WhyHunger is a proud, new member of the Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRtFN) and we were present when GNRtFN held its 4th global meeting in Viotá, Colombia. These gatherings are an important element in deepening ties and developing common principles among network members to strengthen the struggle for the right to food globally.
Notably, this meeting took place in the midst of ongoing negotiations in the Columbian Peace Process which, as one of its outcomes, will put measures in place to guarantee the right to food for the Columbian people. With 23 organizations from 16 different countries represented at the Viotá meeting, the timing of the presence of the network in Columbia underscored that the results of the Columbian Peace Process will reach far beyond its borders, resonating with and amplifying the struggle by all social movements and indigenous peoples around the world for food sovereignty.
The Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition was launched in 2013 in Vienna as an outcome of a long journey of peoples, social movements, civil society organizations (CSOs), human rights defenders, experts, academics, and research institutions struggling for the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition (RtAFN). The Network is an initiative of public interest CSOs and social movements (peasants, fisherfolk, pastoralists, landless people, consumers, urban people living in poverty, agricultural and food workers, women, youth and indigenous peoples) that recognize the need to act jointly for the realization of the RtAFN.
WhyHunger’s theory of change resonates deeply with both the structure, processes and goals of the Network. As a global network, it is unique in its commitment to providing support to social movements as they interact with and influence the United Nation’s and their own government’s obligations to protect human rights, in particular the right to food and adequate nutrition. And the Network’s membership is composed of both social movements and CSOs, who share the leadership (CSOs can make up no more than half of the coordinating committee). Finally, the Network understands that the right to food and nutrition is indivisible from all human rights and people’s sovereignty. The Network operates within a holistic framework, understanding the ways that food intersects with multiple issues: land, water, women’s rights, climate justice, peasant’s rights, migration, conflict, race, and more.
The 4th meeting of the GNRtFN ended with a written declaration summarizing the unified commitments of the network members to a global struggle for human rights within the current political and social context. In particular, the members and supporters of the Network pointed with concern to the shrinking commitment by States and institutions to safeguard the right to food, as well as to the increasing corporate power over people’s diets and lives. As false solutions to hunger and malnutrition are on the rise, it is in unity where the strength of the struggle lies. Below are key focus areas that came out of the meeting and are reflected in the declaration.
Rights of People before the Rights of Corporations: Highlighting increasing corporate concentration in the food system and the deepening influence on governments the world over, the network declared that these practices must be monitored and governments must use legal mechanisms to fulfill their human rights obligations, including their obligation to regulate business activities. “We are rights holders, not merely interested parties, and as such we demand an end to the impunity of those who violate human rights. The rights of people should come before the interests of corporations,” reads the declaration.
Hunger and malnutrition, and its root causes, have no borders: Hunger is not limited geographically but manifests in various forms across the world, including in North America, with “technical” fixes, charity and food aid as predominant solutions. The Network called for these false solutions to be refuted and the “true” solutions, that include agroecology, and that address the social conditions that determine access to nutritious food, must be scaled out. They stressed that human rights are interdependent and indivisible and therefore the systemic violation of other rights, such as to land, water and other natural resources and livelihoods, leads inevitably to communities experiencing hunger and malnutrition.
Deep-rooted patriarchy persists: Such indivisibility of rights is particularly relevant when it comes to women and girls. The Network lifted up the obstacles women and girls face in each and every phase of their lives due to the persistence of patriarchal systems. “We are especially concerned that women, who are largely responsible for feeding the world, continue to live with violence, both physical and structural, having their rights continually violated in multiple forms simply because they are females.” Gender equity must be achieved in order for women to fully and authentically participate in inclusive and democratic decision making.
To learn more visit www.righttofoodandnutrition.org
Earlier this month, Betsy Garrold, the executive director of Food for Maine’s Future breathed a long, hard sigh of relief. “I sit at my computer with tears of joy running down my face. This has been a six year struggle against the corporate food monopolies to protect and enhance the traditional food-ways in our state,” Betsy reflected in a blog post on The Populist Farmer as news reached her that Maine’s Governor had signed into law LD 725, An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems, or the “Food Sovereignty Law”. This groundbreaking victory for the food sovereignty movement requires the state government of Maine to recognize the authority of municipalities to regulate their local food economies.
