After 42 years of working in the U.S. and around the world to end hunger and build social justice for all, we know firsthand that the just, plentiful world we are working to build has no room for oppressive or discriminatory rhetoric, threats or actions. With federal policies and practices that threaten those values unfolding at a rapid pace, WhyHunger will continue to stand up for and with our community-based partners and work together to build a just, hunger free world.
We will remain vigilant defenders of human rights, at home and abroad, and protectors of the earth that provides for us all. We will organize across sectors from the environment to food to immigration to gender and race – standing in solidarity with our partners, allies and supporters on the front lines of the struggle to ensure that all people have the right and opportunity to live a dignified life free from hunger and oppression.
We will reject pending federal policy and budget decisions that threaten to pull apart the fabric of our democracy, to destroy the vital safety net – from health care to SNAP - that is keeping millions from falling deeper into hunger and poverty, and to deport and criminalize immigrant communities on whose backs our exploitive food system is built.
Now is the time to take action!
•Call your elected officials – locally, statewide and federally – to share your vision for a just world, free from hunger. Ask them to invest in policies that protect the environment and support the rights of all people to have nutritious food and a dignified life that free from oppression, fear and discrimination.
•Recommit your time, energy and funds to supporting community-based organizations and social movements that are driving local innovation and fueling progress.
•Take the time to engage in political analysis and dialogue around the deeper issues of hunger at the intersection of economic inequality, racism, health and the environment.
Join WhyHunger in continually asking the WHY questions in the face of injustice, oppression and hunger and interrogating the effectiveness, equity and consequences behind each and every proposed solution. Together we can strengthen and grow the movement for social justice and realize the just, hunger free world we’ve imagined and set out to build.
No one deserves to be hungry or live in poverty and in order to bring this to a halt everyone needs to be involved. Giving back allows me to pay it forward in hopes that someone will receive it knowing that they are supported even in their darkest time.
It breaks my heart to see so many go without a meal. Its a true reminder to be grateful. There is an abundance of food on this planet, yet so many are starving. No one in this world deserves to go without something to eat. Its important to me that the less fortunate know we care about them! Everyone, everywhere matters and its time we come together and pay it forward.
In a new report, Janet Poppendieck, activist, author, professor emerita at Hunter College and WhyHunger Board Member, reflects on her decades of research and advocacy to promote the School Breakfast Program in light of its 50th anniversary. She lifts up this critical program, which provided 2.3 billion nutritious meals to America’s children last year, and its steady growth as possibly the best example of effective advocacy and productive cooperation between national anti-hunger organizations and state and local groups.
There are few things meant to be as fundamentally universal, as natural and unwavering as human rights. Here in the U.S. we hold these basic, inalienable rights at our core. We’ve used a framework of rights to found a nation, to build our political systems and to develop a shared narrative of what makes us uniquely American. Yet, when we begin to dissect what is meant by human rights in the policies and practices in place in the United States today, we find that access to certain basic needs – nutritious food and clean water – is treated as a privilege, unevenly available among certain demographics. What is possible if the U.S. acknowledged the basic, essential human right to food? Could we reframe the conversation or even end hunger in America?
At the World Social Forum, held last month in Montreal and attended by tens of thousands of activists, organizations and social movements, WhyHunger and La Via Campesina co-organized a round table discussion on the meaning and potential opportunities to use the right to food framework in the U.S. to name and then address hunger as an injustice.
To kick off the conversation, panelist Smita Narula, human rights practitioner, academic and expert advisor in the field of international human rights and public policy, laid out the concepts behind a right to food framework and how it could be used in the U.S. Narula stated, “The right to food is the right of all people to be free from hunger and to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, nutritious and culturally acceptable food that is produced sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.”
Listen to Smita Narula talk about the right to food.
Narula went on to explain that a rights-based approach to food emphasizes the government’s obligation, rooted in international human rights law, to ensure in a non-discriminatory way that food is accessible, both economically and physically, adequate in nutrition, affordable and sustainable in both production and consumption.
“Contrary to popular perception, the right to food is not a right to a minimum number of calories, or simply the right to government entitlements,” said Narula. “It is the right to a political and economic system, including a food system, wherein all people are empowered to provide for themselves in a dignified, healthy and sustainable way.”
When we look at food as one of those inalienable human rights, it becomes impossible to accept that 42 million people, including 13 million children, in the U.S. were food insecure in 2015. Facts that we in the “anti-hunger” community rattle off as talking points so often that they’ve been committed to memory, become unimaginable, even unconstitutional: 17 million children don’t have enough nutritious food to eat; the large majority of households facing hunger have at least one family member who works – often multiple jobs; hunger disproportionately affects people of color, women and children; food system workers face higher levels of hunger than the rest of the U.S. workforce – in fact, just 13.5% of all food workers earn a living wage.
