Created with Sketch.
The Leading Voices in Food
19 minutes | Jul 19, 2021
E135: How did SNAP do during COVID - and What Changes Need to Stay
The COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives and led to mandated business and school closures, families and communities all around the country experienced record levels of unemployment and record levels of food insecurity. This led to unprecedented policy innovation designed to increase access to nutritious food through the supplemental nutrition assistance program, known as SNAP. The program that was formerly known as Food Stamps. In today's podcast, we'll talk with the authors of a new report entitled, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Waivers and Adaptations During the COVID-19 Pandemic, A Survey of State Agency Perspectives in 2020. Interview Summary Our guests today are two of the authors of the report, health policy expert, Alyssa Moran of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Matt Lyons, the Director of Policy and Research with the American Public Human Services Association. So your report addressed how states responded to the increase in need for SNAP during the pandemic. Matt let's begin with you, can you tell us more about the report and why it was important to document the state experiences? When the pandemic first hit last year, the sharpest spike and need for basic help was in SNAP. And this isn't a typical and economic downturn SNAP has always been one of the most effective tools to help meet people's basic needs and to stimulate local economies. This time around though, we had to weather an economic crisis that was layered on top of a public health crisis, and that dynamic raised all kinds of new questions about how state agencies were going to get help to millions of families in a world that literally shifted to virtual overnight. In those first weeks of the pandemic, we as the membership association supporting those state agencies, we were literally convening state agency leaders on Zoom calls daily just to figure out basic questions of how are you going to keep the lights on so that staff could keep processing applications when they're working from home? Or how are you going to navigate through federal requirements that frankly were developed at a time when SNAP was assumed to be a program people applied for in person? And as difficult as that was for our agencies to make sense of, we could only imagine how infinitely harder that was for all of the people that were trying to apply for help. So as federal policies and guidance started to catch up in the coming weeks and months, and states really settled in for the long-term COVID response, states had to plan for how they're going to adapt their services so that people could keep accessing the benefits through the duration of the pandemic. And as we worked through all of these monumental changes to how the program is being administered, it really just became self evident that it was crucial. We had to take the time to rigorously document this experience and just draw on all the insights and lessons learned so that we can improve access to SNAP in the long-term and strengthen its impact on peoples and communities based off of this experience. Well, some of the problems, the challenges you mentioned make perfect sense now that you've brought them up, but they're not the kind of thing most people would think about, and you could imagine how hard it must've been to keep things going that even a modest level, much less been ramped up. So Alyssa, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. I'll preface this by saying that I'm a public health researcher. So I think about SNAP through that lens, and from a public health perspective, SNAP is a tremendously important program. It reaches about one in eight Americans and nearly half of those participants are kids. And it's a critical program for reducing poverty and improving food security, which are really important social determinants of health affecting everything from dental caries to diabetes, to depression. But the design and the delivery of SNAP also really better for health. For example, there are obvious ways that design choices in SNAP affect health equity, things like eligibility criteria, which prevent certain people from accessing the program or decisions about the benefit amount, which affects the types of foods that are available to participants. But there are also more subtle ways that program delivery can impact health, something as simple as how the state communicates with you about your benefits. So did they send you a text message right to your phone, or do you have to call a call center and wait on the line for two hours for information? Can you submit all of your application information online or do you have to come into the office for an in-person interview? So all of these requirements to enroll and stay enrolled in SNAP can affect health by limiting or expanding access to benefits and can also cause significant stress, increased anxiety and cause people to worry about whether they're even going to actually receive their benefits each month. And as Matt described, the pandemic acutely changed how states deliver SNAP and how participants interact with the program. And I was really interested in learning what we can take away from this experience to strengthen the public health impact of SNAP moving forward, not just by breaking down barriers to access, but also by improving the client experience through these structural changes. It's nice to hear of the interest among public health researchers in helping improve the delivery of these programs, because as you said, they reach so many people. Matt, you mentioned that there were program changes that needed to be made in SNAP during the pandemic, how successful do you think these changes really were in helping states serve their clients? Well, in those first few months of the pandemic, you had more than 6 million people newly enrolled in SNAP and participation has remained well above pre pandemic levels as a nation have continued to grapple with all of the disparities in the COVID response and recovery. So I think from this perspective alone, it's important to consider the SNAP pandemic response a success. Fundamentally more people needed help affording food during the pandemic and the program was responsive. We've all heard the stories of it taking weeks, if not months for unemployment insurance systems to respond to the spike in demand and to be able to issue new benefits. And that just wasn't the case for SNAP. State and local agencies really did step up to the table to meet the challenge, but I will say SNAP's ultimate success, it certainly didn't come without its fair share of bumps in the road. And I think that probably starts with the fact that SNAP rules, they're just not well suited to work in a virtual world. When you think of things like interview requirements and procedures for recertifying for benefits and even things like a signature requirement, they all lean heavily on in-person interaction. And that's particularly true for underserved communities that already face access barriers. For our clients, if you mess up and following those rules, you're back to square one, you got to start all over in the application process and even beyond just the benefit itself, there's other components of SNAP that are there to help people receiving a help learn more about healthy food or engage in employment and training services. And those services are similarly modeled towards in-person activities. So to say that the program had to make changes would be an understatement, I really think everything had to change about SNAP. And I will say to their credit, the federal government approved a broad range of temporary flexibilities to mitigate a lot of these issues. But really, the devil is in the detail of whether these flexibilities can be successfully implemented. Early in the pandemic in particular, states would often not get approval for waivers that were really critical to help families keep their benefits until days before or even after an action was due in a client's case. The reality is that states needed to know weeks in advance. They could be updating their eligibility systems and sending out notifications to people receiving SNAP of what was expected of them. And these issues unquestionably led to unnecessary confusion and problems in the pandemic response. I will say fortunately, the federal government did learn from a lot of its early mistakes, in late September Congress passed new legislation that allowed for a lot more flexibility in states being able to select waivers, they could deploy over a longer time horizon and customized to their specific needs and implementation approaches. And that approach, it worked a lot better for states to be able to proactively plan how they could use these waivers and transition over time to a new normal. In the months after that even both Congress and the administration made a number of additional changes to help states provide more equitable benefits access. So I would say even in just the short period of this pandemic response, we've already come a long ways. Alyssa, I'd appreciate your reflections on this issue as well. The pandemic really forced states to think differently about how they interact with and provide services to clients. Some of those changes were successful and others existing deficits in technology, staffing models or community partnerships that were really difficult or sometimes even impossible to adapt during the national crisis. So one example of a change that worked well was the expansion of telephonic case processing. So this allows caseworkers to support client applications over the phone instead of in-person or online. And federal policy really facilitated that by allowing clients to give verbal signatures over the phone instead of a written signature. Before the pandemic, states had some options to do this, but they were required to collect and store an audio recording of the signature and purchasing that technology to be able to do that was a major barrier. So only some states were doing it and it wasn't always fully available statewide. So this flexibility that allowed for verbal signatures was seen as a really successful low-cost option facilitating remote services. Another change I'd consider successful was the expansion of the online purchasing pilot. So before the pandemic, only two states allowed SNAP participants to use their benefits for online groceries, and now almost all 50 states offer that service. And we know that there are still a number of barriers to access, so things like few participating retailers, high delivery and service fees, lack of delivery particularly in rural areas, but it does represent a big shift towards modernizing SNAP, which was long overdue. On the flip side states also experienced some challenges moving SNAP online, particularly in communicating these frequent program changes to clients, shifting supportive services like nutrition, education, and workforce training to a virtual setting and engaging people who might lack reliable access to internet or digital devices. Very few states were able to provide mobile friendly services to clients, most relied on mass communication through their websites or social media or call centers. And even though most states were able to transition their supportive services online, somewhat, they tended to have difficulty engaging clients in this new setting. So you both painted a picture of things that may be helpful to know in the future if there's some crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, but also there's a lot to be learned about the way SNAP might be changed going forward overall no matter what's happening in the background. So Matt, let me ask, what are you taking away from this experience about making SNAP stronger and more resilient? Well, I think that's the million dollar question. So the first thing I think that sticks out to me, we really desperately need a playbook ready to go should we ever face a crisis like this again. The time it took to get legislative authority from Congress so we could get SNAP rules adjusted and then the process of developing and refining USDA Guidance has a real insignificant cost on the people in the communities that need help. Being able to come into a crisis where we've codified automatic triggers that are most essential for SNAP to be responsive during a time of crisis that would really ensure that state and local agencies can hit the ground running with a plan and knowledge of what flexibilities they can use and how to best deploy them. This is needed around a lot of different issues. I'd say most glaringly, we need to be talking about SNAP benefit increases and looking at suspending work requirements during a crisis, but we also need to look at those administrative rules that make a really big impact on how people access and participate in services. So things like interview requirements, the way that people can recertify for benefits, the use of telephonic signatures, quality control procedures, and then things for particular populations that have specific needs, looking at student eligibility rules, purchasing of hot and prepared foods. These all come to mind to me as things that we really need to come prepared day one of whatever that next crisis is to be ready to respond, to be nimble and adaptive. The second thing that sticks out to me is we have learned a tremendous amount about what works and what doesn't work in SNAP this past year, and we should use it to strengthen the program. Many states have found that the amount of meetings and paperwork that we're required to put people through, it really does little to preserve program integrity. What it does do is it places a lot of significant administrative burden on families. So less rigid interviews and change reporting requirements can help us cater the program to better support people that are participating. And I think federal pilots demonstrations that could test alternative strategy that could help states build the evidence for what best practices work and what contexts, that's really needed right now and the time is critical that we be thinking about that as we transition out of the pandemic. Thanks, Matt. And Alyssa, what are your thoughts on this? Testing ways to minimize participant burden is really critical. And what we've learned during the pandemic is that a big part of that is investing in technology to expand the ways that people can interact with SNAP. So one example that I think is helpful is thinking about what it's like to do your taxes now versus what that looked like even 10 years ago. So if you recall, you used to have to go to your accountant to file your paperwork in person, if they needed more information they had to call you, or you had to come back into the office. If you got a refund, you'd have to wait for weeks for your check to arrive in the mail. And now I can easily submit everything online. I can chat with an accountant on demand. There's a streamlined process to file state and federal taxes all at once. And I can easily track my refund on my phone and even have it delivered to my virtual wallet. So if we can use this best available technology to do our taxes, why can't we expect the same services for SNAP? And I think these kinds of changes that make it easier to get and keep benefits, not only have potential to break down barriers to participation and reduce participants stress and anxiety, but will also make SNAP much more adaptable and responsive in future crises. We found that states were largely constrained by the technology they had available before the pandemic. Very few were able add or expand modes of interacting with clients while they were in crisis mode. And understanding best practices and providing these virtual services is key. So there's a real need for investment in technical assistance and research to help states better understand how clients interact with these remote services. What are some of their strengths and limitations and what are some of the access barriers for certain groups? And then one last point I wanted to lift up is the importance of making SNAP more client centered. One thing I personally learned through this work is that state performance is evaluated using metrics like payment errors and application processing time, and this can come at the expense of customer and staff satisfaction. So in thinking about modernizing SNAP, it's really important to center the client voice and to really value the lived experiences of participants to improve customer service and to ensure that we're prioritizing equitable program access. Something that one state said that really resonated with me is we need to put the human back in human services. So the report is co-branded and coauthored by Johns Hopkins and the American Public Human Services Association. So Alyssa, how did your two organizations come together to do this work and why do you think this relationship between the organizations is so important? Alyssa - Working with APHSA on this was like a dream partnership. They have such deep working knowledge of SNAP policy which we try to understand as best we can as researchers, but can't possibly keep up with all of the intricacies of implementing these program changes on the ground. And the team at APHSA provided that policy context and made sure we were asking really relevant and meaningful questions. And they also offered a direct line to the people we really wanted to get our findings in front of. So often when you submit a policy research grant application, they ask about your plans to disseminate findings to key stakeholders. And depending on the research, it can be really challenging to figure out who to contact and how to communicate your message in a meaningful way. But for APHSA that's their bread and butter. So they already have these great relationships with Congressional and USDA staff, and they know exactly how to communicate the research in a way that will resonate with them. So that made getting the word out to policymakers really easy. Matt - Recently, we had a chance to preview the final report with our state SNAP directors. And one of the comments that just really stuck out to me was hearing how this report is just a gift to have this kind of information readily available at your fingertips to be able to drive and inform future changes that are needed to make SNAP programs more equitable and resilient. Bios: Alyssa Moran has more than a decade of experience working with individuals, community organizations, and government agencies on food and nutrition programs and policies. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she is Core Faculty within the Institute for Health and Social Policy and Impact Specialist in Obesity and the Food System. Her research, teaching, and practice focus on the role of food and social policies in improving diet quality, reducing food insecurity, and eliminating health inequalities. She is a registered dietitian, earned her MPH in public health nutrition from NYU in 2011, and earned her ScD in nutrition from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in 2018. Matt Lyons is the Director of Policy and Research with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA). In his role, Matt is responsible for developing and executing strategies for policy advocacy and influence in areas impacting health and human services programs. Prior to joining APHSA, Matt served in a variety of roles in state and local government, including administering economic support programs for Maryland's human services agency, managing disaster recovery programs for the State of New Jersey in response to Superstorm Sandy, and coordinating the delivery of housing and healthy homes programs for the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development. Matt also has worked for a non-profit research institute where he provided technical assistance, data analysis, and information system design and implementation for low-income energy efficiency and community services programs across the country. Matt has an undergraduate degree in Government and Politics and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland.
17 minutes | Jul 12, 2021
E134: How Big Data is Fueling Youth Obesity
America's children and teenagers spend tremendous amount of time on the internet and never more than during the Coronavirus pandemic, with families at home so much, people ordered food, got news and engaged with family and friends online. Youngsters whose schools closed, relied on YouTube for educational videos, attended virtual classes on Zoom and to Google Classroom and flocked to TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram for entertainment and social interaction. This cost of digital immersion has a serious health downside however, because the nation's youth have been exposed to a steady flow of marketing for fast foods, soft drinks, and other unhealthy products. Today we'll be discussing a new report from the Center For Digital Democracy entitled, "Big Food, Big Tech, and the Global Childhood Obesity Pandemic." Interview Summary Our guests today are Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy and Senior Strategist Kathryn Montgomery, both are dogged and their work on this topic and in my mind are true pioneers. So Jeff let's begin with you, before we dig into the nuts and bolts of the report could you explain to our listeners the role that data play in online food and beverage marketing? What kinds of data are the companies collecting and how? Well today you no longer can separate marketing and advertising from data, data collection, data analytics, and data use, whether you're online doing any of the activities you just mentioned that kids were doing during the pandemic, where you go to the grocery store and use your loyalty card, go to the gas station, even pass a billboard, data about you is increasingly being collected, everything you do, everywhere you go, and not only you, what your family does and what your friends do and what your community does. All that is now collected and harvested. So personalized advertising can be delivered to you regardless of where you are and what you're doing. And food and beverage companies have been in the forefront taking advantage of all this data to push very unhealthy food marketing to children and teens. So Jeff you painted this picture of a lot of data being collected of a lot of people and so I'm assuming this applies to children as well as teenagers when they're visiting the internet - that their data are being harvested and that gets used to market things specifically to them. So is that correct? It works in a number of ways, even though there is a children's privacy law that supposedly limits the amount of data that can be collected on children under 13. In fact, companies collect huge amounts of data, they violate the law on children, and certainly teens are easily accessible by the data companies, but it's not just personal data, it's data about their families. So for example, the companies now know what mom and dad buy at the grocery store or the commercials even that the kids watch at home for example, when they're viewing streaming video or just regular television, so all that data is compiled. Let's talk about family data in addition to personal children's data, that's used to target advertising to them. What's important in the report is that today the food and beverage companies have become kind of Google's and Facebook's, the food and beverage companies are now leading data companies as well, which illustrates how much they value and understand the role that data plays in targeting audiences today, not just the United States, but throughout the world. It’s a very concerning picture, especially given that there is a law meant to protect this population that's being violated. So we'll come back a little bit later and talk about what might be done, but Kathy, how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way children and teens are being exposed to this food and beverage advertised in the digital world? First of all, we know that children are already online in huge numbers, and that they're living their lives in this digital environment, they're conducting their friendships, they're interacting with people all over the world, using their mobile phones constantly, they are already in this digital ecosystem, as the industry likes to call it, 24/7. With the pandemic that was intensified, these young people were in greater numbers for a multiplicity of purposes. So they were perfect targets. They were in the crosshairs of the food industry and the tech industry constantly. And particularly for black and brown kids, this raises a lot of serious issues. And we also see some important intersections between the COVID-19 pandemic and the obesity pandemic, which is really one reason why we wrote this report. We wanted to have people understand how these two global pandemics are connected and that many of the young people who have been most at risk for COVID-19 have been those who suffer from childhood obesity and the related illnesses to that condition like diabetes, etc. These young people suffered from COVID and were more inclined to be very sick and sometimes die from it in greater numbers than other young people. And then at the same time, we have this huge pandemic of obesity that unfortunately in the US has fallen off of the public radar. That's another reason why we wanted to raise this issue and let people know about it. But in terms of black and brown youth, they are really in the cross hairs of the food industry. They are more avid users of digital media, they're on the gaming platforms in greater numbers, they're fully immersed and they're trendsetters for other young people. And the food companies have enlisted some of the icons of pop culture from these communities to promote some of the unhealthiest food you can imagine from fast food to sugar sweetened beverages and to do it through games, mobile technologies, every possible digital venue. Let's talk just a little bit more about that if you wouldn't mind Kathy. So one might think that on the internet kids are just gonna be seeing the ads that they would have seen if they were watching TV, it would be similar things, they'd be seeing the sugar beverage company advertising its products with some athlete or some music celebrity or something, but you're painting a picture that's a little more serious than that. There are clever things that are done, it comes in different forms on the internet that can be especially hard to note as advertising, tell us a little bit more about that. Kathryn - For a lot of people who as you say might have an understanding of commercials on television which we all can see and we can all get outraged about, but it doesn't work that way on the internet. The brands are really woven intricately into the inner relationships that young people have with digital culture. In gaming for example, you see brands woven into the so-called game play. It's done in a way that is personalized to each game player. They can crop up in the middle of a particular part of the game, they can be offered as rewards or ways to enhance your character's ability to fight a battle for example, or in some cases like with one of the Wendy's campaigns, they've created entire games based on character, so that's one example. And the other thing is that there's a lot of influencer marketing in this environment where influencers on social media will promote our brand to all their followers. And it doesn't look like advertising. It looks like recommendations, and it may be even more subtle than that. Jeff - And unlike the commercials that many of us have grown up with, digital advertising is different, first place it learns about you. It learns what you like, what you do, how you respond, and it's able to change increasingly in real time. So for example, an ad or marketing message that you might view on your mobile phone is going to look different. It's going to be enhanced, adapted in some way. When you see the same ad, when you're on a gaming platform or a streaming video platform, these ads are increasingly personalized. And the ability to constantly track you wherever you go and use that data to create very relevant, engaging real-time advertising, which of course has been tested, measuring whether or not it triggers your unconscious and emotional spheres is one of the reasons why this powerful medium needs to be regulated. So Jeff, the issue of marketing targeted this specific groups came up earlier, does that happen in this context? Digital advertising works on an individual basis, on a group basis, the ability to leverage all the data that's collected today, and the fact that we live our lives in the pandemic enhanced that, on these digital platforms, enables the advertisers and marketers to create vast numbers of targeting categories. And also to understand that even if you don't buy, let's say junk food product X, that because of the habits of others who may have the same interest as you, but who do buy a junk product X, you're a potential target. And then they can then focus on you, even if you've never shown any interest in this particular food product. So there's just a growing number of ways to leverage data, to push unhealthy products, to young people that we've ever witnessed. So I'm imagining that both the sheer amount of such marketing is of great concern, but also the fact that it's so precisely targeted and data are being used so effectively in this context probably gives the company as much more punch for every dollar they spend or every minute they have of your attention. So this is especially concerning. So Kathryn, what can be done to limit children's exposure to this type of marketing in the online world. And does the report make any specific recommendations in this regard? We made a number of recommendations and we were so disheartened when we started this research that so little had been done recently, this was an issue that was discussed much more publicly. And a lot of us were involved in these efforts, not that many years ago where the concern about childhood obesity was really on the public agenda and companies were under some pressure to report to the Federal Trade Commission, for example, on how they were spending money to advertise to young people, and that has not happened in recent years. Interestingly, a lot of that has happened overseas. So in the EU countries, in the EU, generally in the UK and Latin America, there are stronger rules. And this issue is very much on the agenda. These are also global companies. So one of the things we've done in this report is to inform people about what's going on globally and to see how we need to look at U.S. policy in the context of global trends and the rising concerns in other countries about this issue. We have a long list of things that we recommend to policymakers and to companies. We think that the tech companies, for example, have some responsibilities and they've not stepped up to the plate on these issues. They play a major role here in the way they set up systems to facilitate and enhance this kind of marketing in the same way they did with the election. And what we learned from controversies over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, for example, so companies can do things to restrict what marketers can do on their site. So for example, we're very concerned that we need to do more to protect adolescents. They're very vulnerable to this kind of marketing. They're very much influenced by their peers. They have other kinds of vulnerabilities that make them particularly susceptible to the techniques that are used by digital marketers. We also believe that we need to look very closely at setting some clear standardized guidelines for what unhealthy food and beverages are. And I'll tell you everything we found in our report was unhealthy, whether it's the soft drinks or the French fries or the candies or the energy drinks that are commonly promoted aggressively on gaming platforms for example, we need to have clear guidelines about what can and can't be promoted. And we also need to focus on brands because if you restrict a certain product, but you don't restrict the brand, research has shown this causes young people to increase their consumption of unhealthy food. We list a whole bunch of techniques that are unfair and manipulative that needs to be addressed, particularly targeting black and brown youth. There needs to be a really clear focus on ensuring that is stopped. So I'd like to ask Jeff in just a moment about some more of the policy implications for this and what might be feasible and effective in the context of what government can do. But Kathy, let me ask you one additional question. I know the food industry has for a number of years said, government doesn't need to regulate us because we'll regulate ourselves and they set up the children's food and beverage advertising initiative, which was an industry sponsored organization that was supposed to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food, what happened to that? And why isn't that enough? Kathryn - First of all they made sure that they only set up self-regulatory guidelines that applied to children under 12, not even 12 and under. So they've done nothing about adolescents at all. And they've been adamant about not wanting to do anything in terms of protecting adolescents. Most of the provisions focus on television, a few deal with digital, but not in a really adequate way. And generally what we see is there's no enforcement, there's no oversight. So you look at the techniques, you'll see that really these marketers are getting away with murder. Jeff - And that's why the public health community and people who are concerned about public health and especially obesity need to start focusing on the food and beverage companies, as well as the platforms like Google and Facebook and take that snapshot because they are responsible for unleashing all these techniques, which we catalog. And until the industry feels the pressure, hopefully from regulators, these self-regulatory regimes will not in fact respond. What we found is not a secret. This is all known. And yet the people who were supposed to protect our nation's youth from this unhealthy group marketing simply have their heads purposely stuck in the digital sand. So Jeff, are you any more optimistic that the social media platforms will have more effective self-regulation than the food companies do? We're moving to a period of regulation, I think that the days of self-regulation are over, we have an unprecedented opportunity with the Federal Trade Commission now. President Biden has appointed someone who might be the most progressive champion of consumers and children and public health that we've had in decades. Her name is Lina Khan from Columbia University. She just took over a few weeks ago and we're seeing really a major overhaul. Now the Federal Trade Commission, which has the power to examine the data practices and the marketing practices, especially when it comes to the children and young people. We have a real opportunity to have the FTC act In this regard, in Congress, there is bipartisan interest to strengthen the rules that protect both young people and teens from a number of these data collection practices, which would have a direct impact on the ability of the companies to advertise and market junk food to them. And we're very helpful, right now we're on a path to try to reign in the power of big food and big tech, but it's certainly going to be an uphill battle. Too few people understand that the battlefield to protect young people's health in terms of obesity is really online. It's nice to hear your optimism, that the FTC is one possible avenue for change. Are there other policy routes that might be effective? For example, can the states do anything on this level? You are absolutely correct Kelly that the state attorney generals are taking a leading position in trying to break up Facebook and Google and Amazon really can and should play a role. The state of Ohio attorney general, a Republican has proposed that Google in essence, be declared a public utility, which would allow all kinds of regulation in state to protect the consumers, to protect the public. So, yes, there's also opportunities at the state level and even perhaps at the municipal level, in terms of the regulation of broadband, for example, or wireless communications, question is, is there enough capacity and interest and frankly support within the public health advocacy and professional scholarly community to start doing some of these things, because there's really just only a tiny handful of organizations working on this. And it's still frankly, very under appreciated. Bios: Jeff Chester is Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a Washington, DC non-profit organization. CDD is one of the leading U.S. NGOs advocating for citizens, consumers and other stakeholders on digital privacy and consumer protections online. Founded in 1991, CDD (then known as the Center for Media Education) led the campaign for the enactment of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, 1998). During the 1990s it also played a prominent role in such issues as open access/network neutrality, diversity of media ownership, public interest policies for children and television, as well the development of the FCC’s “E-Rate” funding to ensure that schools and libraries had the resources to offer Internet services. A former investigative reporter, filmmaker and Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, Jeff Chester received his M.S.W. in Community Mental Health from U.C. Berkeley. Kathryn Montgomery is Professor Emerita in the School of Communication at American University, where she founded and directed the 3-year interdisciplinary PhD program in Communication. She is also Senior Strategist for the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD). Montgomery's research, writing, and testimony have helped frame the national public policy debate on a range of critical media issues. In the 90s, she spearheaded the campaign that led to passage of the U.S. Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). She is author of two books: Target: Prime Time – Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television (Oxford University Press, 1989); and Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet (MIT Press, 2007). Montgomery’s current research focuses on major technology, economic, and policy trends shaping the future of digital media in the Big Data era. Her recent work includes numerous reports and articles on digital food marketing, children’s privacy, health wearables, and political microtargeting. She earned a PhD in Film and Television Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles.