This new law protects farmers in communities that have passed a local food sovereignty ordinance from state regulations, as long as they are engaged in face-to-face farm sales. For instance, a small farmer can sell chickens processed on her farm to her neighbors, or serve dairy products at a community event with less red tape. This is a big deal for small farmers and consumers, as state-level food safety regulations that have been crafted under the influence of agribusiness lobbies have made accessing markets difficult for small farmers due to expensive licensing and facility requirements.
At the forefront of this fight has been Local Food RULES, an organization consisting of local chapters of Food For Maine’s Future that worked to draft and pass the first Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance in Hancock County, Maine in 2011. Food for Maine’s Future, a member organization of the National Family Farm Coalition (which itself belongs to both La Via Campesina and the United States Food Sovereignty Alliance) and a longtime partner of WhyHunger, has been organizing for the past 11 years in rural communities to fight for food sovereignty. Local Food RULES and Food For Maine’s Future have helped organizers from municipalities across the state that have wanted to implement their own Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinances, resulting in 20 municipalities passing food sovereignty ordinances over the past 6 years.
These ordinances declare the right of those within the municipality “unimpeded access to local food” through direct face-to-face sales and sales and at community social events (food for wholesale or retail markets outside of its community of origin are excluded). These policies have helped strengthen local food and farm economies by allowing local farmers and local consumers more direct access to each other. However, towns that passed local food ordinances had been receiving letters from Maine’s Department of Agriculture, challenging the authority of those municipalities outlined in the local food ordinances. Now that the state food sovereignty law has been passed, those challenges are expected to cease.
This fight for a decentralized, locally-controlled food system in Maine was galvanized by the case of Dan Brown, a small farmer from Blue Hill, Maine, who was sued by the state in 2011 for selling raw milk at his farm stand without proper licensing or facilities that would’ve cost him to tens of thousands of dollars. Advocates for food sovereignty asserted that regulations like these, which were designed for larger agribusiness operations, were inappropriate for operations like Dan Brown’s one-cow farm and placed unreasonable barriers for beginning farmers.
Opponents of the state food sovereignty law, which included the large dairy and grocery manufacturer lobbies, used the argument that by not adhering to state regulations, local food ordinances presented a food safety risk. However, organizers have maintained that these small family farmers are feeding their families with the same food they are selling at market; “They know you, you know them and, frankly, poisoning your neighbors is a very bad business plan,” Garrold explained in an interview with the Maine Sun Journal.
This bill, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson and strongly supported by Representatives Craig Hickman and Ralph Chapman, was the fourth attempt at passing a state-wide local food law. Although previous food sovereignty bills had passed both the house and the senate, they did not pass by a large enough margin to prevent them from being vetoed by Republican Governor Paul LePage. This time around, proponents made sure to get veto-proof majority, but were pleasantly surprised when LePage signed the bill into law.
This strategy for building towards food sovereignty provides an exciting model for other food sovereignty activists and organizers to draw lessons from. By organizing local grassroots efforts around municipal and state-level food sovereignty ordinances and legislation, organizers are affirming the “right of peoples to . . .define their own food and agriculture systems.” Organizers found that at the local level, the concept of food sovereignty resonated with people across the political spectrum, who understood that the “one size fit’s all” state food safety regulations designed for large farms and food processors, were actually harming small family farms and beginning farmers. They rallied support around the belief that those within the municipality should define the regulations around face-to-face sales of food as a means of supporting small family farms, local food traditions and sustainable agriculture in rural Maine. Since the bill was signed into law on June 16th, even more municipalities from across Maine have been reaching out to Food For Maine’s Future to support them in passing their own local food ordinances.
When drawing inspiration and lessons from the example of Maine, it’s important to keep in mind that other contexts may not be as conducive to achieving local control over food policy. Maine is a “Home Rule” state, meaning that Maine’s state constitution allows municipalities to amend their charters on any matter, as long as the changes don’t violate state laws or the U.S. Constitution. Organizers have used this as a legal justification for municipal authority over local food policy, which could be more difficult to do in other states. However, strategies similar to this could possibly be part of growing the movement for food sovereignty in the US. Even if one isn’t in a “home rule state”, organizations like the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund have helped to establish “home rule municipalities,” as a strategy to protect worker rights, environmental rights and the rights of nature from corporate exploitation at the local level.
