Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Food Movement’

Posted on April 8, 2011 - by

Straight Talk About Food in Low-Income Communities

The sustainable food movement is teeming with buzzwords: “farm to table,” “locavore,” even “sustainable” itself. Despite their relative youth, they’ve already become cliché.

That’s why listening to Louise Thundercloud, an advocate for low-income people in Washington, DC, is so refreshing. “If I go up to somebody hanging out on 7th Street and say, ‘Here’s some sustainable food for you,’ they’re gonna look at me like I’m crazy,” she says.

Thundercloud, who was once homeless in DC herself, shared her thoughts on how to teach vulnerable populations about nutrition and food skills at a discussion on food justice hosted this week by Bread for the City, a local social services center that houses a food pantry, medical and legal clinics, and a soon-to-be-completed rooftop garden.

The key, she says, is using language people can understand and identify with: “’This is food that tastes good, that will make you feel good, and that will fill you up so you won’t be hungry all night.’ That’s what’s going to resonate.”

It sounds so natural, but this isn’t the kind of talk most of us are used to hearing—or using—when we speak about the virtues of fresh, natural foods. Over the past decade, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Whole Foods, and other major cultural forces have drawn an unprecedented amount of attention to our food and where it comes from, and in the process they have deeply shaped the language we use to discuss it. That language is largely abstract, policy-oriented, and flowery—not the kind that appeals to someone struggling to put dinner on the table.

When she talks to people about food and nutrition, Thundercloud (whose ancestors hailed from various Native American tribes, West Africa, Jamaica, and Northern Ireland) stresses the connection between fresh foods and improved health. “A lot of folks don’t know that they can improve their own health just by changing how they eat,” she says. “They’re interested when I tell them that eating this food can help prevent diseases or slow their progress.”

She stresses the importance of “meeting people where they’re at” when helping them make changes in their diets. “If they want to stick with canned produce, then I teach them to rinse the salt or sugar syrup off it. If they’re ready for frozen vegetables, I teach them how to cook those. And if they can afford some fresh stuff, then we talk about preparing that,” says Thundercloud. It’s an incremental approach that frustrates some proponents of local and organic agriculture, who would rather leave industrially-produced canned and frozen goods out of the picture.

“I’m a practical, on the ground-type person,” Thundercloud says, and it’s clear that she’s not one to let the perfect become the enemy of the good. She recommends simple steps like compiling a resource list of places to find fresh food nearby and how to access them.

There’s a time and a place for theoretical discussion and debate within the food movement. But, Thundercloud reminds us, there’s also a time to leave it aside.

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Posted on March 15, 2011 - by

Perennial Plate

The Perennial Plate Episode 52: Real Food Road Trip from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

What do spear fishing, a picnic operetta, and an epic road trip have in common? These are all topics covered by The Perennial Plate, a video series by Daniel Klein devoted to local and sustainable food. From its beginnings as a small Minnesota-based series, the show has developed a national following and received accolades from thousands of fans.

Recently, Klein announced that The Perennial Plate would be hitting the road, with plans for a cross country series beginning this spring! We’ve given him an opportunity to introduce his project to you here, and hope that you will follow his adventures as he travels around the country. In addition, if you happen to live along his travel route and have a sustainable food story to tell, you can submit your idea to Perennial Plate.

Starting as a small Minnesota-based series, The Perennial Plate has grown into a nationally watched show with over 12,000 weekly views, and the series is syndicated on Huffington Post, Grist, Cooking Up A Story and Serious Eats. Each week Daniel Klein (former Chef: Bouchon (Thomas Keller), Fat Duck (Heston Blumenthal), Craft (Tom Collichio)) covers topics as diverse as Squirrel hunting, community gardens, wild winter teas and harvesting road kill. With 52 Episodes under its belt, all taking place in Minnesota (and a few in Wisconsin), the show is a unique accomplishment in bringing Minnesota culinary, agricultural and outdoorsmanship to viewers around the country.

Building off the first season’s success, the obvious next step is to move beyond Minnesota to the great stories around the country. For this six month journey, Daniel Klein and his cameraman (and vegetarian) Mirra Fine, will be continuing their ambitious weekly video format from state to state. They will be farming, hunting, cooking and eating with food heroes from Minnesota to Louisiana, Oregon, New York and Maine. The “Good Food” road trip will begin on May 9th, but not before collecting a big bag of morels for the journey.

Daniel Klein
The Perennial Plate

Good luck to Klein on his travels; we’ll be eagerly following from our armchairs!


Posted on March 1, 2011 - by

Saving the World: Foodies As the New Environmentalists?

