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Feeling reality's bite...

The response to our creating and offering an upcoming food activism class has been interesting to me. Tons and tons of emails from afar have come in letting us know how great this work is; how many folks would LOVE to take this class if they lived in the Chicagoland area.

And yet our registration for this class is up to two people.

Don't get me wrong, they're two GREAT people - but unless we get a group of 10 folks, this class won't be sustainable for us to offer.

So what gives? Food prices are sky-rocketing, global warming can't be denied, our food systems are toxic to us and to the planet (and that is becoming more and more common knowledge).

We have the power to make an impact on all of that by making informed choices around our food, but what if we no longer want to make an impact?

I don't mean to sound glum...but I was reading this article on world hunger today - and it makes me want to preach about food activism all the more.

Taking on one or two "meat free" meals a week could put food into the mouths of people in Haiti and everywhere (or eating meat that does not come from within the industrialized system)...and that is only one way to make a difference through food - and there are SO many ways. Am I unreasonable to think that most folks would want that; would want to help starving children get food if they could?

Well they CAN...

Perhaps it is I that need to see reality and recognize that the majority of folks don't want to know...I hope that's not true, but it feels true today.

If it is easier...you can read the entire article here


April 18, 2008
Across Globe, Empty Bellies Bring Rising Anger
Correction Appended

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti’s presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and the police. Hunger sent the country’s prime minister packing.

Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.

Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”

That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.

“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”

Indeed, as it roils developing nations, the spike in commodity prices — the biggest since the Nixon administration — has pitted the globe’s poorer south against the relatively wealthy north, adding to demands for reform of rich nations’ farm and environmental policies. But experts say there are few quick fixes to a crisis tied to so many factors, from strong demand for food from emerging economies like China’s to rising oil prices to the diversion of food resources to make biofuels.

There are no scripts on how to handle the crisis, either. In Asia, governments are putting in place measures to limit hoarding of rice after some shoppers panicked at price increases and bought up everything they could.

Even in Thailand, which produces 10 million more tons of rice than it consumes and is the world’s largest rice exporter, supermarkets have placed signs limiting the amount of rice shoppers are allowed to purchase.

But there is also plenty of nervousness and confusion about how best to proceed and just how bad the impact may ultimately be, particularly as already strapped governments struggle to keep up their food subsidies.

‘Scandalous Storm’

“This is a perfect storm,” President Elías Antonio Saca of El Salvador said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Cancún, Mexico. “How long can we withstand the situation? We have to feed our people, and commodities are becoming scarce. This scandalous storm might become a hurricane that could upset not only our economies but also the stability of our countries.”

In Asia, if Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia steps down, which is looking increasingly likely amid postelection turmoil within his party, he may be that region’s first high- profile political casualty of fuel and food price inflation.

In Indonesia, fearing protests, the government recently revised its 2008 budget, increasing the amount it will spend on food subsidies by about $280 million.

“The biggest concern is food riots,” said H.S. Dillon, a former adviser to Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture. Referring to small but widespread protests touched off by a rise in soybean prices in January, he said, “It has happened in the past and can happen again.”

Last month in Senegal, one of Africa’s oldest and most stable democracies, police in riot gear beat and used tear gas against people protesting high food prices and later raided a television station that broadcast images of the event. Many Senegalese have expressed anger at President Abdoulaye Wade for spending lavishly on roads and five-star hotels for an Islamic summit meeting last month while many people are unable to afford rice or fish.

“Why are these riots happening?” asked Arif Husain, senior food security analyst at the World Food Program, which has issued urgent appeals for donations. “The human instinct is to survive, and people are going to do no matter what to survive. And if you’re hungry you get angry quicker.”

Leaders who ignore the rage do so at their own risk. President René Préval of Haiti appeared to taunt the populace as the chorus of complaints about la vie chère — the expensive life — grew. He said if Haitians could afford cellphones, which many do carry, they should be able to feed their families. “If there is a protest against the rising prices,” he said, “come get me at the palace and I will demonstrate with you.”

When they came, filled with rage and by the thousands, he huddled inside and his presidential guards, with United Nations peacekeeping troops, rebuffed them. Within days, opposition lawmakers had voted out Mr. Préval’s prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis, forcing him to reconstitute his government. Fragile in even the best of times, Haiti’s population and politics are now both simmering.

