Thursday, December 16, 2010

When is “Just” not Just Just?

Today's press release from “Rust to Green” announcing the formation of New York's first “Local Food Policy Council” really made me sit up and take notice!
“What if every resident of Oneida County had access to fresh, safe, locally produced food that is distributed in a just and sustainable manner?”
“What if farming, food processing/distribution and culinary tourism were engines for the economic rebirth of Upstate New York? What if we could do all of this while contributing to a healthy environment, fighting diet related illnesses and creating “green collar” jobs that can’t be outsourced?
“Today, Rust To Green Utica announced the creation and kick off meeting of New York State’s first local Food Policy Council to work toward these goals.”
Don't you love seeing “Utica Greens” on the menu in Albany, Syracuse, or Rochester? Or hearing “Utica” mentioned on TV as Rachel Ray whips up her version of Chicken Riggies? Utica has long had a reputation for great food and restaurants that has drawn people from out of the area . . . a reputation that has steadily grown over the years, as Utica's diverse ethnic groups mature in their new home and open their own businesses. We have no count of how many boxes of mouth-watering Florentine, Caruso, or Cafe Canole pastries or cookies get sent all across the country – as do Manny's Cheesecakes -- but you know this happens often. O'Scugnizzo Pizzas get airlifted! People come to Utica with coolers to stock up on meats at Joe's and Hapanowicz.  Although declining in numbers over the years (perhaps NY could reduce its taxes and regulations to keep them here?), we still have a lot of local farms for apples, corn, squash, strawberries, potatoes, etc. There are also tours of the Utica Brewery, Omegang Brewery, maple syrup making . . .There is the MV Garlic Festival every summer in Little Falls, and Riggie and Greens Fests in Utica.  Do I have to go on?

Just . . . where has R2G been, anyway? Some ivory tower at Cornell? The Utica area already has these things . . . produced by the efforts of PRIVATE ENTERPRISE. Is that the problem?  Does R2G really think that it can do better -- without getting grants of taxpayer dollars?  
“Food is a basic human need along with adequate shelter, a safe environment and clean water. Yet, our local governments in New York have no comprehensive planning process to ensure access to healthy foods for all residents. No local government has a ‘Department of Food’ and the programs that address hunger, nutrition, agriculture and food sector labor conditions are spread across many agencies and jurisdictions.”
I don't know of anyone who does not have access to “healthy” food . . . or is the stuff at Chanatry's, Hannaford's, Price Chopper, Aldi's, Save-a-Lot, etc., somehow not healthy? If so, why have we not read about it? Is the unhealthiness of our food being kept from us by a secretive media on the take? We have a local Department of Health, State and National Depts. of Agriculture, and the FDA to keep food safe. . . . or is there something planned in the recent Food Safety and Modernization Act that will take our food away? Perhaps the R2G/Food Policy Council feels that some of our Utica specialties mentioned above are "unhealthy" and need to be replaced with their food selections? . . . produced and/or promoted by their "partners?"

Just . . . where is the need for a “comprehensive planning process” and a “Department of Food” ?

Just - ification for this program seems to be some recent USDA statistics, but this is clearly related to the 10% unemployment situation and not anything wrong with our food production and distribution network. We have a Dept. of Social Services and all sorts of Federal Welfare programs to ensure that people don't go hungry. We also have a network of food pantries, charitable organizations, school breakfast/lunch programs, and churches that feed the hungry.  People are given food stamps by the government. Is there suddenly a shortage of food stamps? Can't the Feds simply print more (since they seem to be printing more dollars)? If people are hungry, how are the Feds distributing food stamps? Dare I say it? How are people spending their food stamps, if hunger has taken a jump? The "Food Policy Council" seems to be merely more "piling on" . . .

I'm interested in hearing R2G's proposals for protecting the environment and “sustainability” (a mis-used word in my estimation). We can all learn from others who “think out of the box.”

But I get suspicious when environmental protection, food, health care, education, etc. seem to become excuses for political movements and agendas.

This isn't JUST about food . . .  is it?


Anonymous said...