Whether or not you hate the term “foodie,” it is a good time to be interested and involved in food, and I don’t just mean as measured by the popularity of Top Chef or the explosion of food photography blogs. Rather, after decades of enthusiasm for processed and frozen meals, the tide has turned in favor of local, fresh and seasonal food that tastes good. And as people realize what a difference it makes to eat real food, they are also exploring the social, economic and political ramifications of their food system—people around the world, people like you.

Has this surge in interest come at the expense of the old environmentalism movement? Recently, an article from Time seemed to think so, suggesting that the efforts of environmental groups to limit greenhouse gases and halt climate change had failed, not to mention a daunting political environment for the EPA, fostered by a hostile Republican-led Congress.

On the other hand, the timing is right for the food movement, however broadly you want to define it. Wrote Bryan Walsh, “If it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another” (Time).

In other words, “food movement” is a misnomer—this campaign is about revolutionizing the way we live through what we eat, and is a medley of influences from farmers, doctors, consumers, businesses, policymakers and more. These disparate forces can both hinder and help the rate of progress, but we now understand that many of the today’s pressing issues are entangled and cannot be resolved without an interdisciplinary approach. To resolve childhood obesity, you might examine urban planning and food deserts. To analyze the latest political unrest in the Middle East, you could investigate climate change and rising food prices.

Does the food movement have the political momentum to forge on where environmentalists have lagged? Last week, White House Executive Chef Sam Kass gave a speech to review the progress that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign had made. In it, he recognized the growing demand for healthier, fresher food for children and residents of underserved areas, and discussed measures that have been taken to improve public health. Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition at NYU, noted, “This is the first time food, nutrition, and health have gotten anywhere near this kind of attention at that level of government” (Atlantic).

So, we can give ourselves a quick pat on the back, but there is plenty of work to be done. “As foodies go from promoting the perfect heirloom tomato to tackling the country’s entrenched agricultural practices, they’ll need a new level of commitment, organization and energy,” said Walsh. But this may be our best chance at creating holistic and long-lasting change in the way we live with our planet.

How are you involved in the good food fight? What food choices did you wrestle with today? Who can you teach about the politics of your plate?

Drop me a line at


Posted on February 22, 2011 - by

A Chat with Slow Food Founder Carlin Petrini

In 1986, the first branch of McDonald’s in Italy opened in the heart of Rome, at the Piazza di Spagna. As in many other countries, protesters howled and demonstrated. One man took decisive action.

Carlo Petrini, or Carlin as he is known to Italians, has quietly grown from being a little-known left-wing journalist, to becoming the leader of one of the world’s largest food activism organizations. Concerned about the encroachment of multinational influence on traditional food culture, he built a resistance movement to defend and protect local food ecosystems, a counterpoint to the unrelenting onslaught of corporate hegemony.

Today, Slow Food spans over 100,000 members in 153 countries, promoting thousands of small-scale producers, communities and educational initiatives. I sat down to interview Petrini, and asked him about the direction of Slow Food, the global food system, and what you can do to get involved.

In America, there are many people involved with Slow Food, but more who have never heard of Slow Food. For these people, what is Slow Food?

Slow Food is an international movement that is involved in the defense of biodiversity, not only in agriculture and food, but also culture; in the defense of small-scale producers, small farmers, fishermen, and artisans because these small producers are the ones who maintain biodiversity. So, Slow Food is a network of these actors that will grow ever stronger, until it finally reaches every country in the world. However, it makes no pretense of having a strong structure or hierarchy–no, it is very, very agile.

In Italy, I can shopping at the market and buy organic vegetables and artisanal products that will not cost much more than the industrial versions. But in America, the difference between the two is significant, and it can cost double or more to buy organic. Why should we spend more time and pay more money for food, especially impoverished people?

Food must be paid at the right price. Here in Italy, we pay too little. When I was young, in the 1970s, 40 years ago, Italian families spent 32% of their income on food. Today, they spend 12% of income. This cell phone here [points] costs the average Italian 13% of his income. You cannot say that food is expensive—the price of food is far too low! And because the price of food is so low, culture is being destroyed, and the young are being sent away from rural areas. Thus, we need an educated countryside, one that values food. Note that there is a difference between value and price. Food is valuable. If I pay a little more for good food—organic food—I help the environment, and I help farmers. This is what they call in economics “positive externalities.” If, however, I only want to pay as little as possible for food, farmers will leave the countryside, water is mismanaged, I eat what is not healthy, and hence, these are negative externalities. Today, the real problem is that food must be at the right price. Not low, but right.