19 minutes | Jul 7, 2021
E133: Measuring Fish for Food & Nutrition Security - Improving Metrics to Advance Policy
Evidence-based Policy relies on strong data and measurements. So if you want to improve a development target like nutrition, you need to be able to measure that. But with fisheries and aquaculture, we often don't have the metrics we need to make sound policy decisions. This podcast is a part of a series on fisheries and nutrition and a movement to bring fisheries into international food policy and programming. Interview Summary Welcome to the Leading Voices in Food podcast. I'm Sarah Zoubek, associate director of the World Food Policy Center at Duke University. My co-host today is World Food Policy Center alum and Michigan State University, fisheries social scientist Abigail Bennett. We've got another full house of guests today with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's ecologist and epidemiologist, Chris Golden and fisheries planning analyst, Nicole Franz at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. So I'll just jump right in, garbage in and garbage out, is what I often hear researchers say when referring to making decisions based on bad data or essentially no data. In your view, what are some of the most important data and information gaps for fisheries and aquaculture, and then subsequently for developing policy that promotes their contributions to food and nutrition security. Chris - One of the most interesting things is that as a society, we still don't know who is eating what and where. So we have all of this data on food production around the world. We have data on trade in many cases, but we don't really know who's eating things. What types of food they're eating, why they're eating it. And so all of these data are essential for us to understand food behaviors, nutritional status, and the emergence of sustainable food systems. Thinking about aquatic foods, we also have these same types of issues. Consumption data is really patchy. We also really don't understand how food is being distributed geographically within a nation by socioeconomic status, age group, or gender dynamics, we really struggle to understand how policies that increase aquatic food production or environmental changes that might shock aquatic food production, might have downstream effects on people's lives. Nicole - Chris, you already pointed out really crucial gaps. So I would just like to compliment with two more. And the first relates to the nutritional value of diverse types of aquatic foods. Aquatic foods provide micronutrients and essential fatty acids, and obviously in a very different way between these different products. The nutritional value of a white fish filet is very different from the nutritional value of a portion of small dried fish that is consumed whole. And this small dried fish for example, is particularly important as part of the diet of large amounts of people, particularly in Africa, but also in Asia. So better understanding those nutritional values of the different aquatic food products can really make a major difference in ensuring that those who are most in need have access to highly nutritious and aquatic foods. For example, one way to use that knowledge and apply that information is through targeted school feeding programs. A second data and information gap relates to the origin of aquatic food supplies. We often talk about catch about the production volume but there's less information currently available on the underlying production system. So who is catching that fish and what species is produced by what kind of production system. National catch statistics are usually not differentiating for example between large scale and small scale fisheries. But knowing these underlying production systems is really of crucial importance to inform food security and nutrition sensitive policies. Small-scale fisheries for example, they tend to fish a larger variety of species than industrial fisheries. And this variety then also tends to be consumed while what is coming from industrial fisheries, a good part of the catch is often not used for human consumption. In 2012, the World Bank, FAO and WorldFish worked together on a study that was called Hidden Harvest: The Global Contribution of Capture Fisheries. And in that study, it emerged that half of the global catch in developing countries is in fact produced by small scale fisheries. Even more importantly, the study found that between 90 and 95% of the small scale fisheries landings are destined directly for human consumption. So this really provides a strong justification to understand what the underlying production system is, because it has policy implications. Abigail - Nicole I'd like to ask you a little bit more about the Illuminating Hidden Harvest study that you mentioned and the kinds of data and metrics it uses to understand the contributions of small scale fisheries in particular to food and nutrition security. Nicole - Thanks Abby. In fact, the Illuminating Hidden Harvest study was inspired by the 2012 Hidden Harvest study. It is expanding the scope to better capture the nutrition and food security aspects in relation to small scale fisheries. So we're partnering with WorldFish and with Duke University for the production of this Illuminating Hidden Harvest study. And this is an attempt to contribute to closing, or maybe at least narrowing some of the current data and information gaps by providing more evidence on how small scale fisheries in particular contributes to sustainable development. The methods we have developed consists in data that we collected from 58 countries and territories. We also have submitted a survey that was replied to by over 100 countries, and we're also drawing on existing global databases. So we're combining all of this information in order to better understand the contribution of small scale fisheries to sustainable development. One of the things we're doing in the nutrition work is building on work that was conducted by Christina Hicks from Lancaster University to model the nutrient content from fish. This is also an attempt to model nutrient content more widely, and this should be helping to value catch in terms of nutrition rather than only in terms of economic value. The catches from small scale fisheries are really very valuable in terms of nutrient richness, especially in terms of calcium of iron and zinc. And these are three nutrients that are often lacking in the diets in particular in low and middle-income countries. So these findings are incredibly important from a policy standpoint because they're showing the need to secure small-scale fisheries production systems in the context of growing competition over access to water in coastal areas, but it really underlines the need to maintain those important food production systems that are servicing so much nutrients to in particular, the most vulnerable and marginalized parts of populations. Within the Hidden Harvest study, we're also using an indicator of household proximity to fisheries to understand better how the consumption of fish supports the nutritional benefits of the consumers. And this has really helped to illuminate how important fisheries are for the diets, especially for some groups within the population, including children between six and 24 months, which is really critical window for nutrition. So having access to affordable nutritious aquatic food is fundamental and using this indicator of household proximity to fisheries, has really helped us to visualize how the benefits from small scale fisheries are distributed within a country. Abigail - Thanks, Nicole, that's really exciting. How can listeners access the results when they're available or keep up with the study as it progresses? Nicole - We have a website and we're also sending out newsletter and we're sharing how the study is progressing. And we are planning to release a study at the end of the year, and it will obviously be available online on the pages of the three three partner organizations, FAO, WorldFish and Duke University. Sarah - Chris, you had mentioned various databases. Can you explain a little bit more how that's filling the data gaps for diet and nutrient considerations for fisheries and aquaculture? What are we measuring here? Chris - There are so many different types of databases in different parts of the world being produced by different users and all of them are so important, particularly in the ways that they can be used together. I’m going to list the ones that I've used in my own work or am aware of. The Global Nutrient Database is jointly produced by FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization) and IHME (the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation). And it produces an integrated nutrient supply estimate for all foods that are produced with the expectation that they are being consumed at the national level. And so you have consumption data that is then matched under nutrient composition tables to understand approximately the nutrient supply at the national level. If you do some modeling to estimate how those national supplies are being consumed at sub national level across age and sex groups, you can actually make estimates of nutrient deficiencies at the national level. This becomes really important in terms of targeting what types of food interventions or nutritional interventions need to be undertaken at national scales. There's also something called the Global Dietary Database based at Tufts University that has aggregated most of the world's 24 hour recall data considered to be the gold standard for dietary assessment and has aggregated all data that was conducted in nationally representative ways, I think it's for more than 80 countries, to understand how food items are consumed, how they're distributed sub nationally. And so the information within that, that allows us to have an idea of how the Global Nutrient Database might be disaggregated at sub-national scales. There's also a database called GENuS, Global Expanded Nutrient Supply Database. This is a unique database in that it is completely open access, it can be found online in the Harvard Dataverse and it also produces nutrient supply estimates that uses the FAOs food balance sheet data, and then assigns nutrient composition data to the food balance sheet data and corrects for ways in which production might actually be translated into consumption. The last thing that I'll mention is that we have recently developed something called the Aquatic Food Composition Database. We noticed how important the diversity of production systems of species, of the parts of fish that people were consuming and how little we knew about the nutrient value of those different parts of fish. And we went through a systematic scoping review of all of the data that was available in the peer reviewed literature. We went through all of the national food composition tables, and we wove that together into one integrated database and we called it the Aquatic Food Composition Database. And this has more than 3000 different aquatic food species, inclusive of both plant and animal source foods, an entire suite of different nutrients. From iron, zinc, individual fatty acids, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, etc. And then also classifies data based on whether it was wild, farmed, what geographical region it was produced in, and the part of the fish that is being tested. So whether it's the filet, the liver, a whole fish, whether it's dried or fresh. So any processing that is involved before the nutrient analysis was done. I think with all of these different methods, all of these different databases, putting together all of these data and disparate parts, and these unconnected databases will be incredibly important to understanding how we can create more efficient, more sustainable and more nutritious food systems. Abigail - Chris and Nicole, you both laid an amazing amount of work out on the table. And it's really exciting because it does seem like the field is inching closer to being able to connect some of those dots and do some triangulation on some areas where there's some uncertainty and data gaps. And so yeah, I do want to circle back around to this initial question that we posed, which is so what is the significance of this work collectively for policymaking? What does this data enable us to measure about fisheries and agriculture and what are some of the implications for making better policy? Chris - I think one of the things to look at is the way that the aquaculture industry is really revolutionizing feed. We know that aquatic foods on average are so much more sustainable and have a much lighter environmental footprint than a vast array of different forms of animal source foods. So when we put it in that context, to think about the way in which feed products that go into agriculture, which is the dominant form of environmental impact for most of them and the way that they're being completely transformed by these interesting tech companies, to look at ways that we can use plant feeds with adopted or generated nutrient profiles that really improve the ultimate end product of nutrition. I think that that is something to definitely keep a lookout for, that will have incredible policy impact in terms of developing sustainable food systems. And so one of the things that my team has been looking at is the degree to which fisheries management and specifically marine protected areas, could actually serve as a nutritional intervention. Conservation as a process could actually be not only a biodiversity and an environmental intervention, but also a public health intervention. And so the idea that a marine protected area could rehabilitate a fishery, provide spillover and increasing access to seafood to adjacent communities, is something that I think is so exciting to really reframe that mentally. And then to see if we can actually quantify the benefits of conservation to human health. Abigail - And Chris does that serve as even an additional justification for fisheries conservation? Is it useful in that sense as well to kind of reframe these things like that? Chris - I think so, absolutely. I think the degree to which we can think of all of these different sectors as serving multiple different purposes of the resource. And so to think of fisheries exclusively in an economic sense, really undermines so much of its true value and might lead to mismanagement from a fisheries management standpoint. Abigail – Nicole, I want to turn it over to you and ask the same question. What types of policies do you think might emerge from a lot of the work in filling data and information gaps? Nicole - I fully agree with what Chris just mentioned, and I think hopefully one of the major results of better data and information is that there's more integrated analysis across different policy domains, such as fisheries and nutrition. It would really allow for more coherence also across new policies. For example, these broader livelihood dimensions that are coming from the fisheries are really emerging and are valued. So by having this data, the fishery sector will really gain more recognition because currently we see often that it's overlooked, it's not taken into account even in food security and nutrition strategies in many countries. So by having more evidence about these values and these multiple functions of aquatic food within societies, this really should help better policy making and help to optimize the outcomes of these different policies that are playing together in a more coherent way. There are a number of new global policy processes and policy instruments developing, taking aquatic foods more into consideration. One example are the Voluntary Guidelines for Food Systems and Nutrition. These Voluntary Guidelines were endorsed earlier this year and they specifically include aquatic foods. And we also see now in the preparations for the UN Food Systems Summit, that aquatic foods is entering more and more the preparatory process of this UN Food Systems Summit. They often call it blue foods instead of aquatic foods. But we see now that the attention is growing and that the number of informal dialogues and the number of events are organized around that theme because there is this recognition, that aquatic food is really part of the system and it generates all of these health benefits, which ultimately play out positively for society. Sarah – And now one final question. What are you most excited about that's on the horizon for aquatic, or as Nicole said, blue foods? Nicole - I'm excited about this increasing recognition of aquatic foods, beyond the fisheries policy domain. And one example, there's the UN, they just released for the first time a discussion paper specifically on the role of aquatic foods in sustainable healthy diets. I think that that is really quite important. This paper sets out a number of recommendations on how aquatic foods are part of the solution to really building resilient food systems and sustainable, healthy diets. There's one recommendation that specifically calls to democratize knowledge, data, and technologies, and to co-create meaningful knowledge and usable innovations. And that recognition of the role of data and information in this report, I think is quite powerful. And I hope that it will really kick off more work and more attention, and also the possibility to bring together all of the existing knowledge. Chris mentioned before, there are so many databases already out there, there's so much information, but this might be an opportunity to really connect all of these better and build analysis around it, that then can really be the evidence base for policy making in the future. Chris - I completely agree with Nicole, this increasing recognition of fish and aquatic food products, it is incredibly important to elevate this recognition of how undervalued aquatic foods have been in the global food system. And one of the things I'm most excited about is not only raising the profile of that, but also integrating it and linking it directly into the terrestrial food system. We can't any longer deal with these two things as separate entities. There are enormous feedbacks in terms of the forage fish that are then used as fertilizer or feeds in terrestrial food systems, and the ways in which terrestrial food production, then leaches into affecting our rivers and lakes and coastal water systems. We can't think of these things as detached. We have to think of them as one integrative and holistic food system. Sarah - I wanted to mention, Chris, the paper that you noted is called Recognize Fish as Food in Policy Discourse and Development Funding.
18 minutes | Jun 9, 2021
E131: Fisheries Need Stronger Role in Food Policy and Food Security Planning
Fish is food, right? Well, it hasn't always been treated that way in policy dialogues and development funding, according to a recent paper in AMBIO. Fisheries management practices and policies most often treat fish as a natural resource or a trade commodity, rather than an important contributor to food security. At the same time, food security policy and funding have focused primarily on agriculture instead of fish. This podcast is part of a series on fisheries and nutrition and a movement to bring fisheries into international food policy and programming. Interview Summary Welcome to "The Leading Voices in Food" podcast. I'm Sarah Zoubek, associate director of the World Food Policy Center at Duke University. My co-host today is World Food Policy Center alum and Michigan State University Fishery Social Scientist, Abigail Bennett. So today we're also joined by two guests. Belinda Richardson, agricultural development expert from the Gates Foundation and International Coastal Programs expert, Elin Torell of the University of Rhode Island. We've asked Belinda and Elin to push and pull on ideas from our recent paper on fisheries policy published in the journal, AMBIO. So Abby, can you help us lay the scene here before Elin and Belinda jump in? How could fish not be treated as food? So in our paper, we describe how fish and food security policy are disconnected from one another. Let me give a couple of examples for our listeners. The UN sustainable development goal number two on zero hunger doesn't mention fisheries or aquaculture by name or outline specific guidance for them. The global nutrition report that tracks global nutrition commitments every year only mentioned fisheries for the first time in 2017. And the World Bank, a big player in agricultural development funding, has allocated only around two and a half percent of its agricultural portfolio to fisheries and aquaculture over the past decade, although this has ticked up to above 5% in 2018. So Belinda and Elin, why do you think fish has been so disconnected from the food policy arena and do you see this changing? Elin: I would say that a major reason why fish has been a bit disconnected is because it's a common property resource. Fish doesn't have boundaries, it moves around. It's not as easy to manage as agriculture for sure. And there's so many different fish in the oceans, everything from our precious coral reef fish to small pelagics and large pelagics and so forth. So it's very, very complicated. I would say that for aquaculture, it's been really contentious both from an environmental perspective and I would say also from an equity perspective. Belinda, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Belinda: The Gates Foundation is a relatively new donor coming into this sub sector of agriculture. The agricultural development team at the Gates Foundation began looking carefully at fish and aquaculture for its potential to impact poverty and nutrition only very recently in 2017. And we were surprised, frankly, at the size and the dynamism of the sector. So it's the fastest growing food sector, 10% annual growth per year. Demand for fish is growing fastest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa and it's very important nutritionally. An estimated 3.3 billion people get at least 20% of their protein from fish. And as the nutrition community starts shifting from counting calories to tracking dietary diversity and the nutrient density of foods, fish becomes a very important source of essential macro and micro nutrients. And I think part of the challenge as a data-driven organization was really the lack of data and the complexities around data quality and availability affecting low middle income countries are not necessarily specific to the fishery sector. The data are particularly sparse for small scale fisheries and aquaculture. And so I think as more data become available through public and private investment from different innovations, we can see a bit more clearly how many people depend on fish for food, for livelihoods and nutrition and the sectors' impact on food security. And if I can just make one last point here, I think importantly as climate and the environment keep climbing on the global agenda, as Elin said, aquaculture's been very contentious. I think aquaculture and fisheries have their sustainability issues but fish is the most efficient animal protein, so it can really help to alleviate some of the pressure on land agriculture. So as we start to grapple with how to produce enough food within planetary boundaries, fish is going to be a necessary part of that story. Thanks, Belinda. And you've mentioned funding development projects around fisheries and I'd like to drill down on that a bit further. So have the both of you seen the funding landscape for fisheries and aquaculture, or the narratives and dialogues around fisheries and aquaculture in the funding landscape change in the last 10 years? Elin: The University of Rhode Island has been implementing international fisheries programs in developing countries since about the mid-1980s. And I would say that until about 10 years ago, our fisheries work was really under the umbrella of marine conservation to protect coral reefs and other important habitats and charismatic species and global marine biodiversity. But over the last 10 years, there has been an increased recognition of the importance of fish for food security in many countries but especially in West Africa and Asian countries like Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam and this has opened up some possibilities for us to work on fisheries from a food security perspective. And to some extent, we are dealing with a different type of species under the food security umbrella. We're looking at small pelagics and other fish that are incredibly important for food security in many countries. And we've seen the US government and USAID fund multiple projects. I'm also involved as the deputy director in the Feed the Future fish innovation lab and there we do fisheries for food security programming in many countries around the world. I think another really cool shift is increased recognition of women's role, both as harvesters of fish and their roles in value chains and the importance of empowering women to participate both in fisheries management and in the production. We do know from our research and implementation of fisheries work that women are critical in the harvesting of fish and in feeding their families. So you really need to have women involved. Those are a couple of the shifts that I've seen. Now, I'd love to turn it over to Belinda. Belinda: I can really only speak to the last three or four years since we've been exploring aquaculture at the foundation but we were actually really surprised to see the increasing interest in investment into the sector from both the public and the private sector. So it's increasing on countries' agendas, planning and prioritization. That means countries are either allocating money from their national budgets or they're taking out loans against those priorities to develop the sector. As Elin said, looking at not just food security but also economic growth and then adjusting policies to incentivize investment by the private sector. Investment by private sector itself has really been another signal. Industry's responding to the strong demand pool from consumers. So as populations and incomes are rising pretty much across the board, now with some setbacks due to the pandemic but hopefully that trend will get back on track. The demand for fish is also rising and while most of the innovation for high value species like shrimp and salmon has come from the private sector, these companies are really starting to recognize the importance and the opportunity in low and middle income countries and that includes large and small producers who rely on lower value species like tilapia, carp and catfish which we could consider more staple commodities versus like salmon or tuna, which are kind of the champagne of fish. And these lower value species and production systems could really benefit from the innovations that private sector brings in genetics, feed, aquatic animal health. That could boost productivity and profitability and supply more fish. Thanks, Belinda and Elin. It's really interesting to have both of your insider perspectives on how some of that funding landscape has been changing recently. Are there challenges in development projects that are unique to fisheries and aquaculture, especially as compared to agriculture? Elin: The fact that fish is a common property resource is definitely an issue because when you think about the geographies and your stakeholders, you know some of the sardinella, for example, in West Africa may swim across five or six countries. So how do you get all the right stakeholders and all the right people to the table? Not only decision makers but private industry and fishers and gear owners, boat owners have to come to the table. So that makes it very complicated. The second issue is the tension between conservation and productivity. We know that we need to have a sustainable fisheries in order to feed future generations. But in order to reach that sustainability, we may need to make some sacrifices in the short term through closed seasons or quotas or total allowable catches or whatever it is. And we could call that a delay in production and during those stoppages, people that are really dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods and for food security may be suffering. So that's a challenge I think we need to look at. How do we address that? What is our arsenal of solutions, whether it's through conditional cash transfers, through importation, private sector engagement? Those are some challenges that we need to address. Now, I'd love to turn it over to Belinda. Belinda” So from the donor perspective, increasing investment into the agricultural sectors, you always run the danger of unintended consequences but because we've hit or are approaching the carrying capacity limits of our oceans and freshwater bodies, which basically means that over 60% of the world's fish stocks are now over-exploited beyond their biological sustainability limits, there's an instinct to say that we can fill that supply and demand gap with fish from aquaculture which at first glance is true and mathematically, the calculation works out but there are two challenges I want to flag. The one is nutrition and the other one is environment. There are a lot of challenges when we talk about sustainable intensification related to fisheries in aquaculture. You've got effluent hormones, antibiotic use, farmed and wild fish disease interface. But one in particular is the specific environmental trade-off around the fishmeal debate. So, fish for feed versus fish for food. 22% of fish landed in captured fisheries according to FAO is destined for fishmeal. The vast majority of that is human grade food. So if we're looking at the whole system, can we do a better job balancing this equation of where fish is coming from? And also, what are the more nutritious species? So from a nutrition lens, if we look at this problem, smaller marine or indigenous species that people might eat whole, for example, they've got calcium in the bones, vitamin A in the eyes, these are much more nutrition-dense than like a filet that you would eat from a salmon, for example. So just thinking a little bit more holistically about the nutrient content of these fish where they're coming from and the environmental limit. Elin: I 100% agree with your comments about this debate between pitch food versus people food and where does the fish go? And I think that's why there's a lot of research going into alternate feed for aquaculture as well. And there's also multiple efforts to think about how we can use some of that fish that would go into fish feed and turn it into products that may be used for pregnant women and children in the first thousand days of life. So I think it's always good to follow up a discussion on challenges with some successes. So I'm curious, what are some of the measurable impacts of the recent funding efforts that can already be seen or that we might be able to soon see from these investments in fisheries and aquaculture sectors? Elin: I'm really, really proud of the work that we've been doing in empowering women cleaners. This is something we've been working on throughout the world in West Africa, East Africa and Southeast Asia. Some recent successes has been in West Africa, in the Gambia and in Ghana, where we worked with women who were harvesting oysters to both work with them to protect their oyster resources through establishing no-take areas or closed seasons and we've seen some improved stocks. We are seeing that the oysters are coming back and the women we are working with are really encouraged and they're continuing to renew their closed season on their own. We do see that economic empowerment is incredibly important. Some of our research in Malawi found that women who were generating an income from the fisheries sector have a higher negotiating power within their households. And they're more able to participate in fisheries management. And this is something we've seen also again in the Philippines and in West Africa. And our work in West Africa is starting to evolve now, moving from The Gambia and Ghana to other countries in the region. Our work with the small pelagics and a broader ecosystem approach to fisheries management is a lot more complicated. And while we're very hopeful that we're going to see good improvements in fish biomass over time, for now, I feel like our biggest wins have been at the enabling conditions and policy governance sites. For example, our work in Ghana. The government of Ghana has adopted a national fisheries co-management policy. And at the more local level we have community-based fishery school management plans that we feel comfortable that we've contributing to really set a base for seeing great measurable impacts, even though we haven't seen them yet. So Belinda, I'm curious for you - what are some of the measurable impacts of recent funding efforts you feel like we can already see or that we might soon see in fisheries and aquaculture? Belinda: So from the Gates Foundation perspective. There are some great technologies and innovations in aquaculture, specifically. We've seen technologies and innovations in aquaculture generate real results for productivity and profitability, even for very small scale producers in field trials. Looking at those technologies, that's really something that we'd like to build on. Take these innovations to scale, create sustainable market linkages for small scale producers, so hopefully increase livelihoods and nutrition. So just an example, with breeding and through new genomic tools, genetic gains result in fish with faster growth rates, more feed efficiency, more disease resistance which will be important with climate change as you get intensification. If you think about the large amount of small scale producers in low and middle-income countries and their low yields currently and then you multiply that by the productivity increases from these technologies, that's a huge potential. So hopefully, if countries can do this well, that translates into income for small scale farmers and better nutrition for a range of consumers. Along that impact pathway, The Gates Foundation is looking to these technologies and innovations to pick those up and disseminate those to small scale producers. Thanks, Elin and Belinda. It's really exciting and encouraging to hear about those pieces of progress, ranging from technological developments, all the way to setting the policy and governance stage for these things to have impact on livelihoods and food security. So I want to end on a question that's a bit forward-looking and ask what are you most excited about that is on the horizon for fisheries and aquaculture? Elin: I am really excited about working more on fisheries in ways that strengthens the role of women and youth in marginalized groups. I feel like we've made some headway on gender and I would love to bring some of those experiences into also including youth and marginalized groups and really try to find win-win initiatives where we can promote synergies between food security including nutrition, of course, and conservation outcomes. Belinda, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well. Belinda: Adaptation to climate change is quickly becoming a top priority for fishing communities and fish farmers. The people who depend on fisheries and aquaculture for livelihoods and nutrition and the majority of which are in these low and middle income countries and often the most vulnerable to climate change. This underlying vulnerability makes them particularly susceptible to the stressors and impacts from climate change. So if we think about this challenge also as an opportunity so everything that Elin mentioned around gender, some of these initiatives where you can have a win-win for nutrition and food security and also conservation and environmental sustainability, this seems like a really opportune time for fish to be getting more of a spotlight. The paper we've discussed is available on the website that the Duke World Food Policy Center and the title is "Recognize fish as Food in Policy Discourse and Development Funding". Our guests today again are Gates Foundation's Belinda Richardson and the University of Rhode Islands' Elin Torell. Bios Elin Torell Elin Torell is the Director of International Coastal Programs, Evaluation, Livelihoods and Gender at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Resources Center. She provides programmatic direction and selected technical support within her main areas of expertise: monitoring, evaluation and learning, livelihood development, gender mainstreaming, population and environment, civil society, fisheries management and environmental compliance. Elin has more than 15 years of experience providing technical assistance and leading complex and interdisciplinary projects in East Africa and South East Asia. She is an expert in project management and developing and leading strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation systems that foster learning within projects as well as across multiple projects. Elin has a Ph.D. in environmental studies, an MsC. in human and economic geography and a bachelor’s degree in social science. Belinda Richardson Belinda Richardson is a Fellow at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, having also worked as a technical consultant for the World Food Program and as a teaching assistant at UC Davis, where she completed a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Economics and International Development.
