WhyHunger is excited to be participating in the upcoming World Social Forum (WSF) in Montreal, where tens of thousands of people from groups in civil society, organizations and social movements will gather to strategize for global social justice. Since it began in 2001, the WSF has been one of the most important convergences in the world for people who want to build a sustainable and inclusive world, where every person and every people has its place and can make its voice heard. This year marks the first time the WSF will take place in North America, and WhyHunger is playing a large role in the Forum, organizing two workshops and bringing together many alliances and networks from across many sectors.
The organizers of the World Social Forum say “Another world is needed. Together, it is possible!” In that spirit, WhyHunger is bringing together many different international and national social movements and alliances to solve problems in the US. We are organizing two roundtables, one focused on the Human Right to Food in the US and the other focused on People’s Agrarian Reform.
It is important to understand hunger as a violation of human rights, because the data shows that people are hungry because the current food regime is focused on making profits, not feeding people. Year after year, the United States overproduces staple grains, yet according to the US Department of Agriculture, over 14% of the households in the US are food insecure. Feeding America – a network of food banks and pantries – estimates that there are currently 48 million people who are food insecure in this country.
The fact that human rights to food is re-emerging in the debate around hunger is a reflection of the fact that families in the Global North are still suffering after the neo-liberal policies and fiscal austerity that followed the 2008 financial crisis. In order to end hunger, we need to protect the human rights of the families facing hunger, which means developing the leadership of farmworkers, farmers, and vulnerable families and learning how to build a national alliance around the Right to Food framework in the US.
This panel will highlight the perspectives of farmworkers, farmers and scholars around the issue of food as a human right in the US. Speakers from Via Campesina – North America, Closing the Hunger Gap, allies, scholars and more will address the opportunities and challenges on how to build a nationwide alliance around the Right to Food framework in the country.
Will you be in Montreal? Join us at the roundtable!
The Right to Food in the United States
Date/time: August 11th, 2016; 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Venue: Université du Québec à Montréal – Pavillon SB (Local SB-M220)
141, avenue du Président-Kennedy. Montréal, QC, Canada
The international peasant movement La Via Campesina organized the International Conference on Agrarian Reform last April, where they brought 130 representatives from 28 countries together to talk about the need for agrarian reform that not only redistributes land to farmers, but ensures that all of society has a healthy and just food system. Via Campesina asks:
“Now we ask, which is better? Do we want a countryside without peasants, trees or biodiversity? Do we want a countryside full of monocultures and feedlots, agrochemicals and GMOs, producing exports and junk food, causing climate change and undermining the adaptive capacity of communities? Do we want pollution, illness, and massive migration to cities? Or do we want a countryside made up of the food producing territories of peasants, indigenous peoples, family farmers, artisanal fisherfolk, and other rural peoples, based on human dignity and diverse knowledges and cosmovisions, with trees, biodiversity, and the agroecological production of healthy food, which cool the planet, produce food sovereignty and take care of Mother Earth?”
We are planning to bring together allies from La Via Campesina, the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance to learn about the meaning of People’s Agrarian Reform in the context of the global struggle for food sovereignty and climate justice and discuss the challenges and opportunities raised in the International Conference. The speakers will also reflect on how this framework can contribute to the building of a broader alliance between different sectors in the North American context.
Will you be in Montreal? Join us at the roundtable!
People’s Agrarian Reform: What does it mean for North America?
Date/time: August 12th, 2016; 9:00 - 11:30
Venue: Université du Québec à Montréal – Pavillon SB (Local SB-M220)
141, avenue du Président-Kennedy. Montréal, QC, Canada
The WSF is going to be a great opportunity for us to build new relationships and strategize with partners and allies from around the world about critical issues that affect us all. In August we’ll share learnings, pictures, stories and actions with you about our WSF takeaways, so stay tuned!
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been in the news headlines a lot with discussion about whether or not GMOs should even have a place in our food system. And if they do, do consumers have the right to know?