As more of Maine’s municipalities pass their own food sovereignty ordinances, it will be exciting to see the impact these laws will have on local food and farm economies and on the success and spread of agroecological agriculture. We at WhyHunger are excited to see what the next steps will be for Maine’s food sovereignty movement and how other food sovereignty organizers will draw and implement lessons from this exciting process of building food sovereignty from the ground up.
Idaho Foodbank provides 63,000 food backpacks annually and over 46,000 summer meals for kids within the state. Kyle Silverman is the Nutrition Services Manager of the Foodbank, directing their children's and nutrition education programs. Kyle sees these programs as ways to help working families “stretch their dollars,” enabling them to spend their limited money elsewhere.
The science and technology sectors are expanding in Idaho, but low-wage jobs are prevalent. Idaho ranks second in the country for children living in foster care or away from their parents and 42nd in higher education attainment. A recent report from the United Ways of the Pacific Northwest, which uses a standard called ALICE, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed to get a more accurate picture of financial hardship in the state, defines one in three people in Idaho as working poor. Roughly one in five children under 18 in the state live in poverty.
In Idaho, like other Pacific Northwest states, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, forestry, and tourism are the principal industries. Potatoes, wheat, and malt for beer are the major crops. Barrel cheese, a raw product for processed cheese, is produced here along with other food processing. Coordinating transportation across the entire state is a challenge that the Foodbank addresses by using three branches to facilitate deliveries.
For the Foodbank, serving rural communities is a challenge, but strong partnerships with schools are important to connect with those families that are struggling. The Foodbank relies on school counselors, social workers, and teachers to identify the kids who are most in need of the backpack program since they're “not on the ground.” Kyle explains: “They do a fantastic job. They care so much about their kids and know what's going on at home. They're coming in every day, asking for more food at lunch, or snacks, saying, 'I'm hungry.'” She also sees that involving parents in the process helps with improving communication between the school and families.
The backpacks are packed by enthusiastic volunteers from corporate, church, and other groups. They contain two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, and two snack items and are intended to provide the nutritional requirements for kids when they are out of school over the weekend. The challenge is providing a variety of options that are shelf-stable, cost effective, lower in sodium, nutritionally sound, and that kids will actually eat. Items like pop top cans are necessary in case kids don't have a can opener or someone at home to help them—and they are also more expensive. Funding support from partners, like Hunger Is, helps purchase nutritious food to fill the backpacks.
To continually learn and improve, the Foodbank conducts a survey at the end of each school year. The kids overwhelmingly love the program and are excited to get their backpacks. Reading their comments provides insight into their lives at home. Children in southwest Idaho, for example, report: “I like it cuz sometimes we run out of food and don't have money to get more” or “It helps with grocery shopping because we don't have much money.” Better nutrition also improves their ability to stay focused at school. A school social worker notes that “teachers report that the children are more alert and active on Mondays” when they have adequate nutrition over the weekend.
For parents, knowing that their children have nutritious food over the weekend relieves some stress. For parents who are working and still can’t make ends meet, time and income are extremely limited. They might have a disability, unstable housing, or jobs that require them to work on weekends. Often they must work two or three low-wage jobs to get by and they still struggle to afford childcare. As one parent in eastern Idaho said: “I love it because I work all week and most of the time I won't have enough time on the weekend to cook good meals.” Or they might not “be present” because of drug or alcohol abuse. “Backpacks are for the kiddo who doesn't have help at home for whatever reason,” Kyle continues. “It's not our place to judge and it's not their fault.”
Since some kids wound up sharing their food with other family members, it was a “catalyst” for the Foodbank to create a school pantry program. Now, families can obtain food boxes and are better served. In the summer, the Idaho Foodbank operates a mobile, “ice cream truck model” summer meal program to deliver healthy, packed lunches in a refrigerated truck.
Being in a more conservative state, the Foodbank stresses that they are a “private, independent, non-profit” and acknowledges that programs for kids “tugs at people's heartstrings.” Discretion is important because “kids can be cruel.” The Foodbank encourages schools to make student participation in the program confidential. They might be called out of class and place the food backpack into their school backpack and “no one's the wiser.”
Hunger Is, a joint charitable program of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), builds awareness and raises funds to end childhood hunger. The Idaho Foodbank received a grant to fund efforts in Idaho. This is the second in a WhyHunger series of profiles of grant recipients and their impact.
This article was originally written by Ilene Angel and published by the Huffington Post. To see photos from the event click here and to read the official 2017 WhyHunger Chapin Awards press release click here.
