Interested in what we do? WhyHunger is working to build and strengthen a grassroots-led movement for food justice and food sovereignty worldwide. We are happy to share a recap of our 2016 impacts ranging from supporting social movements, strengthening social justice efforts and protecting the right to nutritious food, while increasing community access to food around the world. Thank you for your support!
Building Grassroots Movements
In 2016, a total of 102 grassroots partners benefited from WhyHunger directly sharing resources and granting funds for specific projects and travel in the amount of $485,000 to help communities develop their own solutions to hunger and poverty and build their capacity to engage in long-term change.
WhyHunger’s International Solidarity Fund invested $305,699 in strengthening existing and emergent social movements for food justice and food sovereignty by supporting 25 community-based projects in 13 countries to end hunger among peasant, fishing, and indigenous communities worldwide. Additionally, we secured a donation of $500,000 to support and grow the fund in 2017. By investing in local community-led activities like agroecological training, leadership development for women and youth and capacity building projects, tens of thousands of families are benefitting from immediate access to nutritious food and education while the food sovereignty of entire communities is strengthened.
WhyHunger organized and accompanied key social movement and grassroots partners from the Global South through five strategic site visits to the United States where our allies from Brazil and Zimbabwe were able to meet, learn, share and build solidarity with WhyHunger and allied organizations by supporting and practicing agroecology in the U.S. These exchanges are critical steps in helping to build capacity for individual organizations while strengthening the fabric of the growing social movement for food sovereignty and justice for all. We continue to foster and grow the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, providing organizational and technical support for the Alliance and the 2016 Food Sovereignty Prize and Food Sovereignty Encounter. In 2016, we helped the Alliance to create and implement a new regional structure, increasing their effectiveness to build food sovereignty locally. We helped initiate a strategic dialogue between three growing movements; La Via Campesina, the Climate Justice Alliance and the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, to build collective power and strengthen the ability for joint-initiatives and cross-sector support at the intersection of hunger and the environment.
Fueling Social Justice
WhyHunger is actively supporting and stewarding a national alliance of emergency food providers to shift from a model of charity as the solution to hunger to a model of social justice. In 2016, we facilitated a leadership retreat to establish a clear vision, goals and plan for the growing network and the Closing the Hunger Gap national conference in fall 2017, which aims to attract more than 500 participants from all 50 states. Our popular Food Justice Voices series What Ferguson Means for Food Justice, a powerful collection of articles featuring the grassroots voices of Black leaders working within movement building and food justice, produced 3 new issues. We launched a new report titled School Breakfast at Half Century - A Look Back to Move Ahead from activist, author, professor and WhyHunger Board Member Janet Poppendieck, an animated video If You Give Someone a Fish illustrating our theory of change, and Connecting Hunger & Health in Brooklyn and Beyond a video that tells the story of food justice and health in everyday lives. These publications and materials helped to educate and engage hundreds of thousands on the issues and solutions at the root of hunger and poverty.
WhyHunger continues to organize grassroots partners using our community of practice methodology around the intersection of hunger, food, agriculture and social justice. In 2016, we convened and led communities of practice for 70 participants around Hunger and Health in the Mid-West and Mid-Atlantic regions and nationally around Youth and Food Justice and Race and Food Justice. WhyHunger supported and accompanied Rooted in Community, a national youth food justice alliance, as they work to organize youth food justice leaders to build collective power. In 2016, WhyHunger provided capacity building support by facilitating a process to re-envision the organization’s governmental structure and by providing funding for youth to participate in their annual Youth Leadership Summit where they joined in skills building, co-learning, creative arts and direct action.
Noreen Springstead began her career with WhyHunger in 1992 working at their front desk. Twenty-four years later, her vision as the Executive Director guides the organization’s marketing strategies and establishes successful philanthropic partnerships. She has built steadfast relationships with notable artists and their record companies through WhyHunger’s Artists Against Hunger & Poverty program, which have resulted in millions of dollars in aid to WhyHunger and other community-based members of their Grassroots Action Network. Noreen’s commitment to making nutritious food a human right by supporting sustainable, community-based solutions to ending hunger defines her work with WhyHunger and their mission.
New York City Food Policy Center (FPC): What inspired you to become a hunger advocate? Was it something in your background? Was there a specific trigger or moment?
