Thanks for doing this interview, Sung E. First and foremost, can you tell us a bit more about what Slow Food USA does?
Slow Food USA is part of a global, grassroots network with supporters in 150 countries who believe that food and farming should be sources of health and well being for everyone and for our planet. In the US, Slow Food USA brings people together through food, organizes them to improve their local food systems, and garners that power to change legislative policies that shape our food and farming system. Slow Food USA has more than 250,000 supporters, and 25,000 members working together in 225 local chapters.
What are a few programs you are currently working on with Slow Food USA?
We are currently developing a campaign to ensure that the next reauthorization of the Food & Farm Bill (the single largest piece of legislation that shapes our food and farming priorities) in 2012 protects and invests in the efforts of those working to make food sustainable, healthy, accessible, and affordable.
While our chapters are running diverse projects to raise awareness and to change people’s relationships with food and farming locally, we are specifically supporting local efforts that are focused on improving children’s relationship with food (both in and out of the classroom), as well as on providing alternatives to industrial agriculture (e.g. fast food). Such efforts were illustrated by our recent $5 Challenge campaign to take back the ‘value meal,’ and are part of our long-standing work to promote and to protect plant varieties and animal breeds that are under the threat of an increasingly homogenized food system. We provide resources, trainings, and other forms of support to those already doing this work, and to those interested in initiating a project.
As our network of supporters is sizeable and has varied interests, we regularly run activities that raise awareness of the challenges of our current food and farming system, provide opportunities for individuals to come together with others (especially through eating and growing food), and inspire people to take collective action.
Can you describe what the “Good, Clean, and Fair” Movement is?
Good, clean, and fair refers to food that is good for us, good for those who produce it, and good for the planet. Slow Food USA believes that all are vital to our vision for a different food and farming economy. Workers must be paid fair wages, farmers need to sustain themselves and their families, all people have a right to food that is good for them, and we all have a responsibility to protect our natural resources.
What is the importance of eating “Good, Clean, and Fair” food over factory farmed foods?
There is a correlation among the growth of factory-farmed foods, decreased income for farmers, stagnation/decline of wages, surge in diet-related diseases, and continued damage to our climate and ecosystems, among other socio-economic problems our society faces. Rather than supporting farmers to grow biodiverse non-GMO crops, grass-fed animals, and sustainable practices, factory farming has unfortunately become the solution to feeding people who cannot afford good, clean, and fair food, as well as those who can! This contributes to the massive healthcare costs of nutrition-related illnesses, the contraction of family-run farms and jobs, increased greenhouse gases, and dwindling diversity of food sources — just to name a few consequences.
We are what we eat. And what we eat is based on the economic and political priorities of government and corporations. Unfortunately, the health of people and our environment is not the priority right now. And it needs to be the number one priority.
Slow Food USA believes that we need to reshape the story of food and farming so that it is one that we can feel proud of and we can be sustained by. Our organization’s story includes producing food humanely, treating workers fairly, increasing job opportunities, adequately compensating farmers, preserving (rather than depleting) natural resources, and appreciating food traditions of diverse cultures and communities.
What would you say are the current root causes or main factors that contribute to hunger both within the United States and globally?
The UN has found that the number one factor leading to hunger is access, whether to land for growing or to income for purchasing. The issue is not innovations in farming or distribution. Rather, it is an issue of poverty. In order to eradicate hunger we have to eradicate the root causes of systemic poverty.
Rather than seek to elevate solutions to hunger through supporting communities to grow food and earn a living, the drive often seems to be towards ‘cost efficiency’ and ‘profit.’ There is an invisible expense to this drive. Investment in genetically modified foods means a divestment in the livelihood and health of people — food is not just about nourishment. Food is part of a larger ecosystem, which includes working the land to grow the food that feeds us. We need more farmers, not just more scientists. Study after study shows that we as a global community can in fact produce enough food to feed the world. We produce more than enough food for every human being, yet 1/3 of all annual food production is wasted. We need solutions that are based in values of human dignity, health, and well being.
How do you feel can people help alleviate hunger both on an individual and societal level?
On an individual level, we need to have the awareness that we are all part of the problem, and part of the solution. This means that we need to reflect on our own practices: How are we living? Sharing information (with our children, families, and friends)? Reducing waste? And, how are we supporting the survival of those who are seeking to address hunger? What can we do to volunteer or support (through money or in-kind donations) those organizations that are dedicated to eradicating hunger? You can dedicate a patch of your own garden to a local soup kitchen or volunteer to tend a community garden plot whose produce is donated to a food bank. Get involved in gleaning projects. Reduce waste.
As a society, we must first embrace the responsibility to be part of the solution. Then, we need to make a choice to start doing something with the intention of supporting the eradication of hunger. Each act contributes to the possibility of a greater motion of change.
What role does independent media play in raising awareness about these issues?
Similar to the way that our food system is structured — largely controlled by a handful of corporations — so is our media system. This has meant that we are hearing the same stories again and again through mainstream media, and they are sometimes skewed to uplift the interests of those who benefit from the current food system the most. Even as ‘healthy living’ and ‘eating healthy’ has taken center stage due to both grassroots activism and political interests, they are conveniently absorbed, and repackaged by the same corporations who contribute to a broken system. What is too often ignored are the root causes for why it is so hard to have access to affordable good, clean, and fair food. It is only through independent media that everyday people can hear other sides of the story — the stories of those who are most impacted by a broken food and farming system, the stories about root causes. And as people become more aware, they are able to act from a more informed and powerful position. And as more people act, mainstream media will be more compelled to cover such stories.
What changes do you hope to see in the next 50 years?
In 50 years, my daughter will be 54 years old. I hope that she is part of raising a next generation where every day, every child in this country and around the world has a belly full of healthy food that comes from the calloused hands of farmers and workers who are able to live sustainably and peacefully. I hope 54 is the new middle age because domestic and global priorities have shifted to pool together resources and knowledge to eradicate poverty and human-made illnesses. I hope that farming and working in the food chain are embraced as dignified and valuable work. I hope that food continues to be the common ground for breaking bread and building relationships across difference.
How can someone get involved in your organization or work?
First, go to our website — www.slowfoodusa.org — or call us at 718-260-8000.
Once you have signed up to receive our communications, you will be able to find a meal to attend or a garden to volunteer at. If you do not find one in your local area, host a meal with some friends or start a conversation about the food system in your community. We also have a fast growing and active Facebook community, blog readership, andTwitter following. If you are interested in doing work related to children and food or alternatives to processed foods, please do not hesitate to contact us and join a community of volunteers who do this work locally across the country. You can also get involved in our national campaign around the 2012 Food & Farm Bill to improve legislation that shapes our food and farming system. By becoming a member, you can join a chapter, start a chapter, and/or keep up with the latest food news; obtain tips on cooking slow food, gardening and buying local; and start advocating for better food for all.