Monthly Archives: February 2009

Food Fights: Federal, Frozen, and in Films.

Milk and apples flew across the quad at Gilroy High School as hundreds of students joined in a food fight that started as a result of an actual fight at the end of lunch on Friday. Within no time, 30 officers in riot gear, and California Highway Patrolmen brandishing sandbag loaded shotguns, arrived at the school of 2600 students according to the Gilroy Dispatch. Chunks of food and litter from food packages remained in the area as most students went back to class while a few were arrested, or given detention. However, this food fight was not the only one happening this week.

In the opinion pages of the New York Times, an op-ed by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron titled “No Lunch Left Behind” argues that our National School Lunch Program, founded in 1946, must be re-worked in order for our school children to have cheap and healthy meals. Their most compelling claim is that little of the $9 billion is actually going towards food, and what is, is often unhealthy. Most of these items, like high-fat, low-grade meats come as a result of USDA subsidies.

A while back, I asked folks to look into federal food issues by checking out the “Food Declaration!” and the group Food Democracy Now; many of you did. We got an email from them thanking us for steering people to the site, and this past week they were able to meet with newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to present a petition signed by 87k Americans calling for “sustainable change” at the USDA. In addition, the appointment of Kathleen Merrigan as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture was an encouraging action, and hopefully a step in the right direction.

Amidst the politics over food in Washington however, another battle was being fought. This one in your frozen section. Multinational corporations H.J. Heinz, ConAgra Foods and Nestle S.A., are battling for market share as the top sellers of frozen entrees in the U.S. according to an article from the Dow Jones Newswire. The end result of which is going to mean a lower price for consumers. While Kerri and I rarely eat frozen-prepared foods, for many Americans it’s a daily reality. Apparently, ConAgra who sells Healthy Choice and Marie Callendar brands has “re-tooled its Banquet meal line so they can sell for $1.”

Yet despite this cold confrontation, these companies should also be considering the undercurrent of American sentiment that is beginning to challenge America’s largest food producers. Participant Media, the film company responsible for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” has a product of their own that might make the cost-cutting fight over frozen market-share a moot point. Their latest film is titled “Food, Inc.” and claims that, “Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.” Another film, “Food Fight” was also released late last year.

Having just returned from a month long trip to Uganda and Kenya, I’m still re-adjusting to certain aspects of American life. I’m thankful to be back, to have access to clean water, and reliable electricity, but most of all to have the privilege to choose what I want to eat. The variety available to American consumers stands in stark contrast to what is offered to most in Eastern Africa, but while we may not have a Maize scandal to deal with, we have our own bounty of food issues to navigate.

Now that I’m back, we’ll be starting our next experiment in the economics of eating well. Hopefully fresh fruits and vegetables will be able to play a larger role!

Back and ready to eat,

Christopher

ps. My students and I were featured in a local news article yesterday.

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Observations from Kampala (Uganda)

 

Food service at a school in Kenya.

Food service at a school in Kenya.

Yesterday I had spaghetti at a restaurant in Jinja (Uganda) for 4,500 shillings, about $2.25. 

For an American abroad, eating is East Africa is cheap, but for the majority of the population in Uganda, even my pasta would have been out of reach. There are pockets of relative wealth around the area, but they are lined with poverty. With over 31 million people living in a country smaller than Oregon, there simply isn’t enough to go around.

Kampala’s energy is generated from dams on the Nile River (in Jinja) and is transmitted via power lines, where near 50 percent is lost in transit. Power outages are not uncommon. This is just one example of problems that effect this region that most Americans cannot begin to fathom.

When I talk to people in the states, I often hear the comment, “Well, one dollar goes further in a third world country than it does here.” While this is absolutely true, it doesn’t make it any easier for the masses here in Uganda.

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