Tuesday night, WhyHunger hosted its annual Chapin Awards dinner at the Edison Ballroom in New York City.
This year’s honorees included Jon Batiste, musical director and bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as well as WhyHunger’s grassroots partner, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.
Founded in 1975 by the late singer/songwriter Harry Chapin and his friend, radio DJ Bill Ayres, WhyHunger, now in its 42nd year, was created to end hunger by addressing the root causes of social injustice and poverty that perpetuate it and by creating community access to affordable, nutritious food.
Never has there been a time since the organization’s inception, when there was more need for that than now - a sentiment that was both palpable in the crowded ballroom and also noted by Pete Dominick, the talented and funny host for the evening.
The first award recipient, Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, provided a staggering 3 million meals to New Yorkers last year alone. And its awe-inspiring founder, Dr. Melony Samuels, described how the grass roots organization went from a traditional food pantry to that, plus a mobile pantry, plus two urban farms, feeding 30,000 low income people each month.
Had there not been accompanying video, I myself would have been hard pressed to believe a thriving farm in the middle of such an urban setting. It was an inspiring testament to what is possible when committed people join together for the greater good of each other.
Jon Batiste, this year’s ASCAP Harry Chapin Award recipient, brought his band, Stay Human, with him and was introduced and joined by The Roots Questlove.
In his moving speech that preceded the music, Batiste said, “Music at its highest is of service.”
And Batiste means what he says, because earlier in the evening, he decided on the spot to auction off a private piano lesson to the highest bidder to raise money for the organization.
Then Batiste and his band, Stay Human, proceeded to “serve us” their beautiful blend of spirited song and instrumental music, venturing out into the ballroom and engaging everyone in song and dance.
The evening was capped off by the tradition of closing with members of the Chapin family and the award recipients leading everyone in attendance in a singalong of the late Harry Chapin’s “Circle” song.
As everyone departed in good spirits, it seemed to me that for all the challenges that this new America we are living in present to us, it also presents us with the opportunity to make a differences in unprecedented ways, as these award recipients did.
This unique time we are living in provides us with an opportunity to be part of the solution, to, once and for all change things systemically, and to be in community with one another while doing so.
New Food Justice Voices issue out now! Our Food Justice Voices series is intended to amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots leaders that aren’t heard enough, while creating awareness and educating readers on various issues connected to hunger and poverty. In Pathology of Displacement: The Intersection of Food Justice and Culture, storyteller, healing practitioner and food justice organizer Shane Bernardo tells his story about how displacement has affected his ancestors and family within the Philippine diaspora, and how he is working to reclaim ancestral subsistence practices that connect him to land, food and his roots. In this piece Shane breaks down what was lost due to colonialism and how we can fight to get it back to truly achieve a real "food justice" movement.
"We grew food in our backyard before it was called 'urban gardening'. For us, retaining our relationship to these foods is a cultural expression and a way to cope with being in a place we are not familiar with, or welcome, for that matter." – Shane Bernardo
Stories of WhyHunger ally the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), and fishing communities in Sri Lanka. This is the 3rd in a 3-part series of articles on NAFSO and the communities whose rights it defends. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
Part 3: Why WhyHunger Supports Communities Struggling for Food Sovereignty
A few years ago, tens of thousands of Sri Lankan fishermen and their families took to city streets across the four corners of Sri Lanka to protest the Sri Lankan government’s decision to cut a vital fuel subsidy for small-scale fishers, and, more importantly, to remember a fisher leader killed by police two years ago in almost identical protests. Antony Fernando, a 36 year-old fishermen with a wife and two children, was shot by police in 2012 while marching through downtown Chilaw to protest a 30% hike in the price of boat fuel – a shockingly high and devastating increase for fishermen who are just barely getting by.
Back in 2012, the government had raised the price of fuel by 30%, putting hundreds of thousands of small-scale fishing families on the edge of crushing hunger. Boat fuel is one of the main costs fishermen face, and the increase meant that small-scale fishermen essentially had to go out of business because they would have had no way to catch enough fish to pay for the fuel. Fishing families felt like the government had abandoned them to starve.
