Monthly Archives: October 2009

Rather Be Dead…

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Student-led protest outside of McDonald's to help raise awareness about the suffering of animals coming from the fast food giant's suppliers.

One of the joys of being a teacher is seeing where students end up after they graduate from high school. In some cases, we’re lucky to have the teacher-student relationship evolve into one where former students start to get comfortable with the idea of teacher as friend, peer, or in a few instances, colleague. Today I was pleased to see that some of my former Social Justice students have continued to get active for others, in this instance, for animals within in the food system.

It is no secret that concentrated animal feeding operations are torture for animals, and while McDonald’s has led the way in the past with animal welfare reform issues, when you start calculating the overall good vs. harm of the fast food giant it is hard to see how anyone could defend them. They provide jobs, they operate more playgrounds than most cities, and give people a delicious convienent meal option, but they are also responsible for more environmental degradation, animal suffering (and human rights abuses if you consider slaughterhouse workers), and hefty waistlines than most other businesses.

In addition, I’m sure there are several children (and probably some adults) who are terrified by that deranged looking clown and his cohort of hamburger patch friends. Anyone who as seen or read “IT” by Stephen King knows what I’m talking about.

As today is Halloween, there’s reason to give people a good scare. We’ll be spending the evening watching slasher movies with friends, but there’s nothing more scary than the reality of the slaughterhouse, or the terror that slave children feel harvesting cocoa for those little chocolate bars being passed out across the nation. While many people will be applying some fake blood for theatrical purposes today, 2.7 million land animals will be killed for food,  and close to 15,000 young boys will continue to endure forced labor, many who will be beaten and whipped on one of the 600k cocoa plantations in west Africa. That blood is real, and covers the hands of all who take part in these industries. Which is why one man even tried to prosecute himself for being involved.

Luckily, one of the other benefits of being a teacher is that I have the opportunity to help students explore these issues in the classroom. I feel hopeful knowing that tonight several of my students will be participating in reverse trick-or-treating in order to educate the community about slave chocolate, and others will be trick-or-treating for UNICEF in order to help children around the world.

However, if all of this serious stuff is too scary for you, at the very least you can enjoy these recipes for your left over pumpkins.

Happy Hallows!

– Christopher

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“Smart Choices” Reconsidered.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the food labeling program where certain food products were being marked as Smart Choices to encourage people to make better decisions about the foods they were purchasing. The problem I wrote about was that the labels were going on foods like Froot Loops and  Pops cereals. This week the program suspended its operations and many of the participants will be phasing out the labels on their products.  State and Federal authorities believed that the program would mislead consumers about the nutritional value of the foods that carried the label.

The FDA sent a letter to the program in August that expressed its concern that the program would encourage people to purchase the packaged foods over fresh fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the FDA put out a letter to the food industry this week that called for the industry to move to a voluntary “common set of mandatory nutritional criteria that consumers can rely on when they view FOP [Front of Packaging] labels.” One of the concerns of the FDA is the way that consumers respond to front of package labeling which they worry may be “confusing” or “counter-productive.”  The letter states that people are less likely to read the nutrition facts panel  if there is a front of package claim. The ultimate goal is to help consumers make informed decisions and  “build better diets and improve their health.” Smart Choices voluntarily suspended the program citing that they had the same goals as the FDA.

While the companies who had used the Smart Choices labels were interested in luring adults to their products, often times food marketing is geared at children. Corporate Accountability International is launching a campaign to demonstrate how Ronald McDonald  is used as a marketing tool focused on children. They cite Jim Skinner, the CEO of McDonald’s statement that “Ronald has never sold food to kids in the history of his existence,” and they are asking people to help document when and where the clown shows up.

– Kerri

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Inspiration for the “Faces of Hunger” Contest.

The latest video from the New York based group Improv Everywhere was released today and is called “Grocery Store Musical.” Enjoy.

In addition, for those budding filmmakers out there, consider making your own short film about hunger for a cash prize.

While it may be too close to the deadline for some of you, the “Faces of Hunger” video contest asks people 25 years old or younger to document hunger in his or her community through a short film (5-12 minutes) for the chance to win a prize of up to $5,000. Please share the opportunity with those you know, and if we can make a suggestion: if you win, give some of the money back to the community organization most effective in delivering food to those who need it. The deadline for the contest has been extended to October 30, so with a little over a week, there’s still time to shoot, edit, and submit. You can do so by visiting the Faces of Hunger Web site here.

– Christopher

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Act on Health Care Reform!

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As the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on health reform, we need your help to urge members of Congress to preserve the prevention provisions! While the current provisions show a strong commitment to preventing chronic diseases, which account for 75 percent of our health care costs, policy makers could slash these provisions as they try to decrease the overall cost of the bill.

Currently in the health reform bills, the prevention funds would increase over time to about $10 billion a year. Congress is discussing slashing that by more than 75 percent.

It’s time to let Congress know that prevention is not negotiable! For too long, health care has focused on treating people after they have become sick, instead of keeping them well in the first place. The public health investment fund and national prevention strategywould lower disease rates, improve quality of life, and help reduce health care costs for families, businesses, and government.

The current prevention measures also include a national menu labeling policy. This policy would result in nutrition information on the menus and menu boards at chain restaurants across the country, bringing this popular policy, which has already passed in 16 local and state legislatures, to all Americans.

Please contact your Senators and Representative today and urge them to protect the prevention measures currently included in health reform!

To make it REALLY easy, click here.

– Christopher

(This is a repost of an email sent to us from the Center for Science in the Public Interest)

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Award for Best World Food Day message goes to Silverman.