16 minutes | May 27, 2021
E130: Can Software Help Cities Solve Food Insecurity
Can software help urban planners tackle food access in big cities? The UrbanFootprint organization says yes. Fast Company named it one of the most innovative social good companies in 2021. Our guest today is the company's co-founder and CEO, Joe DiStefano. He's going to explain how city data and geospatial information can inform critical planning decisions about where to invest and to deploy resources to achieve urban food system resilience and to better support communities. Interview Summary So, let's set the stage for our listeners. What is your view of the urban food insecurity problem? Well, today, according to our data, about 19 and a half million, nearly 20 million households, are food insecure today, and that means they don't have the financial resources to confidently put food on the table throughout a week or throughout a month. That is a growth of nearly 50% since March 2020, when the pandemic began. So, we had places that were already significantly food insecure, or households that were experiencing a lot of stress when it comes to food security before the pandemic, but this has been a pretty substantial uptick. In some of the hardest-hit states we're looking at one in five households that are food insecure. I think even more troubling than that is that more than 12 million of these households report what we know of as food insufficiency, and this means not having enough food to eat at some point in the last week. So, some of these places, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, those round out the top five right now according to our data. This is where 20% of households, and in some cases greater, are food insecure. What this striking number suggests is that existing relief programs and the existing kind of complex supply chain on the food insecurity side of things are not quite meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable Americans. You know, there's been a lot of attention to food insecurity during COVID, and I sure hope that when COVID is in the rear view mirror, whenever that comes, that people don't forget that it was a very significant problem to begin with. But boy, you make a good point about how it's been even worse during the pandemic. So, how does the data and a geospatial software program help with this problem? Can you describe the platform that you're building and tie that to the challenges that city planners and communities face? Just as a really brief piece of background, so I spent about 20 years effectively playing SimCity for real; that was my job. Those of you who know that game, we did that for real, right? So, we were out there building data-oriented models of cities, and then experimenting with the impact of changes, so if you put housing here, or a transportation system here, what are the energy impacts, the water impacts, the health impacts. So, come COVID, we really oriented that data facility and that platform in the direction of some of these really challenging resource distribution issues, and this is not something I actually knew a lot about a year and a half ago. We started doing work in Louisiana right about beginning of the COVID crisis with some folks that we had worked with in the post-Katrina, Rita recovery days in 2005, '06, '07, and one of the first things that we learned is that this COVID crisis is a very complex economic crisis. It was very unevenly distributed across communities, so in many cases poor Americans, non-white Americans were really adversely hit by economic impacts in particular. As those economic impacts started to unfurl on the landscape, we saw some very significant increases in need for things like food, very significant increases in eviction risk, very serious challenges around being able to get to test sites and medical facilities as transit systems that serve the most transit-dependent Americans turned off overnight, or dramatically reduced service. So, when we sat down with officials at federal, state agencies and relief providers in Louisiana, one of the first things we learned is that there was very substantial concern as to how to get basic needs like food to this increasing number of Americans that were needing it. So, we put our data systems to work to begin to understand that, so data that we have traditionally taken for granted as relatively static, like those transit system schedules, for example, those were now changing by the day. So, we needed to begin to adjust information about transit systems in order to understand how people can reach healthy food. Unemployment, which used to change by 0.1 or 0.2 every six months, was now changing at double digits every week. So, we needed to start bringing in more dynamic feats around unemployment. And then, very importantly, because the COVID crisis was being experienced so unevenly at a fairly detailed level, like one neighborhood versus another neighborhood was experiencing COVID and the economic impacts of COVID very differently, we put a lot of our work that we had traditionally put into developing urban planning and detailed data down to the block level, for example, to work in order to understand how unemployment was ebbing and flowing across the landscape as well. What that ultimately led to was the ability to estimate the need for things like food relief at a much more granular level than has ever been available before. So, we built these food security insight datasets, if you will, that now can map at the block and neighborhood level the level of food insecurity, the level of food insufficiency, and now, even more importantly, the gap between food distribution and participation in federal SNAP distribution programs, for example, and need. So, what we ended up doing was taking the same tech facility and prowess that massive companies like Amazon deploy in order to get you a toaster or an Xbox eight hours after you order it, somehow this thing arrives at your door. Why is it that that same kind of technology and that same kind of intellectual prowess can't be deployed to get relief to the most vulnerable Americans? So, I can't tell you how impressed I am by the sophistication of this data and how detailed it can be going block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. When you started looking at the data that you acquired this way, were there things that surprised you? Some of the things that were most surprising or most telling, really, was again, at the granular level, the distribution of this crisis really is quite uneven. So, you look within a single city like New Orleans, or Baton Rouge, or any city in America, really, you're actually going to see very substantial differences even within a mile or two in the level of economic stress that's been experienced that was there before, in many cases, but then has really been heightened or been experienced in the COVID crisis. So, places that have high concentrations of the sectors that have been experiencing such high unemployment are pockets of really, really deep pain and high levels of food insecurity, high levels of eviction risk. These are places that are dramatically less resilient than perhaps a neighborhood four or five blocks away from it. These are places that are least likely to be able to withstand the substantial shocks that have been coming their way, in some cases for decades that have really been sort of heightened and accelerated. So, health shocks like COVID, economic shocks like unemployment. There are large subsections of cities, large communities that have been living at the edge for a while that the COVID crisis really sort of pushed over that edge, and so now the really substantial challenge is to ensure that relief in the form of food relief and food benefits, but also eviction relief, access to opportunity and jobs that can actually lift people above that edge. Relief needs to be targeted into these locations, and it has traditionally been very difficult to reach these communities and to target relief to these specific places. You can't just drop relief at the county level; you actually have to really target it, and that's why we've built these datasets and that's why we've taken the detail that, say, an urban planner, or a developer, or an e-commerce company uses to understand the landscape and now begin to apply this to larger resource distribution problems like food, eviction, and other categories. Let's get even a little more concrete. So, if you were a mayor, you were a city planner, you were a city manager, how would you take this information and do things differently than what's being done now? Where we're seeing the most value for this data right now is actually at the front line relief providers, and then at the state agencies, and ultimately, hopefully, the federal agencies that are responsible for the distribution of these very substantial benefit programs. So, you think of the SNAP program, which is the federal food relief program, or rental assistance programs that are now coming down and being accelerated by the federal government. This kind of data can specifically do a couple different things. It can help to understand at a very detailed level and a very up-to-date level the scale of this problem. How big is this problem? How is it changing on a weekly basis or a bi-weekly basis? Is our program actually addressing the need? Do we actually see reductions in the need, or improvements in the outcome? Are people less food insecure than they were before? Traditionally, we were using datasets that get updated every 18 months in order to estimate today's situation. It is not enough to actually understand whether a program is working. So, the first thing is just the scale, but really, the most important piece is that distribution of the problem. So, if you're going to reach the most vulnerable people, you have to understand where they are, and unfortunately, most of these programs are application-based programs. People literally have to fill out an application in order to get relief. If you want to apply for SNAP benefits or WIP benefits, these large federal and food insecurity programs that are then administered by the states, you have to fill out an application. Well, unfortunately, those that are most vulnerable, riding that edge, are not generally filling out those applications. In many cases they don't know about these programs. In other cases it's just really complex. The SNAP application is many, many, many, many pages long. It requires all kinds of information, and it's difficult to do it, so what ends up happening is that states and community-based organizations that contract with states are out there helping to enlist more people in these programs to get them aid. But you need data. You need to understand where these people are, and you need to be able to very specifically map the gap between application flow, in this case, and need. So, what we're doing is we're mapping not just food insecurity, but we're now working with the first aid agencies. We don't bring in any personal, identifiable information. We bring in where the applications are coming from, and we map that against the need, and now we can clearly articulate where the gaps are. What that means is that community-based organizations and state actors and staff people can be going out and specifically targeting with marketing activities and other activities the locations of vulnerable households. The real goal is to get more people enlisted in these programs. There is substantial resource out there. The federal government today, through the American Rescue Plan, the American Family Plan, it is dramatically increasing the pool of resources, but that does not mean that those resources are going to get to the right people. I very strongly believe that this is this once in many generation opportunity to use the same kind of data and facility, like I said before, that Amazon uses to get you a toaster, to get these people the resources they need in a very targeted way. Boy, there's so many implications of this work, and I'm really happy that you could provide some concrete examples right there. So, could this technology be used to do modeling and to predict which neighborhoods might become in special need of services and things? Could you predict changes and factors that are going to lead to more food insecurity or eviction rates, or things like that in a neighborhood? Yeah, absolutely, and actually, I would say that's much more consistent with the kind of work that urban planners and others do generally, and the kinds of things I've done for the past couple decades. And so if you look at a community, there are factors. For example, access to healthy food, which is a geospatial question. How many people are within a five or 10-minute walk of a grocery store, for example? We can map that, we can articulate that, we can index that across an environment. What are the particular sociodemographic characteristics of this place? What are the other urban characteristics of this place in terms of accessibility to facilities, transit access, access to opportunity? If you put those things together you can really map... Think about a resilience index, if you will. One of the things that we've been working on is building out a community resilience index for every block in America. What that allows us to do is understand this relative resilience of every place across a city, across a region, across a state, across the country. Those things are really very strong indicators. Places that score low on this resilience scale are places that are more likely to currently have and to have more food insecurity, more likely to have eviction risk, more likely to experience some form of harm in a climate event. So, for example, we do a lot of work with the energy utilities. This is all kind of in the same basic wheelhouse in order to help them understand where failure to the power grid is more likely to induce harm in a community, places where folks have higher levels of underlying health conditions, very low access to automobiles so those people can't get out of a situation if there's a heat wave, or if there's a fire, for example. These are places where grid failure will have an outside impact. Those are the less resilient places in American, and what I love to see now is at the federal level, at least on paper, we're seeing a very substantial reported investment in the resilience of these places. That is going to tackle the underlying causes of food insecurity, eviction risk, climate risk, which is really unevenly distributed. Certain communities are far more likely to experience adverse impacts of climate than others, and unfortunately, it's mostly the traditionally more disadvantaged communities in America, and so we really have a lot of work to do to rise the resilience of those places in order to address these multitude of issues. So, one final question. Do you get a sense of how people in the communities feel about this sort of technology, and are there privacy concerns? Are there just things that one might not think about if you're just looking at the overall picture and not going into the communities? There are certainly privacy concerns with all of this. I think people are rightfully skeptical when any technologist comes in and says, "Hey, technology's going to solve this problem." I absolutely do not believe technology is going to solve this problem on its own. This is a place where technology can absolutely help daylight and target a response, but it's not going to solve all the underlying problems. So, I think it's very important. I'm not saying that we've got some panacea here; not at all. Food insecurity alone has got a very complex supply chain. But what I can say is that we can be deploying some very substantial technology and AI and ML to serve this problem. On the privacy side of things, yeah, I mean, people are specifically applying, providing personal information on the applications, for example. We go to pains to make sure that our systems never see that information, and that's very important from the perspective of trust, and also to abide by very specific regulations around privacy and security, in particular in states like California that have rightfully so aggressive rules around that. So, our systems never see the name, the address, or anything like that, nor do the systems need to see that. So, we're making sure that that is safe and secure and that we can do this in a way that protects the integrity of data and privacy, and respects those that ultimately are receiving relief. Bio: Joe DiStefano is CEO and co-founder of UrbanFootprint, a software company that serves the world’s first Urban Intelligence Platform to public and private-sector organizations taking on the urban, climate, and social equity challenges of the 21st century. UrbanFootprint’s data and web-based geospatial software unifies previously siloed climate, environmental, urban, and socio-economic data and helps governments, utilities, financial institutions, and urban and transportation planners to answer fundamental resource questions—where to invest, where to deploy resources, and where to optimize for risk, return, resilience, and community. Before starting UrbanFootprint, Joe spent more than 20 years as a leading practitioner in the urban planning and disaster response field, working with governments and enterprises across the globe in designing cities and new technologies to tackle critical challenges in climate, land use, mobility, hazard risk, and social equity.
14 minutes | May 17, 2021
E129: An Eating Addiction Revealed - Susan Burton on Empty
People who fight against anorexia and binge eating also struggle with secrecy, isolation and shame. Eating disorders such as these are incredibly powerful and relentless forces in the lives of an estimated 70 million people both male and female, by the way, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. For almost 30 years, author and storyteller Susan Burton of the hugely popular public radio program "This American Life" hid her obsession with food and the secret life of compulsive eating and starving that dominated her adolescence. She recently published a memoir entitled "Empty" as a way to confront her disordered eating and claim the recovery that comes from telling her story. Interview Summary So having worked in this area for a long time, I can't help but admire your courage and the vulnerability in writing such an intimate book about the struggle of your eating disorders. I wrote it because I really found that I could write no other book. I started out trying to write a cultural history of the teenage girl, a book that would have intertwined that history with the story of my own adolescence but almost from the moment I sat down to write the first draft, this other story about the eating disorder that started in adolescence came out and was insistent. And I really resisted it for a long time. I was scared to write it but in the end, it was the thing that had the most urgency. It was so clear to me it was the story I needed to tell. I know hearing the story will do a lot of informing to people about eating disorders and of the ravages that it can have on people. And then also give comfort to people who might feel comfortable coming out and telling their story, given that you have. So let's start at the beginning. How did your struggle with eating issues begin and what did it look like throughout your life? Among the first stories that my mother tells about me are stories of my infancy, when I was a child who didn't like to eat. So it was always something that was in kind of the background, that Susan has the strange relationship with food. I was an unusually picky kid at the birthday party. I didn't want pizza. I wanted milk instead of Coke. But the way I felt about these preferences and food fears was I think sort of more important than the fears themselves. I had a lot of shame and unease with the fact that I ate in a way that was different from the rest of my friends. So fast forward to maybe age nine which is when I went on my first diet. I wanted to look like another little girl at my swimming pool. This little girl, her legs were so thin that the legs of her swimsuit kind of gaped around them and that was what I wanted. I can't say exactly why I wanted that but I went on a diet for a week and my mother noticed immediately. She said, "You don't look like yourself. You're too thin." And that was sort of the last time for some years that I intentionally tried to lose weight. But then midway through my adolescence, my parents had divorced. I was sort of struggling to define who I was as many of us are in adolescence and also dealing with kind of the fallout of the divorce and that trauma. I unintentionally lost a couple of pounds in a stomach bug. And I found I had a feeling of lightness that I loved and I sought more of that feeling that I craved. And within a few months, I was anorexic and within a few months after that, I'd started binge eating which is a really typical trajectory: the binging following restriction, though I didn't know that at the time. But that sort of sent me into decades of using eating or not eating to manage uncomfortable feeling. Wow, that's very powerful. So I think the friends and families of people struggling with eating disorders would benefit from hearing you explain something. Why is it so difficult to talk about this kind of a personal struggle and why is telling the story so important to recovery and survival? It's such a good question. There's so much shame associated with eating disorders. And I think because a lot of us who have them blame ourselves. Eating disorders are illnesses. They're illnesses that can be treated. I was having a conversation with a fellow eating disordered woman the other day and she was saying, "You know, if you were depressed nobody would tell you, 'get over the depression yourself, treat the depression yourself, it's your fault.'" Actually, there probably are people who've had that message and probably times in our history when we have treated depression that way. But the point is that a lot of us blame ourselves for eating disorders and with, I think, especially binging, bulimia, any of the disorders that involve eating large quantities of food, there's a huge amount of shame, culturally, involved with the feeling of too much, of greed, of overeating. I think there's more shame associated with those than there is with anorexia, which is not to say that there's not also shame in anorexia but I do think that excess carries a particular kind of shame. I agree with you that public education can be so important in this context because you're absolutely right. For somebody who struggles with eating less than ordinary, people say, well, how hard can it be just eat a little bit more? And then of course, people with binge eating issues, people say, "Well, why can't you just eat what everybody else eats?" And they don't realize how powerful and driven the impulses are that kind of drive this in the first place. And I think some more public education like what your book will do can be really helpful. I think that that was among my motivations for writing it. I was so desperate for people to understand what this felt like. That it was a compulsion. That it's not easy to wrest yourself from. So what did it take to motivate you to begin writing this memoir? I think part of it was the feeling that this was the most important story I could tell but what I didn't realize until I was through writing it was that the most important thing that writing the book would do would get me to start talking about it. Because even though I told my story on the pages of this manuscript, I still wasn't really talking about it with the people closest to me in my life, with the people kind of at the next outer circle of my life. I wasn't even in therapy until I had a finished draft of the manuscript. So the book is the telling of the story and it's my own attempt to understand what happened. But talking and talking about it with others is I think the next step in my recovery and that's where I am now, talking about my story with others and trying to understand it that way. We'll come back to the issue in just a moment of recovery and whether it's ever complete. But let me ask another question first. So some people think about eating disorders in the context of addiction and believe that curing the disease might look the way that alcoholics might tackle their addiction, let's say. So you've made that point that this analogy misses an important way of looking at things and that the process of recovery is never done. How can you explain please? For a long time, I was always drawn to stories of addiction because I experienced my binging as an addiction and I thought that that sort of explained the illness. But my solution then, as a young woman in my twenties, was to essentially quit food. Was to become anorexic, which is not a solution. Which is perilous. Which is delusional. Which I was lucky to emerge from into the healthy woman that I did. So you can't quit food. Food is everywhere. We need food for nourishment. We want food for pleasure. Food is something that we can experience with others. And so we have to find a way to live with this substance and maybe even learn to take pleasure with this thing that we feared might destroy us. But I will say and maybe this is leading to where you're going, for a long time, I was really invested in this idea that my binging had been an addiction and I wanted to sort of tease it out and figure out was the addiction to the substance? Was the addiction to the behavior? And those questions are still of great interest to me. But I think where I am in my process now is I'm extremely interested in, okay, well, what does recovery look like and what does that mean in terms of an eating disorder? What do the academic journals say it means and what do people who've been there say it means? That's the question that's really present for me right now. So do you believe that recovery can ever be complete? I mean, it depends on how we define complete. When I say it's a question I'm actively puzzling through, I really am. I think at the beginning of my work in therapy, I would have said I just want to think about food like a normal person. You know? I don't want to be so preoccupied by it. But you know, then as I got a little further into the process I realized, well, recovery is not just about changing my relationship to food, it's about looking at all the reasons that I use food in the first place and developing all of these other ways of coping that I've neglected, so that's part of my recovery too. Will I ever wake up in the morning and eat in sort of an intuitive way? I don't know. Like I said, one of the first questions you asked me was about trajectory with eating stuff and from a young age, I was always weird about food. So if we think of the etymology of the word recovery, it means sort of a return, or going back. And I think I'm trying to make something new. I feel like it's probably not an answer to your question. I mean, I'm actually curious about what you think the answer is. Is a complete recovery ever possible? It differs from person to person and some people may feel it's behind them and all as well and then behave as such and everything is okay. And other people, it's a constant struggle and they have to really remain on top of things. So it probably varies a lot from person to person but it's interesting that you brought that up because I do believe it's a fascinating issue. Something else you mentioned a moment ago I find fascinating as well, back to the addiction topics. You said you weren't certain if you felt addicted to the food or the behavior. There's some interesting nuance there. Could you explain that? This is something where I am coming at this very much as a lay person reading stuff in Google scholar. So take it as you will. But as I understand it, there's somewhat of a debate in the field whether the addiction is to the foods themselves, to say sugar, to highly processed foods, or is it a behavioral addiction more in the mode of gambling or shopping? So there's a neurological response of a dopamine hit but is that coming from the repetition of the behavior, or is it something that's coming from the food itself? I'll say for my part, when I was in the throes of binging, I felt something physiological. Like I felt like I needed sugar, I needed it to lift me up. I needed it to move and in that sense, it felt like my body was craving something. But at the same time, I also recognize that the way that a binge often followed a disappointment or just a feeling of unease, that's maybe more of a behavioral compulsion or pattern. Of course, there could be a combination of the two. Biological things get turned into behaviors that then become compulsive and driven themselves. So, you know, there's work on food and addiction now that I know you're aware of and that combined with your personal experience really paints a fascinating picture. And boy, is there indeed for more people to be looking into this. Let's change tracks here just a moment. So you're a parent now of two sons. Congratulations. Thank you. How did becoming a parent add a new dimension to your struggles with food? I was very aware that I didn't want to repeat some of the things that I'd grown up with. So for instance, I have a very vivid memory of back to school shopping with my grandmother when it was August before I was going to enter fifth grade and my sister and I were in the little dressing room and I was trying out a plaid kilt. And I remember my grandmother clapped her hands together and she said, "I'm so glad I have thin grandchildren." And that was kind of the family we grew up in. And there was a lot of emphasis on body size and on being thin. So I knew that I didn't want to send them messages like that. But what I didn't realize was that I was really still locked inside anorexia in a way that I was kind of blind to for much of their childhoods and I was also anxious and fearful about food in a way that I'm sure that I transmitted to them without being totally aware of it. So now my focus is on being able to talk about these things openly because secrecy was so harmful to me in terms of my eating disorder but also in my family of origin, there was a lot of secrecy that I think perpetuated my own secrecy. So being able to talk about these things together has been a really wonderful and healthy outcome of telling my story. Bio Susan Burton is an editor at This American Life. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Slate, The New Yorker, and others, and she is a former editor of Harper's. The film Unaccompanied Minors is based on one of her personal essays. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two sons. Her memoir book Empty was published by Random House.
14 minutes | May 10, 2021
E128: MAZON Series - Why are US Military Families and Veterans Going Hungry?
Food insecurity strikes all corners of American life including the lives of military families. For the currently serving military families there is a barrier that makes it more difficult for them to qualify for needed assistance from the SNAP program. A person who knows a great deal about this is Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy at MAZON, A Jewish Response to Hunger, which is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and in Israel. This is the third in our series of episodes on food insecurity, done in partnership with MAZON. Interview Summary So, let's dive in and begin by talking about hunger and food insecurity in military families. So, when did you first learn about the phenomenon in this population? So, let's just start by recognizing how shocking it is to talk about military families and food insecurity in the same sentence. It's remarkable that we even have to have this conversation. MAZON learned about these issues about a decade ago. We started to hear from a number of our partner agencies, food banks and food pantries around the country about an uptick in the number of military families that they were seeing coming, really out of desperation, for emergency assistance. Around that time also, there was a session at the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference on military and veteran food insecurity and MAZON'S President and CEO, Abby Leibman and Mia Hubbard, our Vice President of Programs, were at that session and heard about some of the issues that came up. And then people left the session and that was it. Food pantries and food banks were doing important work, serving military families with emergency assistance, but there were some policy issues that were being ignored. And MAZON started looking into these issues to understand what was going on and recognized that there are some separate, and somewhat related issues, for currently serving military families and then the veteran population as well. For the currently serving military families there is actually a barrier that still exists, that makes it more difficult for them to qualify for needed assistance from the SNAP program. You know, you're right. It's discouraging and depressing that this problem exists, but of course it exists in such a widespread manner, that it's all over. So, what are the challenges and the circumstances that military families face, that can lead to food insecurity in the first place? I mean, I assume not having enough money is the biggest problem, but what else? So, not having enough money is part of the picture. I think some historical perspective is important here because the composition of our armed forces has changed. Historically it was single individuals who enlisted in the military, and single men really, And the housing for those single men was primarily on-base housing. The composition of our military has changed over time and also the way that we house our troops has changed. So, we have many more military families that serve. It's not just the individual, but it's a spouse and children that serve with them in a way. And at the same time that that's been happening, the majority of our military housing has moved to either off-base, or privatized housing. The reason that this is an issue is because those who live off-base, or in privatized housing receive a basic allowance for housing benefit from the military. The issue around food insecurity is that that BAH, the Basic Allowance for Housing, which is not treated as income for federal income tax purposes and for determining the eligibility for most federal assistance programs, the BAH is treated as income for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. And as a result, when you take the base pay, which is often low for a junior enlisted service member and you add on top of that their BAH, it makes them ineligible to qualify for SNAP. And the added complications for military families are exceptionally high rates of spousal unemployment. Before the pandemic, the rates were hovering around 22 to 24% and that didn't even take into account underemployment, or employment that was below professional training. Since the pandemic, those rates have been spiking. Close to a third of military spouses that want to work are unemployed. And so, when you just have a single source of income, that low rate of base pay for junior enlisted personnel, it can be really tough to make ends meet. Well, what a remarkable set of challenges those families face and you can see why food insecurity would be such a big problem. So, can you tell us how MAZON is addressing this issue? MAZON has really focused on the policy challenges and policy solutions that can make a difference around military food insecurity. Trying to remove that barrier to federal program has been the core of that work. We've approached it on a number of different fronts, both in the Obama administration and in the Trump administration and now in the Biden administration. We've been pushing for administrative changes to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exclude the BAH as counted income, so to remove that barrier to access SNAP for military families that really need that help. We've run into a number of obstacles through that administrative course of action, so we've also been addressing this legislatively and have pushed for proposals in the farm bill process. And most recently, the farm bill that was signed into law in 2018, unfortunately did not include a fix for this. As a result, we've gone through the National Defense Authorization Act, which is must-pass annual legislation. MAZON was instrumental in crafting a proposal that would be a bit of a workaround. It wouldn't address SNAP specifically, but the Military Family Basic Needs Allowance, which we helped to write as a provision, is part of the NDAA process that would give some added cash assistance to junior enlisted personnel whose households are at, or below 130% of the federal poverty level. We've had bipartisan support for this provision. It was included in the House version of the NDAA bills the past two years. Unfortunately, there's been some Pentagon opposition to this and the Senate did not include the provision in their version of the bill and it has not been signed into law yet. So, we're continuing to push for that in the current NDAA process and also working on engaging the administration. We've met with the First Lady's senior staff and staff from the Domestic Policy Council and National Security Council. The First Lady has re-instituted the Joining Forces initiative to focus on military families and their unique needs and challenges. So, we're hopeful that there's a growing awareness about this issue and a growing commitment to take some common sense targeted actions to really help those who are serving our country, to make sure that they never have to struggle to put food on the table. I'm impressed with how sophisticated and persistent your policy efforts have been in both on the administrative and legislative fronts. Are you optimistic that things will eventually change? I've been working on this issue personally for the past eight years. I've put a lot of time and energy into it. It's been a major area of work for MAZON, so, I'll feel comfortable and comforted when we get it done. I don't want to get too optimistic. This issue is common sense, as it is to address it has been so stubborn, finally get resolved. So, I don't want to be complacent at all. There are some reasons to be more optimistic that we'll be able to push this further. Certainly the change in the Senate, the new administration, signal some better opportunities, so I'm hopeful on that front. Now, have been some recent stories about food pantries and other charitable organizations providing emergency relief to military families. And this is something you alluded to earlier. How adequately, do you think, they're addressing the issue? So, the food pantries and food banks that are addressing this issue are really doing that at a surface level and they're doing very important work to respond to emergency needs. But for military hunger and for hunger in this country, in general, the charitable sector does not have the capacity nor was it set up to have the capacity, to fully address food insecurity issues in this country. Only the federal government has that capacity, has the resources, has the breadth and leadership to really address hunger. And we need policy solutions to deal with this. There are food pantries operating on, or near, almost every single military base in this country and there's no reason that should happen. Those who are serving our country bravely should never have to worry about meeting their basic needs. They should be paid adequately and they should be able to access resources in federal programs that are available, to provide some extra assistance if they need it. So, turning to a food pantry out of desperation shouldn't be a routine case. The pantries that are operating near these bases are serving the same families month in, month out, hundreds, sometimes thousands of families, at different installations. And that shouldn't happen. We should be able to make sure that those households, either get additional pay to make sure that they can meet their basic needs, or able to get benefits like SNAP, so that they don't have to turn to the charitable sector. And food pantries are already spread thin. They can't pick up any more slack. Certainly the needs have been spiking because of COVID-19 and the economic downturn. Our federal government needs to step up. The ARP that recently was signed into law is a huge step forward with the, SNAP benefits, but that's time limited and eventually that will expire, so more robust support for our federal safety net programs is critical. And certainly for military families, we need to remove those barriers and fill that gap. You've been speaking, in a very detailed way, about food insecurity in military families. What is the scope of the problem among America's veterans? Great question. And the issue for veterans is different than for currently serving families, but related. So, MAZON has been working on this issue, veteran food insecurity, for a number of years as well. We held the first ever Congressional Briefing on veteran food insecurity back in 2015 and invited leadership from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Veterans Affairs to join us. And we learned, at that time, that the VA system was not doing food insecurity screenings as a standard practice. And if you're not asking the question and you're not screening to see who might be struggling, then you can't address the problem. So at that time, MAZON pushed really hard to get the VA system to start asking the questions, to start doing the food insecurity screenings that were so critical to identify those who are at risk in order to be able to connect them with available help. Really pleased to say that couple of years ago now, VA system has started doing these food insecurity screenings which has been an enormous step forward. The screenings that they were doing were just a single question, which probably were insufficient for fully capturing the scope of the problem and identifying all who might be at risk. It looks like the VA system is moving towards a question panel as part of its Clinical Reminder system, the hunger vital signs, which is a validated instrument that includes two questions to really identify who may be at risk of food insecurity and the severity of that food insecurity. Where there's a need now is connecting those veterans who are at risk of food insecurity with programs like SNAP and that's not happening as a routine practice through the VA system. And there's also a need to connect veterans who do not receive care and services through the VA system with resources like SNAP. MAZON has been working with the VA. We assigned a memorandum of agreement with the VA system this past year and we've also worked with veterans service organizational partners to create resources and trainings. We created an online training course with the PsychArmor Institute, aimed at service providers who work with veterans to make them better aware of food insecurity among the veteran population. Some of the unique challenges, including shame and stigma that might make veterans reluctant to seek help and to direct them towards their state's SNAP agency, so that those who might be struggling in resources that they're eligible for and entitled to. A recent study about veterans who are food insecure, found that of those who are eligible for SNAP, only about one in three actually participate in the program. So, that means that two thirds of veterans who are dealing with food insecurity, are eligible for SNAP, are leaving those benefits on the table and are struggling needlessly. So, there's a real need to help close that SNAP gap for veterans. It's the right thing to do. It will help support better health. It'll realize long-term healthcare savings and it'll help those veterans who are trying to support their families, better able to take care of them. Bio: Josh Protas is the Vice President of Public Policy and heads the Washington, D.C. office for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. In this role, which he assumed in 2012, Josh coordinates and implements MAZON’s advocacy agenda, including efforts to protect and strengthen the federal nutrition safety net, with particular emphasis on the food security needs for seniors, veterans, and military families. Josh has extensive experience working at Jewish communal agencies at both the local and national level including as Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and as Vice President and Washington Director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. He previously served as a member of the board of directors for the Coalition on Human Needs and currently participates as part of the Vote Advisory Council for Food Policy Action. Josh earned his M.A. in Western American History and Public History from Arizona State University and his B.A. in American Studies and French Literature from Wesleyan University.