Noreen Springstead (NS): I’ve always been on a quest to understand the deep essence of freedom. What does it mean to be free? At a basic human level, the freedom of want as articulated by FDR is among the most intriguing to me and inspiring for my anti-hunger and food justice work especially given that FDR’s Four Freedoms speech inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wholeheartedly believe in a human rights framework to advancing social justice for all.
FPC: What drives you every day to work to end hunger and fix our food system?
NS: A desire for all people to be free from hunger with access to bountiful nutritious food is at the core of my drive and that comes from a belief in fairness in the midst of abundance. When workers toil long hours under the hot sun to pick the food for our table and are paid measly wages for a hard day’s work while big corporations profit and the workers go hungry, we know the food system is broken. It’s broken up and down the food chain; from field to truck, from market to table, all the way to food and farm policy in Washington, D.C.
FPC: You have spent your entire professional career at WhyHunger. How has your work evolved and what are you most proud of in your 24 years with the organization?
NS: I began my career at the front desk with a passion and drive to make a difference whether that was improving office infrastructure or influencing programmatic services for greater impact. It has been an adventure that has spanned the globe, giving me firsthand experience at the grassroots level with some of the most extraordinary people who are changing the world, from the bottom up in the fields and at food banks and food pantries. I’ve sat with cabinet secretaries and urged changes at the USDA and other agencies. And, I’ve had the opportunity to work with well-known artists to use their platforms to talk about the great injustice of hunger in our world. Today, I am most proud of the fact that we have honed our strategy and are very intentional about growing a movement grounded in social justice with a human rights framework. I believe people understand that a forty plus year system of feeding is not the solution to hunger and because economic inequality has been so exacerbated and touched so many in the last decade, they are more in tune to finding new approaches that address the deeper inequities of poverty.
FPC: What in your food life at home has changed because of your work with WhyHunger?
NS: As a family, we are more conscious of what we are consuming. I’m always striving to make sure we all eat a well-rounded nutritious diet while not being afraid to splurge. You know there is a change in awareness when you are sitting around the kitchen table talking about high fructose corn syrup as well as who picks the tomatoes at the table. Those things translate into a broader understanding of our broken food system and the role different actors play in it. That sets the stage for change at both a personal level and societal level.
FPC: How does WhyHunger differ from other organizations dedicated to ending hunger? Can you talk about the role that social justice plays in guiding WhyHunger’s work?
NS: WhyHunger is different because we’ve always looked at the root causes of hunger. Social justice is our guiding light and we work at the intersection of hunger with economic inequality, racial inequity, health, and the environment. We are at the forefront of the movement to shift the prevailing model of food charity to food justice rooted in the wisdom and experience of the grassroots. We look to grassroots leaders and those most affected by hunger to guide our work and to ultimately lead the movement we are working to build.
FPC: What is the one food policy change at the local (or state or federal) level that would have the greatest impact on hunger?
NS: At the federal level we need to keep a well-resourced first line of defense against hunger through the Federal Nutrition Programs; however, because so many people who are hungry in America are working, I believe an enhanced Earned Income Tax Credit could make a huge difference to people who are working and struggling to pay the bills and feed their families. Strong legislation on raising the minimum wage is also in order for the same reasons. I also believe that reforming our agriculture policies, especially tackling subsidies so that they are fair and don’t simply go to support big agribusiness, needs to be paramount to fixing our broken food system and creating one that is healthier, more diverse, less concentrated, and better for our environment.
FPC: What do you see as sources for positive change in our food system?
NS: There is a convergence of consumer awareness about food and a populist uprising around economic inequality that has the potential to shape a powerful audience who can support just food policies in America. Organizers, activists, and organizations, like WhyHunger and so many of our grassroots partners, are coming together to form networks and alliances, both regionally and nationally, to support each other and our greater vision for change. I am excited by the power and potential of building a strong, unified movement that works across various sectors and industries to address the underlying issues in our food system and create real change.
FPC: What is the one food issue you would like to see addressed by the presidential candidates/a new presidential administration?
NS: Hunger. It’s the starting point for bigger conversations about social justice. As a country, we need to agree that no person should go hungry. There is something fundamentally wrong in our nation when people are struggling to feed themselves and their families in a land of great abundance.
FPC: What is one problem in our food system that you would like to see solved within this generation?