Yesterday was World Food Day, a day to mark the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations. This organization was established on October 16, 1945 and its purpose is to make sure that the world gets adequately fed, but their latest report reeks of failures. While we would have loved to have been in Rome to hear the 6th Annual George McGovern World Food Day lecture by Marion Nestle, we were busy teaching high schoolers. And while we weren’t there, we feel good knowing that her comments about the solutions to hunger lie squarely in the social sphere, not the tech-world.

While Bill Gates, who also spoke this week (at the World Food Prize forum), firmly believes that developments in technology (mainly transgenic plants and fertilizers) will play a major role in solving hunger issues, he misdirects his frustrations by blaming environmentalists. He’s correct in asserting that technology has a role to play, but the inability of poor farmers to grow crops is only a small part of the problem facing those starving in the third world. If you want to point fingers, environmentalists are minor and largely irrelevant target. I recommend starting with someone bigger, maybe the World Bank?

For all the hype about the development of new tech-crops, like those of the Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution in the 70s, which produced high-yield rice and wheat (and won him a Nobel prize), we already know what solves hunger: Breastfeeding, clean water and safe food, empowerment of women, education, community food security, sustainable agriculture, and political stability. The technology Gates is talking about has yet to solve such problems, and probably never will (although, I’m open to it!). However, amidst all the passionate calls to end hunger, there was one voice that definitely stood out, and it wasn’t that of Pope Benedict the XVI.

While the Pope called for “determined and effective” action from Rome on World Hunger Day, and said that, “Access to food is more than a basic need, it is a fundamental right of individuals and peoples,” his own organization has the money to meet many of these needs and could do more. Even Jesus told his followers to sell what they had and give it to the poor. While the Catholic Church and its thousands of charities across the globe are known for their dedication to the poor, it’s hard for folks like Sarah Silverman to take the Pope seriously when he has a palace to sleep in. Maybe this is why Silverman decided to call him out. Even though selling the Vatican wouldn’t be enough, it would be helpful.

While the Web site Slashfood.com has recently ranked their “Top 10 Most Awesome Food Mascots,” (the Jolly Green Giant should have been #1), we are giving our own award, and it goes to Sarah Silverman for “Best World Food Day” message of 2009. While many will find her message crude, she has a point: If we say we care, we need to ante up. Which is why I have decided to take Peter Singer’s challenge from his latest book “The Life You Can Save” and give a percentage of my income each month to groups working on these issues. It’s not the only thing I plan to do, but it is one that is vital. To the pope: Do it, sell the Vatican, and feed the 1 billion people who need it. It’s just a building.

– Christopher

p.s. In other news:

Government researchers want to peek in grocery carts

Oregon launches anti-junk food TV ads campaign

Matt Damon Helps With Hunger


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Stephanie Smith, Differences in Aid, and Paul Farmer.

The conversation about food has been both lively and varied this week. Last weekend the New York Times released a feature about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance teacher whose life has been ruined as a result of eating a hamburger tainted with E. Coli 0157. This moving and educational account of the horror that results from willy-nilly food safety protocols, is a powerful reminder of how far we have to go in order to protect our food supply and our citizens. When asked to comment about meat companies like Cargill, where the meat was traced back to, Smith recounts in the video feature that accompanies the article, “I don’t know how these people sleep at night.”

While Kerri and I are vegan, and don’t eat meat, both of us were moved to sorrow and anger over what happened to this young woman. At the same time, we also, as always, understand the pain and suffering endured by the animal that was served to her. This situation was a double loss, both for the cow, and for Smith as well. As a result of reading this story, it was hard to feel sympathy for the “pain” of those who see the possibility of McDonald’s moving into the Louvre. At the same time, I totally understand their fury about the fact that fast food chain could move into the home of the Mona Lisa.

Yet, towards the end of the week, there was reason to rejoice as the House of Representatives approved an agriculture bill that increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) by $4.3 billion dollars, as well adding $400 million dollars to the Women, Infant, Children feeding program (WIC), and to school aid and child care nutrition programs, who saw an increase of $1.9 billion dollars. We talk about the importance of programs like SNAP in our forthcoming book, and the challenges facing those in poverty within our country. There are those who exploit these federal assistance programs, like an extraordinary example this week where booze, porn, and viagra were being purchased, but the actual fraud rate is minimal (between 2 and 4 percent).

However, while there are 36 million people in the United States who are in need of assistance (12 percent of the population), there are billions of people around the world who have it much worse. Wealthy countries like the U.S., who give the most food aid to poorer nations, have slashed the amount they’re giving to the World Food Programme, leaving the United Nations feeding program about $2 billion dollars short. This means that 40 million people will be directly affected in the coming weeks. Josette Sheeran, head of the WFP at the UN told The Observer, that this could be the “loss of a generation” of children to malnutrition, food riots and political destabilisation. “We are facing a silent tsunami,” Sheeran said. One that she says we haven’t seen since the 1970s.

While this reality is hard to comprehend, Kerri and I were reminded on Thursday that there is hope. We had the chance to hear humanitarian and physician Paul Farmer speak on Thursday, and his level of commitment to those living in poverty across the world over the last 27 years was nothing short of inspiring. For those who have the chance to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s account of Dr. Farmer’s work in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, it is a fascinating and engaging reminder that the most important question that we can ask ourselves is this: How can I use my life to improve the world around me?

– Christopher

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New York Times Lesson Plan that includes us!

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While it’s taken us a while to find out about this, it’s still relevant. So, for all of the teachers out there, here’s the lesson plan that The New York Times Learning Network designed concerning eating and economics, and of course, it includes our blog/project.

As teachers, we were flattered to find out about this, and look forward to including more lessons for teachers when the book comes out! If you are a teacher, and already have lessons about eating and economics, or the food system, please get in touch if you’re interested in sharing.

– Christopher

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