Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Food Justice: Conference Highlights

OH WOW, I’m still processing all the information presented at Community Food Security Coalition's 15th Annual Conference in Oakland last month. Attending the four-day event with over 1,000 like-minded food justice activists nationwide was an incredible experience packed with film screenings, tours (see my posting about Black Panthers Legacy at, awards ceremony, march to support human rights for farmworkers (with snacks provided by Chez Panisse restaurant, though I missed this to attend Oxfam luncheon described at, soap box at Occupy Oakland, workshops, forums, networking and committee meetings, exhibits, etc.

OH WOW, it was so challenging for me to select sessions to attend because I just wanted to absorb it all; fortunately, some of the materials are now posted at so we can see what we missed. (Unfortunately, I missed Monday evening’s A Taste of Oakland Reception featuring local foods--major foodie highlight!--because I decided to take a mid-term that could not be rescheduled.)

OH WOW, there were a lot of sessions about 2012 Farm Bill (covered in past blog postings) and food sovereignty (which probably should have been conference title instead of Food Justice). Instead of providing a play-by-play account of the sessions that I attended, I’ll just post some photos and then focus on one Voices from the Bay Area workshop that really stood out for me—“The Elephant in the Room: Food Access and Health Outcomes.” In other words, does provision of healthful food ensure consumption? How can we ensure food-insecure individuals receive and consume healthful foods, and have positive health outcomes? At The Free Farm/Free Farm Stand, we give away fresh fruits and veggies, but are recipients actually eating them?
Joined Getup classmate Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (, in breakfast buffet line: scrambled eggs with fresh herbs, roasted potatoes, wheat & gluten-free breads, almond butter, pears & apples, persimmons, granola, dairy & soy milk, orange juice, coffee & tea. CFSC Board President Young Kim welcomes 1,000+ attendees to Conference.
Former CFSC Board & Staff members share stories of past conferences from 1st gathering in 1994 in Chicago to present day, the largest and most diverse in its history.
Honoring the Roots of the Food Movement in the Bay Area panel: Susan Clark of Columbia Foundation ( discussed philanthropy from 1649 Diggers to present day; Larry Cohen of Prevention Institute introduced video,"We're Not Buying It: Junk Food Marketing to Kids" (view at; Food First Director Eric Holt-Jiminez translated for Luis who provided history and working conditions of Mexican farmworkers in U.S.; and Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm talked about the challenges of maintaining a healthy and affordable supply of food with fair prices for farmers and farmworkers.
The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities author Peter Ladner talks about regaining control over our food supply and quality by growing food ourselves foremost, and next buying it from someone we know.
Gavin Raders co-founded Oakland-based Planting Justice ( as an income-generating nonprofit to make permaculture "relevant, accessible and affordable" for low-income urban residents. He shared his work at a free community workshop on Socially Enterprising Urban Agriculture Nonprofits.
Communities Putting Prevention to Work panelists talked about food access strategies such as farmers markets, farm to schools, healthy vending policies, healthy corner stores, etc.
Lunchtime march to support Campaign for Fair Food, led by Coalition of Immokalee Workers ( and Just Harvest USA (, to demand fair wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers.
Occupy Oakland's Garden Supply Drop-Off Center
Took a break from power point presentation sessions to join hands-on cooking using Center for Ecoliteracy's Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools ( Our group prepared broccoli raisin salad. I've been so inspired working with Cheryl Davis (standing while holding walnuts) to deliver nutrition education through Network for a Healthy California's African-American Campaign; her former students will spot her on the street and thank her for showing them how to reduce high blood pressure and control diabetes through diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits.
5 quick & easy salads: asian cabbage, cucumber & jicama lime, broccoli raisin, tabouli, zucchini fettucine
Raul Lozano founded La Mesa Verde ( to help low-income residents of San Jose grow their own organic vegetable gardens. His idea was to provide raised beds so people will garden. His 3 goals for participants: learn how to grow food, eat healthier and save money ($240-$720+ annual savings). 3 phases: empower people to create self-sufficiency, neighbors help neighbors, and seed saving.
San Jose State University Nutrition Professor Marjorie Freedman and her students conducted studies of food intake patterns of community soup kitchen clients to see if nutritional needs were met. They found that fresh fruits, vegetables and bread were mainly discarded. Protein was rarely thrown out. She said this might suggest that waste is a function of palatability so further research will be done on food preparation and menu patterns in relation to consumption patterns. She said findings are cause for concern because food is not nutrition until it's eaten. She raised the question: Can we talk about food security without talking about nutrition and health outcomes?