I believe Hamilton College buys a whole lot of fresh grown local food and well as a lot of organic. I think they support a lot of local growers and meat producers.

Strikeslip said...

And Hamilton did not need a "Food Policy Council" to do it!

Matthew K. Tabor said...

As you pointed out, this doesn't have much at all to do with food.

The problem is that the folks behind the Food Policy Council don't even realize how politically-driven their efforts are.

It's incredibly difficult to impact someone's thought when they've already fooled themselves - but we've got to keep trying anyway.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, these geniuses never heard of Farmer's Markets. I've never had any problem finding locally grown produce. And I don't need the govt. or Cornell telling me the proper way to eat healthy or shop. If shoppers want fresh produce, then all one has to do is look for it. And one can store it all winter. Ever hear of a freezer or canning? Duh!

Rod WIlson said...

I think you make some good points regarding food politics and some of the groups involved but we DO need what they intend to do. After all it is kind of their job.

I mean this with nothing but sincerity and I agree with you pretty often but not this time. You def need to do some research on the matter. It's a big issue. The LACK of REAL, healthy food here is astonishing. If you're eating from a grocery store, you're rarely eating food. The cost of preventable health related illness is skyrocketing and it goes back to our food system. You want to fix health care? Fix the food system. The government agencies that you refer to are int the pockets of big AG and run by former big AG executives. Additionally, it's been estimated that NY can keep more than $12 billion dollars in the NY economy and create thousands of jobs by just growing and producing our own food. Then there's the fact that a good chunk of those food stamps dollars that Wal-Mart eats up could be kept local.

"Food, Inc."

Are a couple of good films to check out. In fact there's a great "Food for Thought" film series that's put together by some of these same people that will run again this spring/summer. Good stuff. Check it out. Then you can actually talk to some of the people that understand the need for this movement. I am very curious to see how this works out. I've been advocating for the need of this type of project for a few years now. To CCE and to the county. It's SOLID stuff.

Strikeslip said...

Thanks for the comment, Rod. I agree with most of what you say... especially not trusting the government agencies because of whom they may be in bed with. And it makes no sense to create a new government agency or "partnership" to counteract the evils created another.

People need to be able to rely on the private sector. If the private sector does not seem to be reacting, then either there is something blocking it (zoning perhaps?) or the market is not big enough to be profitable.

As people become more health conscious, the market for fresh wholesome food will grow and private entrepreneurs *will* eventually fill the niche. People are always looking for opportunities to become financially independent -- and this looks like a good one. Of course, entrepreneurship is hard work and risky (most small businesses fail) so it takes time for a successful to develop. Its like "natural selection."

I *don't* want to see taxpayer dollars placed at such risk by government-sponsored entities trying the same thing. That prevents "natural selection" from working, resulting in inefficiencies. Nor do I want taxpayer dollars supporting one entrepreneur competing against another.

Back to the premise of my original post. I don't think this is really about food. . . but here is food for thought:

Be careful of your associates. What you are thinking of may not be what they are thinking of.

Rod Wilson said...

Great stuff and right on! There really is a frighting amount of politics involved in the local food system. There REALLY are people that are and will keep blocking growth of local ag to protect their business involvements.

I'm totally with you on the private sector piece. I'm currently working in that vein after spending a couple of years barking up the wrong trees. For me on the taxpayer tip is that I'd rather see money shifted to this than new funding being generated.

For the record, these are not my playmates, they won't have me. I'll make stuff happen. Just because these guys say this is what they're going to do doesn't at all mean it's going to get done. This is a big ol' chunk of political posturing because they're very aware that some friends and I are actually working to make happen the things that they're discuss. Want an interesting read? Check out the Foodshed's facebook page and read the exchange that I had with them about marketing local products dated 12.10. THEN read their press release. I don't think that it's any secret that I've been talking about this stuff for a few years now. To the CCE, to my county leg and to MV Chamber and it's all over Clipper Corner. After all that time of their inaction and my deciding to stay local, I decided that it was time to do something. They see that what I'm doing and what others are doing in the arena is gaining momentum quickly so now they have to move to save face. Why do you think they're so vague with regard to who else is involved? They've thrown this together in the past few days.