And what these facts and stats can sometimes mask, is the underlying systems-level injustice that is at the root of hunger in America. “People are not poor, they have been impoverished,” said Narula. “People do not lack access; they have been denied access or have been dispossessed of resources.”
What are the possibilities for ending hunger if we stop asking the question “how do we feed the world” and if we stop looking at the hungry in the U.S. as folks who need to be “helped”? What are the possibilities if we reframe how we see those who are hungry as “rights holders who can organize to fight an injustice,” and we start asking why and how the human right to food is being denied? After 30+ years of building the most sophisticated emergency food system in the world, coupled with federally funded benefits such as SNAP (food stamps), we are still coming up short on solving the hunger problem in America.
“Hunger will not be solved by charity or by the commodification of land, but by ensuring rights, by ending social and economic injustice and by ensuring people’s agency over resources that are essential to their survival,” said Narula. “I am talking about nothing less than shifting people’s consciousness.”
It is clear that to put an end hunger in the U.S., we need to change the whole conversation. We need to ask different questions and seek out different solutions. We need a counter narrative. We need a transformation in our approach to ending hunger from a focus on charity to seeking social justice.
While many countries have successfully changed their constitutions with the support of social movements like La Via Campesina, the overwhelming feeling from the farmers, organizers, activists and anti-hunger organizations that attended the discussion in Montreal was that a policy change to codify the right to food in the U.S. was not the first goal, and certainly not attainable in the short-term. Rather, the opportunity in using the framework of the right to food in the U.S. lies in the critical step of building a groundswell of people – the food insecure, emergency food providers, farmers, consumers, activists and communities of color -- who are organizing to change the narrative about what it will take to end hunger. If we shift the conversation enough, can we make room to focus on envisioning and implementing creative strategies, practices and programs at the community level that address the underlying issues of hunger and begin to transform our food system? Can we put people and social justice at the center of our food system, not corporate interests and profits?
Using the right to food framework can help us tell a different story about hunger and what it will take to end it, and while we can hope and even plan for a day when America recognizes all human rights – including the right to food- we don’t need policy change to begin the critical work of changing the narrative, building consciousness and realizing our rights to safe and nutritious food.
SEATTLE, WA, August, 31 2016 – The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is pleased to announce the honorees of the eighth annual Food Sovereignty Prize: the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF). The honorees were selected for their success in promoting food sovereignty, agroecology and social justice to ensure that all people have access to fresh, nutritious food produced in harmony with the planet.
Lauded as an alternative to the World Food Prize, the Food Sovereignty Prize champions real solutions to hunger and is recognized by social movements, activists and community-based organizations around the world. The 2016 honorees are strident in their resistance to the corporate control of our food system, including false solutions of biotechnology that damage the planet while exacerbating poverty and hunger. Their programs and policies support small-scale farmers and communities, build unified networks, and prioritize the leadership of food providers, including women, farmworkers, peasants, indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities within the system.
“Hunger is not a technical problem, it’s a political problem,” said John Peck, Executive Director of Family Farm Defenders and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member. “Small farmers have had the solution to hunger for millennia in agroecology and food sovereignty.”
“The Borlaug and Gates Foundations and multinational corporations like Monsanto promote biotechnology because they profit from it. Ask the millions of farmworkers, family farmers and family fishermen feeding their communities what they need and they will tell you: access to land, clean water and their own seeds,” noted Diana Robinson, Campaign and Education Coordinator at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and US Food Sovereignty Alliance member.
About the Honorees
The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) was founded in 2008 by a group of activist networks and launched in Durban, South Africa, during the 2011 alternative people's climate summit, organized to counter the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference Of the Parties 17 talks (COP17). AFSA brings together organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists and hunter/gatherers; indigenous peoples; youth, women and consumer networks; people of faith; and environmental activists from across Africa. Together they advocate for community rights and family farming, promote traditional knowledge systems, and protect natural resources. In the face of increased corporate agribusiness interests threatening their food systems, including massive land and water grabs, the criminalization of seed-saving practices, and false solutions to climate change such as so-called "Climate-Smart Agriculture", AFSA unites the people most impacted by these injustices to advance food sovereignty through agroecological practices, policy work and movement-building efforts.
Bern Guri, The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa’s chairperson, noted, “Africa has a myriad of ways to feed her people and to keep her environment safe. However, a few international corporations from the global North have generated approaches strictly for their own profit by misleading our leaders and our people, stealing our seeds and culture, and destroying our environment.”
For AFSA it is clear that the way forward will allow food producers, supported by consumers, to take control of production systems and markets to provide healthy and nutritious food. Facing the many ecological, economic and social challenges in today’s world requires an urgent transition to agroecology to establish the ecologically sustainable, socially just and nutritious food systems of the future, and it can be done through the collective, inclusive and democratic co-generation of the knowledge held by farmers, consumers, researchers and African governments, who are meant to serve the interests of their (farming) populations.