There are many developing countries whose people dream of a lifestyle like those in first-world countries. For instance, in China, people think of McDonald’s as a fancy restaurant of good quality. How do we protect and preserve traditional food culture in these cases?

China has a food culture that is thousands of years old, much older than that of Europe’s. Today they are searching for ways to be different, to be individuals. But it will pass. Why? Because every people is tied to their traditions. And, what has happened in Italy is happening in China. Italy had its moment when it embraced modernity, fast food, etc.—but everything has returned back to the way it was. This is a sure passage. I cannot imagine that the people of China will only eat McDonald’s—no, I don’t believe it.

So, do you eat non-Italian or non-traditional foods?

Oh, certainly, it depends on where I am. Last week, I was in Germany, and I ate German food. I believe that every country has a food culture that should be respected and known. I would not go to Germany and eat a plate of spaghetti—spaghetti can be eaten here! If there is a different culture, my curiosity wants to know that other culture.

What new projects does Slow Food have for this year? Will there be a conference like Terra Madre [a biennial gathering of Slow Food producers and activists] in the United States?

There will be Terra Madre in different countries of the world. I hope that there will soon be one in the United States because the time is ripe. We would have to see if our chapters and members in America can put it together, but that is the difficulty of working with a big country. Many people have certainly been asking why we have never done a big conference in the U.S. Thus, the time is right.

Do you have any advice for young people who would like to participate in the good food movement?

Be curious. Be knowledgeable. Get the maximum information you can about what you eat, where the producer is from, how it was made, etc. My generation is one that is still very close to farming culture, so we know the products. Today, the new generation does not have these direct links to the farmer. Therefore, it is time to know the information and not be just consumers, but I would say, be co-producers. To be a co-producer signifies the value of food, being curious about food, knowing the producer, knowing the value of the merchandise, and most important, not wasting food.

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Posted on September 1, 2010 - by

Farming’s Indispensable Woman

“Women Nourish Us” is FRESH’s femme-focused blog series. Every week, we turn to a leading woman in the good food movement for ideas and inspiration. Be sure to check us out every Wednesday for a new write-in. Then pass the post!

Nicolette Hahn Niman is an attorney and livestock rancher.  Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems resulting from industrialized food production, including the book Righteous Porkchop:  Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009, ) and four essays for the New York Times. She is regular blogger for The Atlantic online, and has written for Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and CHOW.  Previously, she was the Senior Attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance where she was in charge of the organization’s campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry.  She lives in Bolinas, California with her husband, Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, a natural meat company supplied by a network of over 600 traditional farmers and ranchers.  They now market the products of their ranch under the name BN Ranch.

A filmmaker recently asked me why so few women were involved in raising livestock. I paused before answering because the question surprised me a bit.  Over the past ten years, I’ve visited dozens of farms and ranches raising cattle, dairy cows, pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry in every region of the United States.  At every operation women were an absolutely essential part of the team.

At most of these farms, women kept everyone fed, dressed in clean clothes, and ran the household; they often kept the books.  Usually, they were also deeply involved with the stewardship of lands and animals.  These women are agile, nimble “Jills of all trades” who seamlessly flow from one varied task to another throughout their jammed packed days.

In my experience, women bring a unique sensitivity to animal husbandry, ensuring that each animal gets the individual attention it needs.  Our good friends Rob and Michelle Stokes run a cattle, heritage turkey, and goat ranch in eastern Oregon.  Both are skilled in the arts of agriculture and grazing, but during the kidding and calving seasons it’s Michelle who makes sure that every last goat kid and calf gets nursed and bonds to its mother.

And then there are the farms and ranches that are being taken over by women.  The latest Census of Agricultural shows that the number of women farmers is increasing.  One of these is my friend Cory Carman.  She graduated from Stanford with a degree in political science with no intention of ever returning to the cattle ranch she grew up on.  But when family circumstances drew her back to the ranch, she decided to stay.  Now she and her husband have taken over her family’s cattle ranch, which she has converted to a totally grass based operation.  She direct markets her beef on the Internet and sells it to restaurants.  “It’s a totally different beef industry today than the one I grew up in, which was totally dominated by men,” she told me recently.  She had the revelation when she sat down to talk about meat at a business meeting with two other women, both also in their thirties.

Women make up the vast majority of the membership in animal protection organizations.  Moreover, as an article in E Magazine noted, women have an innate environmental ethic.  It quoted Theodore Roszak, director of the Ecopsychology Institute, which studies the relationships between individuals and nature. While men traditionally viewed Mother Nature “as a devious female to be put in her place, to be tamed” by technology (just as they historically viewed marriage in terms of domination and submission), women have shifted the emphasis from using science to subjugate nature to finding ways to accommodate nature.  “Women in the environmental movement have always had sense of being on Earth’s side,” says Roszak.