Buzzer said...

I don't think Utica has a problem distributing food. Looking at the number of horrendous fatties in the area, I think Utica has a problem trying to find recreational activities for young adults that DON'T involve food.

Many young people have left because the only thing you can do is a weekly hike and an hourly pizza and beer bingefest.

I think the lack of modern, inexpensive, and energy-efficient housing is a bigger problem here. Kill the damn Landmark/Historical Society, knock down the old buildings that are too old and expensive to renovate (which is ALL of them) and build some nice apartment complexes. Not elderly homes, not projects... but real apartments for young adults to live in. That would help to slow down the money from Rome Labs thats bleeding over to Syracuse.

Anonymous said...

I love the comment about no real food in the grocery stores. Has this person ever been to Hannaford, Price Chopper or Wegman's? Wow! They all have incredible fresh fruit and vegetable varieties including organic selections. The problem is that Americans choose fast food items in grocery stores. We are mostly obese in this country. Yet, if you travel to Europe eating is a ritual that is loved by all and they do not have the obesity problem we have here. I will always remember a comment made to me by a friend while in Europe, "You can always tell who the Americans are -- they are very fat and eating on the street. We think it is impolite to eat as you are walking down the street or driving in your car."

The last thing we need is another useless bureaucracy in our government.

Rod Wilson said...

Actually I have been to all those stores. I eat nothing but organic and their selections are poor and overpriced to say the least. I LOVE comments from people that think that they REALLY know what food is about. Especially those that have NO idea about the challenges that our LOCAL producers face in getting THEIR product into the system. Go look behind the curtain then come back. Some of us have actually been around these issues for some time, unlike those who seem to be able to quickly whip the solutions out of their pocket and say "here ya go". If it was that simple, don't you think it'd have been done? To me food comes from the ground or off of a bone, simple as that. It doesn't come from a factory or from factory farms.

Rod Wilson said...

And here's some of my of my argument, but certainly not all. If you want to learn more, do so if not, quit acting like the answers are on the supermarket shelf. But certainly don't knock people standing up to improve our community. Especially when you're so poorly informed on the matter. The arrogance in this community really is astounding for an area that's neck deep in the shitter. You'd think with the amount of experts that we have on everything, we could solve ALL the world's problems. That's right, people don't actually DO anything around here. We just post.

AND Strike, yes there is a massive effort to keep you completely uninformed about where your food comes from and just what they do it. How $$$ do you think is in food? EVERYBODY needs it.

Rod Wilson said...

Missed the link:

And to Matt...they DO know. That's why they're trying to keep the game ball.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

"I will always remember a comment made to me by a friend while in Europe, "You can always tell who the Americans are -- they are very fat and eating on the street. We think it is impolite to eat as you are walking down the street or driving in your car.""

I find it impolite to live a life with lips wrapped around the government teat - from cradle to grave - as the French do. Having lived/worked in Europe, I'll attest that one reason we run around eating is because we're far more active with work/families/activities than the French and other socialist European cultures. Obviously not a hard and fast rule, but it's valid. We're simply hurried and harried in a way that they aren't.

I'm not trying to harp on France specifically, but do a bit of research into how much work the average French civil servant does in a work-week. When you see the numbers, it'll be clear that they've got quite a bit of time available to dedicate to a specific task... no need to walk and chew gum at the same time when you've got an hour to enjoy walking and another hour to enjoy gum-chewing (and a state that'll pay you to do it all). If eating a sandwich as I walk down the street means I can work more efficiently, I'll do it every day.

Having said all that, we're largely out of shape and overweight because of the nature of the food we eat, the portion sizes and our physical activity levels. So, we need to eat better food, eat less of it and be more physically active - the end.

Right now I'm in Los Angeles - the organic/foodie/health-nut paradise. Rod might love it here, but I'd rather hit up the Wal-Mart supercenter in Oneonta than pay $5.99 (not kidding) for a dozen organic eggs down the street. Then again, when I first came to LA in 2006, a job interviewer remarked I was "too country," so who knows? BTW, I skip those organics and pay $1.99 for 18 eggs at Target.