The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), founded in 1986, has a long-standing mission to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities to gain control over the social, political, workplace, economic, health and environmental justice issues affecting their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment in which farmworkers are treated as equals, not exploited and deprived based on race, ethnicity, immigrant status, or socioeconomic status. As members of the world’s largest social movement, La Via Campesina, FWAF is building collective power and a unified force for providing better living and working conditions, as well as equity and justice for farmworker families and communities. This includes building leadership and activist skills among communities of color who are disproportionately affected by pesticide exposure/health problems, environmental contamination, racism, exploitation and political under-representation while lifting up women’s wisdom and leadership.
"Farmworker families pay the greatest price in the corporate food system of today. They work in fields of poison and exploitation so that people can easily access cheap foods,” explained Elvira Carvajal, Farmworker Association of Florida's lead organizer in Homestead, Florida. “We have a vision to bring together the community around the art of healing with good food and herbs, which is part of our culture. We practice agroecology in the community by sharing the knowledge we bring from our grandparents, our mothers, our families, our ancestors. The meeting of cultures that happens in the gardens, where we grow our own food without chemicals, and sharing plants and traditions and knowledge across generations is a beautiful thing. I am proud of our own people practicing food and seed sovereignty."
US Food Sovereignty Alliance members Community to Community Development and Community Alliance for Global Justice will host the prize for the first time in the Northwest, welcoming the 2016 Honorees and Alliance partners from across the country to Seattle and Bellingham for several days of activities and actions. The prize ceremony will take place on Saturday, October 15th at 6pm at Town Hall at Eight and Seneca in Seattle.
For event updates and more information on the prize and this year’s winners visitwww.foodsovereigntyprize.org, follow the Food Sovereignty Prize at facebook.com/FoodSovereigntyPrize and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).
About US Food Sovereignty Alliance
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups that upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. The Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system, believing that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in an ecologically sound manner. Learn more at usfoodsovereigntyalliance.org
The World Social Forum, held this month in Montreal, brought together thousands of activists, organizations and social movements working to build a sustainable and inclusive world, to learn, strategize and share knowledge with each other. With so many organizers, farmers, activists, students and change makers in one place, it was easy to see the collective strength of the movement and the potential for the type of transformative social change that our world needs. The power of this potential was crystal clear at a briefing held by Quebec’s Union paysanne and La Via Campesina on the struggle of small-scale farmers in Quebec.
Union paysanne, or Peasant Union, was formed by a group of concerned farmers, consumers and activists that have been organizing in Quebec since 2001 to advocate for agricultural reform across the province. The goals of the movement – clearly articulated in their policy platform – include defending the rights of small scale farmers and organic production, advocating for access to land, food sovereignty and fair trade principles, and combating the corporate control of seeds, land and access to resources, including the refusal of GMOs and dependency on industrial agriculture. As Benoit Girouard, president of Union paysanne and a beekeeper and farmer explained, the main issue in Quebec is “the fight for access and control of our local resources for the local people.”
For years, Union paysanne members have been organizing to break the monopoly of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) over the representation of farmers in Quebec. As Stephanie Wang and Laurence Barchichat, new farmers and coordinators of Union paysanne declared at the briefing, “Quebec cannot guarantee its food sovereignty without having a sovereign peasantry. The union monopoly of the UPA is a major obstacle to human-scale, respectful agriculture.”
The law in Quebec requires mandatory participation by small-scale farmers and producers in the UPA, which supports heavy regulations that make it hard for small farmers and producers to sell at markets and to have a viable, sustainable lifestyle in agriculture. According to Union paysanne, only 1% of the population in Quebec now works in agriculture; meanwhile 80% of agriculture land is not being cultivated because new, small-scale farmers and young farmers face restrictions to buy or access land. Most of the land is being shifted to large scale, corporate mono-culture facilities that are producing soy and canola. These and other barriers make it difficult for small-scale farmers to survive.
It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning in mid-May when we piled into the back of my colleague's car and made our way out of New York City’s sprawl. Joining the team from WhyHunger was Raul Amorim, the Coordinator of the Youth Collective of the Brazilian Landless Worker's Movement (MST), who was in New York to accept the WhyHunger Harry Chapin Award on behalf of the MST. As the conversation flowed from English to Portuguese to Spanish and back we talked about the weather, our work, and how excited we were to reach our final destination. We crossed the Hudson River and navigated up the highway North-bound, rolling down our windows and taking in the fresh air. You could see that spring was beginning to be pushed out by summer in the lush greenery that paved our way towards Chester, NY. Winding through the quaint village of Chester, we came upon a beautiful farm valley, slowed the car and stepped out onto the rich soil of Rise & Root Farm.