“Why were we surprised?” asked Patrick Élie, a Haitian political activist who followed the food riots in Africa earlier in the year and feared they might come to Haiti. “When something is coming your way all the way from Burkina Faso you should see it coming. What we had was like a can of gasoline that the government left for someone to light a match to it.”

Dwindling Menus

The rising prices are altering menus, and not for the better. In India, people are scrimping on milk for their children. Daily bowls of dal are getting thinner, as a bag of lentils is stretched across a few more meals.

Maninder Chand, an auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi, said his family had given up eating meat altogether for the last several weeks.

Another rickshaw driver, Ravinder Kumar Gupta, said his wife had stopped seasoning their daily lentils, their chief source of protein, with the usual onion and spices because the price of cooking oil was now out of reach. These days, they eat bowls of watery, tasteless dal, seasoned only with salt.

Down Cairo’s Hafziyah Street, peddlers selling food from behind wood carts bark out their prices. But few customers can afford their fish or chicken, which bake in the hot sun. Food prices have doubled in two months.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, 25, sat on a cheap, stained wooden chair by his own pile of rotting tomatoes. “We can’t even find food,” he said, looking over at his friend Sobhy Abdullah, 50. Then raising his hands toward the sky, as if in prayer, he said, “May God take the guy I have in mind.”

Mr. Abdullah nodded, knowing full well that the “guy” was President Hosni Mubarak.

The government’s ability to address the crisis is limited, however. It already spends more on subsidies, including gasoline and bread, than on education and health combined.

“If all the people rise, then the government will resolve this,” said Raisa Fikry, 50, whose husband receives a pension equal to about $83 a month, as she shopped for vegetables. “But everyone has to rise together. People get scared. But we will all have to rise together.”

It is the kind of talk that has prompted the government to treat its economic woes as a security threat, dispatching riot forces with a strict warning that anyone who takes to the streets will be dealt with harshly.

Niger does not need to be reminded that hungry citizens overthrow governments. The country’s first postcolonial president, Hamani Diori, was toppled amid allegations of rampant corruption in 1974 as millions starved during a drought.

More recently, in 2005, it was mass protests in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, that made the government sit up and take notice of that year’s food crisis, which was caused by a complex mix of poor rains, locust infestation and market manipulation by traders.

“As a result of that experience the government created a cabinet-level ministry to deal with the high cost of living,” said Moustapha Kadi, an activist who helped organize marches in 2005. “So when prices went up this year the government acted quickly to remove tariffs on rice, which everyone eats. That quick action has kept people from taking to the streets.”

The Poor Eat Mud

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”

But the grumbling in Haiti these days is no longer confined to the stomach. It is now spray-painted on walls of the capital and shouted by demonstrators.

In recent days, Mr. Préval has patched together a response, using international aid money and price reductions by importers to cut the price of a sack of rice by about 15 percent. He has also trimmed the salaries of some top officials. But those are considered temporary measures.

Real solutions will take years. Haiti, its agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself. Outside investment is the key, although that requires stability, not the sort of widespread looting and violence that the Haitian food riots have fostered.

Meanwhile, most of the poorest of the poor suffer silently, too weak for activism or too busy raising the next generation of hungry. In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.”

Reporting was contributed by Lydia Polgreen from Niamey, Niger, Michael Slackman from Cairo, Somini Sengupta from New Delhi, Thomas Fuller from Bangkok and Peter Gelling from Jakarta, Indonesia.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 21, 2008
An article on Friday about anger across the globe over a food crisis misidentified the food item that was cut in price by 15 percent after Haiti’s president, René Préval, responded to the public outcry. It is rice, not sugar.

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 22nd, 2008 06:54 pm (UTC)
You should definitely travel with this class. Just sayin'.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:02 pm (UTC)
I really, really want to. Especially since Midwesterners apparently aren't interested. The trick will be condensing it into a weekend format that can be integrated and isn't overwhelming.

Ahhh for teleportation ability...then I could pop around the globe ranting at EVERYONE!