NS: We need to dismantle the highly concentrated wealth and power of big ag and its negative influence on our health and the degradation of the earth. We need to invest in small and medium scale farms, farmers, farmworkers, and food businesses who are enhancing local and regional food and farm economies and creating access to more nutritious food while not only mitigating the effects of climate change, but also replenishing the land through more sustainable and agroecological farming practices.
FPC: How can individuals make changes at home and in their communities to help end hunger?
NS: Consumers have a tremendous amount of power. Shifting your purchases to support local farmers and healthy food choices can have a big influence. Get involved locally at a community based organization that fulfills your interest while expressing your voice with a national organization or coalition working to create long term change. Use your social media channels, small donations or your voice with local officials to support movements that address the root causes of hunger, like the Fight for $15 or the Fair Food Program of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Grew up in: Oradell, NJ
Background and Education: Rutgers Political Science B.A.
One word you would use to describe our food system: Broken
Food policy hero: John Steinbeck
Your breakfast this morning: Eggs and Toast
Favorite food(s): Cheese and Chocolate
Social media must follow/Food policy website(s) you read: Shaun King
Photo credit: Michael Paras
Beatriz Beckford is a force in the movement for American food sovereignty. As Director of the Grassroots Action Network (GAN) at US-based WhyHunger, Beatriz creates vital alliances and coalitions to lift up the leadership of historically marginalized communities. In doing so, she helps build power and capacity for grassroots groups to organize effectively, developing strategies rooted in the collective wisdom of communities.
A featured panelist at our upcoming event, Mobilizing for change: Lessons from the frontlines, Beatriz will share how marginalized, racialized, and allied communities across the United States are successfully activating on the ground. We’re looking forward to having her join us on the stage here in Toronto on April 1st . But in the meantime, we couldn’t help but ask her a few questions to give us a taste of what she’ll be speaking about.
How do you think social change really happens?
Change comes from the grassroots, from people who are the most affected. People closest to the issues are best adept to address them, but they’re continuously marginalized from the resources to implement solutions. It’s up to all of us in the food movement to ensure any table created is an equitable table that includes and lifts up marginalized people in the same space as think tanks and government entities.
At five in the morning in Immokalee, Florida, the air is crisp, the sky is dark and the streets are humming. Roosters crow, bikes zip around, and parents carry their sleeping children wrapped in blankets off to day care, a personal cooler in one hand and a child’s backpack slung over the shoulder. It’s the beginning of another long day in Immokalee for migrant workers and their families. Soon the sun will be directly overhead and workers will be in the tomato fields harvesting thousands of green tomatoes that will be shipped around the country, purchased and processed by the food industry giants. Millions of Americans every day will eat the tomatoes initially handled by these workers, chopped up in their Taco Bell burrito or sliced on their McDonald’s hamburger.
Everyday life is a struggle for these 30,000+ workers who migrate to Immokalee from communities in the Global South including Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti for a singular purpose: to make a better life for themselves and their families. But it is a “new day” and there is a brighter future in these fields thanks to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization founded and run by the workers themselves to put an end to the indignity, abuse, sexual harassment and wage theft experienced in the unregulated, 600 million-dollar Florida tomato industry. The strides this community-based, worker-led organization has made in the last two decades have resulted in increased pay and enforcement of basic labor standards in the fields, culminating in their international recognition as one of the most innovative and successful human rights organizations in the country. After years of trying to make change by directly targeting the Florida tomato growers who hired and supervised the workers, the CIW turned its focus instead to the corporations who buy the tomatoes--and whose business model is only as good as the public perception of their brand. Within a decade, public pressure organized by the CIW has brought eleven of the world's billion dollar food corporations to the table to formally join the Fair Food Program, committing to leverage their purchasing power to hold the growers accountable for their treatment of workers in exchange for absorbing some of the costs of a penny-per-pound increase in farmworker wages.
