in New York’s Zuccotti Park are staying fed...

Watch Your Mouth: The Protest Food of Occupy Wall Street
Today, Wall Street protesters grapple with their own food issues. On We Are the 99 Percent—a Tumblr that sprang from the in-person occupation—Americans detail their struggles to survive on food stamps and stave off hunger. “Half the month I can’t afford food,” one protester writes. One 8th grade girl says that at her family dinner table, she’s quietly “stopped eating a lot so there’s more food for everyone else.” Wall Street protesters have been criticized for lacking focus, but big banks actually played a significant role in our nation’s food crisis

In the short term, disenfranchised Americans can line their stomachs at Liberty Park. “Liberty Park is a generous, peaceful, wonderful place where people will take care of your needs,” says Allison Burtch, an info desk volunteer (who has also covered the protests here at GOOD). “We have so much food.” A food station offers fruit, vegetables, pizzas, cookies, pies, and energy bars. A team of dedicated volunteers serves vegan and vegetarian meals. Food trucks sell  falafel, pad Thai, and tacos to paying customers throughout the day.
Occupy Wall Street: What’s food got to do with it?
At the cafeteria-style “kitchen” in Zuccotti Square (the OWS base camp), plates of donated food are doled out by a rotating cast of volunteers, including trained chefs (the overwhelming quantity of donated food has organizers scrambling to donate to local shelters, ensuring nothing is wasted.)  Operating on 100% food donations means the kitchen team has to improvise based on what’s at hand, and prepare any hot meals at apartments or kitchen space in the neighborhood. However improvised, the kitchen supports the values of the activists: food scraps go into a compost bin, and dishwater passes through a filter to be reused.

And good, clean, and fair food IS a value of the activists. But what does it have to do with Wall Street? Food justice writer and activist Jan Poppendeick  says the connection is corporate control of agriculture. The statistics are staggering (90% of the corn market is dominated by 3 companies, for example) and the resulting degradation of human health and the environment endangers our health, and the future health of our food supply. Reclaiming control of the food system from corporate entities is one of the written tenets of the OWS declaration: “[corporations] have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.” Another tenet speaks to animal cruelty inflicted by the common industrial practice of confining animals into tight quarters with abhorrent conditions.
Our national food policy is both in desperate need of reform and utterly trapped under the heel of industry influence. So, as Occupy Wall Street evolves, food policy should be on the plate. Here are four reasons why...
(update) If You Eat, You Better Occupy Wall Street
In 2011, an estimated 94 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of corn, 90 percent of cotton, 93 percent of canola and 95 percent of sugar beets produced in the U.S. contain GMOs. And since most items in the grocery store include common ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils made from corn, soybeans, cottonseed and canola, with 8 out of every 10 bites of processed food, Americans are consuming genetically engineered foods without knowing it.
And a final update: Food movement: Occupy Wall Street and Big Food: October 29 (an excellent wrapup from Marion Nestle, who was my very first good guru!)


Keera Ann Fox said...

I was wondering where you were going with this and got a pleasant surprise. I hadn't thought of food as politics in such a literal way and with the connection to Wall Street so thanks for that perspective!

I hope the occupiers succeed!

I don't like what's happening to our food and the fact that the US isn't just making policies for itself, but for the whole world. It's not just GM corn, but also health policies, like the food pyramid (now a plate).

alice said...

Oh, it's getting truly frightening. I'm shopping almost exclusively at the farmers market these days -- there's no other way to avoid the GMO stuff and the scary additives that are being dumped in everything at the grocery store. And this evening, I found out about some spooky honey that's making its way from China into the markets here -- and maybe around the world ( ). Gak.