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Rachel Cernansky's Posts

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Thousands more farmers markets will soon take food stamps

Photo courtesy of the USDA.

When it comes to giving more people access to fresh, healthy food, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has turned a great deal of its focus in recent years toward farmers markets. And, more specifically, opening farmers markets up to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or  “food stamp” users.

In fact, the agency reports, spending at farmers markets under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has already jumped by 400 percent since 2008 -- and that's with less than a quarter of the country's 7,000 markets participating in the program.

"That's a huge transformation in the farmers market world, in terms of people being able to feel like they're invited to the party,” USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a phone interview.

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The mother who stood up to Monsanto in Argentina

Photo courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

When Sofia Gatica’s 3-day-old daughter died from kidney failure, she didn't connect it with an environmental problem. It was only as she noticed neighbor after neighbor developing health problems that she started to wonder about the agrochemicals that were being sprayed on the farms nearby.

"I started seeing children with mouth covers, mothers with scarves wrapped around their heads to cover their baldness, due to chemotherapy," she told me recently through a translator. It was then, Gatica says, she knew something was seriously wrong.

Her city, Ituzaingó, Argentina, is surrounded by soybean fields where farmers use some of the same chemicals used on crops grown in the U.S. -- chiefly glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's weed killer Roundup. But in Ituzaingó, the industrial-scale farms that grow soybeans for export have crept right up to the edge of the residential community, and many of the chemicals are sprayed aerially, allowing them to drift wherever the wind or water will take them.

"There are soybeans to the north, to the south, and to the east, and when they spray, they spray over the people because there's no distance," Gatica said, adding that some homes are less than five yards from where the fields start.

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Industrial poultry about to get even crappier — literally

A still from a video about USDA poultry plant inspection (which might soon be a thing of the past). Click to watch.

One of the most quoted lines from Eric Schlosser’s now famous book, Fast Food Nation, comes from the chapter about pathogens in ground beef. Without mincing words, he wrote: “There is shit in the meat.”

Well, that phrase may be relevant again if the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) moves forward with plans to privatize part of its meat and poultry inspection program.

Under the current rules, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for inspecting all chicken and turkey carcasses for things like bruises, bile, and yes, shit, before they’re sent for further processing. The proposed HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) would remove those USDA inspectors from the lines, leaving poultry plant employees, who already stand in a fast-moving, I-Love-Lucy-style line, to flag unsanitary or otherwise flawed birds.

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Make yourself useful: Five food actions in five minutes

Ready to start fixing the food system, but don't know where to start? Why not kick things off with this list of easy, meaningful actions you can take right now -- some without even leaving your computer screen.

1. Make GMOs visible to everyone

Walk through the aisles of your average supermarket, and an estimated 80 percent of the packaged foods there will contain genetically modified ingredients. But you'd never know that by looking; the government hasn’t required labeling because it does not want to "suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods." Some brands have started to put the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label on their packaging, but that's a voluntary effort.

Now, you can join the estimated 90 percent of Americans who support labeling laws to help make transparency within the food system the rule, not the exception. Sign the Just Label It campaign’s petition calling on the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling for genetically engineered foods.

2. Keep “pink slime” out of school lunch

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Meet Tracie McMillan, ‘overeducated’ food justice writer

Tracie McMillan. (Photo by Bart Nagel.)

Before she wrote The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, Tracie McMillan was a welfare and poverty reporter in New York City. She grew interested in food and food access when a reporting project led her to a cooking class with Bryant Terry. She decided she wanted to learn, firsthand, how food is produced, distributed, and consumed in the U.S. She went to work undercover, as her book's title suggests, in the farm fields of California, at a Walmart in Michigan, and at an Applebee's in Brooklyn. In the book, she interweaves these experiences with a tremendous amount of research that sheds light on the country's food system, as well as on the roadblocks and cultural attitudes that keep us from fixing it.

We spoke with McMillan about the book, the immersion she did to write it, and the recent attention she’s received from Rush Limbaugh.

Q. What drove you to start working on this book?

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New Agtivist: Bryant Terry is inspiring his community to eat better

Photo by Jennifer Martine.

Chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry’s latest book, The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus, may look like a simple cookbook, but it’s also much more than that. In it, Terry has included personal reflections on the history, music, and politics that shaped his interest in healthy, whole foods, as well as the cultural influences that inspired the recipes.

Terry wrote the book before and immediately after his daughter was born and his intention, he says, was to create a snapshot of who he was at the time. But he also hopes the book inspires people to connect with their food. He’s included a "basics" section, but if you’re ready to take on some jerk tempeh, he's got you covered, too. We spoke with Terry recently about the book, as well as his broader work to inspire healthy eating within communities of color, and change the food system from the bottom-up.

Q. What are you trying to achieve with this book, and whom do you hope to reach?

A. I think it's important for me to present animal product-free food that is sumptuous and interesting, and comforting. If it isn't flavorful and delicious, I don't care about it.

My goal isn't to convert people into vegans. I see vegan food as a tool for addressing the public health crisis that many communities are dealing with, particularly African-American, Latino, Native American, and even some of the more recent Asian immigrant populations.

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