By Maywa Montenegro de Wit
It’s 2017, and as the US contemplates – as Naomi Klein puts it – junk bankers for Treasury, junk food salesmen for Labor, and junk science zealots for the department of State, it’s been a very long three weeks of the new administration. Food and agriculture haven’t necessarily been foremost on people’s agendas lately, as we rush to back up precious government environmental data and to stand up to daily assaults on our communities, our convictions, our basic moral sensibilities. (In 140 characters or less.) But as many people who work on food system sustainability know, very few crises have singular causes, and many aren’t surprising or ‘new’ in the longer scheme of things. Most, instead, arise out of contradictions in the economic system that, we sometimes believe, will deliver something substantively new if labeled local, organic, or diverse.
The upside of these turbulent times is that community-based movements can grow. A thick participatory culture studies suggest, can begin small and lean, developing mostly through trial and error. Over time, community involvement begins to gel, triggering a catalytic mass of mutual aid, cooperative enterprises, and novel ways of growing, sharing, and distributing land, seeds, water and food. As movements from Standing Rock to Black Lives Matter appear to appreciate most viscerally, we can begin to strengthen political practice in a different sphere, outside (though not separate from) markets and the state. We can catalyze deeper civic involvement and nurture intrinsic values of trust, empathy and kindness where, so we’ve been, told “success” stems from advancing as individuals in competitive markets, and where politics per-usual seems dull, isolating and dis-spiriting.
As Klein, Monbiot, and countless others on the ground now suggest, these bottom-up activities empower us: to create social solidarity while proposing and implementing a vision of a better world. To generate hope where hope seemed absent. To allow people in our midst, and with our help, to take back control.
On that note, the first edition of this year’s Friday Food Links!
Table Scraps for the Poor Won’t End Poverty – Food waste is a hot topic. But, say Patel and Saul, “instead of focusing our attention on how to repurpose wilting veggies into soup for the homeless, or grocery-store throwaways into meals for poor families, let’s resolve to think big in 2017 and challenge the notion that food waste can be the solution to hunger. Because the idea is just plain wrong.”
The U and the Flu: the Bad Science of Industrial Poultry – Join evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace live on Facebook as he discusses the links between agribusiness, shoddy science, and avian pandemics such as the H5 bird flu now sweeping Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Brought to you by IATP.
Ron Reed is a Karuk dipnet fisherman and a cultural biologist for the Karuk Tribe of California. In this episode of Delicious Revolution, Reed discusses re-discovering traditional knowledge, the trouble with and power of expertise, and renewing the forest and our culture with sacred fire.
Magical Fruits, Elite Beans and Green Revolution Science – Scientists are getting excited about the tepary bean, a legume grown by the Tohono O’odham native peoples of Arizona. With high levels of protein, a low glycemic index, and resistance to extreme heat, it has garnered attention from CGIAR and USAID alike. But claims that “elite beans” will “fend off starvation” hark back to Green Revolution narratives, and Borlaug’s name haunts many salvational tepary headlines. Let’s hope project director Burridge’s cautionary words are heard and heeded. “There’s a whole world of beans out there, he says, “and the challenge is to find the set of traits that are appropriate for an agroecosystem. We need to find resiliency through diversity.”
World Bank Enables Corporate Takeover of Seeds – A new report by the Oakland Institute finds that while the World Bank claims to promote “smart and balanced policies,” its principal policy tool — the Enabling the Business of Agriculture index — blatantly ignores farmer-managed seed systems, promoting instead a basket of intellectual property laws that generate private profit through patented seeds.
Doudna and Charpentier Awarded Japan Prize for CRISPR Invention – Jennifer Doudna, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular biology and cell biology, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for infection biology in Germany, were awarded the prestigious Japan Prize earlier this week. Recognized for their contributions to ‘inventing’ CRISPR-Cas9, both women will receive a gold medal and 50 million Japanese yen (approximately $420,000 U.S.).
Progress on Perennial Wheat – Plant breeders have long been thinking about perennial wheat, a plant with most qualities of common wheat but that grows back year after year. Now Curwen-McAdams, a PhD student at Washington State University, and WSU professor Steven Jones have developed a new species: a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass. They call it Salish Blue.
2016: The Year that Wasn’t Normal – The ETC Group’s irreverent year in review was just published. From Brexit to CRISPR, Artificial Intelligence to “merger madness”, the group takes stock of prominent trends in food and agriculture – and what they mean for the year to come.
8 Questions for the New Ag Secretary – What will you propose to lift farm incomes and fix the broken Farm Bill? How will you address the impact from executive orders designed to restrict new immigrants and refugees from entering the U.S.? The folks at Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy would like Secretary Sonny Perdue to begin answering some questions about how he’ll run the USDA — the agency Lincoln once called “the People’s department.”
California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers – Many Central Valley farmers cast their votes for Trump in search of deregulation and tax relief policies. Now many, says the New York Times, are “deeply alarmed about what the new policies could mean for their workers, most of whom are unauthorized, and the businesses that depend on them.”
Unbroken Connection to Land – a new brief from Food First goes beyond the preceding Times piece to explore the long-running exploitation of farmworkers under US governments, liberal and conservative. Based on an interview by filmmaker David Bacon with activist Rosalinda Guillen, the brief highlights “the interlocking destinies of farmers and farmworkers and the ways we can resist the exploitation of migrant farmworkers while furthering a restorative land ethic.”