13 minutes | May 5, 2021
E127: Paarlberg Tackles Misinformation about the Food We Grow and Eat
Today's guest, Dr. Robert Paarlberg, is the author of a provocative new book entitled: Resetting the Table: Straight Talk About the Food We Grow and Eat. The book is presented as a clear-eye, science-based corrective, to misinformation about our food: how it's produced, food companies, nutrition labeling, ethical treatment of animals, the environmental impact of agriculture, and even more. Interview Summary So Robert, The New York Times praised your book for - and I quote here - "Throwing cold water on progressive and conservative views alike." What an accomplishment that is, and with an intro like that I can't wait to talk to you today, so thanks so much for joining us. So let's begin here, your new book highlights a number of dietary health shortcomings in America but you say these do not come from our farms or from farm subsidies. Can you explain, where do they come from? Clearly we have a dietary health crisis. Only 1 in 10 Americans is getting the fruits and vegetables recommended and meanwhile we're eating far too many ultra-processed foods with added sugar, salt, and fat, which is why 42% of adults are now clinically obese. I mean, that's three times the level of the 1960's and one result is approximately 300,000 deaths a year linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. Now, some food system critics have tried to trace these problems back to the foods grown on our farms. That is, not enough fruits and vegetables and too much corn and soybeans and farmers in America do produce a lot of corn and soybeans but stop and think, nearly 60% of the soybeans are exported. So they never enter our food supply and more than a third of the corn is used to produce auto fuel. So, that's out of our food supply as well. And we've used imports to make an abundance of fruit and vegetables, available in the marketplace. Half of our fruit is imported, one third of our vegetables are imported, often, off season when it's too cold to grow these things in North America. Thanks to these imports, the per capita availability of fruit in the market today is 40% above the 1970 level and the per capita availability of vegetables is 20% above 1970. Actually, per capita, availability of broccoli today, is 13 fold what it was in 1970. So, what our farmers grow, is not the same thing as what consumers eat and very quickly, as for farm subsidies, they're often criticized for making unhealthy foods, artificially cheap but they actually do just the opposite. We have to remember the purpose of farm subsidies is to increase the income of farmers and that is best done, it's usually done, by making farm commodities artificially expensive, not artificially cheap. Farm programs make sugar, artificially expensive by keeping foreign sugar out of our domestic market, raising the domestic price by about 64%. We make wheat and wheat flour and bread artificially expensive, through a conservation reserve program that pays wheat farmers to keep their land in western Kansas idle for 10 years. And we make corn artificially expensive. It's said, that we're living with a plague of cheap corn, but it's just not true. We have a renewable fuel standard, that takes a third of total corn production out of the food market, for uses, auto fuel, and that drives up the price of soybeans as well because soybeans and corn are grown on the same land. So back to the question then, if the dietary problems don't come from the things that you just mentioned and you make an interesting case there, where do they come from? I put a lot of blame on food manufacturing companies, on retailers and on restaurant chains. These are the companies that take, mostly healthful commodities, grown on America's farms and ultra process them, add sugar, add salt, add fat, turn them into, virtually addictive, craveable products and then they surround us with them, all day long and they advertise them heavily, including to children. I believe we are drowning in a swamp of unhealthy foods, produced not on our farms, but downstream from farms by these food companies. Now the food companies say, "Oh, well, unhealthy eating, we're not responsible. It's an individual eater's responsibility, to decide what he or she puts in his mouth." But I don't buy that. I mentioned that obesity rates in the United States today, are three times the level of the 1960s. It simply isn't true, it can't be true, that American eaters are three times as irresponsible, as they were in the 1960's. Companies can't be blamed, I don't suppose, for trying to maximize sales of their products and trying to maximize their desirability. How does it become a problem with the food industry though? If a shoe company sells us too many shoes that we don't need or a toy company sells us toys we don't need or an auto company sells us a fancy auto with features we don't really need, that doesn't become a public health crisis, but when food companies make products that are almost impossible for most consumers to resist, if they consume them then, in excess and it does become a public health crisis, that's a different sort of problem. In a way, I don't blame the companies because as you noted, they compete fiercely with each other and if anyone were to try to go first to offer product lines, that weren't latent with excess sugar, salt, and fat they would lose market share. These companies actually need the government to step in and provide a common discipline on all of them. Either, in the form of excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages or regulations for, at a glance, nutrition guidance labeling on the front of the package or perhaps, restrictions on advertising food to children. If you look at the countries in Europe, 18 European countries have at least one of these policies in place. The continent of Europe has obesity prevalence, only half as high as that of the United States. So here, I think if we can learn something from Europe and use government policy to protect the companies from the kind of damaging competition that they've fallen into. Given what you said about rates of obesity, it's important for people in many countries of the world to just, eat less food and of course, eating less food creates problems for the industry. So, it seems like, on one hand, the government to say, "Well, listen, why don't you require us all to gradually reduce the sugar in our products or the salt or the fat or whatever, so that we're all on the same playing field." People get calibrated to a lower level of these things and everything will be fine, but everything won't be fine because if those foods become less palatable, people will eat less and the companies will suffer from that. So, my guess is that that's why there's no appetite, if you pardon the pun, from the companies to do this kind of thing and why there's gonna have to be government regulation that overrides the company's political interest or even litigation to help drive this, what do you think? I'd like to see strong public policies. Whether you call it helping the companies to, avoid their worst instincts and protecting them from damaging competition or imposing on them, a public health obligation to market fewer addictive and unhealthy products. I think, there's a great deal of room for public policy here and no matter what you call it, the companies by themselves, have created a problem that, it's unlikely they will solve, by themselves. In my book, I look at a food service chain, Applebee's, they realized, that their comfort food was not setting a proper health standard for their clientele and they tried to, change their menu, to take the, all you can eat riblets, off the menu and they lost customers. And so they got a new CEO and they went back to the old menu and their profits soared again. Companies sometimes try, they sometimes want to do a better job but in a unrestricted, competitive marketplace it can be suicidal. So, I think we should, in their own interest, as well as in the public health interest, put some restrictions on the marketplace or at least some guidelines So let's move on to a little bit different topic. So your book questions some popular narratives, including suggestions that there should be more local food to scale up the consumption of organic food or say, to build supermarkets and food deserts. Well, if you look at them one at a time, you'll see that they probably wouldn't improve our dietary health. If we relocalized, our food system, we would have to replace all those imported fruits and vegetables I mentioned, also seafood. If we tried to, replace those, with locally or at least nationally grown products, it would be possible to do, with enough greenhouses, but it would be very difficult and very expensive for food consumers in Chicago or New York or Boston, in the Northern latitudes, where many food consumers live. So, the price of healthy food would go up in the marketplace and we don't consume very much local food today. Actually, if you look at all of the direct sales from farmer's markets and CSA's and pick your own and roadside stands and farm to table and farm to school, it's only 2% of farm sales. It turns out that, we're not scaling up local. Consumers want more variety, they want more convenience. They want those things year round. I mean, we're actually going in a globalized direction. In 1990, we imported only 10% of the food we consume. Now we're importing 19%. Organic, it's a little bit similar. Currently only 2% of farm sales in America are certified organic products. The number's low because organic rules prevent farmers from using any synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and they're the most important source of productivity in conventional farming. Trying to scale up organic would make healthy food again, more expensive. Organic produce costs, on average, 54% more than conventional produce. If consumers had to pay 54% more for fruits and vegetables, they would buy less and eat less. Now, there are food deserts, where there is a relative shortage of supermarkets but there isn't any good evidence that building a supermarket in a food desert will improve dietary quality. In part, this is because supermarkets sell so many unhealthy foods. The Robert Wood Johnson calculates that only 30% of the packaged products in supermarkets, can be considered healthy. About 90% of the packaged products in supermarkets, are ultra-processed. So, a supermarket is really, a food swamp, surrounded by, a perimeter with some healthy food products and adding those kinds of markets to a poor neighborhood does very little to change a dietary behavior. And it's food swamps that are the problem. And it isn't just corner bodegas and convenience stores that are part of the food swamp. Even pharmacies now, are part of the food swamp. When I go to my CVS to fill a prescription, I have to walk through aisle after aisle of candy, soda, snack foods, junk foods to get to the pharmacy counter. So, I can try to protect my health and spoil my health in a single visit. Interesting way to look at it. Let's end with this question. So in your book, you have favorable things to say about plant-based imitation meats and you chide the food movement activists for rejecting these new products because they're processed, why do you defend them? Well I don't defend them on the strictest nutrition ground. An impossible burger or beyond burger isn't much better for you than real beef patty, particularly if you have it with a soft drink and fries, but I defend these products as substitutes for real beef because for environmental reasons, they have a carbon footprint that's 90% smaller than a real hamburger and they use 87% less water, 96% less land and also, risks to human medicine, that come from our current use of antibiotics in livestock production. The problem of antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to human medicine. That problem disappears when the livestock aren't there and also, animal welfare abuse disappears. Now I know food movement activists don't like plant-based meats because they're ultra-processed or because they're patented or corporate or not traditional or artisanal, but these critics have to come up with a better way to reduce our over consumption of animal products, before I'm willing to join them in criticizing plant-based substitutes. I mean, the fashion industry has switched to imitation fur and the shoe industry has switched to imitation leather. So, why shouldn't we allow our food industries to shift to imitation meat? Bio: ROBERT PAARLBERG is adjunct professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and an associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center. He has been a member of the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the National Research Council, a member of the Board of Directors at Winrock International, and a consultant to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is the author of Starved for Science, Food Politics, and The United States of Excess. He lives in Massachusetts.
18 minutes | Apr 21, 2021
E126: Global Development Financing: What Can the Ag Sector Learn from Healthcare?
If the world is ever going to end hunger, ensure food security and embrace sustainable agriculture practices, we've got to invest more in agriculture. Particularly, in developing countries. Now, governments and international organizations do invest in agriculture of course, but less than in healthcare, for example. And we wondered why? It turns out it's not so much a question of why healthcare receives more funding, it's how such funds are raised and distributed that makes a difference. In this podcast, we're going to explore findings from our new report on agricultural development financing and highlight some innovative practices from healthcare sector that could be used to boost resources for agriculture in low and middle income countries. Our guests are global health policy professor Gavin Yamey of the Duke University Center for Policy Impacting Global Health and global health financing and policy expert, Marco Schaeferhoff of Open Consultants. Interview Summary Marco, in our report, we explore some of the reasons why ODA, official development assistance, increased so dramatically for healthcare. But first, could you help our listeners understand some of the big differences in development assistance for the health sector as compared to the agricultural sector? Great question. So, what I would say is that the sheer amount of financing, official development assistance, for health and for agriculture are vastly different. If you look at the last 10, 20 years, agriculture ODA rose a little bit in absolute terms but as a share of total ODA, it remains rather flat. It's about 4 percent of total ODA. In health, you have a completely different picture. After the year 2000 up until roughly 2012, there was an enormous growth in development assistance for health from about 12 billion up to even 36 billion in 2012. This era between 2000 and 2012 was called the golden age global health financing. Despite the fact that there is already so much development assistance for health, it's still growing. If you look at agriculture, this is a very different picture where you have maybe at 10 or 11 billion, and it's very likely that we will see a decline in 2020 due to the COVID crisis. In addition, the composition of agriculture ODA is also interesting. So if you look at the ODA provided by bilateral donor countries, like the US, or the UK, or Germany, about three quarters of all agriculture ODA in 2018 was bilateral ODA. In contrast, multilateral institutions, like the World Bank or EFR, only accounted for about a quarter. So, and relatively small share of all agriculture ODA. As a result of that, you have many small projects. So for example, the bilateral reported almost 14,000 aid activities for agriculture alone in 2018. And the average size of these projects and program was less than half a million. This is of course difficult from a recipient perspective, because you have many small projects which cause high transaction costs, and which are often also largely uncoordinated. So that's one thing. In addition, if you look at the distribution of ODA loans versus 48 grants, you can see that about 35 percent of all agriculture ODA came in loans, and 65 percent came in grants, in 2018 again. So, first of all compared to 2017 levels, grantage fell by about 8 percent. What is kind of interesting is that in the agriculture sector, multilateral funders tend to use loans but bilateral funders, primarily use grants. So what is striking is that in 2018, 80 percent of all multilateral agriculture ODA was provided by loans and only 20 percent in grants. The issue now compare this distribution with the health sector, you will see that exactly the opposite. So in health, about 80 percent of multilateral ODA comes in grants and only 20 percent in loans. What this shows is essentially that there is no large scale multi-lateral funder that provides grants for agriculture. So during the time period in which healthcare development aid exploded, governments were working towards the UN's millennium development goals or MDGs. Those goals created a focus for donor investment in low and middle income countries. And that's a good segue for my next question to Gavin. What can the agricultural development financing sector learn from the health financing sector? I think the health sector did very well on resource mobilization. Marco mentioned this term golden era where there was astonishing growth in health ODA. Really remarkable explosive growth, tripling of annual ODA for health. And it's probably no surprise that when you look at where that went to it was for the MDGs for health. Right? So, child health, maternal health and HIV AIDS, TB and malaria. And this explosive growth in ODA for health was targeted particularly to those three goals. And I think what that tells you is health did well at saying, "We need to mobilize and have a clear financing plan for these particular priorities." And that's what happened. How that happened is another lesson here for the ag dev sector. And that is, it was largely explained by the launch of new kinds of financing mechanisms. I think one of the things the health sector did well was to innovate in terms of the architecture of global health. So you started to see new entities forming that were mobilizing very large amounts of new financing. For example, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Unitaid – so-called innovative financing mechanisms innovative financiers that we're able to mobilize large amounts of new dedicated financing for HIV, TB, malaria, vaccine preventable diseases and so on. And it wasn't just through traditional means that ODA was mobilizing. If you take UNITAID, for example, it has raised most of its funding, which is for HIV, TB and malaria, through a solidarity air ticket tax. So in about 20 or 30 countries that are members of Unitaid, when you buy an airline ticket, the taxes placed on that ticket and it's used to fund Unitaid programs. And also a carbon tax. And I think the health sector has done well in using these new kinds of instruments: Airline solidarity, levies, vaccine bonds, for example, which turned long-term contributions by donors into immediately available cash. Advanced market commitments where agreements are made upfront, that if a global health technology is developed, they will be financing to buy it. So there's a range of innovative approaches that have been used in the health sector together with this sort of financing roadmap, a mobilization strategy, and a focus on multi-lateral rather than bilateral financing. All of which the ag dev sector I think could learn from. So in our report, we highlight several ways to boost agricultural donor support such as innovative financing mechanisms, reforming the aid architecture, coordinating investment through a financing roadmap and shifting more support to multilateral organizations that pool money such as the World Bank. Marco, do you have anything else to add to that list? Yes, I think it's a great list. Maybe some quick nuances to this. So, one example Gavin mentioned the very important new mechanisms, these were deliberately created as grants based mechanisms. So the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria or Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance were grant-based. Because before in global health, when it came to multilateral health finances, what the community realized at that point was that loans might not be the right way to tackle these diseases, especially HIV. So that's important. The second thing is that the growth in global health financing, to some extent was also fueled by the anxiety of the HIV pandemic at that time. So there was a securitization of HIV, and the Global Fund, for example, was supposed to be an HIV fund first and foremost, but then malaria and TB was added. So I'm saying that because MDG5, which was maternal health, and MDG4, which was child health, was a little bit neglected. And there was a realization that there was a lot of funding for MDG6. And at around 2008, 2009 there was a big discussion and debate about how to increase ODA for maternal and child health. And in that context, there was a very concrete multi-stakeholder effort to coordinate the field, and to raise funding for these specific purposes. And that was a global strategy for women, children and adolescent health. And that was a really important document which also included key indicators and the whole community really surrounded, and it really helped to coordinate the field and to raise financing. So I think this is a very concrete example to Gavin's point. And then finally we believe in the health sector that is the investments in what we call global public goods investments for example, in data. Data or needs, results, financing best practices, knowledge distribution functions, research, technical innovations. So there were quite a lot of investment, insufficient investment, but still quite a lot of investment into such global public goods. And we feel that such investment paid off based on very concrete data to say, who's putting in money into global health at country level. What is the impact of an intervention? What is the benefit cost ratio of investing in health? So these kinds of data, metrics and research I think that was a very valuable investment. And to some extent, we also see this in other sectors but I would say the focus in health is really unprecedented and that is something that agriculture could also focus on more in the future. So Marco, I'm curious then, what are the barriers for the agricultural development financing sector to make those shifts, to try to emulate the health sector financing? So, I would say that overall there is a lot of potential for the agriculture sector to learn from health. Let me maybe just say that we do not want to idolize the health sector. It still has challenges, but I think it moved in the right direction in the past decade. Things like investments in global public goods, grant-based multi-laterals investments in new technologies and innovations, investments in data and metrics. All these things could be more emphasized in agriculture as well. In terms of barriers, it is true of course, that in health we have seen a number of huge crisis. Gavin and I mentioned the HIV AIDS crisis, or the West African Ebola crisis, that really helped to increase the amounts and development assistance for health substantially. So I think much of what we suggest in the report could be applied to the agriculture sector as well. It's probably true that in the health sector, the technological fixes might be a little bit more important. It’s very hard to develop vaccines, it's hard to develop new drugs, it's hard to distribute them, but we have very good tools and to some extent we do not have that in agriculture. But I think there's still a lot of potential for R&D and innovations. In addition, I would say that the current context, because of the COVID crisis, we will see a decline in ODA overall, but certainly for agriculture and other areas. We will see to what extent of the health sector will be affected. It might well be the case that we see another increase in health ODA. But the current context is a little bit difficult. Another thing we found in our study is that there is quite a lot of fragmentation in the agriculture sector. So when it comes to coordination piece, that we suggested a concerted effort to finance agriculture, and that might be fairly hard to achieve simply because you have multiple bilaterals with different perspectives. I think if you look at the Europeans or the US, there is a difference in interests and perspectives. So that is something that would have to be figured out. We have few multilateral financers which sometimes collaborate with each other but often there is lack of foreign action. So I think these things make the reform of the global architecture a little bit difficult, but to be honest, 20 years ago we faced very similar issues in the health sector. Overall, I do think that what we suggest in terms of innovative financing mechanisms data, multilateral grant funds saying these broad directions should and can be taken on board by agriculture. Gavin turning to you, you talked a lot about innovative financing mechanisms in the health sector and how they could be applied to the agricultural development sector. I'm curious, what are typical barriers for setting up those types of innovative financing mechanisms that you could foresee? As the name suggests, innovative, it requires stakeholders to think beyond traditional sources, right? So it requires new ways of thinking. It requires some kind of demonstration project or some at least pathway to seeing how an innovative financing mechanism could work. So it's often difficult to pilot these large scale initiatives, you know, but at least showing proof of principle, showing the potential investment case can be very helpful. If you look at some of the innovative financing mechanisms that you could argue have been successful, like Unitaid use of an airline ticket tax and a carbon tax. Those are the two sources of financing that Unitaid has used to raise very large volumes of financing for HIV, TB, and malaria. They were actually able to quite quickly demonstrate, you know, how much money could be raised. And they are a very significant player now in the HIV, TB landscape. I think there is some skepticism around some of the less tried and true ways to raise money that are, you know, still being tested out, if you like. There's been lots of talk for example, about tourist taxes. If, for example, you're a tourist who goes to a malaria endemic region, there's a lot of talk of an innovative tourist tax. You ask that tourist to pay $5 or $10 to enter the country and use it for malaria control. I haven't seen those sorts of mechanisms take off yet. I know they were under consideration, for example for the Island of Zanzibar. And similarly, a lot of talk about using bonds, has been used successfully, I would argue in the vaccine space. And then the last point I would probably make is, in my mind the most innovative thing we could be doing for global health financing, certainly for mobilizing financing for international collective action and global public goods like pandemic preparedness or research and development for neglected and emerging infectious diseases, would actually be a new kind of global pooled fund or perhaps a global tax. We haven't really ever been able to go there, perhaps because of a general disquiet, a general lack of enthusiasm for a global tax. But I think post COVID-19, I don't really see how we can get away from the notion that each nation is going to contribute according to its means towards, you know, some kind of pooled fund going forward. And there may be that sort of conversation happening around agricultural development financing as well. Bios: Gavin Yamey MD, MPH, MA is the Director of the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health at Duke University. Yamey trained in clinical medicine at Oxford University and University College London, medical journalism and editing at the BMJ and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He was Deputy Editor of the Western Journal of Medicine, Assistant Editor at the BMJ, a founding Senior Editor of PLOS Medicine, and the Principal Investigator on a $1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the launch of PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. In 2009, he was awarded a Kaiser Family Mini-Media Fellowship in Global Health Reporting to examine the barriers to scaling up low cost, low tech health tools in Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. Marco Schäferhoff, PhD, is co-founder of Open Consultants. He combines over 15 years of management and consulting experience with in-depth expertise in global health financing and policy. An expert in development economics, Marco has led numerous projects involving benefit-cost analysis. He has worked in a range of development sectors, including health, education, nutrition, agriculture, and energy. Marco served as a member of The Lancet Commission on Investing in Health and has published widely on development financing and policy. He holds an advanced degree in Politics and a PhD in Political Science.
11 minutes | Apr 14, 2021
E125: Women, Food Security and the Feminization of Poverty in the US
Hunger affects all communities, but you may not know that 40% of single mothers struggle with food security. Women dominate our central workforce, yet they face persistent structural barriers to food security and economic stability. COVID-19 has only exacerbated these challenges. Today, Abby J. Leibman, President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, discusses the urgent and unique needs single mothers face, and the work she's leading to advance the anti-hunger movement. Interview Summary So MAZON has recently started developing this area of work related to food insecurity amongst single mothers. Can you tell us more about it? Yes, and I think one of the things that has always distinguished MAZON has been our ability to look around at the world of the American population struggling with food insecurity, and identify places where there are populations or communities or issues that have gone under-addressed by other large national anti-hunger advocacy organizations. And the number of people who struggle with poverty in America is, of course, in the millions. A significant portion of those are women who are struggling to take care of themselves and their children. Those single mothers constitute one of the most significant, yet under-addressed, communities in our country when it comes to all kinds of social services or social justice efforts. We felt that it was a moment in time when we could lift this up and we should lift it up. Contributing to that, of course, is that during the pandemic. We know that there are a lot of communities that have been more affected than others, and single mothers are among those. In large part because many of them are essential workers. So they're being pushed in a lot of different directions with little relief that is specifically designed to meet their unique needs. That statistic that I mentioned in my introduction that 40% of single mothers suffer from food insecurity, boy, what a toll that must take. Yes. Can you explain that picture a little more? I think that in large part, it really takes two incomes to adequately support a household. There's very few of us who can say that a single parent or a single salary in a two-parent household is adequate. And when you begin to look at what the lives of women are like when they are single parents, you can see why there are these pressures that fall on them in a way that's different. We know that in this country, if you are taking care of children, you cannot actually leave them alone when you go out into the paid workforce. So this notion of the relationship between work and care-taking is something that I think a lot of economic structures in this country pay lip service to and do very little to relieve. For better or for worse, the vast majority of those that are the primary caretakers of children are women. So even in a two-parent household, you can see that women are shouldering a lot of the responsibility around that care-taking, but they also have the flexibility and the freedom to be able to work either part-time or afford to have paid childcare for those children. When you're a single parent, you're it. You are the person who has got to provide both, that economic security and the parenting responsibilities. And then we look and we say where women are actually ghettoized in a lot of low-paying jobs, that now, we call essential. But I would say up until the pandemic, we dismissed those jobs as being something that were unskilled or unappreciated. We've suddenly awakened to the fact that these are very vital roles in our economy and in the way we live our lives in America. So how do programs like SNAP help single mothers, and also, maybe more important, how do they fall short, particularly in the wake of COVID? SNAP is an amazing program because it is flexible enough to meet the needs as they grow. This is what an entitlement program is, and it's one that has worked beautifully. Now it's underfunded because what we're talking about is not a lot of money. Even with the new increase that we've seen in the American Recovery Act, that number is actually another $28 per person a month, which is not that much money. But when you are trying to feed your family, it's really vital resources. But SNAP itself is not meant to be the full amount of money that anyone could live on. It's the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program meaning that the program itself is supplemental. You should have some other kind of financial resources here. So it's already designed to be a program that is not going to be fully funded to create that kind of full budget for your family. Women have these particular challenges about work and feeding families. And the way that the SNAP program has evolved over time is despite being an entitlement, Congress has layered into this requirements that people work outside the home as they struggle to get their footing. So there's something of an unfortunate irony here. I mean, SNAP was not designed to be a work program, but it's functioning that way because there are requirements on recipients that they work or be in some other training program in order to receive benefits. Some of that is waived for people who have very small children, who have dependents at home that they have to take care of, but those time limits don't completely go away. Nor is the requirement that you should be fully engaged in work or the idea that you are looking for work. So a big part of receiving SNAP is showing that you are continuing to look for work and you are trying to better yourself so you can get off of the program. And again, we run into this interesting dilemma of you cannot leave your house to seek work, let alone have work, if you do not have adequate childcare. So one of the things that MAZON has been very concerned about and tried to lift up is that there is this undeniable relationship between the need for subsidized childcare and the need for SNAP, that these two things are very connected. And in trying to lift up that connection, we hope that we could actually make a real policy connection between the two. Thank you, Abby. I know you're trained in law, and as a lawyer with a background in women's rights, how does this fit together with the work that you're doing now to end hunger? So first of all, when you're an advocate, those skills never leave you. In fact, in my family, I was sort of infamously dubbed, even as a small child, to be a person who was very consumed by what was fair and what was not. And trying to argue vociferously for myself about staying up late and eating whatever I wanted. So I've seen myself as a person who had made a commitment a long time ago to working for justice for those who I felt were far more vulnerable in America than others. And there is certainly, as we've discussed, this very strong relationship between the work I did around women's rights, and those who are struggling with hunger in America. When we think about the feminization of poverty, this is not just a slogan. This is a description of what poverty looks like in America. It is dominated by women, and in many cases, women and their children. So it's not that I strayed that far, in my view. I have moved to a different set of issues that has a tighter focus, if you will. I'm very impressed with the work that MAZON does. And this is actually a nice transition to the final question. So why don't we end on an optimistic note? So what are you most excited about or hopeful for in the coming year? So this is what I see, which is that the pandemic did something that advocates have not been able to do for generations. And that is it put the issue of those struggling with food insecurity in America on the front page. This has never been a focus of this country. And the stunning images that we can see that dramatically demonstrated that the charitable network in this country is not equipped to respond to the tens of millions of people who need to eat three meals a day, every day. They're not set up for that. It wasn't what the design was. The purpose of government is to step in and be our community writ large in that respect, that we look at government in much the same way as we've now heard our President articulate it, that the government is there to serve, support, and help people. At MAZON, because Jewish values tell us that very same thing, we've seen this moment where we have not only the need, this incredible challenge facing all of us, but we have opportunity in the administration that embraces the idea that, yes, we as a country are responsible for all of those in our country. And we have political and public will that is saying that, "Oh my God, this is truly an issue. "This is something that we can't pretend "happens in countries far away, it is happening here." And then sadly, I think that those numbers of people who now find themselves food insecure include people who never saw themselves in any way financially vulnerable, that they were people who gave to charity, they didn't have to rely on it. And at MAZON, we shy away from thinking about this as issues of charity for just those reasons because we think of it as justice, which is what the Hebrew word for charity, it's tzedakah and it is about justice. That word translates to being justice. So this is about recognizing that all of us are either in need or could be in need. And then as a community, as a country, our job is to respond without judgment, to give people dignity and respect, but also to treat them with compassion. Bio: Abby J. Leibman has been President & CEO at MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger since 2011. Prior to her current tenure, Ms. Leibman had a consulting practice to assist social justice organizations, businesses, and public institutions meet the challenges of growth and change, including leadership development, managing diversity, and implementing strategies to respond to discrimination. Among her clients, Ms. Leibman worked with some of California’s most innovative organizations, including Jewish World Watch, Food Forward, L.A.’s BEST, UCLA Hillel, Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (now Bend the Arc).