Rising fuel prices disproportionately affect small-scale fishing families. The big, industrial boats can make up fuel costs with the volume of their catch and their access to export markets. For families whose living is producing food from the land and the sea, small changes in the economy can be devastating. Without the power and support of social movements, these communities would be plunged into poverty or forced to migrate looking for jobs in the garment sweatshops or on the streets as prostitutes.
NAFSO held emergency meetings with community fishery leaders around the country to decide how to respond to these price hikes. The fishing leaders were angry at the government and worried for their communities, and they wanted to organize demonstrations around Sri Lanka to demand the government lower fuel to the older price. During the demonstrations, the police opened fire on the fishermen with guns and tear gas, injuring multiple people and killing Antony Fernando.
Even after these protests and the violence, the government refused to revert to the old price of fuel, but instead offered a fuel subsidy. The subsidy may have kept some families from starving and going bankrupt, but it did not solve the problem. Most fishermen don’t own their boats, so they had to fight with government officials to prove their eligibility for the subsidy, and then in 2014, the government announced they would cut the subsidy, triggering a new round of protests from small-scale fishers.
NAFSO assisted demonstrators again, having received support and protection from organizations and governemnts outside of Sri Lanka, to raise the voices of fishing communities on the fuel issue and to continue pressuring the government to support small-scale fishers in the face of ongoing repression and neglect.
An estimated that 10,000 fishermen and women of NAFSO marched throughout Sri Lanka to protest the loss of the subsidy. Thousands walked through the streets of Chilaw, the home of Antony Fernando, carrying a coffin memorializing the struggles of fishing communities to feed their families with dignity. They stood up for themselves to end their own problems: the systematic marginalization and oppression that produces hunger and poverty.
Social movements like NAFSO build up the power and leadership in the communities so that the most vulnerable in society can be heard and seen and have their rights protected and defended. Social movements are not NGOs or charities. They are based in and led by communities who are traditionally and historically excluded, and create spaces for them to build their own power and dignity so that they can participate democratically. When communities can’t make their voices heard, or when their lives and challenges are made invisible, that is when hunger and poverty flourish, spread, and deepen. When communities are organized, their voices can be heard, their lives can be seen, and their needs are respected as being important.
This kind of courage and intelligence is nourished and strengthened in a social movement like NAFSO. Social movements are rare and special, organizations that make democracy a reality for people that are forgotten, silenced, and invisbilized, and they are so important in the struggle to end hunger. Examples like NAFSO are the reason WhyHunger is dedicated to supporting social movements.
While politicians recklessly propose cuts to destroy many of the basic living standards that help working and middle class families get ahead when times are tough or wages aren’t enough, anxiety rises for the already struggling families questioning their safety across the country. Now that summer is here and school is out, for millions of families, the stress multiplies. Summertime means hunger time for the over 21 million children in the U.S. who rely on free and reduced priced school meals during the rest of the year. Every child needs healthy, daily meals to continue learning and growing over the summer. That’s why WhyHunger is once again kicking off our Summer Meals Rock for Kids campaign!
In this critical time when basic necessities, like healthy food for families and children, are on the government’s chopping block, we must capitalize on our existing resources to take a stand and protect our children’s access to healthy food. The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides free, nutritious meals to kids at local centers across the U.S., but only 15% of eligible children participate, often due to a lack of awareness and information on where to find summer meals sites. Therefore, WhyHunger’s Summer Meals Rock for Kids campaign distributes information to families across the country to connect them with local resources and prevent hunger. With the largest database of emergency food providers and summer food sites in the country, we can fight the summer spike in childhood hunger and help more kids get the healthy food they need. We need your help to spread the word about these programs to ensure that all children have access to safe, healthy meals when school lets out.
Now more than ever, we must take action to make sure our children have the food they need this summer to grow, learn and thrive.
To find your closest Summer Food Service Program summer meals site:
• Call the WhyHunger Hotline at 1-800-5HUNGRY (1-800-548-6479) for service in both Spanish and English. The hotline is open Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 6:00pm EDT]
• Text “summer” and your zip code to 1-800-548-6479 to get a location within minutes
• Visit whyhunger.org/summermealsearch to find a site online.
And here’s how you can help:
• Donate to support WhyHunger's Hotline and online database.
• Spread the word to your network and community by downloading and distributing flyers in English and Spanish at your local community centers, schools and libraries
• Add graphics to your blog, website or social media accounts with #SummerMealsRock
You can find these materials and more at: whyhunger.org/summermeals. Thank you for making a difference this summer!