Recently, a bi-partisan bill dubbed the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, was passed by Congress that requires GMO labeling, but allows for it to be done in a variety of ways including on-package labels, call-in information lines, or a scannable QR code, and opponents say it is not enough.
In the New York Times article “Stop Bashing G.M.O. Foods, More Than 100 Nobel Laureates Say,” GMOs are lauded as being a resource of nutritious food.
This is WhyHunger’s response by Alison Cohen, Senior Director of Programs:
The Laureates calling for an end to GMO-bashing are attempting to reduce the complex and entrenched problem of hunger to one that can be solved by “safe” delivery of nutrients. Their argument might stand up if scarcity of food was the problem. It is not. Ask the world’s 500 million farmers cultivating small plots of land and living on less than $2 per day. They will tell you the root of hunger is poverty that persists due to inequities in systems, institutions and structures which privilege corporations, many of which fund the science behind bio-technology and then profit from it.
In my work with social movements, smallholder farmers and hungry communities around the world, I've seen what the science of GMOs means to them. A loss of the dignity in providing for your family; the disappearance of biodiversity and seeds that can be saved to feed future generations; land grabs forcing them into cities with few job prospects and hunger. GMOs mean their survival is now dependent on corporate saviors and their “Golden Rice.”
There is much more to dig into and learn as the usage of GMOs in our food system and the conversations around them continue to shift. Here are a few more articles we want to share to learn about the current issues:
Civil Eats: 5 Things To Know About the “DARK Act”
EcoWatch: Neil Young: Say no to GMOs on “Behalf of All Living Things”
Eater: Every Question You Have About GMOs, Answered
Truthout: What Bill Gates Isn’t Telling You About GMOs
I had the pleasure of sitting down with 2016 WhyHunger Chapin Awards honoree Raul Amorim, a representative for our social movement partner Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), while he was in town to learn more about the issues and struggles his organization faces. Raul spoke passionately about the continued fight for agrarian reform, or the redistribution of land to the people for food production, and their right to land. In the below Q & A I hope you gain some insight into the issues that concern Raul and why WhyHunger believes that supporting social movements, like the MST, is key to ending hunger and building a just world. This interview is edited and translated from Portuguese.
1. Tell us a little about yourself and what you do with the MST?
My parents were very involved in the MST, so I’ve had that relationship since I was a child. At the age of 15, I began helping with educational and farming events, but was not fully involved yet. For the past 4 years I have been working with the Youth Collective, organizing against large land ownership, by taking on more responsibility, playing music/guitar during demonstrations, and working to organize on the city, regional and national level. I’m helping to get more youth involved and educated about the MST, and the issues impacting them such as education, farming/food production, racism, violence and sexism, so they know how to defend their rights for better life in the settlements. What affects them, affects others.
2. Why is it important for you to be involved with the MST?
It is in the MST that the youth and peasant farmers find a better perception of the world. It teaches them to go beyond the individual; it brings them into the movement. It is impossible to face the challenges of the world by yourself; you will get frustrated, and realize that you will not gain anything alone. Therefore, the MST creates a community where we bring change together. The MST gives us the tools to face the issues in society and everyday struggles constructively. The MST strives for building a better world. To be in a political organization is like to dream of a source of hope. In the case of the MST, we address issues of feeding the world and building an alliance between workers.
3. Why the focus on land?
Land is a central element for humankind. Land is source and creation. It goes beyond food production. Land creates culture. It’s where we socialize. And unfortunately the fight over land and land disputes takes place because of exploitation among people. The condition of being landless is the main basis of fighting for land reform, democracy and a return to the land. When a relationship to the land is back, it opens the possibility to fight for other things like better education and schools in the communities where we live.
4. What are some of the current struggles or things the MST is pushing for?
There is currently a struggle for agrarian reform. The main goal is to end the concentration and monopolization of land so that more people can have access to it. There must be a transition to agroecology. There are 4 million families in Brazil that are landless, and that must change. It is necessary to fight back the businesses that try to take away our land.