12 minutes | Apr 6, 2021
E123: Rashid Nuri and a Vision for Urban Agriculture
The term urban agriculture is becoming more familiar, but relatively few people know how this works on the ground in real world settings, and can fully appreciate the promise it has for the future. Our guest, Rashid Nuri, is the ideal person to explain. In 2006, Nuri founded the Truly Living Well Center in Atlanta to realize a vision for community food, sovereignty, and equity. This urban Ag organization grows tons of chemical-free, nutritious food, provides jobs, and works to educate communities. Interview Summary Now that you're the CEO of the Nuri Group, an organization that advocates broadly for urban agriculture at the local, regional, and national levels, you're working to expand equitable access to the tools for success in urban centers through education, and funding partnerships and appropriate regulations for urban agriculture. You're doing really amazing work. You had what you call a burning bush revelation while you were a student at Harvard University. Can you tell us about that and how you came to work in urban agriculture? Oh, yes. So I'm a child of the '60s, and we were talking about nation-building. Black Power nation-building, and I was trying to decide what kind of work that I wanted to do. My studies as an undergraduate was in national development, how you build countries. I studied the men and women who created the post-colonial world. I was sitting in the library at Harvard, was reading a book by Tom Mboya. I'd already had an interest in health and nutrition. In his book, he said, "With all the technology available in the world today, "there's no reason we could not chemically synthesize "enough food to feed all the people." And that was a shock to me because it was all those chemicals that are killing folk. It was the word of God in my ear that said, "Learn everything about food from the seed to the table "to do it experientially." So that's the work that I am engaged in for all these many years. It's taken me around the world. I've been able to examine local food economies around the world. I've worked in 36 countries and all over the United States. It's stunning that you've worked in so many countries around the world. So how has your experience outside the U.S. informed the work that you're doing here? Humankind used to live within walking distance of where their food was produced and this still exists, to a large extent. If you go to Asia and Africa, you will find people can walk to where their food is, but there's this movement towards the cities. The United States now, over 80%, 82% of the people live in urban areas, metropolitan areas. Worldwide, it's predicted by 2050 that 65, 70% of the world's population will be urban. So to see how local food economies actually work the interaction, the sub-text for Truly Living Well was "We grow food, we grow people, we grow community," and to be able to see how this happens around the world has informed the work that I have done in the United States and specifically in Atlanta. So can you share with us, please, your sense of what urban agriculture is? I do make a distinction between urban farming and urban agriculture. Urban agriculture is the rubric, the umbrella that covers all of it. You have to be concerned about food, clothing, and shelter. It's not just the growing of food it's not addressing the needs of people in areas where there is food apartheid, is the term that's being introduced now. The USDA calls it food deserts; it's much greater than that. We have to be concerned we live in the richest nation in the entire history of the world, but you walk down the streets, you find people who are homeless, people who don't have medical care, the education system in this country is falling apart. All of these things come under the same rubric and I proffer that urban ag does not solve all these problems but it offers a solution, a solution and approach to addressing many of the problems that we have in the community. Each of the farms that we have built, we've provided employment, and twice now I've built the largest farm in metropolitan Atlanta. We provide employment, we've cleaned up drug and sex trades in the neighborhood, real estate property values go up. We create safe places for people to be able to come and commune with one another, get to know one another. So urban agriculture to me is all those issues that I've just described. So let's talk a little bit more, if we could, about the farm that you just mentioned in Atlanta. What's its size? What do you grow there, and who does the food go to? The first farm I built was six acres and we had to move the farm to a better site and we literally took all of the soil and moved it to the new site in dump trucks. And we also took 125 fruit trees, one at a time, and transplanted them in the new site. We move Paradise and they literally put in a parking lot, literally. You asked what we grow. So we have all kind of fruit trees examples of fruits is many varieties of each, apples, pears, peaches, plums, pomegranates, pawpaw, all the vegetables, seasonal vegetables, greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, turnips, beets, carrots, everything, just depends on the season. Now, I'm very pleased to see that second part of your question was, "Who gets the food?" And that's the fun part! When it first started, there was one point we were in seven of the Top 12-rated restaurants in Atlanta. And that's a very good way for young people who are just getting into business and get started. So many of these restaurants have farm to table menus and advertising the fresh food there. And that's an indicator of the progress that this work I've been engaged in has made. But at the end of my tenure, that food was getting into the stomachs of the people who really needed it, and I think that that is a significant thing. We had CSA, consumer-supported agriculture, where people would come out to the farms to pick up the food. When I started, it was hard to find a farmers' market. Now you can get one just about any day of the week around town. So it became necessary for us to participate in the farmers' markets. You mentioned something really fascinating – that you moved the soil from the original location to where the farm is now. Why do that? All wealth, all health, all life begins and ends with the soil. That's the most important thing. Too many people, when they engage in agriculture, think they're trying to grow the plants. What you really need to do is grow the soil. You want to build the soil. And I'd spent 5 1/2 years building that soil down in the old Fourth Ward here in Atlanta and there was no way in the world I was going to leave that. The mantra as, I began my work in Atlanta and teaching, my mantra was compost, compost, compost. Commercial agriculture looks upon the dirt as a receptacle for the roots of the plant rather than as the source of the nutrients. Their scientists think they know more than God does and how to produce this stuff. All my work is an attempt to emulate nature. When you and I were chatting, you mentioned the links you see between regenerative agriculture and urban agriculture. And I know the people who do regenerative agriculture care deeply about the health of the soil, but could you explain those links? Everything begins and ends with the soil. Urban agriculture, we're talking about the location where we grow. The clearest indication of the quality of your soil as well as the first livestock you should have on the farm is earthworm. You don't see any worms in your soil, that soil is dead. All the mycelium, rolypolies, and millipedes, centipedes, these are the things you want to have in your soil. The work we are doing, the demonstration of this work is pre-industrial and regenerative. That is what we're trying to do. So there is no contradiction between regenerative agriculture and urban agriculture. You're really trying to accomplish the same end. And I think that the young people today have picked up this term, when in fact that's the original way that food was grown. This is my definition of organic; it's whole and complete. You go back and look at agriculture, all the waste went back into the soil. Animal waste, human waste, all of it went back into the soil to replenish it so they could grow more food. Let's talk about the role of urban agriculture in feeding people in cities. So you mentioned when we began about the percentage of people in the world who live in urban areas, so what role do you see for urban agriculture in this area? Well, substantive. Atlanta is the greenest city in America by virtue of trees and open space. I travel around the country and looking at other areas, there's plenty of land. We can grow all the fruits and vegetables, not meats and grains, but all the fruits and vegetables. There's plenty of land to be able to produce that in the metropolitan area, suburban, peri-urban, whatever term you want to put on the name of the area. What sort of policy changes do you think could be made to help this move along? Ah, thank you, Professor, that's a wonderful segue to what it is I'm working on now. America is the greatest agricultural producing country in the entire history of the world. No one's ever produced more food. It's gone backwards because we're putting all these chemicals out here now instead of actually growing food. And the genesis for this leap in ag production came from four bills that were passed within 48 days by Abraham Lincoln, back in 1862. First was the establishment of the Department of Agriculture, he called it the People's Department, which was the first subject matter department of government. And by subject matter I mean, now we have a department of energy, transportation, housing and urban development, health, we have a labor department, you have all these different departments. Back then, they had the Secretary of State, Treasury, and War. These were the principle departments. The second bill was the Homestead Act. The American people paid for folk to come over to the Midwest to homestead. They gave them free land, gave them subsidies for that land, helped them to pay for the land with just the caveat that they had to stay there and do some production. Then you had the Moral Act. All of these have had many different iterations but the Land Grant College Act provided money, land to build colleges, universities to support the agriculture. This is where the extension agents from, this is where the research is done. Big Ag does no research. When I started in this business, it took 12 to 14 weeks to grow a broiler. Now they get it done in six, and it was not the chicken companies that did the research to get this done. This came out of the university, it was subsidized by the United States' citizens. So much of our vegetables all over the country are grown in California. California has no water, at all. It's all imported, which is paid for by the taxpayers. It also promulgated the Railroad Act 1862. There's a whole lot of scandals that were around it, but the equipment that was made out of steel had to be brought from the East. Point is, I would like us to see now a new modern version of the Homestead Act to support small farms and urban agriculture. That is the policy change. Now you can get elements of this, things that the NRCS as a department puts up hoop houses in urban areas, they got small farms and beginner ranchers' grants that you can get loans from the department, but there's not a comprehensive program to deal with creating an urban infrastructure. Now, Tulsi Gabbard out of Hawaii has just introduced a bill. I think it's HR 25-66, this is just getting started, to provide some support for urban agriculture, and that's the horse that I want to hitch my wagon to. We need to come up with an urban, modern Homestead Act. Bio: Rashid Nuri had a powerful “burning bush” revelation while a student at Harvard. The experience set him on a global food odyssey, managing agricultural operations throughout the U.S. and 35 countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Rashid saw, up close, the abuses and inefficiencies of what he calls Big Ag. His vision of community food sovereignty and food equity emerged with full clarity. He brought that vision to Atlanta in 2006, founding Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture (TLW). TLW became Atlanta’s premier urban agricultural organization, growing tons of chemical-free, nutritious food, providing jobs, and educating communities about food, nutrition, and self-sufficiency. Now as the CEO of The Nuri Group, Rashid is working to expand equitable access to the tools for success in urban centers through education, funding, partnerships and appropriate regulations for urban agriculture.
13 minutes | Mar 29, 2021
E124: Food Insecurity Issues are Community Issues
So what comes to mind when you think of these words: life around the table? Do you think of good food or family or sharing maybe? But what about spirituality and faith? So we're continuing our exploration of food and faith issues in today's podcast. And I'm speaking with Reverend Dr. Michelle Lewis, the executive director of an organization called, Life Around the Table, an ecumenical non-profit organization focused on food and on environmental justice. Interview Let me begin by asking you, if you wouldn't mind, to describe Life Around the Table, what does you organization do? And let us know how it works to create a diverse and inclusive community. Life Around the Table is an ecumenical organization, a really good way to understand what we do is we help faith communities think about what it means to be in right relationship with God is our creator and creation and our neighbors. We ask these questions, what does it look like to do this around table? So what does it look like to do this in community and small groups to begin having these conversations? And we do that through our eating together faithfully framework and also through a ministry called Sabbath Life where we work with clergy to live into Sabbath in creation. So we do this on farms, we invite clergy out and they spend a day with us once a month, usually over a 10 month period of time to worship, to work as a part of their Sabbath and creation in these gardens and on these farms and to experience silence. But when we're IN creation, experiencing creation is a part of it. We find that what starts in silence actually ends up being a really beautiful music that's formed by creation. It sounds so inspiring and interesting, and when you mentioned the eating together faithfully program that you run, it sounds like this is a pretty new thing in divinity circles, but maybe I'm not right with that. And is that true and do you see interest growing? I definitely see interest growing and Life Around the Table has had a presence in the central North Carolina area for about seven years. But you are correct, these questions of religion and environment and how they merge, it's a relatively new and emerging field. And I say relatively new because it's been around but it hasn't really been something people talk about. When we look at the Genesis story of creation, God created the world and then here come Adam and Eve, and God gives Adam and Eve charge over the gardens. We often talk about creation in a sense of something we have dominion over. But what does it look like to be in community WITH creation? And these conversations have been happening in a number of ways for centuries but we're really trying to take a approach to food and faith and environment and inviting folks to come around these tables together and think about who's not at the table? Who are those people missing from around the table? And how then are we creating tables and communities that really are welcoming everyone? One of the ways that in Life Around the Table, we talk about foods or the food that laughs framework, it's food that's local and affordable, it's uncomplicated, it's good, it's healthy and it's seasonal. And so when food is all of these things for everyone, we end up with healthier communities anyway. But so often it's not all those things for everyone, you know, it may be affordable but not simple. Often one of the reasons you see that people eat fast food as well, it was fast, it was affordable, but it's definitely not simple. When you look at the list of things that are in that hamburger or that cheeseburger or whatever it is that you've chosen, but sometimes chosen because you didn't have other options. If this is catching on as you say, then I'd expect that divinity schools or theological training, the institutions are beginning to show signs of including these sorts of things in their curriculum, is that true? That is true. Duke has a certificate program now, I believe and Yale Divinity School actually has a joint degree program that you can do with the school or the environment, where you can think about it and research these things and try to live into this work in a different way. And other seminaries are beginning to ask these questions too and are beginning to shape these programs as well. So I understand that your ministry doctorate from the Candler School of Theology focused on food, justice and spirituality, and I'm particularly interested in your perspective on what roles, race plays in food access. And also I'd love to get your thoughts on how faith systems address the crisis of food access in the community. Research shows us that African-American communities are two times more likely to experience hunger than white households, there is an issue with access. I like to talk about what I call food mirages. It's often in communities that you'll see well there are plenty of stores here, there are plenty of grocery stores, there are lots of farmer's markets. And I say that often in those communities, what you have are food mirages. So the food is there, but everyone actually isn't able to get to it because cost is often a barrier. If you've bought anything organic, then you know the price of organic goes up exponentially. Do people have access? And then do they have access to quality food? And so when I think about the role that faith communities can play, we can find a church in almost every community that has a food pantry. In some churches do food pantries really well, in some churches they're just kind of figuring that out. And sometimes it's not a food pantry, but it's a hot meal, and one of the things that those groups can ask is are we providing the highest quality food? Because often it's not about highest quality it's about quantity, are we sacrificing quality for quantity? Is that something that we have to do or are there partnerships that we can form within the community so that we're addressing the quantity needs while addressing quality as well? An example is that a lot of food pantries will get fresh produce from supermarkets, say fresh and kind of put that in quotes, because when the produce comes in, it's not exactly fresh and it's the stuff that the grocery store couldn't sell so they decided to give it to charity. And recently had so much share with me, they said, "Yeah, well you know, we do get produce "from such and such food pantry, "but when we get it if we don't eat it all in 24 hours, "we have to throw it in the trash." So it's produced that's at the end of its life, that if you and I were going into a grocery store, we wouldn't buy it. And we'd probably complain to the manager because they were trying to sell this end of life, dead produce, not quite fit to eat to us. But we're often more than happy to give that stuff to poor folks. They'll take it, they need food and we can just give them anything, right? And I think that so often at that's been the approach, and I like to think of food ministries as being, we're sitting down to the table and Jesus is at the table with us, which our goal should be to see Jesus in everyone right? Would we feed this to Jesus? Maybe we would, but perhaps we'd look for something else. So that would be the thing that I would encourage churches and faith communities that are really engaged in food ministry to think about. Are we doing the best that we can do recognizing that there are so many people who fall between the cracks, people who need assistance, but don't qualify. Such an interesting perspective and it's interesting how you and others are looking at the barriers to access to fresh and healthy foods and kind of taking them on one by one. Let me ask you a question about the COVID pandemic, how have you seen community food needs change? So just in my own community, I've seen the number of families in need go through the roof, and you enrolled food program, their numbers for 2019 we're at about 135 million people were food insecure that year across the world and it's estimated that that number went up to more than 265 million people in 2020. I know people who've shared with me that they've gone to food distributions and food pantries for the first time in their life because of the pandemic. The pandemic has increased the need for food, so many communities already more able to meet the need that was present and then pandemic happened. And often help with food distribution in my own community, we encountered people from other counties who said the pantry in my community just ran out of food, there was not any food in our community lab. They had to drive an hour and a half or an hour and 15 minutes to get to where we were helping with food distribution to get food. The pandemic is in a lot of ways leveled the playing field, food insecurity happens to all households and perhaps the number of African-American households that were food insecure were twice that of white households, but right now, everybody's food insecure. Food insecurity is not race dependent, so there are black people and white people and Asian people and Latino people that are food insecure. And so food insecure has touched virtually every community now and my hope is that with that, the people who previously have seen it as other people's problem will begin to see it as community problem, and we'll want to do the work of addressing food insecurity in their community. Now I'd like to shift gears for just a moment and talk about the connection between food justice and environmental justice. And I know you've given a great deal of thought to this, how are those two things connected in your mind? And how is Life Around the Table dealing with things like changing climate? When I think about food justice being connected to environmental justice, it really is about this health piece, because when a community is food insecure, when families are food insecure, lends itself to communities being unhealthy. When people don't have access to quality food, it produces all sorts of negative health outcomes, and so when we think about environmental justice, environmental justice is really about creating healthy communities. Getting the environment to the point where everyone is experiencing good health. And so that's how I see the connection between food justice and environmental justice. Even when we look at how food is grown and processed, the type of resources and energy that it takes to create processed food, versus that energy that it takes to just create natural good food, at Life Around the table, we would call that food that laughs, food that's local and affordable and simple. So are we creating healthy food that is good for us and good for our communities? Those really are issues of environmental justice. Let me ask a little bit more about the people who take part in the Eating Together Faithfully Program. So the members of the clergy will come and spend time with you, and you mentioned a little bit before about what that was about, how do you feel they're changed as a consequence of that experience, and what sort of things do they do when they get back to their work? We hope that it causes them to interact with people that they perhaps wouldn't ordinarily interact with, they also have these environmental interactions that they are probably not having on a daily basis. On one of the farms where we meet, there's a goat, that's a very active goat. And we have a couple of participants right now who are like, Oh my gosh: goats. And Kelly, I got to see a donkey for the first time in my life last week. I don't think I've ever seen a real live donkey that was close enough that if I want to touch it, I probably could. But when we see and experience these parts of creation that we have only heard about or read about, or when we experienced being with people that we're ordinarily not with, it changes us. I think it changes our spirits, it changes our hearts, it definitely changes our minds when we're operating out of a place of experience versus out of a place of just, well, this is what I heard, or this isn't something I knew because I've lived it. My experience is that people walk away from it seeing the world differently. And I talked with one former participant in Sabbath Life last week, I said, "Did it change how you practice Sabbath?" And they said, "You know, it really did. "It changed how I practice Sabbath, "but also how I interact with my family "and my community as well." Bio Michelle Lewis is the Executive Director of Life Around the Table, an ecumenical non-profit with a mission of "equipping Christian communities to participate in the flourishing of all creation by cultivating practices faithful eating and Sabbath delight." She is also the founder of the Peace Garden Project, a non-profit with gardens in New York and North Carolina with the goal of addressing food and environmental justice while looking at the intersections of food justice with other justice issues. Her doctorate in ministry from Candler School of theology focused on food justice and spirituality. Prior to relocating to North Carolina, Michelle pastored a multi-racial/multi-ethnic church in New Rochelle, N.Y. and has pastored churches on the Outer Banks of N.C., in Catskill, New York and East Berlin, Connecticut. She in an Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. Michelle also served as a multifaith Chaplain at Hartford Hospital. As a public theologian, Michelle has produced a podcast and radio show called “Unpacking Faith” that examines how people of differing faiths view national and world events, and the role that faith has in how individuals and communities interact in natural and built environments. Michelle is an Elder in full connection in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church but is current living and working on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in her hometown (Manteo).
18 minutes | Mar 18, 2021
E122: Food RX and Health Program Brings Helpful Changes to the Navajo
American Indians and Alaska natives face challenging economic, environmental, and political conditions that are in many ways similar to those experienced in developing countries. About 37%, for example, of Navajo or Dine people live in poverty. Access to preventive services such as cancer screening, immunizations, and early detection is often limited. And patients must travel long distances to obtain medical services. The situation is made worse by the lack of access to healthy foods. As a result, the life expectancy for American Indians is about six years shorter than that for the general population. Additionally, American Indians suffer disproportionately high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and substance abuse. Today, we are speaking with two impressive people working to change that, Dr. Sonya Shin and Kymie Thomas. They run the Navajo Nation Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment or COPE Program. This is a community-based outreach and food security program made possible through a formal collaboration between Brigham and Women's Health in Boston, Tribal Leadership and Indian Health Services to address health disparities in the Navajo Nation. Interview Summary So Sonya, let me begin with you. As a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at the Harvard School of Medicine, can you explain why you founded the COPE Program and the impact that it's having? I started off my work abroad doing global health. And as I began to learn about how to partner with communities to address health issues, I became really interested in turning my attention toward some of the issues that are facing our communities here in the United States. So we were just really excited and honored that about 10 years ago we were invited to partner with Navajo Nation. The idea was to really work in solidarity with the tribal leadership, with community partners, and health care providers to address some of the health disparities that you described before. Kymie, I'd like to ask you as a member of the Navajo Nation, and the health professional and coordinator of the program, you're in a unique position to help our leaders understand the experience of living in a food desert on a reservation. Can you describe more about this? I grew up on the Navajo reservation, which is a larger reservation. It encompasses three states, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. The distance and traveling between the communities and to the nearest towns is about two hours. So within these communities, there's a limited amount of grocery stores. People purchase foods in the convenience stores. And as you are all aware, most of the convenience stores typically only have processed foods and nutrient dense foods. And they offer little to very little variety when it comes to fruits and vegetables. So with families living in a remote area, the delivery of these fruits and vegetables to these stores drives the cost of transportation to these families. So when they go in to purchase their food, they're looking at foods that will last longer for their families. And some of the foods there aren't very great quality. So most of the families have to travel more than two hours to be able to obtain these foods. My family didn't have electricity until just recently. So in my family, we would have to travel into Gallup, which is for us a 45-minute drive. And we wouldn't be able to purchase frozen fruits or vegetables, mainly fresh ones, but even then it wouldn't last very long. So my parents would have to purchase foods that would last our family longer. So like potatoes and canned meats because you typically don't need refrigeration for that type of food. And so I think for the people who live on the reservation, a pressing issue to not be able to purchase these healthy foods that we tell them to consume when they don't have access to plumbing or electricity. So a lot of those factors combined really play a huge part in some of the challenges that our families face in obtaining healthy foods in a food desert. So thank you for that description. Sonya, let me ask you, what is the COPE Program all about, and how does it go about trying to close these gaps for proper nutrition and while being centrally located in what's this food desert that Kymie just described? When we started the program, we weren't actually thinking about addressing food insecurity. I was thinking about, okay, I'm a doctor. You know, how do I address diabetes? How are we going to be dealing with the rising rates of childhood obesity? But it became quickly apparent that a patient of mine with diabetes doesn't need to be told that they're supposed to eat fresher fruits and vegetables. They know this. And so we quickly became aware that in order to start to move the needle around some of these health issues, we were going to have to shift our focus from just trying to increase access to health care to also increasing access to healthy foods and actually making it possible for patients to make these changes that they want to make. We thought about it for some time and we listened to a lot of different partners. And what we heard is that on the one hand, really important to think about these individual families that are living deep in the reservation, oftentimes with very few options, but also to think about how do we create an approach that doesn't just push all of the resources out to the border towns. So creating ways for people to travel outside of the reservation and spend their money, say, at a neighboring grocery store, it doesn't actually change the actual status of the community on Navajo. So we decided that the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program that Kymie runs might be an interesting approach for several reasons. One is that healthcare providers want to do something. When I see a patient in clinic and I know that they often don't have healthy foods, especially after the first week of the month when they have fewer options, no electricity, et cetera, I want to be able to offer that family something. So engaging healthcare providers as implementers seemed very appealing. And then second, the idea of being able to use the vouchers that families receive to also kind of infuse economic stimulation to the local food system and the local economy was very appealing because that meant that over time, hopefully we could actually have a lasting impact on a more kind of thriving and robust food system. You know, I would invite Kymie to describe a little bit more of that Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program or FVRx as we call it. To us it seemed like a very interesting model for a cross-sectoral approach to address both the food system on Navajo Nation, and also health disparities. Kymie, please do tell us more about the program. We work closely with the providers addressing a family that's in need. So finding that area where there is a need and locating those families and being able to work closely with our store team here in the organization to ensure that our partnering stores where sites are able to redeem vouchers, that they are also fully equipped with a wholesome variety of fruits and vegetables to be able to meet the selection from our voucher program, and not only for our participants, but basically anyone who comes into the stores to purchase food. You know, when they see that there is a bigger variety of fruits and vegetables, they're more than likely going to be able to purchase that as opposed to just bananas and oranges that convenience stores normally have. And then also creating partnerships with our local growers so that families are aware that they can find vendors in their communities who sell locally grown produce. And another big emphasis is also incorporating more of our traditional foods back into our diets. So, you know, corn, fresh fruits, and vegetables like carrots, things that we have normally eaten just re-introducing that back into the diet as an indigenous community. Sonya, is it too early to know what kind of impact this is having? Well, we're starting to generate impact. And I can describe some of the data that we're seeing. We're really interested in real world results as opposed to a clinical trial, but what we are seeing are, I think, pretty promising. So to give you a sense, we did ask that all of the clinics prioritize families with young kids. So either families with a pregnant mom or with a child that's under age six. And we did that because we felt that the program would have the greatest impact on the health outcomes of that specific family. If we targeted really early in the life course of the child, it's an opportunity where there's a lot of positive and motivation for change, and families are very excited to make changes for their children. So that said, when we've looked at the families, not surprisingly, three quarters of the families are actually food insecure and that's actually similar to other data that we've seen published about Navajo Nation. And after the six-month program, we've definitely been able to demonstrate that fruit and vegetable consumption is increasing among both the kids and the pregnant moms. I think one of the things that's most exciting of the data that we've seen is the change in the body mass index among the children. So we know that childhood obesity is associated with food insecurity. So it's not surprising that we're facing high rate of childhood obesity, as you mentioned before, Kelly. Among children who are enrolled with an initial weight that classifies them as overweight or obese, actually 38% of them achieved a healthy weight after six months. And I'm not a pediatrician, but I've been told by my colleagues who are running the program, that for them, it's really one of the most impactful programs that they've had the opportunity to implement with their families. The other thing that we're kind of interested in and we're just starting to see some of this data now is the spillover effect that Kymie mentioned. So a family can participate in the program for six months, but what we're really after is changing the options out there at the community level for those families beyond the program. And then for all of the community members. So if there's a small little convenience store or trading post, that's really the only thing around for like say 60 miles, we want to change the variety, the options, the quality of the produce that's available in those stores by driving up demand, and therefore bringing up supply. So we've actually looked at shoppers that are leaving these stores and compared stores that are part of this program to stores that are not participating. We're seeing that just generic shoppers, so these aren't people who are actually enrolled in the program, are actually purchasing more fruits and vegetables from participating stores. So our hope is that over time, if we can start to change the food environment at the community level, that we could actually have an even greater impact at the population level on some of these health issues. You know, the number that you gave, two, or three quarters, rather, of households being food insecure is incredibly discouraging, but it's really nice that you have such encouraging findings. It's very impressive what you're reporting so far. Let me ask you both a question. Sometimes relationships between organizations outside a community, like a university, and what goes on in the community, it doesn't work very well or it's very challenging to work through issues of trust and things like that. I'm curious from both of your points of view, how did you go about establishing trust, developing working relationships, creating a program that the community would actually embrace? Having Navajo representation within the organization to help deliver the program has been really helpful. So I think with a lot of our families, it's just reassuring to them seeing someone that is the same as them, you know, me being Navajo also, they're comfortable with us coming out to families. And I think just us understanding and having that connection really has allowed the families to become more comfortable with the providers and the outside personnel. And there are some areas where a lot of the health professionals that make it up are also Native American or specifically Navajo. Just having someone similar to them and knowing, understanding where they're coming from really helps them to embrace the fact that we are here to help them. We only want for them to be healthier and that we are hoping to establish a healthier nation. We are trying to change these health disparities. We are not necessarily trying to change their whole lifestyle, but more of just incorporating more fruits and vegetables, slower steps. And Sonya, from your point of view, how do you see this process playing out and issues like trust working? I'm glad you bring it up. And I appreciate Kymie's comments because I think it's really key to any meaningful work when serving other communities. And I think Kymie's testament to being a member of the Navajo Nation and being able to, not only build that trust as a frontline staff, but also given that opportunity to advance her own career and have the option of coming back and working in public health has been one of the important achievements of our organization. I can say from my own standpoint as a provider and as somebody who is not from the community. With patients, it took me about four years to actually get any trust with the patients that I see in clinic because they're so used to having providers come for about three years, which is about how long it takes to pay off your loans, and then to just cycle on out. And so I think there's this important role of just being present, and constant, and really listening. Most of our programs took a long time to germinate because we had to really just spend a fair amount of time listening to others and make sure that we were finding an approach or a strategy or a program that would respond to those needs and not actually become interventions that sort of circumvent or undermine other movements that are happening. You know, we spent a lot of time thinking about like, well, who's in the food space? Who's doing this kind of work? How can we not be the frontline providers, but how can we be the folks who are kind of infusing additional resources or ideas to build the capacity among folks who are already here in the community? I think that's been a really important approach that we've taken over time. And it's taken us 10 years to get this far. And, you know, I hope that the fact that we do have a fair amount of trust among providers and also with the Navajo Nation leadership with whom we consult quite frequently, is kind of a testament to that approach of partnership. Well, thank you. Kymie, I'd like to come back to you in just a moment and ask you about barriers that you encountered while the program was being implemented, but before I get to that, Sonya, do you believe that this is a model program that can be replicated elsewhere? And are you two working to get this program to other communities? Yeah, I think from the very beginning, we were interested in choosing something that had the potential to be replicable to other Indigenous communities. And I should mention that FVRx, this Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program is not unique. Like we're not the only ones doing it. There are many different communities across the United States that offer prescription produce within healthcare settings. To our knowledge, this might be the only one being offered in a Native community, but from the very beginning, we've really tried to think about, okay, how can we create materials, generate evidence, think about flexibility that will allow the program if it's successful to then be transmitted to other indigenous communities? And I know Kymie's received a lot of interest and inquiries from other Tribes. I think the key take-home for us has been that every community has different strengths and different needs. And we've even seen that across Navajo. If we have 12 different clinics that are running the program, there's a lot of heterogeneity of the program because each clinic has different teams that want to implement. They have different priorities, and they also have different gaps. So I think we've really tried to create a program that has parameters that are core, but has a lot of breathing room for flexibility and adaptation, so that our hope is it will be easier for other communities to take the model and then to say, "Okay, well, what's going to work in our community? "What's my priority here? "Who's the team that I envision doing this work?" So that's a future learning step for us too. So Kymie, what are some of the barriers that you and your team encountered as you were implementing the program? So as we are going across the reservation and implementing the program, we have started to notice a lot of good indicators of the work that we are doing. For instance, no bandwidth. Right now, we are a two-person team right now, and we are expanding to three, hopefully in the future. But, you know, with the increase in popularity of the program across the reservation, it's hard to keep up with that demand. So finding the bandwidth to be able to keep the program and quality of the program going, it's been really challenging. But it's good that the program is growing and that we are needing extra hands. And then also, just finding compatible platforms that work for everyone. So what might work here on a border town, because we have no internet capability, might not work for another clinic or another community health team that's based six hours away, more in the middle of the reservation. So I think just finding compatible platforms to be able to communicate with everybody has been pretty difficult. And then, as the program is expanding, we are coming across other barriers, but they're all a pretty good indicator of the growth that the program is seeing overall. Bios: Dr. Sonya Shin, is a physician in the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital and professor at Harvard School of Medicine. Her research and clinical experience has focused on relieving health issues among underserved populations. She has been working in Navajo Nation since 2009 and is the executive director and founder of Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE), a non-profit and Partners In Health sister organization that aims to eliminate health disparities and improve the wellbeing of American Indians and Alaska Natives through community-based outreach and food security initiatives. Kymie Thomas is a member of the Navajo Nation, a coordinator for the COPE FVRx program and an aspiring Public Health professional. She earned a degree in Health Sciences from Sheridan College, and have 4 years' experience working within the Public Health sector. As the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program Specialist for the COPE FVRx Program her work has allowed the COPE Program to help increase access to healthy foods for Navajo families, and improve health outcomes in various Navajo communities that are affected by diet related diseases.
