Michael Twitty is about to embark on what he calls the “Southern Discomfort Tour” -- a journey to follow his ancestors’ “foodsteps” through the American South.
This self-described writer, culinary historian, and Jewish educator from the Washington, D.C., area will be traveling with a small group for two months by car, from Maryland to Louisiana and back, covering almost 4,500 miles.
In addition to tracing his personal history, Twitty will be speaking, giving cooking demonstrations, and volunteering on farms and for food justice organizations over the course of the trip. He plans, as he puts it, to “make sure that organic, local and sustainable food in Southern communities -- particularly that produced by farmers of color -- is highlighted and supported.”He also plans to document the journey on his blog, The Cooking Gene.
Last week, the White House abandoned proposed changes to labor rules that might have kept young people working on farms quite a bit safer. It was a move widely characterized as a cave to political pressure from Republicans and some Big Ag-friendly Democrats.
Sarah Palin added her two cents to the public discussion by posting a note on Facebook -- with her signature poetic subtlety -- entitled, “If I Wanted America to Fail, I’d Ban Kids From Farm Work.” It has since been “liked” by over 8,000 people. In it she seethed:
The Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms. This is more overreach of the federal government with many negative consequences. And if you think the government’s new regs will stop at family farms, think again.
Opposition to the updated regulations hinged on the argument that they would hurt family farms, stirring fears of the Feds swooping in to arrest Farmer Joe for sending Joe Jr. out to milk the cows in the morning. But the new rules would not have applied “to children working on farms owned by their parents,” as the U.S. Department of Labor clearly stated when it announced the proposed changes.
What do dairy and drug policy reform have in common? Working together, the two could fuel renewal that mutually benefits urban and rural communities -- or so think the folks at Milk Not Jails, a “volunteer-run, grassroots campaign working to build a new urban-rural alliance in New York State.” The group’s founders have made the connection between urban blight -- particularly the massive numbers of low-level drug arrests that create cycles of recidivism, unemployment, and crime in already-impoverished minority communities -- and rural blight tied to the struggle of family farms to stay afloat as agriculture is consolidated and corporatized and farmland is gobbled up by sprawl. For down-on-their-heels communities in upstate New York -- like for rural towns in every state -- the war on drugs has been an economic boon, as the need for more prisons to contain skyrocketing numbers of nonviolent drug offenders brings vital jobs to areas once supported by agriculture.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Milk Not Jails. Why should the survival of rural, mostly white communities be dependent on the devastation of urban, mostly minority communities? The group wants to bring New York back to the days when small dairy farmers could make a living by selling their products to urban eaters. “We want New York’s urban residents to support its rural residents by buying their milk, not going to their prisons,” Milk Not Jails cofounder Brenden Beck told GOOD magazine recently.
In just a few short years, Evgenia Chirikova, 35, has transformed from a middle-class engineer raising her young family in a Moscow suburb into a nationally and now internationally recognized environmental crusader. On Monday, she was honored as one of six recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activists.
It all started in 2007, when Chirikova and her daughter went for a walk in Khimki Forest -- 2,500 acres of federally protected parkland known as the “green lungs of Moscow,” one of the last old-growth forests in the region, and one of the main reasons Chirikova and her husband had moved their family to a suburb north of the city. They noticed trees marked with a red X for removal -- and then found out about the government’s plan to build a road from Moscow to St. Petersburg (reported here on Grist in 2010) that would tear right through the middle of this environmentally and culturally important haven.
As more people spend time thinking, writing, reading, and talking about food, the need for in-person forums to enhance the kinds of idea-sharing that already happen online only seems natural. The latest of these events will be aimed specifically at those whose love for reading rivals their interest in food. Elizabeth Thacker Jones, a graduate student in Food Studies at New York University, started thinking about creating a food-focused book fair over a year ago, and from May 4 to May 6 in Brooklyn, she’ll finally see it come to fruition.
For some, it's a little hard to believe Food Book Fair 2012 is the first of its kind. “People react to say, ‘I can’t believe this hasn’t already happened,’” Jones said.
It won’t be a book fair in the strictly traditional sense. As Jones describes it on her website: “Permeating through art, design, fashion, architecture, activism and publishing, the Food Book Fair is a festival of food culture.” The panels she has planned speak to that, with titles like “Food + Design + Tech,” “Food + Cities,” and even “Food + Porn.” Celebrated figures in the food world like Marion Nestle, Tamar Adler, and Bryant Terry will give talks and book signings. Saturday evening, a “Foodieodicals” event will showcase over 10 independent zines and quarterlies, followed by a Pecha Kucha Night -- a tradition started in Japan involving short slideshows, in this case of creative food projects. Sunday’s schedule includes a Hemingway-inspired literary dinner.