Brooke Smith, Director of WhyHunger’s Grassroots Action Network, and I were hosted for two days in Immokalee last month by CIW members and staff. WhyHunger has been privileged to support CIW for the past decade in a variety of ways – participating in actions and helping to amplify CIW’s voice and stories as well as connecting them with resources. As we have sharpened our understanding of what it means to be a grassroots support organization, our commitment to accompanying grassroots-led efforts to transform communities has deepened. WhyHunger’s programs are shifting in new and exciting ways as we shift our frame towards the practice of allyship. This two-day encounter with CIW on their home turf was an opportunity for us to listen, learn and reflect, to ask our CIW partners and ourselves: What does it mean to be in solidarity? What does it look like and how does it, in practice, shift systems so deeply rooted in wealth accumulation and competition towards systems that become rooted in a collective moral center – systems that, in this case, are still market-based but are also held accountable to a large organized consumer base that shares the values of worker dignity and fair pay?
Paradox abounds in Immokalee. Not only in a robust and proven strategy that brings corporations with arguably cutthroat business practices to the table to sign an agreement for fair food; but also in the juxtaposition of stories of hope for a dignified life with those of deep inequity and loss. Huddled in the dark on a bench on the front porch of the CIW community center witnessing the 5 a.m. hustle and bustle in the parking lot across the street, we listened as CIW member Santiago Perez, a farmworker originally from Guatemala, described the scene we were witnessing and the changes the workers have implemented to create greater job security. That afternoon, Oscar Otzoy, another farmworker and CIW leader, took us on a walking tour of the trailer camps where the majority of the farm workers find housing when they first arrive in Immokalee.
While in some cases conditions have improved over the past decade, there are still 10+ men living in each small, dilapidated trailer, sharing one bathroom and a hot pot for cooking. Ownership of the trailer camps and farmworker housing in Immokalee is concentrated in the hands of just a couple of landlords, and housing prices exceed that of New York City. And yet when Oscar walked us past the former site where workers were forcibly entrapped and trafficked up and down the east coast before their captors were brought to justice, we were reminded of the enormous strides made by the CIW’s anti-slavery campaign.
Accompanying CIW co-founder Lucas Benitez to the tomato fields to take part in worker-to-worker educational sessions as a part of the heralded Fair Food Program, we witnessed the fulfillment of human rights in action. It is a mark of the previously inconceivable accomplishments of the CIW’s campaign to bring modern standards and transparency to the agriculture industry that Lucas and his colleagues Guadalupe Gonzalo and Oscar Otzoy were greeted warmly by the farm manager as they waited for the 100+ workers to arrive on the bus. The workers gathered for about 30 minutes while the CIW led a session on the rights and responsibilities of both the workers and the growers under the Fair Food Program. In the background, tractors hauled fresh drinking water and shade structures, placing them in the fields for ease of access by workers. It was 8 a.m. and the sun was already beginning to climb. The workers – women and men, young and old – left the motivating education session and headed to the fields for some of the most physically demanding work imaginable to put food on our tables.
Our visit to Immokalee coincided with the International Day of the Migrant. On our last night, a group of thirty or more men and women came together at the CIW headquarters for their regular Wednesday night community gathering. CIW member and worker Gerardo Reyes-Chavez led the farmworkers in dialogue about their reasons for migrating to Immokalee and their experience as farmworkers. Each person who spoke told a story of hope and loss: hope that steady work in the tomato fields would result in remittances for their families back home and savings towards a small plot of land to farm, a house or school fees; and the loss of a wife, children, parents, a community and a beloved culture left behind out of economic necessity.
A farmworker’s life is marked by struggle and strain, both physical and emotional. And while there is art and music in the CIW’s expression of the struggle, and joy in their celebration of triumphs, there is also frustration and deep loss in the farmworkers’ personal stories. The act of solidarity and the expression of allyship can also be discordant and complex – to understand that the farmworkers’ struggle is not external to me or my hopes for a more just world even while I have never labored in the fields or left my family behind for the necessity and promise of opportunity elsewhere. The act of grassroots support is not always about doing something; listening and walking alongside each other in the struggle is sometimes the most difficult but the most important action to take as an ally. It’s a tall order and one that, as an organization, WhyHunger is committed to learning and practicing alongside partners like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
As a grassroots support organization, WhyHunger’s mission is to work with community-based organizations and leaders across the US and internationally to multiply resources, share stories and foster connections. But what does that look like? We're pleased to premiere a new video today that tells the story of our grassroots support and paints a picture of how we work with community trailblazers, who we’re proud to call allies, partners and friends.
Together, we’re building a just food system to ensure that everyone, everywhere has the right to good food.