18 minutes | Mar 15, 2021
E121: Marcia Chatelain on The Golden Arches and Black America
Today, we're exploring the intricate relationship among African-American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities and the fast food industry. We're talking with Dr. Marcia Chatelain, Professor of History and African-American Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of a fascinating new book entitled, "Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America." Interview Summary Well, let's begin with this question. Can you tell us about your book Franchise, and why did you believe the story needed to be told? Well, when I was in graduate school working on my dissertation, which would become my first book, I became more and more interested in issues around the food system and food justice. The film "Super Size Me" had come out while I was in graduate school. And I became more curious about some of the issues around health and nutrition, particularly the disparities along racial lines in terms of access to fast food, as well as marketing and fast food. And as a historian, one of the things I noticed in a lot of the conversations, is that public health practitioners and advocates for healthy eating, rarely contextualized the problems in our food system historically. There was a common sense understanding that some groups of people didn't have access, and some groups of people were more susceptible to diet related diseases, but I didn't hear enough people asking, well, how did we get here? And so with franchise, what I really wanted to think about were the ways that McDonald's, as the leading fast food brand, really pivoted from being a presence in mostly white suburban communities for the first two and a half decades of its existence, to one that became such a presence in African-American communities. And so I wanted to historicize the problems we see today in terms of access to food. Before you tell us what you found in your historical research, can you tell us how you developed resources for the book? Oh, thank you for asking that question. As a historian, I love to talk about sources. You know, when I started "Franchise," the first thing I did was I called McDonald's, and they have an archivist and their own research entity, like a library, and I contacted them and I said, you know, "I'm a researcher and I'm interested in this history. Can I have access to your archives?" And they said, "No," which I expected. And so what I started to do is to think really creatively about the various places in which McDonald's first tried to enter African-American communities, and to think about the leadership of various black organizations during the time. So I started to look outside of the traditional sources for business history and for fast food history. And by centering African-American communities, I found a treasure trove of resources about McDonald's marketing strategies from the 1960s and how they started to engage with black consumers. I have a question about marketing in particular I'd like to ask you, but I'll loop back to that, but let's tell our listeners what you found mainly in your research. So, essentially what happens is that McDonald's is founded by the McDonald's brother in 1940. And they develop as a Southern California brand, alongside other fast food businesses. But it wasn't until Ray Kroc creates the McDonald's system that we know today. Franchises become the way that McDonald's grows in the 1950s and we start to see McDonald's confronting the reality of America's racial climate, such as confrontations over segregation in the South at McDonald's restaurants. And then, this period in 1968 shortly after Martin Luther King Jr's assassination, is when McDonald's is starting to pivot to African-American neighborhoods because some white franchise owners no longer want to do business in increasingly black communities. This is when the Nixon administration is encouraging something that they are calling black capitalism and is trying to promote black business ownership in black communities. And leaders of the civil rights organizations are trying to determine what their identities and interventions will be after King. And a number of people who were very much formed by that mid-century civil rights struggle start to think about black economic empowerment and development as the next phase. And so all of these forces kind of come together to create an environment in which the fast food industry can capitalize on federal funds and support from the civil rights establishment as well. And the black consumer market is hungering for inclusion in some of the mainstream marketplaces that McDonald's represents. Over the years, people, especially the Rudd Center, has done research on targeted marketing of things like fast food and sugar beverages and cereals to people in different demographic groups. And they found a considerable amount of targeted marketing. And there's been kind of a mix of outrage and lack of surprise on this. Some of the lack of surprise comes from people who better understand the history, like you're talking about. They will say things like, “you know, there was a time when communities of color were ignored entirely by establishment companies, in both the products they were selling, in their portfolio and also in their marketing, and it actually came as a welcome change when the community started being paid attention to.” But in the context of your work, does that all fit? Absolutely. So what happened prior to the late 1960s is reminiscent of some of the conversations that were had after the George Floyd summer in 2020, in terms of how far do corporate commitments to inclusion go. How do we think about business as a lever for social change? And so while there had been companies that were marketing to African-Americans throughout the early 20th century, especially during the Great Migration, with the urbanization of African-American communities and a recognition of buying power in those communities, it wasn't until the late 1960s where you start to see that kind of market segmentation with the specialized advertising, featuring African-American models or celebrities. This is a period in time in which you were seeing the growth of African-American public television programming, shows like Soul! and Black Journal, that are really trying to speak to the concerns of African-Americans. And so after '68, you start to see this incredible creative industry that is built around marketing to black consumers. And for the first time, it isn't just commercials that were once designed for white people, and then there are a few black people in the commercials, these are commercials that are trying to really touch upon black cultural markers. So it sounds like this movement of fast food, led by McDonald's, into the communities of color was welcome, because what it represented, both in terms of economic development, and then attention being paid to the communities. Absolutely, and I think it's really a double-edged sword, because on one hand, people are desirous of this type of inclusion. And it is being sold to communities as this great economic opportunity for people to build wealth, to create jobs, to create community. But the hindsight of 50 years has shown us that all of these things come at an incredibly high price. And in the book, I really like to focus on the varying reactions to what kind of presence McDonald's should be in black communities. You know, in places in Chicago, people embraced this idea, and community groups actually tried to acquire franchises so they could reinvest in the community. But in other places, people were skeptical of the kind of corporate-social responsibility talk about diversity that McDonald's was developing the language for throughout the 1970s. And I think the backdrop for all of these conversations and all of these struggles is: can business ever really fully deliver on the promises of racial justice? And I think that the answer is no, because it always comes at such heavy costs to the most vulnerable communities. I'm expecting that the number of owners of franchises of color has increased over the years. Has that had an impact on the company and the way it does its business? Well, this is a really fascinating point you raised in this moment. So over the summer, McDonald's was sued by more than 50 former African-American franchise owners. And there's a current lawsuit of a current franchise owner, Herb Washington. And they claim that McDonald's has had a series of policies and behaviors that are racially discriminatory, and that has led to fewer black franchise owners. And so at its peak, it was a little over 300. Now it may be in the 150s, but part of this process of getting African-Americans to franchise McDonald's was successful, in the sense that, throughout the 70s and 80s, you see the building of economic power among this group of franchise owners. And they take a lot of their profits, and they become incredibly generous with historically black colleges and universities. They prompted McDonald's to start celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. They are the driving force behind some of McDonald's diversity initiatives within its corporate headquarters, which it was lauded for throughout the 80s and 90s. But these types of changes are sustainable to a point. They are corporate activities that, ultimately, shut out the people who, again, are most needing structural change, and that's the black and brown workers who are working at the fry stations, who are making burgers, who are ensuring that people get fed in the stores. They're very much cut out of this vision as a force for good for racial justice. Now, I'm going to ask you a question that's more economic in nature. Here's the context. With programs like SNAP, where vast amounts of money are flowing out from Washington into communities, so people have food assistance that they really need desperately, there's concern that too little of that money remains in communities, that it just flows through, as people might leave the neighborhoods to go to places like Walmart or Kroger to buy their foods. And so there's a real missed opportunity for economic development going on. What do you think about McDonald's? Do you have any sense of how much of that money remains in the communities? Tell me what you think about that. Well, this is an interesting place in which you see the operation of race in the context of a multinational corporation. So one of the reasons why this lawsuit emerged last year and there were different versions of similar lawsuits and similar claims, since the early 1970s, that McDonald's essentially restricts African-American business people to doing work in hyper-segregated neighborhoods. And this is important, because part of the sell of this idea in '68 was that black franchise owners would be like local business people, right? They know the community, they're connected, they're invested, they'll employ people that they know in the community and it'll have great rewards. But part of that strategy means that there has to be a level of exclusion of those business people from expanding into white neighborhoods or neighborhoods with different racial backgrounds. And part of the argument that black franchise owners make is, the name of the game is volume. And so for us to really keep up with our white peers, we should be able to get a whole bunch of stores in different types of neighborhoods, with different types of operating costs, and we could really profit from it, but McDonald's, they alleged, keeps them from doing that. And so when you talk about local impact and local dollars, one of the problems of fast food is that a good portion of the revenue goes way out past the community, because after you talk about the low wage jobs that it provides, and maybe some of the philanthropic efforts, on the local level, a good portion of profits are going to franchising fees, back to the national headquarters. A good portion of the advertising fund that franchisees have to pay into are going to advertising firms in Chicago and New York City and Los Angeles, that aren't necessarily in the local communities. And the supply chain that fast food relies upon are from vendors and suppliers that are all over the nation, and unlikely to be locally sourced. And so this was one of the critiques in the 1970s, and I think the critique holds today, that fast food does not really circulate money in the local economy, because it is not a local small business, even though there's some aspects of franchising that might mirror that. That is fascinating. And so when one calculates the ultimate impact of a place like McDonald's on the community, there's the nutrition impact, to be sure. There's the loss potential for economic development within the community, but they're all the sorts of historical reasons that made this possible, and even desirable in the first place. But in your own mind, given that you've thought about this so thoroughly, how do you balance all of this? Well, I think that this is a cautionary tale about bad ideas, well-intentioned bad ideas, and the sense that we could rely on the private marketplace to mediate the problems of the public good caused by racism and inequality is not sound thinking, it's not sound policy. What it is, is a reflection that communities that are vulnerable are often given constrained choices for survival and for something that mirrors advancement. And so it's kind of strange to think that, in 1968, after all of the grief over the loss of Dr. King, and all of the unfinished business of the war on poverty, of the Johnson administration escalating war abroad, and poverty at home, how is fair housing going to be delivered? The failed promise of school integration. So you have a really, really long list of reasons why people are deeply aggrieved, and the solution comes, well, maybe people could open businesses? Maybe a franchise could come into your community? And this doesn't respond to any of the reasons why people were crying out in so much pain. And for me, it's really hard to see that playbook re-emerge in 2020. You know, in the middle of a global pandemic and a crisis of racial justice, you hear some of the similar things. I was just on a call recently, where someone said, you know, "After the George Floyd summer, we committed our company to more investment in black business." But the reality is that there are nearly 2 million black-owned businesses in the United States. Very few of them have the size, scale, or capacity to provide incredible jobs, and the volume of jobs necessary to really help rebuild communities. And so I think that, if anything, researching this book just made me more certain that big state solutions are the only ways we get on the other side of injustice, and that includes food injustice. Well, this has been fascinating. So let me end by asking a question about what we can learn from the history of fast food. So what do you think the fast food can teach us about food policy overall in the US, and how do you believe fast food has shaped the relationship to food? Well, I think that what we need is an end to what I would call passive subsidies for the industry. Because when we think about the fact that we can get this type of food so cheaply and so quickly, then we know that there's a series of public policy failures all along the road to it, whether it is subsidies on corn for high fructose corn syrup, whether it is the lack of a federal minimum wage that allows low wage work to continue, whether it's the fact that we have a lot of the smaller... McDonald's doesn't fit in this category anymore, but some of the smaller fast food franchises that are qualifying for small business loans. And as a result, this becomes a funnel for minority owned businesses, which are more likely to happen in hyper segregated communities. And so the incentives for opening other types of businesses are fewer than fast food. We have all of these reasons why this problem persists. And unfortunately, we live in a cultural context in which the people who consume the food are blamed for all of the problems and not the structures that allowed this food to become available. And so I think that if we really are serious about health and nutrition and all of the complicated issues associated with fast food, then we have to stop allowing fast food to set the tone of the way we live. A lot of people, when I was on the road for this book on my book tour, would say, you know, "This is why I advocate nutrition education or gardening," and all of these things. And I said, "These are great, but we have to ask questions about the quality of people's lives." All the access to fresh food doesn't matter if a person can't pay an electric bill and keep the refrigerator running. And all of the lessons about nutrition and how to prepare food mean nothing, if people are working multiple jobs and don't have time to prepare food. The reality is that fast food is a rational and reasonable choice for good portion of Americans, because of the quality of life that people are forced to have, because of poverty and being part of the working poor. And so if we are serious about this, then we need to not let fast food dictate the fact that consuming a lot of calories very quickly makes perfect sense in a culture that people are stretched so thin. Bio Marcia Chatelain is a Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration (Duke University Press, 2015) she teaches about women’s and girls’ history, as well as black capitalism. Her latest book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America (Liveright Publishing Co./W.W. Norton, 2020) examines the intricate relationship among African American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities, and the fast food industry. An active public speaker and educational consultant, Chatelain has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. At Georgetown, she has won several teaching awards. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in academia in recognition of her social media campaign #FergusonSyllabus, which implored educators to facilitate discussions about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She has held an Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fellowship at New America, a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship.
17 minutes | Mar 8, 2021
E120: GOODR Tackles the Logistics of Redirecting Healthy Food to the Hungry
If you go to the website of an organization called GOODR, at goodr.co, you will be rewarded with inspiration to be sure but you'll also find some startling information. While one in seven Americans is food insecure, 72 billion pounds of edible food goes to landfills each year and $218 billion is spent growing, transporting and disposing this food. You will also learn from our guest, Jasmine Crowe and I quote, hunger is not an issue of scarcity, it is a matter of logistics. Jasmine Crowe founded the tech-enabled sustainable food waste management company, GOODR. The ingenious work she has done in Atlanta, which simultaneously addresses food waste and food insecurity, has received national and global attention and is featured in a terrific TED Talk that Jasmine's given. Interview Summary What is GOODR and what inspired you to begin this effort? So GOODR is a sustainable food waste management company. Essentially, we look at ourselves as any waste management company would, a waste management, a republic solid but our focus is on food and we back everything that we do in technology. And I was actually inspired to start GOODR through own personal experiences. I started feeding members of our homeless communities in 2013 and that was really my first exposure to actually fighting hunger on a personal level. So cooking meals for about three to 500 people every two weeks for my kitchen. But I think what really inspired me to get started was when I realized that some of my personal family and friends were either currently struggling with hunger or had struggled with hunger and it opened my eyes to see that hunger just didn't discriminate. Here were friends of mine that I knew were college educated, well-traveled, had led really great careers but just ran into some struggling periods where food became an option and not a necessity. And when I saw that and saw how much food was going to waste, I decided that I wanted to really give my all into solving this problem. Well, that's impressive that you were cooking meals for so many people. Paint us a picture if you will of what day-to-day life is like for people who struggle with food insecurity. Yes, so you said it, Kelly. You're going deal with about 42 million people on an annual basis that are living food insecure. And so what that means is that every night, they're going to go to bed hungry, often wake up the next morning, still hungry and not knowing when or where that next meal is coming from. And so when you look at this, you're looking at about 14 million children, 7 million seniors that are dealing with hunger every single month. And when I think of the fact that they have to make these critical choices, especially my senior citizens who really, that's where my heart string lately in doing this work has been greatly pulled towards, because many seniors are receiving just $16 a month in SNAP benefits and they have to make that choice. Hey, am I going to pay for my prescriptions, or am I going to pay for food? And often, so many of them choose prescriptions because they believe that's what's going to help them live longer. But when I'll sit and talk to the seniors and they'll show me their prescriptions, so many of them require them to be taken with food. And so what I see them doing is they're eating crackers. They're eating tuna. It's not a good day for any of them and when they get free food, they clamor to different events and workshops in their senior homes, because that's going to be the only time that they eat. With children, you have kids that are going to get free breakfast and lunch every day at school but what does that mean for them on the weekends? And what you see is that these kids are constantly playing catch-up. So if they get free breakfast, that's great. But if they didn't get free dinner last night or dinner at all, now what you do is you have this breakfast that's replacing the dinner that they didn't get, the lunch that's replacing the breakfast that they didn't get and now you have children that are sitting in class. They can't focus on learning because they're hungry still and no teacher can teach through hunger. You know, I can't tell you how many parents I've met who have said, I go hungry just so my kids can eat. And those are just some of the struggles but these are working people, or people who have worked their entire lives or children of parents that are working that are struggling. It's not just people that are homeless, which is where I started and where I was wrong. It's really heartbreaking to hear that these stories occur at all in a nation that has enough food and let's get to that now. When you said you founded a waste management company, most people don't associate waste management with addressing food insecurity. So tell me more about what GOODR does. We basically work with businesses. We inventory everything it is that they sell. So people will think of us almost as like an Instacart or Uber Eats, if you will, in reverse. So we know what the business sells, what their retail costs are and at the end of the night, when they have surplus food that would otherwise go to waste, they can use our mobile app or our web portal to request a pickup. And we created a very easy user experience which allows them to scan items out or click on items and tell us the quantity and our platform calculates the weight value, as well as the tax value of that donation. They can't request pickup. We deploy our network of logistics partners. We get that food delivered very fast to a nonprofit that's within a five to 10 mile max radius of where that business is and that nonprofit receives it. They sign for it like they would a UPS package. A donation letter is then placed into our customer's dashboard. And so that's where we've started with the GOODR hunger. And now we are rolling out to animal feed as well as compost, because we believe that we want to solve food waste just as badly as we want to solve hunger and so while we're concentrating on what's edible now, our focus at whole is to be a full service food waste management company that can go into any food service business and say, we will take care of all your food waste, thus eliminating the need for their daily waste management service. So is it financially sustainable or financially feasible for say, a restaurant to do this? Because they might pay you to pick up the food and that makes your business sustainable but then they don't have to pay to have the waste disposed of in the traditional ways. Is that the way it works? That's the way we're wanting it to work. So once we have all of the services in the order where we're helping with compost, animal feed even anaerobic digestion, that is the vision. I mean, it's very much sustainable for them because the thing is Kelly, if you look at it, they're already paying to throw the food away, so that we're not introducing a service that's so foreign to them. Right now, they're just paying a waste management company to throw it away but once they spend that dollar, the only thing that they could do is then write it off as a business expense but with GOODR, not only could they write us off as a business expense if they choose to, now that dollar tells a different story. Now they have a sustainability story that they can tell their constituents. We are improving our carbon footprint by reducing the food waste that our company produces on a daily basis, getting food to people in need becomes a corporate social responsibility story. And then they know everything that they donate that's edible, they get a tax deduction for it. So in essence, we're actually improving their bottom line. So I look at it as a triple win and a very big value add that they once did not have. I'm glad you mentioned the environmental benefits of this, because many people may not realize that when food gets discarded and goes to landfills, it contributes a lot to climate change. So I'm assuming that's what you mean by the environmental consequence? Exactly. I think a lot of people don't realize that. So give us an example. Take a restaurant, or a food business or something like that and paint a picture of what they might have left over at the end of the day and who picks it up, actually and then where it gets delivered to? I'll use the Atlanta Airport. That's one of our first key signature clients. Our do-gooders are in the airport six days a week. We go restaurant-to-restaurant, so you just imagine a food court, if you will, where you have all of these restaurants connected to each other. They are entering their food for pickup. Our do-gooders enter the airport right at closing time, so we're capturing the food at the peak freshness. We're getting it from each of those restaurants. It goes into our packaging, as well as our insulated bags. We have a refrigerated truck that drives right on the tarmac and then it's delivered to nonprofits every single night. So that's kind of how it works at the airport. We actually do start to help the customers reduce their waste, which is something that I do love about GOODR but it's never going to go to zero. And so we've seen that over the last year working with the airport. For example Einstein's Bagels was one of our airport customers and when we first got started with them, we were picking up anywhere from three to 400 bagels a night because their standard of bagel freshness is fresh bagels every three hours. But once we were able to show them how many bagels they were wasting, they started to reduce their production. And so now we pick up from Einstein's on average anywhere from 40 to 80 bagels per night but we're still there to capture all of it. And so if they didn't know how much they were producing and how much they were wasting, they would still continue to overproduce. And so that's part of what that technology and the data that we collect around this waste does. We're going to pick up sandwiches and salads and meals that weren't sold. So that's what you're going to see getting picked up from an airport. At a customer like Chick-fil-A, you may see all of their salads, all of their wraps, all of their fruit cups and chicken sandwiches and chicken tenders that were prepared, maybe for drive-through or fast food quick service. Someone comes in and gets it, it just wasn't sold. And so those are kind of the items that you're going to see when you take it to the convention center level. You could see thousands of pounds of food, thousands of pounds of produce. It really just depends on what that show is that's taking place but the food that we've seen has been everything from filet mignon to apples. I fly in and out of the Atlanta Airport a lot and that is a massive airport with an awful lot of food businesses. So I can only imagine the scale of what you're talking about. In addition to the place of serving food at the airport, what are some of the other kinds of businesses that you work with? So we work with a lot of corporates. So we work with a lot of corporate cafeterias, SAP, MetLife, and Warner Media Group. So those are another kind of client vertical for us. We are beginning to work with colleges and universities, so we're really excited about that and we're onboarding grocery stores as well. So we have several different verticals that we work with within. But if you think about it, Kelly, food exists everywhere. So where we're really coming in now is just becoming a conduit to connect these businesses with all of this surplus, to people with me. How far away from the place the food gets collected can you distribute food? And I'm thinking particularly about needs in rural areas. Would it ever be feasible to get food out to people who are outside of the city where the food's being cooked? I think that's a great question and that's something that really keeps me up at night because on a personal level, people email me. I get Facebook messages, I get LinkedIn messages. You wouldn't believe it. And I hear from people in rural communities that are saying, ‘Hey, you know I'm in Macon, Georgia, I'm in Corpus Christi, Texas. Is there any way that you can get food to me?’ And so that's really what's been having my brain spinning, where we are looking at entering this market without being too divulged in where we're trying to go, is as we start working with more grocery stores, we are looking at similar to meal kits, getting food to people in need on next day delivery through say a UPS, where we would get food boxes but that were filled with enough to make real meals. I mean, that's the difference in what you're seeing in a traditional food bank or a food pantry today. I would encourage anybody to go and volunteer at one because I did it myself and I couldn't believe the food that they were just giving people that wasn't going to make any real substantive meal for them or their families but would have lines of people just to have something in their house. And so with GOODR, I'm really concentrating on what does it take to sustainably package food to get to people next day delivery, right to their door. And so that's how I look at the opportunity to solve within rural communities. We are also looking at the expansion of the current franchise model with customers like a Chick-fil-A that are in a lot of rural communities. What does it look like to get food to people in these rural communities from our current customer footprint? We think that there's a big opportunity there. Are there ever nutrition judgment calls you have to make with the food that you're collecting and who it goes to? Yes. So we're using a lot of technology machine learning around that space to understand what kind of food we're getting to people. So we brought in a nutritionist and so we're wanting to make smarter decisions. If we say, get a nonprofit Chick-fil-A on a Monday we would want to try and get them a corporate kitchen, cafeteria food, maybe on a Wednesday, if they get another delivery from us. Or like a Sweetgreen, something that's just healthier. So we are trying to make sure that we're not sending them the same kind of food that is maybe considered unhealthy. We're focused on balanced nutrition across the board. And what are some of the biggest challenges you face as you go forward? I think the biggest challenge is still getting people past that fear of if I donate the food and someone gets sick, I'm going to get sued. That's a big part of it. We have to lose the fear in the hunger fight. GOODR comes in, we provide the supplies. We provide the liability insurance. You have the Good Samaritan Act. We have agreements in place with the nonprofits. So we've really covered so many of those bases but we still have people that for all intents and purposes are just afraid because they're living in the old guard, in an old mindset of someone's going to get sued. But when they think about it, they do this every single day. They're sending food that people pay for in a car with somebody to someone's house via Door Dash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and no-one's worried about someone getting sick in that route. So we need to stop being afraid of making sure that people eat, because that's when they really get sick, right? That's when they really could get gravely ill by not having food. The other thing is, GOODR is a business, you know? I thought very hard when starting GOODR, would we be a nonprofit? And what I knew for sure is that if I was a nonprofit, I would spend all of my days really worried about donations instead of getting to the problem. And when you really want to solve hunger and you think that, hey, food banks have been around since 1970 and people are still hungry and the population of people going hungry continues to grow. You have to really look at it as a business, putting real infrastructure behind it. We want to pay our drivers and people that work for GOODR a fair living wage. And we really look at ourselves as a waste management company. Again, which a waste management company is not a nonprofit. This is a service, it's the right thing to do with donating the food that's edible. But as we start to expand it to these other services, businesses have to look at this as a true expense to get to their zero waste goals. And I think what we will see is a tipping point. Right now, hey, this could be foreign to a lot of people. They've never done it before. But what we are starting to see is a lot of shift in policy, where businesses are being required to recycle their organic waste and to donate their food that's edible. And you're seeing this happening all over France and Italy and here, even in the US, in Los Angeles County and Boston and Austin, Texas, these policy shifts are coming. Bio Jasmine Crowe, an HBCU alumna, is the founder and CEO of GOODR Co. Jasmine launched her first company BCG in 2011. Thru BCG she partnered with celebrities across the nation in a host of cause campaigns to ensure their star-power was being used for good. Lead by Jasmine, BCG hosted activations in more than 20 US cities and the UK, South Africa and Haiti and has collected and donated over three million items to causes worldwide and fed over 80,000 people through the Sunday Soul Homeless feeding initiative. Jasmine also served as the creator and executive producer of Change Makers a half hour docu-series profiling how celebrities use their star power for social change which premiered on Magic Johnson's network ASPIRE! In January of 2017, she launched Goodr, a sustainable food surplus management company that leverages technology to combat hunger and reduce waste. Today Goodr redirects surplus food from convention centers, airports, and businesses to people who are food insecure.