"You'd think with the amount of experts that we have on everything, we could solve ALL the world's problems."

Agreed. Working on it.

"That's right, people don't actually DO anything around here. We just post."

Couldn't be further from the truth, Rod.

Rod Wilson said...

Good points Matt. Why ARE those eggs $5.99? And I'm sure that you're aware of the "good" that you do to your local community by shopping Wal-Mart and Target. Patronizing employers that pay less than a living wage and then tell their employees to hit up the social services system for the rest. Not to mention what you're potential risking. You did see where they recall MILLIONS of eggs a few months back right?

And we need to eat better food? You're EXACTLY right but it's not in the supermarket. Do you know what is? A WHOLE bunch of "food" made with corn and sugar. And 1 in 3 will be diabetic in 2050 why?

Again, this is a complicated issue and for people to just say eat better food and be more active is so over simplistic. I do this everyday. Talk to people, research, talk to more people, do more research. I wouldn't for a second come out and propose that the solution the current state of the American education system as "go to school, listen to the teacher and participate in extracurricular activities -the end".

Seriously, with all respect and sincerity get some info. See a film even it'll be worth the time. "Food Inc." is a good one as is "Fresh". Find out what it is you're really eating. And how it gets to your plate.

Strikeslip said...

A "living Wage?" Clearly this is NOT just about food.

I hate to see Wal-Mart vilified ... They do an excellent job at feeding and clothing a lot of people at affordable prices even though the quality may not be what some people would like. They are even implementing a prescription drug program! Wal-Mart employs a lot of people. If the pay was so terrible, how come they do not seem to have a problem finding employees, even in a good economy?

Wal-Mart beats the US government at the game of meeting people's needs! It is a great success and the product of American Capitalism. . . and THAT is why it is so hated.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

[My comment was too long for 1 post, so I've broken it up into two comments. -MKT]


"Why ARE those eggs $5.99?"

Because they cost a great deal more to produce than the $1.99 eggs, from the farm's costs to government subsidies factoring in - and because there's a higher markup for the premium item.

"And I'm sure that you're aware of the "good" that you do to your local community by shopping Wal-Mart and Target."

You bet I am - I/my family have saved tens of thousands of dollars over the years by shopping at Wal-Mart and now Target (in Los Angeles, none near Cooperstown, obviously) for groceries. That money wasn't hoarded under a bed or buried in a Ball jar in the backyard. If you'd like to examine the efficacy of $1 spent with the average organic farmer vs. $1 spent elsewhere - including private investment - we can do that. But here's the short version: The return on paying the average organic farmer to produce what can be done much more efficiently *ain't* good. (Well, that's not true - it can be great for the farmer.)

I did see the egg recall. Recalls happen on farms small and big. I come from Upstate/Otsego farms going back about a billion generations, and let me tell you... I feel a hell of a lot better buying bacon at Wal-Mart than getting it from the backyard. Some of us actually know these processes, Rod, and we understand that outfits taking advantage of economies of scale provide safeguards that small farms can't always realistically achieve.

Also, right now I'm in an area that is predominantly low-income Hispanic, with over 90% of local school kids qualifying for free/reduced lunch (about 3-4x more than the average Otsego County school). If these families couldn't shop for groceries down the street at Target, they'd be worse off.

"And we need to eat better food? You're EXACTLY right but it's not in the supermarket. Do you know what is? A WHOLE bunch of "food" made with corn and sugar."

Rod, I agree with you if you're saying that there's a ton of bad food in the supermarket. There is, and unfortunately, too many people buy it.

But I don't think that's what you're saying. You said good food isn't in the supermarket. That's flat-out wrong. There's plenty of great food available - we just need to choose it over the food that's terrible for us.

We don't *have* to buy food laden with carbs we don't need - we routinely overload on carbs despite our glycogen stores being completely full (carbs in excess are turned into fat... so, we get fat). Is it because we can only buy high-carb food in the grocery store, or is it because we tend to choose those high-cal, high-fat, high-carb foods?