The fair is designed to offer something for everyone, not just those already deeply immersed and invested in food issues. “This word ‘foodie’ -- there’s kind of a negative undertone to it,” Jones said. “[The book fair] is meant to challenge that concept. We want it to be accessible to everybody.”
It’s been three weeks since beekeepers filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove clothianidin -- the pesticide widely suspected to be wreaking havoc on honeybee populations -- from the market. In that time three studies have been released that strengthen the link between bee die-offs and neonicotinoids (neonics), the chemical family of which clothianidin is a member. Here’s what they found:
Nat Turner, a former New York City public-school teacher, moved to New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. He didn’t know anything about gardening -- “I could barely keep a cactus alive” -- but he had a vision to start an urban farm that would be a vehicle for educating and empowering the neighborhood’s youth. He’d been making service trips to the Big Easy with students, but he wanted an opportunity to dig deeper, literally and figuratively, into the city’s revitalization.
His first goal, Turner says, “is to figure out how to make the Lower Ninth food secure.” It seems fitting, then, that in a neighborhood with no supermarket, Turner set up shop in a falling-down building that had once housed a black-owned family business called the B&G Grocery. He filled a pink bathtub in the backyard with soil and planted scallions, which floated away when the bathtub flooded in a rainstorm. That was the beginning of Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG).
What would you do if you had a million bucks to make your neighborhood better? Turn the vacant building up the street into a healthy corner store with cross-cultural appeal? Fund 24-hour bus service? Paint giant flowers on the asphalt in every intersection?
What if there was a tool that made it easy for you share your idea with neighbors, community groups, city planners -- people who could pitch in to make it a reality?
That’s the idea behind Neighborland, a sort of collective online urban planning platform that grew from a project started by artist Candy Chang in 2010. Chang slapped nametag-style stickers reading “I WISH THIS WAS ___” on abandoned buildings around New Orleans. People answered by filling in the blanks with all sorts of things they’d like to see in their neighborhoods: a grocery store, a row of trees, a bakery -- to which someone else responded, “If you can get the financing, I will do the baking!”
“People were trying to talk to each other,” says Alan Williams, Neighborland’s director of community, who met with me on a rainy day in New Orleans two weeks ago to show me some of the group's work. “What if [the conversation] wasn’t lost to time? What if people could share knowledge and expertise?”
Beekeepers have been concerned that pesticides are to blame for the bee die-offs devastating their industry for a while now. As we reported recently, their losses have spiraled out of control, putting not just the beekeepers but our entire agricultural system in peril.
The concern centers around a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed to be marketed and sold even after the agency’s own scientists’ put up red flags. And now some in the industry have decided it’s time to formally challenge EPA’s negligence. On March 21, 27 beekeepers and four environmental groups filed a petition [PDF] with the agency asking it to take clothianidin -- the neonicotinoid causing the most trouble -- off the market until a long-overdue, scientifically sound review is completed.
To entice teenagers, Ford and other automakers need to make their cars more like smartphones … They could automatically check teenagers into Foursquare when they arrive at the mall. The car could read text messages aloud for the driver. It could have built-in cameras to take pictures and videos of passengers and upload them to Facebook and YouTube, also automatically tagging who is who in the images.
In Dazed and Confused, the classic ode to teenage freedom set in the mid-’70s, the majority of the action happens in or around cars; one character quips that she and her friends usually “just drive around” for fun.
I’ve always loved that film for how closely it approximates my own high school’s social world, thought it is set 30 years earlier. (I’m like the dorky redhead, except Matthew McConaughey never gave me his phone number.) But while the end-of-year hazing, kegs in parks, and frequent blazing it portrays rang as true in 2006 as 1976, the fact that cars are the, um, vehicles for all this rebellion already seemed a little vintage when I was in high school.
I could still fill up the tank for under $20 when I got my license, but burning gas to burn time was not an option for my allowance-and-summer-job budget or my millennial-generation conscience. I knew about the link between carbon emissions and global warming. Besides, I grew up in a city, and blasting “Slow Ride” doesn’t feel quite so badass when your ride is stopped in traffic.