It naturally follows that the more women are involved in farming and ranching, the better agriculture will be toward natural resources and farmed animals.  I’m proud to be among their ranks.

To get in touch with Nicolette or learn more about her work, visit her website where you can buy her book, Righteous Porkchop:  Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009)

If you believe in the power of women’s words and our growing sustainable food movement, please spread the word about our Women Nourish Us blog series via email, Facebook & Twitter ( If you would like to host a screening of FRESH for your friends or organization, please – be in touch!


Posted on April 19, 2010 - by

The Inspirational Side of FRESH Food: The Movie

Guest Blogger Tiffany Finley, Sustainability Strategist,

The movie Food Inc. has gained increasing press and viewers that documents the serious jeopardy our food system has fallen into over the past three decades. With vast industrialization, synthetic ingredients have replaced what our Grandparents used to call ‘food’. Now as much as I love learning the facts, I also love positive and inspiring messages, which is where I hope the movie FRESH comes into play!

They are hosting Farm to Table dinners across the Nation with a free movie ticket to the showing. Not a bad deal for a meal, a speaker, and a movie all for only the price of the meal!

Here is an example of one City’s events (Minneapolis, MN). Click through to find events for a City near you!

I would like to invite all of you to also attend an event and the screening so we can see how the different cities took on the challenge of fresh Farm to Table dinners! Feel free to post your thoughts on the dinner, the speaker, and the movie as well. I am excited to attend a dinner, speaking event, and the screening over the next two weeks so for those of you unable to attend, I will be happy to share how it all went!

Here is a little snippet about FRESH the movie:

“FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.”

Joel Salatin, a personal hero and any ’soil’ farmer’s advocate will also be speaking at several events and is featured in the movie, just as a little teaser.

Cheers to taking a healthy dose of reality, responsibility, and re-engaging with that simple yet vital thing called f-o-o-d. See you at the screening!


Posted on November 12, 2009 - by

The Local Foods Movement and the Recession

By Khaled Allen
Originally posted on Farm to Table


The Sustainable Food Movement Gains Momentum

We all know that locally grown sustainable food is better for us and the environment, but it often seems to be bad for our wallets. Even though foodies are willing to go to extreme lengths to support good food, will mainstream America ever do so?

With the country’s economy in shambles, paying three dollars per pound for organic potatoes seems ridiculous. As a recent college graduate, I have to carefully weigh the cost of eating responsibly.

I have been told that my dedication to sustainable, local agriculture, while praiseworthy, will never displace our mainstream food system because of the increased costs, that sustainable eating is a luxury. I have been told that conventional agriculture was the most responsible way to feed the growing population. This opinion is proffered by those who view sustainable food as a fad. As long as it does not interfere with conventional agriculture, it is nice to have around, but should not be thought of as the central way to feed the country. Economics would win out in the end, and people would vote with their wallets. And yet, this attitude did not mesh with my recent experience.

The sustainable food movement seems to be gaining momentum, despite the recent and crushing recession. What better time to test peoples’ dedication to revamping the food industry than during a recession?

Investigating at the source

I headed to several local farmers’ market to ask the farmers themselves how the economy was impacting their businesses. What I found was that farmers and farmers’ markets are actually doing very well.

lizards 300x225 The Local Foods Movement and the RecessionMost of the farmers I spoke with said that the recession has not impacted their business at all. A representative of Riverbank Farm, an organic farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, cited consumers’ growing concern with healthy food as sufficient motivation for them to frequent her farm’s stand. She did point out, however, that the local community was fairly wealthy, and that fact might impact peoples’ food purchasing choices. Another farmer, however, said that he travelled to farmers’ markets all over the state and had done well at all of them, regardless of the affluence of the local community.

Not every farmer I spoke with was doing so well. One organic farmer felt that consumers treated local produce as a luxury, and spent their extra cash on other things, or bought cheaper food to compensate. A farmer from Middlebury, Connecticut gave a different reason for his farm’s difficulties: an increase in the number of farmers’ markets. According to him, because consumers now have more flexibility in when they get their produce, they are less likely to visit any particular farmers’ market, unwittingly hurting individual farmers.

While this development might be a bad thing for the farmer, it is a good sign for the movement as a whole, indicating an increased interest in locally grown produce and a consumer base large enough to sustain growth in farmers’ markets. This farmer also voiced his opinion that while people may be cutting back generally, he felt that they were buying proportionately more local food.