It's the latter. We don't *have* to buy them, but we do.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

"And 1 in 3 will be diabetic in 2050 why?"

Because we buy food that's bad for us, eat too much of it and sit around doing nothing. That's the bulk of it.

"Again, this is a complicated issue and for people to just say eat better food and be more active is so over simplistic."

It's a simple, first-step treatment - but it fits. Author Michael Pollan wrote in his book "Food Rules" something to the effect of, "If it has more than 5 ingredients, it isn't food." Decent rule - just buy the basic stuff and we can avoid much of what you've mentioned.

If your problems are eating too much food, eating bad food and being inactive, your first line of defense is...

... to eat better and get off your ass. It's not rocket science, Rod, but it *is* personal responsibility (which, for many, is even tougher).

"I do this everyday."

Oddly enough, so do I. Will I see you at the Los Angeles Fitness Expo in Jan, 2011? If so, we can talk about it then.

"I wouldn't for a second come out and propose that the solution the current state of the American education system as "go to school, listen to the teacher and participate in extracurricular activities -the end"."

You should, because it's true. Not the three you chose - one is meaningless and the other isn't that important - but you're on the right track. You might be stunned at how many problems in education could be fixed by students showing up to class and completing their assignments.

Sometimes it really is that simple for the vast majority of people (there are surely exceptions) - just like how you can eat lean, skinless chicken breast (2.5lbs, $6), frozen mixed vegetables (1lb, .99), eggs (18, $1.99) and some whole grain bread (24oz, $2.99) and adequately fuel a bodybuilder's physique.

Much of the rest is politics.

Anonymous said...

The rust to green/food initiative is just one more invention under which jargon substitites for reality and objectivity. The students at places like Hamilton are daily fed fluff by agenda driven professors who fill their days with left wing "social justice" slogans and causes that do nothing to advance thought and true education.

Rod Wilson said...

Strikeslip, my project is not all about about food, it's about creating "living" economies and it's privately funded. Many people seem to miss the interdependencies of varying ecological systems in the bigger scheme of things Secondly, again, check some facts. Wal-Mart has been and continues to be sued in almost every state for labor infractions. Check out a little film called "Wal-mart, the high price of low cost". People go to work there because here there is little option and look at the turnover and who they employ. Everybody needs jobs, even high school drop outs. Wal-Mart is hated because they destroy communities, destroy local businesses and use taxpayer funds and political lobbying to do so. Ask their Chinese employees about making 18 cents an hour and living in squalor, then being charged by Wal Mart to do so. BTW, you want Wal-Mart to run your prescription plan?

Matthew all I really have to say is good luck to you and you really should think about learning more considering the role children's nutrition plays in educational success. Should I be impressed that you lift weights and are going to a Health Expo? Because you hit the gym you're a food systems expert? Then you're pretty well versed in the dangers of HFCS, pesticides that have been linked to ADHD, reproductive issues and learning disabilities and GMO foods that have been linked to organ failure among others. Here's some food for thought. If our food system is so great why then do we have more cancer than we've ever had, more Autism and ADHD than we've ever had and more preventable disease than we've ever had before? Gee I wonder why our health care system is what it is. I'm guessing because like Strikeslip, the American people actually think that the USDA actually works to protect our food system. You do know that the USDA is run by former Big Ag executives right? You do know that despite the findings and objections of many independent scientists, these folks just OK'd the use of a known carcinogen for strawberry production. I'm pretty sure then you understand and are comfortable with how your food is produced. Cheap, subsidized food costs big bucks on the health end. It's ironic that you refer to Pollan's work then dismiss the key portion. Find out about what's in your "good" food.

AND above and beyond all of this. I never said anything about organic other than that my family eats organic I said LOCAL. My LOCAL pastured eggs, higher in Omega 3's and with more vitamin E and Beta Carotene and from humanely treated healthy chickens in a sustainable manner cost me $2.50. And every cent stays right here in my community. The goal IS to put LOCAL food at the fingertips of people and to remove that barrier that causes local foods to be more expensive. It's also to help foster agricultural growth here in Oneida county including jobs and more money recirculating throughout the Oneida County economy..