Freedman’s plan to study the “palatability” of prepared foods really intrigued me because of the Bay Area’s diverse population. Her presentation showed fresh raw salads, oranges and breads thrown out at the soup kitchen. Based on my experience working with senior congregate meal sites, here are some of my thoughts on why some foods are not eaten:

1. Preparing foods that are culturally appropriate. For example, traditional Chinese and Indian peoples don’t eat raw salads (other than pickled form; Chinese Chicken Salad is American-Chinese food, not authentic Chinese) but they believe in cooking high-fiber vegetables with some healthy fat to improve digestibility and nutritional quality. According to George Mateljan’s The World’s Healthiest Foods, the following foods should be cooked to enhance nutritional quality: carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, green and red peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. In addition, cooking helps prevent foodborne illness by killing salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other pathogens.

2. Respecting dietary needs, especially food allergies and sensitivities (“One man’s food is another man’s poison”). FDA’s top eight foods accounting for 90% of allergic reactions (adverse immune system response to protein) are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. Common food intolerances can be due to enzyme deficiency (e.g., most people other than those of Northern European ancestry have lactase deficiency making it difficult to tolerate lactose in milk) or chemical sensitivities (e.g., salicylates found in orange and other citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, etc.).

3. Considering health issues such as tooth problems (e.g., raw apples may be too hard to bite), less sensitive taste buds (possible zinc deficiency), drug interactions (limit garlic if taking blood thinners, limit grapefruit if taking cholesterol-lowering drugs), and depression (which suppresses appetite for some people).

Congregate meals remind me of airplane food, served to the masses with little customization for individual preferences, so uneaten food is wasted. To minimize waste, perhaps menus should be planned to avoid offending ingredients and to follow traditional food preparation methods? At The Free Farm, several regular volunteers have gluten sensitivities so we always try to provide gluten-free alternatives like rice or quinoa.

In addition to the problem of food-insecure people not eating fresh fruits and vegetables at community kitchens, let's examine the extent that they’re eating food provided by food-based safety net programs. And do they have refrigeration for storage and cooking equipment to properly prepare foods?

We already produce more than enough food for everyone to eat, but the poor go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food ( In the Bay Area, we have a safety net of community kitchens, food banks, food stamps (CalFresh), etc. to provide food to the food-insecure. However, some recipients aren’t eating what’s provided. For example, some elderly recipients are selling donated food from food bank pantries and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (, and some food stamp recipients are converting food stamps to cash, to purchase non-food items (sometimes to meet other needs such as rent or medicine)( AB 828 proposes to lift the lifetime ban on convicted drug felons from receiving food stamps ( but some are opposed due to concerns that they might resort to food stamp trafficking to support their drug habit (

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which distributes coupons to low-income participants to purchase fresh food/seeds at farmers’ markets, has redemption rates averaging below 60%; some barriers to participation are inconvenient market hours, location and lack of transportation (

As experienced by Lozano’s La Mesa Verde clients and we at The Free Farm, possibly the best way to ensure that people receive and consume healthful foods, and have positive health outcomes, is for everyone to grow and harvest produce (great exercise) at their peak of ripeness for the best flavor and nutrition. . . so let’s grow plants, eat plants! Mission accomplished :-)
Ally Akon, editor of Cultivating Food Justice, and grad student Megan Carney facilitate Food Justice Research networking forum. Eric Holt-Gimenez, who focuses on participatory action research, proposed forming a Society for Researchers of Food Justice. U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance ( Forum: While food security is about how best to get food to those who need it, food sovereignty aims to address the root cause of hunger--poverty--by breaking up corporate control in favor of the people's democratic control of the food system.
Food First ( Director Eric Holt-Gimenez wears his message: Join the Revolution Eat Local. Check out his backgrounder on "Food Security, Food Justice or Food Sovereignty?" at He also mentioned that Food First will present People's Food Conference next year--definitely look forward to attending! Access to Healthy Food for Underserved Populations panel: Sara Padilla of Community Food Security Coalition ( discussed urban agriculture barriers (seasonality, labor intensive, land tenure and access, skills and cultural barriers) and benefits of urban gardens (builds "social capital" aka community contributions, recreation, revitalizes neighborhoods, nutrition and environmental education); Autumn Saxton-Ross of District of Columbia Department of Public Health mentioned rule dating from 1980s for Enhancing Food Production and Urban Gardening to use vacant lots to produce food, but its implementation hampered because of policy language ("devil's in the details"); Alison Hagey of Policy Link's Center for Health and Place mentioned some resources online at relating to Healthy Food, Healthy Communities, Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens; and Laila Goldberg of The Food Trust ( discussed healthy food financing initiative.
Future Directions for Community Food Movement Closing Plenary
Raj Patel said food sovereignty means ending all forms of violence against women because one-third of households are headed by females and 60% of hungry population are female. He added that we need to get used to Slow Politics because good decisions take time. Mills College student Maya Salsedo is youth advisor to Rooted in Community ( which helped create a Youth Food Bill of Rights. Some RIC students perform at conference closing.

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