*insert evil laugh here*
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Maybe a long weekend... You'll soon know the setup and facilities here, and we can add that to the long list of things we should chat about!
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
Hey - I read this today and thought of you:


It touches on food and the why simple steps done in our lives matter.

I hope your class fills up!

Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the article...I needed that today.

I am breathing and dreaming of this year's garden...ahhh - that feels better.

Much love, J
Apr. 22nd, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
I think this is really intensely personal and confrontational work, and I imagine that if I wasn't already familiar with the stuff we're talking about, it might be scary to contemplate. Especially if I have economic constraints that already dictate some of my food purchases.

I dunno why it isn't lighting a fire under folks. Maybe I need to add something to my bio about showering regularly and promising not to bite! ;-)
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
I have to wonder if our mentioning our spirituality makes this less appealing to many. I also wonder if cost is a factor....in our culture if something is inexpensive it can be of no value. Does our trying to keep this class cheap make folks think that the offering is "cheap"

Just wondering....
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
To throw another data point into the mix, the primary factor in my waffling about the class is the time. Evening classes are hard for me, because I tend to work late these days and it's a long trip from Hyde Park to pretty much anywhere. A weekend class would be much easier for me to attend for that reason.

For what it's worth, none of the things that you two just mentioned (the personal work factor, the spirituality factor, the cost factor) even crossed my radar. And I think it's great that you're offering the class for such a low cost.

However, given the topic of the class and now that I'm thinking about it, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a possible factor more related to the personal/confrontational facet of the work: anxiety around what to bring to potluck. Will I be judged (by the teachers, by my fellow classmates, by myself) for my contribution? Will I be judged if I choose to bring something just for myself? How will I know what to bring? Etc., etc.
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and give us a new perspective on the class. I hear you about week nights being hard.

It seems like fitting this into a weekend would make it much more doable and/or palatable for folks. The thing that is challenging to me is that to really understand the impact of our food choices, there is so much to touch upon. And then, to understand our options and why we can have hope can take even more time.

I know that we will want to travel with this one - so we will be trying to condense it anyway. It may be one of those "okay, so we can only give you a glimpse of this stuff in this class - now here are tons of resources so that you can learn more" kind of things.

We also have the whole body thread in this 6-week version - which feels vital to both of us - but may be something we have to consider when looking at a weekend.

Ah well...live and learn. Thanks again for the perspective! Love, J
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)
I know you are right...it's just discouraging. There seems to be so much interest in this work, but none of it is HERE. I know we are living in the corn belt, but I feel like this class would be packed if we were on the east or (especially) west coasts.

So many people who are close to me have listened to me ramble quite patiently. So many of them have then gone on to start carrying travel mugs, or to give up meat (or to eat some meals each week without meet), or to compost...etc. I've loved that - and I hope that has been a gift to my loved ones, not a burden.

I guess I was ready to take that to a next level...to try to have even more of an impact. I want to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

I guess I am feeling that my gift is not wanted...

I am also sleep deprived and under the weather today - which is likely amplifying things.

Apr. 22nd, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)
I'm very interested in the class. I wanted to get settled before I talked to you guys about registering; I'd also need to register on work exchange, if that's available, given I'm operating under no real income until I get something full time.

I think that there actually is a fair amount of interest in this work, but here are some of the challenges that I see.

Personal--Like what EA said, I worry about how my own choices will be judged in a class like this. I'm very, very interested in eating in a way that is healthy for me, and is good for the planet. And, I need to eat a lot of protein, and on an extreme budget, so I make choices that I wouldn't otherwise like to. I also hate cooking *laugh* which also impacts my life choices. I'm not so much afraid to confront the personal issues around food, as I've been doing that work for the past 4 years, but I am worried about being in a safe place where I won't be judged for the food I eat and the choices that I make.

Marketing challenges:
You and Tari have a reputation in a very narrowly focused community. you don't have a brand/reputation outside of that, and you're probably not in a position to do the kind of marketing that would gain you access and credibility to the audience outside of the reclaiming/chicago pagan community. This is one of those things where you may need to do the slow ramp up; do the first class, get some feedback on it, let word of mouth take you further, and build up some money to put into marketing while also building up your rep, getting recommendations. Would also help you to submit proposals for presentations at other conferences, or do 1-hour or 3-hour teaser versions of your bigger classes at local places, like Transitions.