It's amazing that you guys just have all the answers in your pockets. I really thought this might be a place that demonstrated some degree of open mindedness instead I'm met with ALL the answers' Good luck to you. I'm done, I really do have more important things to do than try to share anything with people who won't even consider the other side. Fortunately, more and more people are getting it. If you choose to learn more that's great, if not, that's too bad.

Strikeslip said...

Rod -- I think my discussion with you both here and on Facebook demonstrates that I have an "open mind" on this issue. But when something smells like propaganda and there are flags of an agenda such as your statement "my project is not all about about food, it's about creating "living" economies", the hunch of my initial post has been confirmed.

Drilling down into the BALLE site (that you referenced above) -- which is cloaked in the trappings of entrepreneurial capitalism -- are "partners" that have descriptions with "red flags" popping out all over them. . . Such as "Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities"which "Advocates moving 15% of Pentagon-related tax money to such state and local priorities as education and healthcare"; "Responsible Wealth" which is "A national network of businesspeople, investors, and affluent North Americans concerned about deepening economic inequality who are working for widespread prosperity. They focus on tax fairness, corporate responsibility, and living wages"; "Reclaim Democracy" - "Restoring citizen authority over corporations – inspiring citizens to consciously choose what role corporations should play in our society and to limit them to that role." -- and this is just a small sampling. Read the rest at

Food is merely the bait to lure people into class warfare. Count me out.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the issue has little to nothing to do with food. We are fortunate enough to have choices that as thoughtful people we understand. Our grocery stores, farmers markets, farm stands, etc., are alive and well as are our abilities to sort out the good and the bad. We do not need left wing, elitist propaganda to "direct" us to controlled living. We should be going in the opposite direction. Also, the Walmart blasting is tiresome and outdated. Visit a store or employment facility and ask a "poor" person what he or she thinks.

Rod Wilson said...

Wow! Really, that's what you get from this? That it's about class warfare? It's about giving people opportunity to compete in an environment that is dominated by corporations and political patronage. It's simply a pooling of ideas and resources to create marketing opportunities. This is
about creating opportunity for local food producers to get their products "mainstream" and to create some awareness and generate some income for LOCALLY businesses. The "trappings of entrepreneurial capitalism". Are you kidding me, it's what MADE America. You're FOR socialism and handouts? You're missing a KEY part of this. It's PRIVATE BUSINESSES. Nobody asked for your tax dollars and nobody told you that you had to participate.

SERIOUSLY AND RESPECTFULLY, go get some information. "We should be going the other direction". That's what this is. This is about helping people to no longer be "poor". To give them opportunities to help themselves. And it's all about FREE WILL AND FREE MARKETS.

Strikeslip said...

Rod -
All I can say is be careful of whom you associate with. When you drill down into the BALLE site and see who the sponsors are and what some of their objectives are, I think there is more on the agenda than private business and the bait of fresh food and farmers' markets.

Just focus on getting fresh local food out to people and you'll be OK.

Anonymous said...

I am having a hard time with understanding Rod's point. Why cannot local food growers get their product's to market now? We go to farmers markets all over the place around here and elsewhere. We also go to Walmart. What is the problem? Local business has been "forced" out when it could not compete. That's how it should be. Consumer choices abound more than ever in our society.

Strikeslip said...

"Why cannot local food growers get their product's to market now? " -- Now THAT's the $64,000 question (or should I say 64 Million dollar question with the beating the dollar has taken since that phrase was coined).

It is personally disturbing to me that when I go to my grocers to buy garlic, it comes from China 12,000 miles away when there are a number of garlic producers who are local. Are the costs of doing business here THAT much higher that garlic cannot be sold through the usual food outlets at a profit? or is there some other prohibition or hindrance like some kind of regulation? I don't know the answer but would be interested in hearing from someone who may know. Rod?