13 minutes | Mar 3, 2021
E119: Chef Deborah Madison - An Onion in my Pocket
Ever wonder how a groundbreaking, pioneering, and award-winning chef and cookbook author came to such a place? Today, we'll find out from Deborah Madison. After working at breakthrough restaurants Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Greens in San Francisco, Deborah Madison made her mark in Rome, opened Cafe Escalera in Santa Fe, and became a prolific writer of cookbooks and articles about foods for places like "Gourmet" magazine and "Food & Wine." Her latest book, which is entitled, "An Onion In My Pocket," is a memoir. It has been very positively reviewed in many places with terms like "beguiling, honest, and captivating." And in the words of Marion Nestle, a well-known figure in the food area, the book shows how the path that carried Deborah to become what Marian said is, "The consummate vegetarian cook and cookbook writer." Interview Summary So your book, "An Onion In My Pocket" - that's a really intriguing title. How did you come to that? Well, there was an onion in my pocket one day. And I just was writing about it, maybe telling my editor about it, and she said, "Oh, we should use that for the title!" There was an onion in my pocket because I had been cooking with a friend and these onions were leftover from a pizza we were making. They were beautiful onions and I took it home with me. And then I went to Spanish class and it was in my pocket along with my pencils and papers and things like that. And I took it out, put it on the desk, and people started to laugh. And I thought, to me it's normal that I have an onion in my pocket or I could have anything in my pocket. I've even had a snake in my purse that I brought home once because it was going to eat gophers, which I really appreciate. So that's how that came about. Wow, all kinds of interesting things show up in your pocket, in your purse. So in your book, you write about some of your other 14 cookbooks and what was involved in writing and publishing them. Which ones mean the most to you? Well, I think Local Flavors does, Seasonal Food Desserts and above all, Vegetable Literacy. And they mean something to me because actually the first chant that we learned at Tassajara, which is the Zen monastery I was at was: 72 labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us. And all these books are indirectly about how food comes to us and the stories of food. And they're interesting to me and I'm still very interested in that question. So those are my favorites. So Deborah you mentioned something that I find fascinating about the story of food. Does it seem to you like it does to me that more and more people are becoming interested in the story of their food, and do you think this is a positive trend? Well, I feel like it's both positive and not so positive. I hope we're not going to lose what we've gained in variety, particularly of vegetables because it's been a long, long fight. You know 40 years ago there was nothing, there was really nothing to eat and now there's a lot. And yet people are going back to old things as vegetables become harder to get. I've even cooked corn dogs for my husband who requested them. And I thought, Oh really? I've never even had a corn dog. What is a corn dog? I had to go online to learn how to make one. I think that there's kind of a retrograde happening right now in the pandemic at the same time I think that people are interested in the story of their food and they have to be because it's disappearing. As I look out there and I see more and more restaurants have a board on the wall that lists the farmers where the food comes from and you hear people talk about food miles or the environmental impact of the foods they're purchasing or consuming. And you know, people are interested in animal welfare or others are interested in some other issue of theirs, but when you put it all together it seems to me that the number of people care about these things has gone way up. And then I at least see that as a very positive trend. But I appreciate your thoughts on that. I think it's a positive trend too. And I like it and I hope people really do what they say for here in New Mexico. People would say, "Oh, we use local food" and they'd order a pound of lettuce or something like that. And it would run out. But I think people are doing more. You can taste the difference. You can see the difference customers aren't stupid. You know, especially if they shop at farmer's markets there they're familiar. And if they have gardens and I think more and more people are gardening, at least judging by the seeds and how they're disappearing from companies who take breaks and fulfilling orders and that kind of thing. But I think you're right. I think there is more of a concern than there has been in the past. So you write about what you call Kitchen Lessons things that you've learned often from customers. Can you share some example? The one I was really interested in was 'Don't Apologize.' The example I used in the book was with a customer who said he loved the smoky flavor and the mushroom soup we had made. I know I knew there wasn't supposed to be a smokey flavor. So I just said, thank you very much because why make him feel terrible about misjudging or not recognizing that the solids have fallen to the bottom of the pot and were scorched. And that that's what he was tasting. So that was a lesson that I did learn very much from customers. Other lessons I knew or I learned were to one eat in the dining room. Like a customer is very, very important as a way to getting to know your food treat everybody the same for sure you have to do that. And I mean I learned these lessons in the most painful ways possible. Marion Cunningham taught us a really good lesson when she said, "Debbie, dear do you not believe in salt?" And then she talked about salting food and how you should salt as you go, when you cook. Let's see be gracious always to everybody. You know, people would come into the kitchen and tell me that that was the best meal they'd had. And I'd wanna say, "you're kidding." "What do you eat normally?" You know, but I finally had to learn that their experience was very different from mine and that it was just important to say, "I'm so glad you enjoyed it," and actually mean it. And the last lesson, wasn't so much a lesson but a hint of things to come, which was; know that the six months in the beginning will be the hardest but you will get to leave one day. And that did happen almost to the day. And I was reflecting upon that and thinking at the time, "Oh six months have gone by, I've made it, we've made it." And now Greens is over 40 years old. It's amazing. Let's talk about that a little bit. So if you think back to those days when you worked at places like Greens and Chez Panisse, how are those or similar restaurants different today than they were back then? Certainly they're more popular and visible, but beyond that have things changed much within the restaurants? Oh yes, I'm sure they have especially Chez Panisse because I never, ever could walk in and get a job like I did then. I just wanted to work there so badly and it made so much sense to me, their food made so much sense to me. And I don't think I would have been able to do that today for sure. Alice isn't there so much, like she was then and it wasn't some new greens for one is the dinners are all a carte menus. They're much more expensive. They're beautiful. And menus are printed on heavy paper stock. The waiters know the difference between espresso and espresso, which we didn't really understand, so much then we thought that coffee drink was to get you going. And it is, but it's not an express as espresso is pressed, things like that. So I think they are different but I think in some ways they're the same. Their commitments are the same. They're just many more restaurants that are doing that kind of thing too. I scanned the titles of your books. Nine of the mentioned vegetables in the title but you say you're not a vegetarian, what is that? Well, I just find it's too limiting. It's just too limiting. I think I'm probably a natural vegetarian and that's the food I really love to cook and eat. But if we are a nation meat eaters and I really think we are I feel it's important to know what that's about. And that's why I've been on the board of the Southwest Grass-fed Livestock Alliance twice. And if somebody, I know like my husband, for example wants meat and he was raised with meat, I'm happy to cook it for him. I don't like the limits of vegetarianism or any kind of food title. I don't really care to have a label attached to what I eat. So given that you're so prominent and writing books for people who are vegetarian do you get any pushback yourself for the fact that you're not strictly vegetarian yourself? That's the strange thing is I don't I have never gotten pushed back. Maybe people are horrified. I don't know, but in my book, 'Local Flavors' I actually did have 11 recipes that were for meat because meat was appearing in the market. And this was about the farmer's market movement across the United States. Nobody seemed to notice nobody commented. I don't know. It's odd. I haven't gotten pushback. On the contrary, I feel that people are sort of relieved with this book in a way. I'm not super strict about anything. I'm just not, I have a hard time being struck. Research about the vegetables I eat, I want high quality. So what do you really think matters about food and how do you define the concept of nourishment? Well, food that's cooked with a mind of kindness and generosity, care, thoughtfulness, maybe even simplicity. I think that that's, what's important as much more important than what is on the plate, whether there's a meat or not. And I actually did end the book with a lot of stories about meals I remembered and some of them had meat some of them didn't, but the point was that they were so generously given and prepared for me that I remembered them. Some of them happened quite a long time ago. You know what's fascinating to hear you use words like generosity and kindness and describing how food can be given and received. How does that come through in the way say a restaurant can provide food to people or how families can do it? Cause it sounds like that's very important. Well, it is. And I've always found that to be true at Chez Panisse. I love, for example, when people come into a restaurant they're welcomed with kindness with, "hello, can I help you?" And “Oh, you have a reservation with time and please follow me” and there's bread on the table. All those are something good. And that's a kind of food kindness that can be extended to strangers. I was writing in my book about more personal kinds of kindness, but not always. In fact, the first story I tell was a meal in Scotland that I had, and it really pointed me to my 'North star', which was about how food in season and in its place is the best food always. And you know, that was because a woman agreed to feed this older woman that I was traveling with and myself and we was really hungry and we sat and waited and we looked at the garden and we looked at the Lake and pretty soon she came in with a platter with the vegetables, from the garden and fish in the Lake. It was beautiful. It was really quite stunning Bio Deborah Madison is an American chef, food writer and cooking teacher. She has been called an expert on vegetarian cooking and her gourmet repertoire showcases fresh garden produce. Her work also highlights Slow Food, local foods and farmers' markets. Madison grew up in Davis, California, and earned a bachelor's degree with high honors in sociology/city planning in 1968 from Cowell College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She then cooked at Chez Panisse and was a student for eighteen years at the San Francisco Zen Center. She was the founding chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco which opened in 1979. She then cooked for a year at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. She has written for the magazines Gourmet, Saveur, Food and Wine, Kitchen Gardener, Fine Cooking, Orion, Organic Gardening and Eating Well, and for the Time-Life Cookbook Series. She has also written for Martha Stewart Living, Bon Appetite, Diversions, Kiplingers, Garden Design, Kitchen Garden, Cooks, Vegetarian Times, Metropolitan Home, East-West Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Home and Garden, and the International Slow Food Journal. When she first moved to New Mexico, Madison managed the Santa Fe Farmers' Market and served on its board for a number of year. Madison has been active in the Slow Food movement, founded the Santa Fe Chapter, was active on the ARK committee and served on the scientific committee of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. She is on the board of the Seed Savers Exchange and the Southwest Grassfed Livestock Association, and is the co-director of the Edible Kitchen garden at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the founding chef at Café Escalara in Santa Fe.
16 minutes | Mar 1, 2021
E118: Joel Pitkowsky on MAZON - The Jewish Response to Hunger
You may not automatically think of faith organizations as advocates for a stronger food system, but boy are they ever? I'm talking today with Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky of Teaneck, New Jersey. Rabbi Pitkowsky, in addition being a rabbi, is a leader and is on the board of directors for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. This is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and in Israel. Interview Summary I'd like to just say a little bit about my understanding of the work of MAZON which I greatly admire, and then have you fill in and give us a richer view of this. So I know that the organization has worked towards systemic change to address hunger and the root causes of hunger for nearly 40 years now. And I know that the work has focused especially on low income populations of problems that have been previously overlooked or ignored and that could include food insecurity in military families, veterans, single mothers, Native Americans, LGBTQ, and the seniors. So this is the first podcast in a series that we're doing in partnership with MAZON where we delve into these issues. And let's start off with this question. So what is the Jewish connection to ending hunger? And what values and traditions drive MAZON's mission? We derive our mission all the way back from the beginning of the book of Genesis and from the values that we see as being central to a Jewish view of the world. The Jewish view of the value of each human being and really a vision for what we hope the United States can be. We're a country still in the process of becoming and that idea is really core to what we do. So in Genesis chapter one, we read that as God created human beings. Each human being is created in the image of God, meaning each one of us has a spark of divinity. Each one of us regardless of any particular characteristic about us – not because of our material success, not because of our color or gender, anything, just because we're human - we have infinite value. We believe that idea calls us to justice, calls us to treat all human beings with that notion in mind. And that's where it all begins for us. We continue by thinking about, by drawing upon sources in the Bible, in the Jewish tradition, we read in the Book of Leviticus that we should leave the corners of our fields for those who are hungry, for those who are poor. We read over 30 times in the Bible that we should protect the stranger, the widow, the orphan. Those were terms that were meant to teach us about protecting those who did not have power in society. Those who were powerless. We think about the Jewish idea of tzedakah, which is often translated as charity, but it really is much closer to justice. Meaning in the Jewish scheme of the world, if you don't give your charitable giving - which again the Hebrew term is tzedakah - then it's not that you're being cheap, that you just choose not to give, it's that you're not giving what you have to give. You're obligated to give to help others. All of these ideas taken together shape for us a vision of what human beings owe other human beings. And that's why when MAZON was founded, it was founded as a Jewish response to hunger for all people. We work incredibly hard to shape a world, to create a world where people, again, we focus on the United States and Israel where people in the United States are not hungry because no one deserves to be hungry. That's just not the world we think we should live in. And it's not that there's not enough food, there is plenty of food. It's not being allocated correctly, it's not being given to those who need it. So all of these ideas for us come together with those Jewish values, bringing us forward to a vision of what we think our country could be, what the United States could be, how we could be treating each other. And it all comes down to this idea of the value of each human being and a notion of justice. Thank you for sharing your view of how hunger and food systems and human compassion fit into the spiritual tradition that you outlined. So let's get back to MAZON and talk about its founding in history. So why do you believe a Jewish voice is important in the fight to end hunger? MAZON was founded by Leonard Fein - may his memory be a blessing - in 1985. And from the start, synagogues were encouraging individuals to donate a portion of the cost of their lifecycle celebrations to address hunger. This was sort of a modern interpretation of the ancient Jewish tradition of not having celebrations in your small towns unless everyone was invited. Meaning the poor, the hungry, everyone was supposed to have a seat at the table, literally and figuratively, everyone should be included. So we quickly became more and more involved fighting hunger and communities around the country. And we learned that the only way to truly end hunger was to change the systems and circumstances that allowed it to persist. We have come to identify and pursue long term systemic policy solutions so that all people can feed themselves and their families with dignity. We know only too well that we cannot food bank our way out of the hunger crisis in the United States. It's just not possible. The only entity that has the ability to really put an end to hunger, and to give people the ability to raise themselves out of that situation - because no one wants to be there. The only entity that can do that is the federal government. So we are pushing efforts to strengthen the federal safety net because we think that is the most effective and efficient way to prevent people from being hungry in the first place. We also think that that's what our government owes the people who live here. But that aside for a moment, we think it is the most effective way for change to happen. The comments that you just made speak to this broad issue of whether addressing food security issues is a matter of providing more charity or providing justice. Can you talk about your thoughts on how those two concepts differ? Sure. So I know from my own personal experience the incredible feeling that I get and I assume other people get too when they participate in food can collections or when you give out food at a food bank to people who come, or at a homeless shelter, I've done all of those things, those are all meaningful, powerful, and very, very important for people who are hungry today. But we also know that those activities while meaningful, powerful and important are not going to solve hunger because those people will just come back another day. COVID-19 has really revealed just how many Americans are living just at the edge of poverty. Before the pandemic, nearly 40 million were facing hunger. That was the number of people that had SNAP benefits. We believe that that number has now at least doubled if not tripled in the past 12 months. It's become clear if not completely obvious, that charitable programs just cannot address the full scope of hunger. Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, other distribution sites that operate on a country, they were never intended to meet the needs of all of those facing hunger. They were supposed to be just the last stop when everything else was exhausted. They're not structured or funded adequately to meet the scope of hunger we're witnessing today. And we believe that only the federal government has the resources to meet today's needs. Again, in addition to the idea that we believe that the federal government has a moral responsibility to do that. So charity is wonderful. Charity is one of the ways that as human beings, we express our compassion, our empathy for others. And that should continue. I am grateful that there are people all over the country who give to others, who give to either organizations or direct service, who give food so that someone else, their neighbor or someone down the street whatever it is, can be fed, but charity is just not gonna solve the hunger crisis that we have in our country. The problem is just too large. We're commanded in Deuteronomy to pursue justice. That's what the book of Deuteronomy says. Justice, justice, you shall pursue. The idea I think behind the repetition of the word, because it's in the original Hebrew as well, the repetition of the word justice, is that we can't just sit back and wait for a charitable organization to take care of someone. We can't wait for the neighbor down the street. We have to see it as our problem and by our, I mean the larger human community but let's just talk about the United States. That is our issue as a United States nation full of citizens and non-citizens, and we need to take a proactive stance. The notion that some people have that we can just sit back and wait for local charities, local food banks, or even much larger organizations to take care of the issue, I think it's really abdicating responsibility. We need to step up and we need to act. And by we, I mean the United States and the organization, the entity that can do that in the best, most financially efficient and effective way is the federal government. I appreciate your thoughts on that issue of moving from charity to justice, because more and more people are beginning to talk about this. And I suspect that over time, this could lead to some pretty profoundly different ways of looking at the issue. So let's talk a little bit more about what happens on the ground. Can you give us some examples of ways that MAZON and its partners have seen success in fighting hunger? Sure. In the last year we have employed some new ways, some new ideas to advance our goal of ending hunger. So let me just talk about a couple of those. Back in March of 2020 - it feels like a lifetime ago but it was less than a year ago - when we were just starting to really understand the impact of the pandemic, MAZON moved quickly to create a 50 state hunger resource guide to connect people to vital food assistance programs. Many of which are led and administered by our anti-hunger partners around the country. The Jewish community rallied around MAZON in new and inspiring ways. In November, we held a virtual Jewish clergy justice mission engaging over 75 communal leaders from around the country and speaking our truth to power. We met virtually with more than 50 Members of Congress, their staff to urge immediate action to boost benefits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP formerly known as Food Stamps, which was actually enacted a month later. Several years ago we created the Quick Reaction Fund, QRF, which enables us to respond to rapid response initiatives that may arise in a moment's notice. For instance in December of this past year in Nebraska was the only state to refuse SNAP emergency allotments. So we worked with our partner in the state to persuade Nebraska state government to authorize the Pandemic EBT program, which provided additional food assistance to 61,000 families. For us these are victories, they're small victories, but they are victories because they point a way forward. That when we work together with either local officials, local organizations in different states, or at the federal level when we go to DC and we lobby, and we let people know about some of these issues, we find that people are very receptive. I've met personally with dozens of members of Congress and staff members. No one wants people in their district to be hungry. That's not the moral character of the people that are in our government. We don't always agree on how to end that hunger but the idea that anyone in their district or anyone in their state is hungry is anathema to them is really terrible. So that's the first step. And the next step is figuring out goals that we can meet, goals that are possible and working within the system of lobbying and advocacy and education to make those ideas into tangible reality and tangible results. So let me ask one final question. So what are some of the common misconceptions about who faces hunger and how much does MAZON work to combat these misconceptions? The most common misconception about hunger in the United States is that the face of hunger looks nothing like me whatever I look like. Whoever is speaking, it can't be anyone like me. It must be people who look different or have a different skin color, have a different background who aren't educated the way I am, didn't work as hard as I did. We could list two dozen ways that I could be different than you. All of that is just not true. Hunger cuts across every divide in our country. Hunger is not a red state or blue state issue, it is just a United States issue. Hunger is not for people of one color or another, hunger is not limited to people who have a certain kind of education. Hunger really strikes everyone in our country. And I think that the psychological barrier that people have in not wanting to see or not being able to see that hunger looks just like them, that is very, very difficult to break through that wall that people put up, probably just as a defense mechanism. They don't want to think. There but for the grace of God go I, they don't want to feel that one day they could be there. Several years ago we created an exhibit called the Faces of Hunger where we had a wonderful photo journalist take a few months, go across the country to food banks, to shelters, and take photos of people. And those photographs formed the basis of an exhibit that we put together called Faces of Hunger which we ended up putting in an 18 wheeler tractor trailer when we brought it all over the country to dozens and dozens of different sites for people to go inside and to see this incredible multimedia exhibit featuring people's stories and their own voices and photographs of people that look just like me. The explicit mission of that exhibit - which again is called Faces of Hunger, and there's a version of it on our website mazon.org - the mission of that was to break down those barriers and for people to really understand that hunger affects all people, hunger affects all of us. I remember these stories, people who are veterans of our armed forces, people with college degrees, and people with advanced degrees, all it takes for some people. And this is I think what I was referring to before when COVID has really illustrated for us, sort of blown open this conception of just how many people live right on the edge. Right on the edge of hunger. All it takes is one unexpected medical procedure or one unexpected loss of a job, or some other unexpected financial challenge that puts people over the edge from living within the ability to have a home, within the ability to pay for their groceries and not being able to. That line is permeable, that line is very hard to see until you're on the other side of it, and that line is I think right where many, many, many people in our country live far more than anyone suspected. Bio: Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky has been inspired by MAZON for over thirty years, and has been an active donor for nearly as long. He believes that freedom from hunger is a human right and a Jewish value and that we owe it to every human being to have a vision of what we want our world to look like, and to help make that vision become a reality.Joel is a Conservative rabbi in Teaneck, NJ, and is a graduate of Rutgers College and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He is also a Senior Rabbinic Fellow of The Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel. In addition to his work with MAZON, Joel is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Food Justice sub-committee and is a board member of Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake. Rabbi Pitkowsky and his wife have two children.
