It’s Not Enough to Vote with Your Fork

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Chef Rocky Barnette is on the road with Food & Water Watch to educate eaters about corporate control of the food system, tell us what we can do about it, and clue us in as to why the Farm Bill matters.

First some facts about concentration in the food industry:

  • In 2007, the top three beef packers processed 67 percent of all cattle. This pushes down prices to small and mid-sized farmers, putting them out of business. The meat industry is now more concentrated than it was when Congress broke up the big monopolies a century ago.
  • The hog industry is genetically engineering enviro-pigs so that they’ll produce less phosphorus in their manure and factory farms will be able to dump more crap on the land without exceeding regulated phosphorus limits.
  • 5,000 dairy farms disappeared between 1997 and 2007, leaving us with mega dairies housing up to 10,000 cows on gigantic feedlots, and putting family farmers out to pasture.

What are the net effects of such concentration in the food industry?

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None of this happened by accident. It’s all the result of government policies enshrined in the Farm Bill. Our current Farm Bill is set to expire September 30, 2012. The writing of the new bill will begin in early 2011. We have less than a year to tell Congress that we, the eaters, get to decide what we are going to eat. And that’s why Food & Water Watch is taking it on the road.

The group is meeting with farmers, local activist groups, and elected officials across the Midwest, while connecting with consumers through cooking demos at farmers’ markets and other venues.

In Pittsburg, Rocky and team stopped off at a member owned co-op, East End Food Co-op then toured the Braddock Farm Youth Project and cooked a meal from the garden for 50 local children. Rocky blogged about it here.

Next up was Ohio where the team visited the Ohio State Fair to talk to fair-goers about concentration in agriculture. And then the team was off to Johnstown, Ohio to meet up with Farmer Dick Jensen of Flying J Farm. Dick raises cattle and vegetables, and produces maple syrup, as well as his own biodiesel to run his farm vehicles. Rocky’s update is here.

In Huron, Ohio the team met up with Slow Food Huron Valley and then hit up The Chef’s Garden to talk about its partnership with Veggie U, which helps teachers bring science and healthy eating into the classroom. They then visited the Culinary Vegetable Institute and Growing Hope, a training site for urban farming, where they met Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber. Blog post here.

In Chicago, the team did a cooking demo at the Evanston Farmers’ Market and at the Chicago French Market and met with activists at various venues in town. Read all about it here.

Here’s the full tour schedule in case Rocky and team are coming to your town this month:

Tuesday, 8/3 Pittsburg, PA

Wednesday, 8/4 Columbus, OH

Thursday, 8/5 Huron, OH

Friday, 8/6 Ann Arbor, MI

Saturday, 8/7 Chicago, IL

Sunday, 8/8 Chicago, IL

Monday, 8/9 Milwaukee, WI

Tuesday, 8/10 Madison, WI

Wednesday, 8/11 Des Moines, IA

Thursday, 8/12 Iowa City, IA

Friday, 8/13 Mendota, IL

So what can you do to help change the food system?

First of all, educate yourself about what activist groups like Food & Water watch are doing, write to your elected representatives, show up at food events, speaking tours, and panel discussions, and bring your friends and family. Get involved in spreading the word and letting elected officials know that we deserve a better food system.

“Seeking out sustainably produced food at the grocery store, shopping at farmers’ markets and even growing your own garden in your backyards will only get us so far,” said Food & Water Watch’s Assistant Director and lead food policy expert Patty Lovera. “We all have the right to voice our concerns about the injustices and lack of safety and real choice that permeates our broken food system. The easiest thing the average citizen can do to help change food policy is to add their voice to the growing chorus of activists holding policymakers accountable by signing up with an organization like Food & Water Watch.”

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Images: Food & Water Watch via Flickr

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