Agrarian reform goes beyond the vision and goal of capitalism. It is our desire to have a new society that includes food production democratization. The opportunity to think about how we produce food and what we produce; and to see food as a basic human right.
We denounce the current coup d'état in Brazil and work to defeat it with large, massive mobilizations. Part of the attack in Latin America is from conservative forces that want to roll out neoliberal policies. They are operated and funded by corporations and corporate media, which select what we hear and read about. That’s why it’s important to build a broad alliance of progressive organizations. To fight against the coup we need the space and power to build a political agenda that benefits the workers. We need more political education, so people can understand the struggles in front of them and more actions to bring together everyone: students, workers, peasants, etc.
5. How can/does WhyHunger act as an ally? Why is that important?
The alliance being between WhyHunger and the MST is a very positive and necessary step to break barriers between people in Latin America and the US. It makes it easier to understand each other’s struggles and recognize common enemies. Can you imagine if our alliance was strong enough to declare a multinational boycott of McDonalds? Denounce a corporation like Monsanto? Allies are very helpful and create learning exchanges so we can share things like best agroecological practices and successful strategies to gain workers’ rights.
6. What do you look forward to in the future?
I’m very optimistic about where we’re going. When you’re going through a storm, like with the coup, it can be difficult to see through it, but what I’m seeing it more people energized to fight. More people are saying that our history has not yet ended, change can come. More people are fighting against capitalism when they learn that there are people like us (the MST) fighting. I think there will be an increased commitment and responsibility to building stronger and larger alliances with partners like WhyHunger, so that we make change happen on a number levels.
7. What is your favorite meal?
I like dishes made with corn. In the Northwest region of Brazil where I’m from, there are a lot of festive activities when harvesting. And I got really happy when I learned that corn is a symbol of Latin America resistance. It represents our strength and energy. A favorite of mine is Brazilian Couscous. It’s made with corn meal and corn flour, and is steamed and rises like a cake.
We truly appreciate Raul’s time and hope you learned something new. Continue learning about the MST and ways you can help here.
The "How Hungry Is America" hardship report was recently published by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and highlights the progress made in the fight against hunger and the need that is still there.
“Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” That question was part of a survey conducted by Gallup in 2015 as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, in which 177,281 households participated.
FRAC reports on the answers to that question and reveals two important findings:
• The situation is getting better: 2015 had the lowest rate of “yes” answers in the eight years Gallup has been asking this question; December 2015 had the lowest monthly rate of food hardship in the 96 months the question has been asked; and
• Too many Americans in every community and every state still struggle to put food on the table. Nationally, one in six households answered the Gallup question with “yes."
Food Hardship in U.S. Declines Significantly from 2013 to 2015
The nation has made considerable progress in reducing food hardship since the height of the recession in 2008 and through 2013. The rate has fallen from nearly 19 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2015.
There were numerous causes of this nearly three-point drop in food hardship, potentially including:
• the improved unemployment picture;
• the increase in the share of eligible families actually receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps);
• the ongoing impact of the improved Earned Income Tax Credit and refundable Child Tax Credit that Congress made permanent in 2015; and
• the impact on family finances of Medicaid expansions and other health insurance affordability improvements under the Affordable Care Act.
Still, in 2015, 16 percent of surveyed households indicated they experienced food hardship. As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, these findings show that there are millions of Americans who are being left behind.
The persistence of a high rate of food hardship underscores the failure of the economy to provide family-supporting wages and the failure of Congress to respond with adequately robust initiatives to boost jobs, wages, and public programs for struggling families, such as benefits and eligibility in SNAP and child nutrition programs.
Food hardship is not an isolated or concentrated phenomenon.
At least 15 percent of households were suffering food hardship:
• in 25 states; and
• in 72 out of 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).
Food hardship — a marker for household struggles with hunger— harms children, working-age adults, people with disabilities, and seniors. It harms health, learning, and productivity; and it
drives up health and other costs for families, employers, and government. This is a serious national problem that requires a serious national response. Yet, as the survey findings indicate,
and despite significant improvements over the last two years, the country fails to grapple seriously with food hardship and poverty, despite the harm they do and despite available solutions.