18 minutes | Feb 24, 2021
E117: Society's Hunger Conundrum: Who is to Blame and Who is Responsible
Food insecurity poses one of the most pressing development and human challenges in the world. This has been true for a very long time. And still there is a little social consensus on who ought to do what to solve the hunger problem. Today we're talking with Dr. Michelle Jurkovich, Author of a new book entitled "Feeding The Hungry Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger." She argues that food is a critical economic and social right, and presents a toolkit of ideas for more effective rights advocacy. Dr. Jurkovich is a Political Scientist on the Faculty of the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Interview Summary Let's begin with this: hunger and food insecurity are very often discussed as either distribution or supply problems. Your book encourages a different view. Can you explain? Often, we hear hunger framed as a technical problem with technical solutions. So, if only we could learn to grow more food with fewer inputs and in more environmentally sustainable ways. And if only we could improve market access to that food, then we could solve the hunger problem. But few benefits in society are ever distributed equally or fairly. Even when scientific advancement allows those resources to exist in abundance and the world currently produces more food than it needs to feed even its ever-growing population. Should new crop varieties and farming methods enable it to produce an even greater surplus, there'd still be no guarantee that that abundance would reach those most in need, the most marginalized in society. So hunger isn't a supply problem, but the distribution framing of the problem. Saying we just need to be able to improve market access and people's ability to pay for food. So here we have the poverty is causing the problem frame, is also problematic. And here's why. Underlying that hunger is a distribution problem frame is the assumption that poverty necessarily will preclude access to food. And that seems completely reasonable on its face. Let's think about other equally complicated and expensive to solve social problems where we do not make that assumption. For instance, universal access to primary education. So let's imagine a seven year old child has no access to education. Who might we imagine the community would think was to blame for the inability of that child to attend a school? I don't think poverty would be most people's response. Even in the most politically conservative communities in the US, the state, by which I mean the government, would be seen as to blame if the seven-year-old child did not have access to a free education. Access to primary education is a human right which society has determined and reiterated in law that the state is obliged to provide to children living within its borders. And poverty should not preclude access to primary education. But if you consider the same seven-year-old child and ask who is to blame if that child does not have access to dinner when he gets home, you're likely to get a very different answer. Well, if he went to school, he could at least have gotten lunch. Of course, this doesn't help with food on the weekends or holidays or dinners or should the child not attend school. Or doesn't the Catholic church have a soup kitchen? Or aren't there food banks, which are often funded by private donations? Or, well, if his parents worked harder, they'd be able to afford enough food for their kid. Providing education is not cheaper or easier for the government to do than providing adequate food for the child. But societies have determined despite this cost, that poverty ought not preclude access to education for the same kid that poverty does preclude access to dinner. And I use that example not to deny the gross inequalities that exist in our public education system in the US, but rather to highlight how it's not inevitable that societies think your access to an essential need necessarily ought to be determined by your ability to purchase it. I argue that a core challenge for the hunger problem, is consensus on who ought to be responsible for ensuring individuals have access to adequate food and who's to blame when individuals are hungry. And when there's no consensus on who is ultimately responsible for ensuring the right to food, it's difficult to effectively leverage social pressure to compel change. If we don't first reach a consensus on these core questions especially who's ultimately responsible for ensuring people have access to adequate food. Is it the national government, civil society, food banks that are often funded through private generosity, corporations, etc. If we do not have a norm in society then indeed a given actor is responsible for ensuring a right to food, such that if the right to food remains unfulfilled we know which actor is to blame and can effectively focus advocacy on that actor, we should expect hunger to continue much as before. It's a fascinating perspective you provide. And not one that I've heard discussed in much detail. So this is really a very much needed perspective. So, if there has been a long history of the right to food in international law, and you mentioned that there just aren't enough parties taking responsibility and lack of overall coordination for this, why is that the case, do you think? Right. And this is a core puzzle - this tension between laws and norms. And the answer is, because laws are not the same as norms and oftentimes we can have existing law, and that doesn't necessarily mean there's a norm in a given society that indeed a particular actor really is obliged to do a particular thing or to behave in a particular way. So in this case, there certainly is international law. And sometimes even domestic law, ascribing responsibility to national governments to ensure the right to food of its people. In a growing number of countries, the right to food is even included in national constitutions. And if we were to look at the first mention of a right to food, we can think back to the drafting of the universal declaration of human rights in the 1940s. It was a unique moment in time because at the time in which the right to food was included in the declaration, it didn't already exist on any national constitution or other international convention. So it was at that moment, a new right. But of course over time, it has been reiterated in other legally binding treaties and conventions including the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, as well as other agreements. Some of which the United States have even signed on to like the voluntary guidelines on the right to food in 2004. But, we know laws and norms don't always walk hand in hand in society. So when I say a norm, I mean, a socially shared standard of appropriate behavior for actors of a given identity. So norms tell you who is expected to behave in a particular way, such that if they don't, you can more effectively focus social pressure. So to take one example here in Boston, if you're riding our subway system, there's an expectation that commuters stand on the right and walk on the left of the escalator going in and out of the station. And if you were to stand on the left, you'll get a side-eye or maybe even a shove or a verbal review that lets you know that you're violating the social expectation by commuters. You ought to stand on the right and walk on the left. And tourists very often get this wrong not being aware of the social norms here in Boston, and Bostonians are quick to clue them in sometimes more kindly than others. But having a norm allows for social pressure to compel an actor who is expected to do a particular thing to change that behavior and make good on that expected action. But if there's no norm, even if societies agree on a moral principle, that is a shared understanding that something is bad or tragic or wrong, here that children go hungry in the modern age for instance, we shouldn't expect that same social pressure to compel change. Because if there is no norm, then there's no norm violator. Sometimes laws and norms can walk hand in hand. There are laws against murdering people and there are social norms that match those laws, but sometimes they don't. And so my book looks at an important community of international anti-hunger organizations and argues that in this community, there is no norm that any one unitary actor such as the national government really is expected to act in ways that insurance people aren't hungry. But norms aren't static things, they grow and they change over time and they differ from place to place. So there may be a growing norm of this obligation in India, for instance. And changes in the way the government and media are discussing food insecurity in the US during the pandemic, may itself open up space to build such a norm domestically. But I don't believe we're there yet. And we'll have to see if after the shock of the pandemic subsides, if Americans go back to having a relatively high tolerance for hunger in their country with limited domestic pressure and advocacy centered on the government as a violator when that hunger persists. I would like to get your ideas on what can be done about this. But before we do that, let's talk a little bit about how you did your research. So you did extensive interviews with staff at top international anti-hunger organizations, and you also did extensive archival research at FAOs archives and the US and UK national archives. What were you interested in understanding as you did this research? Two tracks of things. For the archives, I was of course interested in the past. So here, I wanted to understand how hunger had been put on the political agenda internationally, as a problem that was to be solved. And so I looked at starting in 1943, the Hot Springs Conference, which took place here in Hot Springs, Virginia. Which was a key moment where States came together at a really interesting time. And you can imagine World War II is still going on. It's a bit of an odd time for the US government to call for an international conference to talk about hunger, but they did. So part of the research was in trying to unpack what made food a salient issue at that moment, such that responding to hunger, not domestically but internationally, would become a core theme for this first conference. And this conference was important too because it resulted in the construction of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO a few years later, which to this day is very important international organization in responding to the hunger problem. And I also wanted to look at key moments like when food was included in the universal declaration of human rights during the drafting process and in the covenant on economic, social, cultural rights. In particular looking at how both the US and the UK government considered its inclusion. The interviews construct the majority of the rest of the book. And here I'm interested in understanding how senior staff at top international anti-hunger organizations understand blame for chronic hunger. Who if anyone is to blame for the problem and how they believe the problem should be solved. Your book talks about a new model for dealing with international anti-hunger advocacy efforts called a buckshot model. Can you explain what that is? To the purpose of the model is to help describe and explain the behavior of international anti-hunger advocacy. So in my own field of international relations, we often assume that when faced with a human rights violation or another bad outcome, that activists necessarily will join together and they will agree on a single unitary actor to target their advocacy efforts, to apply pressure, to compel that actor to change its behavior in response to whatever that violation may be. But in terms of international anti-hunger advocacy, we see a wide diffusion of target actors, not a concentrated pressure on one. So here we see advocacy targeting transnational corporations, international financial institutions, outside states, as well as national governments and others. And the buckshot model helps to map that diffusion. We also assume in some of our prior scholarship, that there's a specific directionality in advocacy work. Namely, that local NGOs often in global South countries will reach out to international NGOs often headquartered in global North countries and invite them to join an advocacy effort. But in the case of international anti-hunger advocacy, that directionality is more complicated, and oftentimes the reverse is also true. So international NGOs may decide abroad contours of an advocacy effort in their own headquarters. Then reach out to local partners to join in. The book probes the causes of that type of advocacy. And it looks to what enables differences in advocacy around food from other human rights and considers what may be some of the limitations of that type of advocacy in holding any one actor accountable. This work is fascinating and it speaks to how these efforts are financed, who controls the conversation, what nations and the world sees such fundamental rights. So I think your book rates and makes a really nice contribution in that regard. But let's talk about the global pandemic and how that has exacerbated food insecurity, both here and abroad. What lessons can be applied from your book to the anti-hunger efforts that are occurring? We are certainly seeing, the issue of hunger in the United States receive increased attention both by the media and public officials during the pandemic. And there have been meaningful changes in public food assistance measures during the pandemic. So for example, beginning in March of 2020 and up until now, you have seen some states begin to implement publicly funded food assistance programming that has been rarely if ever seen in US history. So in cities like New York City and in Boston, ready to eat hot meals are being provided to all who need them, regardless of age, income or employment status. In California they implemented a novel reimbursement program designed to pay restaurants for providing free or reduced cost food, I think specifically to seniors. As well as nationwide there've been reforms to allow for online purchase through increased P-EBT credits. Though on this point it's worth noting that USDA has restricted that online benefits in many states like Massachusetts to use an either Walmart or amazon.com. So this does raise some serious concerns about monopolizing benefits to large corporations. Perhaps the most visible changes, have taken place in modifications to free or reduced school lunch programs during the pandemic. So previously, if American children needed a free lunch, they were required to meet specific eligibility requirements which has to be physically present at school to receive it. And being a hungry child wasn't enough to entitle them to a meal. They were required to perform a service in exchange - this is the attending of school. And in much of America, dinner time, school holidays, weekends, summer breaks, they left the same children without a venue for prepared food and existing WIC and SNAP programming did not adequately fill that void. But the pandemic has resulted in many school districts making lunches and breakfast available for pickup without conditions applied to all children who need them. As we've seen with the rising hunger rates, however, that is not an adequate response, it remains quite inadequate. But it does represent a change in the conditionalities applied for hungry children to access meals. And those are important changes for how public food assistance programs work in the US, and I think they're promising. And yet, the US has historically shown a very high tolerance for hunger within its borders, at least for specific populations of individuals. So food insecurity rates among households with children headed by a single woman in the US have consistently been between 28.7% and 35.3% every year since 2014. And the USDA estimates food insecurity rates among black households, again, every year has ranged between 19.1% and 26.1%. And among Hispanic households, again, every year between 15.6% and 22.4% since 2014. And this persisted due to the very limited public food assistance available in the US. But of course, this did not get much media attention. And historically, Americans have not been entitled to adequate nutritious food when they're hungry. At least not at the expense of federal or state governments. Public food assistance programs are and have always been limited and supplemental and not designed to cover all nutritional needs. The effects of limited government engagement with hunger have disproportionately affected women and people of color and resulted in a patchwork system of assistance where charities and privately funded food banks attempt to fill the gaps left by the government’s supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP. So the question for us now I think, is whether the increased attention and funding during the pandemic will be short-term responses or whether this might signal a potential opening and reconsidering state obligation to the right to food in a post pandemic world. Bio Dr. Michelle Jurkovich is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at UMass Boston and a Visiting Fellow at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. She is the author of Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger (Cornell University Press, 2020). Her research interests include hunger and food security, economic and social rights, and ethics. Her work has been published in International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, and Global Governance, among other outlets. In 2020 she was awarded a Kluge Fellowship at the Library of Congress (residency postponed due to the pandemic). Previously, she served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology fellow working in the Office of Food for Peace at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University.
16 minutes | Feb 22, 2021
E116: The Origins and Vision of the Native American Agriculture Fund
Knowing that Native Americans were our country's first farmers and have a rich and very special history with the land, one might consider it surprising and of course discouraging that some of the most challenging food and agriculture issues in our country confront Native Americans. Our guest, attorney Janie Simms Hipp is one of the most passionate and thoughtful voices in addressing these issues. Simms Hipp is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation and leads the Native American Agriculture Fund, the largest philanthropic organization devoted solely to serving Native American farming and ranching communities. The Native American Agriculture Fund is a charitable trust that provides grants to eligible organizations for business assistance, agricultural education, technical support and the advocacy services to support native farmers and ranchers. Interview Summary Let’s start off by asking how the charitable trust was created and the role that an important class-action lawsuit played in this. Back in the 1990s there were several companion lawsuits filed at the same time against the United States Department of Agriculture. The Keepseagle case was one of those four cases and at its heart, it dealt with access to credit issues. It challenged discriminatory practices within the USDA Farm Service Agency Loan Program specifically, it sought to get remedies for a history of either denying loans or servicing loans that were granted improperly. The case was specifically focused on experiences of native farmers and ranchers across the country. It was certified as a class which meant it had national implications for people similarly situated across the country. It found its way into the court system into the federal court system as did the other three companion cases. The Keepseagle case was heavily litigated for very long period of time until the case was settled the elapsed period of time was a little over 19 years in the court system. Throughout that time period there were challenges that were dealt with day-to-day by native farmers and ranchers who were trying to get access to credit or trying to be serviced in their loans properly. And at the heart of all of this is the reality that if you are in the business of farming and ranching, participating in agriculture is very credit intensive anyway. And just as a matter of course when you cut off access points to credit so that you can actually maintain and build your business and operate from year to year can severely hamper your ability to stay on the land and stay involved in agriculture. Janie, let me get a little more concrete about the impact this would have on farmers and what they might be seeking credit for? Operating capital to buy more livestock, expand your operation or replacing your livestock. It was seed purchases, it was tractors, it was other pieces of equipment. Sometimes credit is needed to establish fencing or to put in conservation practices and just the transportation of food to market. So it's very difficult for anyone not just native farmers and ranchers to actually make a go of it year after year in agriculture if you don't have access to credit when you need it and in a fair way. One can imagine this would have a devastating impact on the ability of farmers to make a living and also have an impact on the number of such people who are willing to be farmers or remain farmers. Did it work out that way? If you actually look at the time period in which this case was brought start to think about what the national agricultural census says about native farmers and ranchers. I can tell you it says is that we are, on the whole, approximately four years older than comparable white farmers who are out doing agriculture. So we tend to be a little bit older anyway but then we have this up and coming younger generation of native folks all over the country who are very dedicated and very passionate about carrying on the food traditions of their people. It affects every community differently, but what is important is to stand back and think about is the relative age of farmers and ranchers and how they can bring along the next generation. When you're talking about access to credit issues and how critical they are to building strong agricultural economies it really has an effect across multiple generations. The Native American Agriculture Fund that you head up how was it going about addressing these issues? The Native American Agriculture Fund is designed to actually focus on specifically the needs of native farmers and ranchers, and to really help them along and make sure that we deploy resources that can help them succeed. The fund became a part of and really owes its genesis if you will, to the settlement of the Keepseagle case. The leftover funds from the payment of claims to individuals who were affected by the situations that were at the heart of the Keepseagle case became what is called the corpus of the The Native American Agriculture Fund. So those resources are the fund itself but the creation of the fund occurred as a part of the settlement of the Keepseagle case. What were called fast-track funds were meant to get 38 million out the door quickly to organizations that interface with native farmers and ranchers every day. And then the remaining fund approximately 266 million became the center piece the corpus of Native American Agriculture Fund. The trust agreement that created the fund can be found on our website but it has very specific terms about how we go about doing our business. And that's what we're doing. We're standing up the fund and getting ready to begin making grants for a 20 year period. It's a 20 year spin down trust and as such we very much are keeping an eye on the urgency with which we need to go about the business of moving these funds to assist native farmers and ranchers through the entities that are eligible to receive the funds. What are some of the ways that you're deploying these funds? The important thing that we are to do under the trust agreement is to create a grant making mechanism. We are a charitable and educational fund. We also have received 501c3 status but we're also considered a private charitable fund. To that effect we are allowed to provide grants and work in four subject matter areas is what I call them. And they are business assistance, technical support, agricultural education, and advocacy. The backdrop of all of that is the essence of the case itself which is deploying resources in such a way that it helps drive towards the success of native farmers and ranchers. So we can work in those four substantive areas but we also are required to move funds and resources out the door through the grant making process to four types of eligible entity. And those four entities are 501c3, CDFIs Community Development Financial Institutions, educational organizations or institutions as defined by the Internal Revenue Code but also state and federally recognized tribal governments or instrumentalities of those tribal governments. So that kind of gives you the frame, if you will around how we will be moving resources out during this 20 year period Janie, a term that most of our listeners will be familiar with is food deserts. But I've also heard you in your lectures speak about credit deserts and it looks like this is exactly what you're trying to correct. If you actually think about moving resources into credit deserts, which are real, I mean, there's many native communities around the country that literally have no banks, but the native CDFI movement has really taken hold over the last, say 20 some years. And they are pushing this envelope of making credit accessible through Community Development Financial Institutions. There's a whole network of native CDFIs that are out there and now there are also a growing network of native banks. So moving resources into those arenas if you remember what I said previously the CDFI entities are one of the four entities that we can move resources through. There's actually a part in the trust agreement that does not allow us to actually fund directly to individual farmers and ranchers either through grants or through loans, but we can move resources of the fund into the hands through grants, for instance, into native CDFIs and then they can turn around and do loans. So there is a mechanism to get those sorts of individualized assistance packages out to people but they have to come through the mechanisms that were created in the language of the trust that gave rise to the fund itself. Both the aims of this and the scope of your help is very impressive. Let me ask you a different question. How important is food and agriculture, and tribal sovereignty around food and agriculture in the country? Well, you could ask 100 people and you might get 100 different answers about that, I'm going to give you mine. And I'm going to also paraphrase what a lot of friends of mine say as well, proper leaders, as well as individuals who lead in the native agricultural arena. We talk a lot about how important tribal sovereignty is but being food sovereign and being secure in your food sources and being able to build strong food and agriculture economies is actually critical to tribal sovereignty itself, because if you cannot feed your people and if you cannot actually build that agricultural economy that can lead to a spillover effect, if you will, for other jobs either outside or inside an agricultural sector job then you really are hamstringing the communities themselves and you are impacting sovereignty itself. There is a growing understanding that food sovereignty is critical to tribal sovereignty. I would say it applies across the board, food security is a huge issue for all people. But particularly if you're talking about rural and reservation tribes and Indian people who live in those places it's just so important that we know where our food is coming from that we have a hand and making sure that we have healthy food available to us. But we also have strong cultural histories around food and creation stories that talk about our relationships with foods and long histories within each tribe around our food sources and the lands and the waters and the four-leggeds and all of the components that sit around who and where we have been forever. The idea that you can separate yourself from food culturally, I'm not sure how peoples ever get to that point but obviously they do, but just recognizing that tribal sovereignty is so intricately intertwined with food sovereignty is something that is of high recognition across all tribes at this point. The work of the fund will help reverse some of the injustices that have occurred in the past due to government practices and policies. What do you see as the policy priorities going forward for the U.S. government in this space? And are you optimistic that these changes might occur? I think that probably the most important changes that are going to occur are the changes within us because we have the capacity and the memory and the abilities to feed ourselves regardless of what the federal government does. Obviously they can make it worse on us, but we actually have the inherent capabilities to do this ourselves. And I do believe that regardless of which government is in the office at the time native people find a way to keep going and we are not going anywhere. And we are going to continue to build out and make sure that we have the security generations from now. I'm not going to speculate on what could happen, three years from now or 10 years from now with regard to the federal government - I'm going to look to us and to all the native nations and understand we know that this is possible. But I will tell you though is we also are starting to see some really important things happen. This last farm bill for instance was unique because there were more native focused provisions written into this farm bill than ever before. There was the creation of a Native Farm Bill Coalition which had never happened before, and there was a lot of heightened understanding on the Hill, about what pieces of the farm bill could actually be changed to enable native nations but also individual native farmers and ranchers to access farm bill programs in a better way. So every little bit helps I will tell you, but I think the most important thing we can do is bring along the next generation and make sure that they understand how important this is and that they see their place in food moving forward. So what are some of the things that people can do to become more involved in assisting native farmers and ranchers? One of the things that's happened very recently is the creation of the Native Farm Bill Coalition. A lot of folks think that you can just talk about the farm bill once and then it's over but really that's not the way it rolls out. I've been doing agricultural law for a very long time. You can do a lot in food and agriculture without even looking at the farm bill but it does have some moving parts that are important to food production and also the conservation of lands et cetera, et cetera. So I think it's important to actually Google Native Farm Bill Coalition because it does have a place for allies to actually become a part and support. The other thing is understanding and doing some of your own historical research about which native nations you live around citing things that are happening right now across Indian agriculture kind of writ large. There's some things happening around you that you might want to know more about and reach out to the tribal governments that are there and to the individual native farmers and ranchers kind of around where you are and just ask how you can help. Because some of the things that are happening in Indian country writ large around food spill over into all of the communities surrounding us. So it's just important for folks to do a little bit of digging and self-educate, but there's also some tools out there that we will be putting out in terms of resources. I'm realizing that we're just getting rolling but we intend to have some resources on our website that can kind of assist folks who want to participate. Bio Before serving as CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund, Janie Simms Hipp, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, was the founding director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative at the University of Arkansas. Prior to launching the initiative, she served as national program leader for Farm Financial Management, Trade Adjustment Assistance, Risk Management Education, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development programs at the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture. She was thereafter selected as the senior advisor for tribal relations to Secretary Tom Vilsack and director of the Office of Tribal Relations. Prior to her work in Washington, D.C., at the national level, she has enjoyed a lengthy domestic and international career spanning more than 35 years in the agriculture sector as an agriculture and food lawyer and policy expert. Her work focuses on the complex intersection of Indian law and agriculture and food law.
15 minutes | Feb 17, 2021
E115: How Precision Diet Might Oversome Some Genetic Roadblocks
Could there come a day when an optimal diet could be recommended not just for the population overall or for people with special conditions such as diabetes but a diet that would be unique for you? A diet based on your genetics let's say on the condition of your microbiome perhaps? Or on your environmental exposures or other factors? This futuristic possibility may be closer than you think. Thanks to the work of researchers, including today's guest Dr. Steven Zeisel, Director of the Nutrition Research Institute and Director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of North Carolina. Interview Summary I would like to lead off by asking what you mean when you use the term precision nutrition. Precision nutrition is really the use of modern day science to be more precise about our diet recommendations for any given individual. In the last decade, we've realized that people vary greatly in their metabolism and many people have roadblocks that certain steps of metabolism. How far along is the science with us? Well, I think that in terms of the roles of genetic misspellings on your metabolism, we're really quite far along. Now when I say gene misspelling, each of us has a genetic code and it's constructed of four letters. We inherit our genes from our ancient ancestors and during many thousands of years we have developed alternative spellings in some of the genes I'm going to call the misspellings called SNPs. And these alternative spellings sometimes are in genes that are critical for steps in metabolism and cause us to be more or less efficient at the steps. Steve, can you give us an example, perhaps even a hypothetical one, of how such information might get harnessed in order to help a certain person? Would a person have a biological deficiency in some way that could be learned from genetic tests that then could be turned into recommendations for specific foods? Yes, so again from my own research on the nutrient choline - choline is really important during pregnancy to build a healthy baby with optimal brain function. Women were designed to be able to turn on the production of choline in their liver when estrogen levels the hormone that rises markedly during pregnancy. When estrogen rises, they turn on their production to make this choline and therefore are less dependent on their diet. And what we've discovered is that women who come European backgrounds have very commonly a misspelling in the gene that needs to be turned on and the switch for estrogen isn't working right. And so they like men don't turn on this gene. And this is really important because these are the women who have to be really careful about getting a good source of this nutrient during pregnancy, because they don't have the backup insurance of being able to make it by themselves There are other things like environmental exposures that might lead to specific nutrition recommendations for particular individuals, or maybe the condition of the microbiome, what other sort of factors might be relevant other than just pure genetics? Genetics is the most ready to go to market because we know so much about these tools but we differ in our metabolism for other reasons than having genetic mistakes. For instance, our microbiome, which are the bacteria and fungi and other microbes that live in our gut sees our food often before we do. And if you have a microbiome that is destroying some of the nutrients you need then you have to eat more in your diet. Alternatively, the microbiome can make some of the nutrients that you need. For instance, vitamin K very important for normal blood clotting, vitamin K is made by the microbiome as is folate. And if your microbiome isn't working well to make it then you must eat more in your diet. Microbiome is another area in which people can differ and that can make them need more or less of other nutrients. Environment probably also can change your requirements. We know for instance that there are environmental agents that emulate, simulate, exposure to estrogen and this can change genes that depend on estrogen and thereby change metabolism. And other foods you eat obviously can be manipulating your metabolism. Grapefruit changes the metabolism of many drugs because it turns on the liver's metabolism system. And what is changing drug metabolism is likely also changing metabolism of the normal components of food that these systems were meant to degrade and excrete. So this work is very sophisticated and extremely interesting and promising. How do you see as commercial applications for this kind of work? Right now, on the market, there are a number of gene tests for instance that tell you how fast you metabolize a component of your diet caffeine and there are fast metabolizers and slow metabolizers and it turns out that the fast metabolizers chew up caffeine quickly and therefore the person has to stand in line the coffee shop to get a second coffee while the slow metabolizers after drinking some coffee keep their caffeine levels up for a longer time and don't crave more caffeine so rapidly. That's an example of a gene test you can have to find out if you're a fast or slow metabolizer of caffeine. Of course, most of us know that by how much shaking we do as we stand online at the coffee shop. So let's turn back to the issue you mentioned earlier, your own work on choline. So you mentioned that it was particularly important during pregnancy. Is it important other times of life let's say for children? Kelly when I started out in my science career we thought that people didn't require choline in the diet, all the textbooks said that. And in fact, we weren't giving it to people when we fed them intravenously in the hospital and those people got sick. And when I first started out, I thought it was strange that animals required choline in their diet, but people didn't. And so I put people in the hospital, I took choline away and what I discovered was is that most men and most post-menopausal women when deprived of choline developed liver problems, fatty liver and liver damage or develop muscle problems with breakdown of their muscles. And I found that premenopausal women in North Carolina, only about a little less than half of them got sick when deprived of choline. And so choline is really important for maintaining normal liver function and for maintaining your muscle. The premenopausal women that got sick all had gene misspellings that made them unable to turn on choline formation in their liver with estrogen. And so they were reduced to the sad state of men and had to eat choline in their diets at all times or get sick. So that work prove that humans required choline and it led to a recommendation by the US National Academies of Science that all humans get it and we set dietary requirements which are now on food labels. People should eat half a gram of choline a day and as adults a little more when you're pregnant because you use a lot of choline to deliver it to the baby. The choline is used to build a baby's membranes that surround their cells and to build and drive normal development of the brain. What foods provide choline? Choline is found in fatty foods often that also contain cholesterol, it's in the membranes of the foods. So eggs and meats are excellent sources of choline. Plant-based sources are harder to find and you have to choose those plants sources that have lots of membranes like wheat bran. For people who want to find out what foods that they eat are the best for getting choline, the US Department of Agriculture maintains a database with thousands of foods in it and tells you what the choline content of those foods are. In the 1970s and '80s we recommended that everybody cut back cholesterol in their diet to prevent heart disease. The bad part is that we thought we were very smart as nutritionists and nutrition scientist when we did that. But we also cut back choline in the diet without knowing about it. We discouraged people from eating foods with it. And now choline intake is a problem nutrient in the United States. And every year the US government conducts a national health and nutrition survey, and they find only 7% of women who are a pregnancy age are eating the recommended intake of choline and at least a quarter are eating half the recommended and that's true for men. The only group that seems to be eating an adequate amount of choline are young children who are drinking lots of milk. You mentioned muscle function. Could you tell us more? So in the adults, when they're deprived of choline about 10% of people develop breakdown to their muscles every time they exercise. And we see that by looking at an enzyme that's released from muscle into blood when the muscle breaks down. This breakdown can be quite severe in some people who were fed a low choline diet. And we find that all of these people have a genetic of variance spelling difference in the gene that transports choline into the muscle cell and in the gene that first uses choline to make the products needed to help the muscle function normal. We can do a genetic test, predict who those people are and when we feed them adequate amounts of choline they do not break down their muscle when they exercise. And this has been of interest in the armed forces where they find that up to 25% of war fighters who are in training have to stop training because muscle breakdown is excessive. And they are wondering whether some of this breakdown is due to these people who have this genetic difference and a higher need for choline. So thinking of the general public, are there groups of people do you think it would make sense from a public health point of view to be tested for choline and how would people know what their optimal levels are? What would you see happening with that? I think that in women who are going to get pregnant, who are pregnant, where choline is so important for building a normal baby's brain. In mouse models we can show that the stem cells that are going to form the nerves within the brain, don't divide properly if choline isn't available at a critical time during pregnancy. And the mouse baby is born with many fewer nerve cells in their brain and don't function as well. They are worse at running mazes and at doing cognitive testing. In humans, a group at Harvard School of Public Health looked at women's intake during the first and second trimester of pregnancy and found that women in the lowest choline intake versus women in the highest intake when their children are studied at seven years of age for how well their brain performs cognitive function they find that the women in the lowest intake had children who perform worse at seven years of age than women in the highest intake. In addition, neural tube defects and other birth defects that are fairly common during pregnancy increase among the children of women who were on the lower choline intake. And in a study in Berkeley, California they reported that these neural tube defects, defects of formation of the spinal cord and brain were increased fourth fold in the women who were in the lowest group for intake of choline and this is after correcting for the vitamin folic acid that we know is so important during pregnancy as well. Women during pregnancy I think should have a test looking for these gene differences. And if they have them they should eat a diet more carefully that contains foods that are rich in choline. Because such a test is not been available, I work with a company that's trying to spin out a gene test. We also are working on fatty liver. About a third of the population in the United States as they gain more weight, develop excess fat in their liver that seems to interfere with how they use insulin and makes them insensitive to insulin and this is called metabolic syndrome. And again, people when deprived of choline developed fatty liver, and we find that this is because they have a problem sending fat outside of the liver to feed the other organs in the body. And so fat packs up in the liver whenever they make more of it because they're slow to mail the fat out of the liver. And this is related to having trouble making the envelope needed to mail the fat from the liver because that envelope is made of a choline and some other constituents. And so people deprived of choline develop this, people who have metabolic roadblocks in the metabolism of choline and related nutrients have the same roadblock and problems in exporting fat. And when they gain weight they develop fatty liver more rapidly. We're hoping to develop a genetic test that identifies who these people are and then we can give the nutrients beyond their roadblocks and metabolism and try to return them to normal. Bio Dr. Zeisel and his research team focus on the essential nutrient choline and why there are individual differences in nutrient metabolism, using new approaches in nutrigenomics and in metabolomics. The team works with humans, mice and cell culture model systems. Using our human studies we discovered that there are very common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; gene misspellings) that make humans require more dietary choline and that one of these is in the gene PEMT and prevents estrogen from inducing the gene. We are collaborating in a number of epidemiology studies that examine the relationship between diet, these gene SNPs, and risk for disease. After identifying a SNP of interest in humans we make a mouse model and now have three such knockouts. One of them develops mitochondrial abnormalities and has immotile sperm. We are conducting studies in humans on this SNP. In another study, we examine choline’s role in brain development and discovered that choline is critical for cortical and hippocampal development. We study mouse models and neural progenitor cells in culture to identify the molecular mechanism for choline’s effect on brain.
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2021