I think there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the midwest that would take your class, but you need a few things in place to be able to do it, and the first is the hardest.

Should you both want to mull marketing, Id be happy to come over and we can mull how you're going to free the world from food bondage one workshop at a time :D
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Ahhh...also good to hear. I actually address the judgment issue around food (cause I think that is SO important), but that is in my teaching philosophy and not up on a front page. This is making me think that we may want to address it more directly. I will talk to T about it.

I'd love to have you there and to have you on work exchange. I'd also like to hear more about you perspectives on getting the work out there, as I know you've got good experience in all of this. I love teaching in Reclaiming...but I don't know if that is the only place that I want to reach out in the world - and I'd like to talk more about ways that I can get green messages out to new folks (if they want to hear them).

I don't know what lies ahead for me, but I think I need to make my own path outside of any one Reclaiming group or any other group...you know? Then again - this teaching thing may not be a part of my path...and I may just have to learn that by going through it.

If all else fails, I'm considering scouting caves. The hermit thing is really appealing to me right now...
Apr. 22nd, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
I think you can absolutely do this outside Reclaiming, and should. It has a very broad appeal, and, Green is now "cool," it's got media attention.

Though, you could also scout caves, too :D
Apr. 22nd, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry Jennifer. this is Edge. If I could get out to Chicago every Wednesday evening and go back, then i would. But it's just not doable. But its an awesome class.
May. 1st, 2008 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much Edge...it's been so long since I've seen you. I hope you are well. Happy Beltane!
Apr. 23rd, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)
Jen, I am sorry you're not getting more registrations! I think there may be an associative problem with Chicago Reclaiming. Chireclaim's focus (as I see it) has historically been on deep, transformative personal work; political and local activism has had trouble getting off the ground.

Maybe people who know you and Tari as Reclaiming teachers are threatened by the prospect of doing deep, transformative work around food choices. Food preferences are entrenched very deep in the psyche, I have learned. People don't want to find out they're eating the wrong things, the wrong way.

To be perfectly transparent, I don't feel the class is right for me at this time for some of the reasons above. My relationship to food is kind of fraught; it's hard enough to eat healthy vegetarian food (as opposed to Twizzlers and vegan chocolate pudding), and I want to work on eating better without feeling that I "should" throw local into the mix too (although I try to stay local and go to the farmers' markets whenever possible).

The sentence about looking at how we relate to food, and that if you have an eating disorder you should discuss this piece with the teaching team, may reinforce the "deep transformative work" perception. I would have great difficulty discussing a disordered relationship to food in a large, open group--I would have to know and trust everyone present.

As celaenos_aerie said, this is meant in the spirit of "here's another data point", not to be negative. I support and honor what you guys are doing, even if this particular class isn't right for me at this particular time.

Damn I hope that made sense.
Apr. 23rd, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
Hey, just to clarify....the only reason there's an eating disorder disclaimer is because we're doing a food journaling exercise that I think could possibly be triggering. (Well, and just in general, it would be good to know so we could consider that as we frame things.) Eating disorders in general are NOT something we would be taking on or discussing at length in this class - I'm of the opinion that that work is best handled by licensed professionals and/or a therapist of choice.

One last note...while I think there will be a LOT of conversation about the impacts of food choices, I am personally of the opinion that food is not moral, and that the word "should" has no place in food choices. It's all about making the very best choice on an individual basis, taking into account nutrition, economics, and environmental impacts (and other factors that vary wildly by individual). I can only do my best to educate myself and make my very best choice - whatever that might be.
Apr. 23rd, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the clarification about the eating disorder piece... and I definitely don't think you and Jen will be judgmental about people's food choices... I was more trying to figure out if people's perceptions / fears are keeping them out of the class. If I didn't know you guys and the structure of Reclaiming classes better, the above would be fears I'd probably have.

So, I guess I was speculating on what fears unknown others might possibly be having, which is really not a great idea.

My fears about "should" are not that you will use it, but that I would use it to myself: "oh, that broccoli was trucked in from California, I won't buy it." and then eat a box of Triscuits instead.