I never met Harry Chapin, but because WhyHunger has been so profoundly shaped by Harry’s vision, values, energy, and music, sometimes it feels like I have. The more I learn about Harry, the more I see him everywhere—in ways both extraordinary and mundane.
When the WhyHunger staff gathers to fold and stuff thousands of thank you letters, someone always reminds us that Harry Chapin was the most efficient envelope-stuffer we’ve ever had. Despite his fame, Harry was never too important to lick stamps, give someone a ride, or invite folks to dinner. We hear this echoed over and over by all who met him - everyone seems to have a Harry story.
When the crowd rises from their seats at the end of WhyHunger’s annual Chapin Awards to link arms and join in a goosebump-inducing rendition of “Circle,” we remember the power of Harry's music to unite people, to tell the truth, and to move people to act.
When we see the movement growing and the tangible impact of WhyHunger's work, we hear Harry’s words echoing: “If we can get away from the uniquely American perception that if something can’t be done immediately it isn’t worth doing, then I think the hunger movement, this small but growing minority of us, can have a truly significant impact.”
As you may know, this Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of Harry’s passing, and we want to hear your memories of Harry: What did you love about him? How did he impact you? Which of his songs are the soundtrack to your life? Visit whyhunger.org/rememberharry to share your story.
We also invite you to help WhyHunger accomplish Harry’s vision by joining Harry’s Giving Circle, a special group of donors who understand that giving a little each month can make a big impact! In honor of this anniversary, we are asking 35 people to follow Harry’s philanthropic lead and join Harry’s Giving Circle.
We hope you will share with us in honoring Harry this weekend!
Each Thursday at Martin Luther King, Jr. elementary school in West Oakland, Monica Parks shows up before her three girls are out of class for the day. She sets up tables and a tent for shade. She displays cabbage, greens, onions, apples, oranges, tomatoes, avocadoes, mangos, cherries, and strawberries.
When the students walk out of the cafeteria, they meet their parents on this concrete courtyard beside the flagpole and in front of the school walls’ murals of historic African-American figures. Monica waits there to sell the locally-sourced, pesticide-free produce.
“I had one little girl come up to the table and look at an orange,” Monica says. “She said she’d never eaten one. She said she didn’t like them. I told her it tasted like a Starburst, and I peeled a pink-flesh orange for her. She took a wedge and her face lit up. She likes oranges now.”
It’s no surprise the girl had never eaten an orange, or never eaten one that tasted like an orange is supposed to taste. West Oakland has fifty-three liquor stores, and, until recently, no grocery stores (they now have a co-op of the Mandela Marketplace, another USDA's Community Food Project (CFP) grant recipient). In 2005, the East Bay Asian Youth Center, a program begun at Berkeley High in 1976 as a way of addressing inner-city youth violence and gang activities, conceived a new project called the Oakland Fresh School Produce Markets (OFSPM). Recognizing the city’s lack of access to fresh food and subsequent trend of diet-related health disorders, OFSPM set out to assess the different communities in their food security issues.
Director of OFSPM, Christina Cherdboonmuang and youth volunteers took to the neighborhoods on bikes, evaluating corner and liquor stores for food opportunities and surveying residents about food access and health problems. They discovered that over half the residents they met had to travel out of their community to find healthy, fresh food and over half either suffered from or had family members who suffered from diet-related disease like diabetes and hypertension.
Christina and the students brainstormed solutions to the obvious food insecurity. Rather than attempt to initiate farmers markets, which have the challenges of being cumbersome and involving risk on the part of the farmers, the group decided to sell produce at stands outside local schools. Furthermore, the farmers market in the conventional sense of a big parking lot full of tented vendors from outside of West Oakland seemed to be an intimidating or impersonal space to many residents.