Already several hours into their work day, we found two of Rise & Root’s farmers/owners – Karen Washington, an activist, urban garden legend and WhyHunger board member, and Lorrie Clevenger, a community organizer, farmer and former WhyHunger staffer – hard at work.
In its second season, Rise & Root is a beautiful 3-acre cooperative farm owned and managed by Karen, Lorrie, Michaela Hayes and Jane Hodge with a mission focused on food and social justice. The four women - all experienced urban farmers and social justice activists - took GrowNYC’s Beginning Farmer Program together in 2012 and began crafting a shared vision of continuing their food justice work by growing food and community beyond the city boundaries. They began looking at land and weighing their options, settling on a partnership with the Chester Agriculture Center, whose mission is “conserving prime farmland while putting it to its best use: growing clean, local food using organic management practices.” They signed an affordable 30-year lease, and began their journey.
Karen explained how their experience of growing food in cities had led them to experiment with new techniques on the farm, “We have been using raised beds and drip irrigation and laying down biodegradable black plastic for the weeds – all of these practices from urban gardening. And now some of the other farmers are incorporating these ideas!”
All their food is grown organically, without GMO seeds, through mostly hand-scale and semi-mechanical techniques. “We have a walk behind tractor,” explained Lorrie. “We grow sustainably, organically and for local markets.”
Karen went on to describe the importance of agroecologically and shared learning, “I talk to the elders to lean and hear their stories of how they used to grow without chemicals,” said Karen.
In the fields and green house they are growing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, kale, cabbage, cilantro, garlic, kohlrabi, radish, carrots and so much more.
Keeping true to their social justice mission, they sell the produce in different markets so it can be accessible to all, including the La Familia Verde farmer’s market in the Bronx, founded by Karen in 1998, at Manhattan’s Union Square Market and to some NYC-based restaurants. This year they are looking to sell locally in Chester.
While I was there to finally get a chance to see Karen and Lorrie’s farm in action, Raul’s purpose, and the goal of WhyHunger in setting up this trip, was much deeper. Talking with small scale farmers and learning how farming, food, social justice and activism intersect and play out in the everyday life of American farmers was his focus. Along with sharing information on the lives, struggles and success of the farmers and organizers of the MST. Karen and Lorrie were more than happy to reciprocate.
The conversation was rich and pointed as we made our way through a packed greenhouse and storage shed, across the fields and into the refrigerated room where freshly picked produce was waiting for the markets. Raul, Karen, Lorrie and the WhyHunger team talked about GMO seeds and access to land, how organizers can shift power and collective action can make change.
As Karen and Lorrie talked about racism and discrimination in the fields and farming policies in the U.S., Raul compared their stories with successes and challenges in Brazil.
“Feeding the planet is very important and dignified labor, and the people who work the land have to be able to live a dignified life,” Raul offered.
“As an African American woman, I see what is happening with farmworkers in this country as a new kind of slavery – it’s not even new really, it’s repeating in our history,” explained Karen. “How do we change that piece, the mechanisms that makes that possible? How can we change the mentality that people can be exploited for labor?”
“MST is beginning to face the same questions,” Raul replied. “We hope and foster the idea of workers coming together to share land as a social function for all society.”
“Right now in Brazil there are fewer farmers than in the colonial period,” Raul explained that land concentration is growing and control by international companies is increasing. “People’s control of the land is critical in this moment. Right now as capitalism is in crisis there is a ‘gold rush’ to buy land because it’s a solid investment.”
“Exactly – land is power,” Karen said. “It’s the same in the U.S., especially the South.”
“Right! This conversation is the basis for why we need agrarian reform!” said Raul, though he was quick to qualify – “but not like they kind you have in the U.S.” He continued, “Land was democratized in Brazil, but not for the people, to open new boarder for developers and to squash the resistance from the people who live there.”
The conversation dug deeper into food sovereignty and the power of corporate agriculture. But it ended with hope, and how hope is growing on the fields of Rise and Root and the other small farmer collectives working in Chester and beyond. How hope is growing in the success of the MST, who have organized rural families to reclaim 42 million acres of unused land for 350,000 families in order to grow food for themselves and their communities. How they have training thousands upon thousands of farmers in agroecology, organized and empowered women and youth, provided political education to resist seed patenting, developed markets for locally-produced food, and built schools in rural areas.
“We need research and support for this type of agriculture,” explained Raul. “We need a different type of logic that nourishes cultivates the land and ourselves. The MST is open and interested in building relationships with farmers around the world – just like you.”
Karen and Lorrie couldn’t agree more.
As our visit ended and we headed into town for lunch, I was sure that this exchange of ideas, learnings and shared analysis would not end that afternoon. My trip upstate was a reminder that the farmers, activists and social movements that are working to build a just, hunger free world must come together on a farm without borders.