Now that I type that out, it's a fucked-up reason not to educate myself. I clearly have a lot of work to do around food issues! I just don't feel comfortable trying it in a class setting at this time.
Apr. 23rd, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
Hi there -

I totally think you make sense, and I really appreciate the additional data point...I see that as very supportive and I thank you.

I also admire that you know yourself and feel comfortable that this class is not for you at this time.

I love that this post has generated some discussion. That is why I agreed to co-create this class...to get folks talking about the impact of our food choices...so all of you are actually falling into my master plan even though you're not interested in this work right now....MMMMMMMMMMMWWWWWWWWWWWWHAHAHA (that's an evil laugh btw!).

I think tarirocks mentioned this too - but I did want to clarify that this class is not about tackling eating disorders. While I do feel that body image and food issues of that nature are vital work that I'd love to see offered in the world - I do not feel qualified to offer it myself, and would encourage folks to seek support for that work outside of this class. At the same time, I felt that it would be possible that in talking about our relationships to food and our bodies - that some things could potentially be triggering, and so I wanted to create as safe and supportive a place as possible for people to learn about food activism without being thrown into some downward spiral of guilt, shame, etc.

I really don't find judgment to be useful in this movement. Honestly, the more that we can connect, support one another, share meals and ideas, act as a "team/family"...the more I think we can make a better system of food; one that nurtures the planet and does not base access to food upon class, race or other arbitrary factors.

I don't want to make folks feel bad about their food choices, I want to see them feeling empowered because they have knowledge...and to me, knowledge is power.

I won't be advocating any particular lifestyle choices - not vegetarianism, localism, organics, etc. If asked, I will admit that my personal bias and priorities would be #1 eating whole foods (which in and of itself is huge, time consuming and hard work and I would celebrate any folks who are willing to cook a meal from whole ingredients no matter what the ingredients), #2 local (when possible, and let's face it - outside of summer - it's hardly possible here in Chicago), #3 balancing proteins (how much meat do I want? How much do I need? What are meat sources outside of factory farms? What veggie meals do I like and how comfortable am I having a meatless meal now and then?), #4 - organic, fair-trade, etc., etc.

Those are my personal choices...they're not "right".

I feel like folks think I expect them to show up knowing all about food activism, and that they should bring a potluck item that somehow reflects how they already know all that stuff. I really don't. If I thought everyone already knew about food activism, I wouldn't feel like there was much point to offering this class.

And I don't think having knowledge about the impact of food is the same as being a saint. I'm not a saint and I'm not going to be. If someone brings a bag of corn chips to the potluck, or a sack of McDonald's cheeseburgers - I'm not going to have judgment. I'm just going to thank the gods that a small group of people are even willing to look at these issues.

So many folks don't want to see - don't want to know. If you are breathing, open and willing to understand some of the impacts of our food dollars, I honor you, embrace you and likely want to kiss your toes. What you do beyond gathering that knowledge is none of my business...at least I don't think it is.

Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in. Thanks for letting me ruminate on a topic that means so much to me.

Lot's of love and excitement...J
Apr. 23rd, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
This is in my reply to Tari above--but I was trying to speak to what I thought people's fears might be, not what mine are. It would never occur to me to say you think your personal choices are right for everyone--I know you're really careful and aware about that.

My fears are more of the self-"should" variety--will I attempt to eat perfectly local, organic, and veggie all the time and if this proves too difficult (as it probably will) use that as an excuse to throw everything out the window and eat junk food all day? (no, really.)

With love,
May. 3rd, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC)
Just a thought
I recently took a class on line from a Reclaiming teacher. Is that something that could work for the food activism class?

There's no way that I could do it on Wednesday night, or I would have.
May. 5th, 2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Just a thought
Thanks for the thought. We are going to look at alternate ways to offer this work. We've had folks ask about a weekend intensive format, as well as an on-line format. We do like coming together to share food as a part of the work...which we couldn't do on-line...but if offering this in cyberspace would open it to more people, then it could easily be worth it.

Sorry Wednesdays don't work for you - but thanks so much for expressing interest and sharing feedback.

Have a great week! All my best - J
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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