Thursday, October 30, 2008

Get out there and vote!

Vote early by this Saturday or vote Tuesday November 4th
Get all your voting questions answered at:

With national and state candidates crisscrossing the state, it's clear that North Carolina is headed for a historic level of voter turnout this year. Don’t be left out! You have two options for voting in North Carolina:

1. Vote on Election Day next Tuesday, November 4th . The polls open at 6:30AM and close at 7:30 PM. Find your precinct at the State Board of Elections website.

2. Vote early through this Saturday November 1st. Early voting gives you added flexibility to vote when you have the time rather than trying to fit it in on Election Day. Find your early voting locations and times here. Remember that you can go to ANY of the locations listed in your county.

Early voting is also your last chance to register and vote in North Carolina for next Tuesday’s election. If you’ve moved since you last voted then you need to re-register through early voting. You can also check your current registration status, or contact your local board of elections for more information.

Make sure you know who you’re voting for: go to the State Board of Elecitons site and click on the link for “General Election Sample Ballots.” You can get additional voting questions answered and see bios of the candidates running for state office with this non-partisan voter guide (this is a pdf file download).

Here are some additional resources for other voting and election questions or problems:
- NC Voter
- Democracy NC's Election Connection
- Or call 1-888-OUR-VOTE

And make sure your friends and family have all the info they need to vote in North Carolina!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pollan's letter to the next Farmer-in-Chief

In last week’s issue of the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan, the UC Berkeley professor, journalist, and best-selling author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, scribed an open letter to the next president of the United States, or as Pollan terms it, the Farmer in Chief.

Since beginning a study of Sustainable Agriculture at Central Carolina Community College, I have become keenly aware of the breakdown of the U.S. food system and crisis we are facing as a nation. I hope John McCain and Barack Obama have had the chance to read Pollan’s letter, because it is not only the American food system that’s under threat. Pollan’s letter offers up solutions to fix our food system, as well as the obesity crisis, climate change, national security threats, and our addiction to foreign oil.

Think about it this way: since the end of World War II, U.S. Agriculture has focused largely on producing the greatest volume of commodity crops possible. These crops - wheat, soy and corn - trickle down to U.S. consumers as foodstuffs in the form of over-processed, barely recognizable, pre-packaged snacks and meals. It has been relatively cheap to produce food in this way because oil used to be so cheap. Oil, not just for fueling tractors, is also the basis of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are used in incredible tonnages to continually turn out the greatest quantity of the largest possible crops.

Now that we face a crisis in the price of oil, the rest of the world is facing a crisis in obtaining cheap food. At home, our overly-centralized, large-scale agricultural system pumps out foods which are all too vulnerable to bioterrorism. Even if the food supply were better protected, the nutritional quality and long-term safety of consumption is at question. Pollan cites Centers for Disease Control numbers that estimate that one in three American children will develop Type 2 Diabetes, a disease which can result in blindness, amputation of a limb, and early death -- and which is also 100% preventable.

The solution? Pollan urges the next president of the United States to view agriculture, specifically sustainable agriculture, as one solution that can help eradicate obesity, climate change, terrorist threats to our food supply, and our oil addiction. Sustainable Agriculture is based on three main tenets: that farming should benefit of the farmer, the community, and the environment. Pollan’s application of community-based sustainable farming principles to much larger, national threats is elegant and sensible.

Pollan envisions the First Family leading the charge by installing a White House farmer, complete with a productive five-acre garden on the White House lawn. Recipes and gardening tips could be posted and shared on their website. The president, Pollan says, can appeal to all parts of the political spectrum in embracing sustainable food, whether encouraging hunters to supply their families with wild meats, or aiding evangelicals and lefty environmentalists alike who seek alternatives to the fast food diet. As with the Victory Gardens of World War I, we can take control of our food sources and our communities, and face down economic, health, and energy disasters around the dinner table.

- by Kate Pattison, Guest blogger and Toxic Free NC volunteer

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Politics of Food

Photo by Billie Karel

A few weeks ago, Billie and I were lucky enough to attend the Environmental Leadership Program’s Politics of Food Conference held at NC State. There were tons of workshops and panel discussions on a variety of topics from The Impact of Organic Agriculture, to The Farm Bill Uncovered. My favorite part of the conference, however, was a plenary discussion entitled Equity and Justice in the United States Food System, which had a panel representing three very different efforts to make this title a reality.

Saru Jayaman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), was on the panel representing the role of the restaurant worker in our food system. She stressed the importance of economic justice and fair labor conditions for the twenty million people working in the U.S. food industry as integral parts of the food justice movement. Saru also pointed out the link between workers' rights and the quality of the food we eat. She used the term “collective prosperity” to show that fair working conditions and happy, healthy, safe workers in our food system mean safer, cleaner, and in some cases, probably more delicious food. This could apply to the restaurant, food processing, or agricultural settings. When we think about this idea in terms of agricultural workers, a simple connection we can make is between worker exposure to pesticides in the fields and consumer exposure to pesticide residues in the foods those workers grow.

Denise O’Brien also sat on the panel, speaking from the perspective of a female, organic farmer in Iowa. She started the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and nearly became Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture in 2006, quite an accomplishment in a state where agriculture is so dominated by industrial agriculture, not to mention men. Denise works with farmer women to help them realize their power as farmers (rather than just farmers’ wives) and often, as farm owners after their husbands die. The network is used as a tool for giving women a stronger voice in addressing issues of sustainability, as well as gender, within agricultural communities.

The third panelist, Malik Yakini, is chairman the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which works toward creating a more just and sustainable food system within Detroit by putting some of the city’s 60-70,ooo vacant lots to use in urban agriculture. Malik emphasized the need to connect food-related struggles to struggles for democratic rule, access to true histories, and the struggles of all oppressed people. Clearly, a just and sustainable food system cannot be realized in a world that is not otherwise just or sustainable.

I thought this panel was especially important to include in this type of conference to remind people working for sustainable agriculture (and sustainable food systems more generally) that these issues are inherently linked to social justice issues of all kinds and that these struggles, struggles to protect the environment and struggles for social justice, must be supportive of each other if either are to be successful.

Billie and I were inspired, to say the least. Please check out the work these great folks are doing, and check out ELP, who put on the conference. They give great trainings to awesome people; just ask Billie!