WhyHunger is proud to join over 1,500 national, state and community-based organizations in signing onto the below statement opposing block granting for school meals. The statement, organized by our friends at FRAC (the Food, Research & Action Center), is an important step in protecting the health, food security and well-being of tens of millions of kids across the country.
The United States has a history of strong bipartisan commitment to support effective programs focused on school nutrition ensuring that children do not go hungry and are prepared to learn in the classroom. These vital programs are being targeted and are threatened under the guise of a three-state demonstration pilot project that would block grant important school meal programs. These programs have proven their effectiveness time and time again, and block granting them would remove the federal government’s important role in ensuring their implementation, protecting nutritional standards and even potentially limit their ability to increase funding in areas that show need. Giving states discretion on how to spend federal funds and set their own criteria for programs like School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Team Nutrition and the Special Milk program poses a threat to those families who are currently relying on these programs to keep their kids healthy and fed. Many low-income children stand to be left out of these vital programs as intended dollars can easily be diverted to other priorities of the state. For example, there is no requirement for running the programs year round or providing funding for more than one meal a day. Block granting is a bad idea and too ambiguous, leaving no mechanism for holding states accountable and ultimately undermining the proven effectiveness of these important nutrition programs.
Now is the time to take action! Please join FRAC and WhyHunger and commit to the fight against the flawed child nutrition reauthorization bill or H.R. 5003 – especially the block grant:
Step 1: Sign the statement opposing the school meals block grant provision in the House CNR bill here.
Step 2: Use social media to help get the word out:
• Sample Tweet: Join [@your org hashtag] & over 1500 orgs opposing school meal block grant. Sign the statement today! //bit.ly/1XPG0OT #SaveSchoolMeals #CNR2016
Step 1: Check out FRAC’s Legislative Action Center for updates on CNR, advocacy tools, social media templates, and more.
Background (Provided by FRAC):
On May 18, the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted out the House Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill, H.R. 5003, including a dangerous three-state block grant proposal for the school meal programs. This block grant would end the federal government’s ability to increase funding in areas of need, enforce child nutrition standards in school meals, and ensure students in need receive enough nutritious food year-round. Many other provisions of H.R. 5003 are also of serious concern, including a more difficult application process, harmful changes in community eligibility, and weakened school nutrition standards.
To learn more about the House CNR Bill and the block grant provision, read FRAC’s latest analysis of the bill.
Opposition Statement to School Meal Block Grant Provision Included in “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003)
We write to express our strong opposition to the block grant provision included in the “Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003), and we would oppose any proposal to block grant any child nutrition program. The highly effective child nutrition programs are designed to reduce hunger, improve health, and support learning. Block granting them is misguided and would diminish their ability to accomplish these fundamental goals.
The three-state block grant proposal included in the House bill would immediately cut the funding to operate the school nutrition programs in those states. It would eliminate the additional six-cent reimbursement that 98 percent of school districts receive for meeting the improved nutrition standards and the federal funding provided to support paid meals. After that cut, funding is capped at the fiscal year 2016 funding level. With each year, the programs’ ability to serve low-income children will erode even further as the states will no longer qualify for the annual funding adjustments that are based on food price inflation – resulting in fewer meals provided to fewer needy children. Additionally, this approach means that states will be unable to respond to any increase in need arising from a recession or population growth.
Furthermore, the meals would no longer have to meet consistent nutrition standards as they are only required to be “healthy.” This would create a patchwork of standards that seriously diminishes the school meals programs’ ability to promote good nutrition and improve child health outcomes and makes it difficult to procure the food needed. Participating states could set their own eligibility rules. Moreover, there would be no requirement that children have access to both school breakfast and lunch, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have minimal authority to ensure that the child nutrition funding that the states receive is being used to meet the nutritional needs of the children in the state.
The current structure of the child nutrition programs is based upon a shared, bipartisan commitment to provide children access to the nutritious meals they need in order to grow up healthy and achieve academically, and it allows the programs to respond to any increase in need. This commitment must be maintained. We urge you to reject any proposals to block grant the child nutrition programs.
Read and sign on here.