Friedman Policy Corner: A Call to Action for Aspiring Food Activists

by Ayten Salahi (MS/RD-FPAN) and Marielle Hampton (MS-AFE)

On February 5, the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) convened its inaugural meeting. Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern stopped by to offer words of wisdom, encouragement, and a call to action.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern offers words of wisdom at the inaugural meeting of new Tufts advocacy group, Friedman Food Policy Action Council.

Congressman Jim McGovern surprised Tufts students with an impromptu visit at the first meeting of the newly formed Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) on February 5, one week before the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019. Congressman McGovern, champion of anti-hunger causes and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, was visiting the school to discuss his recently launched bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group in the House Hunger Caucus.

During the meeting, Congressman McGovern expressed his appreciation for the student initiative to get involved in advocacy, since “academia doesn’t always translate into activism.” When FFPAC founding member Ayten Salahi requested words of wisdom for students looking to get involved in political action, McGovern chuckled. “This is the toughest year you could have picked to get started, but that’s why it’s so incredibly important.”

He urged students to remember that people in government are supposed to be working for them. Even in the current political climate, he said, “pressure works.”

So how can students and citizens help? “Every elected official has one thing in common: they want to get re-elected. These issues are important enough that these people need to know if they’re not with you, you’re not with them. There has to be consequences… Nobody would tell you they’re pro-hunger, but judgment should be based on actions.

The Congressman then offered a crucial piece of advice that he adopts in his professional and personal life: Correct misinformation and provide facts.

Even in Congress, falsehoods are repeated regularly. He makes a point to correct the record, whether at a family dinner or among colleagues. “The average SNAP benefit is only about $1.40 per person per meal and the majority of people on SNAP are kids and senior citizens or disabled,” he explained. “The majority of beneficiaries who can work, work. The majority of people on SNAP are white, despite misconceptions. The USDA has been very effective at cracking down on SNAP fraud.”

Congressman McGovern’s guidance to hold our elected officials accountable may prove especially important for food and nutrition advocates this year, with changes to the Farm Bill slotted for congressional review in March.

On Monday, February 12th, the Trump administration announced its budget request for fiscal year 2019, which included a plan to cut 30% – $214 billion – from the SNAP budget over the course of 10 years. The proposed “cost-savings” would result from a major shake-up in the program’s benefit structure. Among the proposed changes, one has received significant publicity: Instead of receiving monthly funds loaded into EBT cards as is currently done, SNAP beneficiaries receiving $90 or more per month would receive half of their benefits in the form of a “USDA Foods Package,” packed with predetermined food items specifically chosen for their long shelf life. The package would include cereals, pastas, canned foods, peanut butter, and shelf-stable milk. Notably, no fresh fruits and vegetables would be included. No one has seen if or how these changes would be reflected in the 2018 Farm Bill.

While the administration calls the proposal a “cost-effective, Blue-Apron-style approach” with “no loss in food benefits to participants,” stakeholders are skeptical that the proposed “Harvest Box” is anything more than a distraction from work underway behind the scenes to slash federal funding for food assistance programs. Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says, “I don’t think there’s really any support for their box plan. And, I worry that it’s a distraction from the budget’s proposal to cut SNAP by some 30 percent. That’s the real battle. But all anyone is talking about today are the boxes.” Ranking democrat on the agricultural committee Senator Debbie Stabenow also cautions that this “isn’t a serious proposal and is clearly meant to be a distraction.” Shortly following the release of the budget proposal, administration officials admitted that the food box plan had “virtually no chance of being implemented anytime soon,” rousing further suspicion around the administration’s motives in publicizing it so widely.

During his visit with FFPAC, Congressman McGovern expressed similar concerns, and emphasized how important it is that food policy activists and SNAP beneficiaries alike demand transparency from members of the House Committee on Agriculture on the drafting of the 2018 Farm Bill. Despite his role as Democratic ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Nutrition, Congressman McGovern shared that neither he nor his Republican counterpart has seen a single sentence of the updated Farm Bill, now under review with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). He cautioned this lack of transparency around the latest draft as “a sign that someone is hiding something.”

Though it remains to be seen, the bill is anticipated to reflect significant reductions in the federal SNAP budget, which will have a direct and jarring impact on the sustenance and economic freedom of nearly 46 million low-income Americans who depend on the program to nourish both themselves and their families.

In his closing remarks, Congressman McGovern issued a call to action for us at Friedman – and for all those invested in the protection of health equity, food security, and social welfare – to call our representatives, and to demand transparency around the content of the latest Farm Bill, and when it will be made available for review. In the coming months, FFPAC pledges to maintain a finger on the pulse of the upcoming Farm Bill and rally advocates to hold representatives accountable for votes that jeopardize SNAP program benefits.

Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Our mission is to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. For more information, or to join FFPAC, please contact friedmanfpac@gmail.com

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets and nutrition equity. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Marielle Hampton is a first-year MS candidate in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program and a co-founder of FFPAC. Marielle began her studies at Friedman after spending five years working with small farmers on Hawai‘i Island.

UN ECOSOC Recap: Building a Sustainable Future

by Laura Barley

In January, second year AFE student Laura Barley served as a student representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in New York City. Empowered youth from across the globe gathered with governmental officials to share ideas about how to achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Here, she recounts her experience and shares some of the key takeaways from the event.

Image source: Author

Image source: Author

For two days at the end of January, I was given the opportunity to travel alongside four fellow Tufts student representatives to the ECOSOC Youth Forum at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The forum was a whirlwind of speeches, brainstorming sessions, and long-winded discourse from youth representatives and official ministries from all over the world—all putting their heads together to decide how to best empower the future.

ECOSOC, abbreviated from the UN Economic and Social Council, regularly holds these types of events to integrate policy frameworks that support the Sustainable Development Goals from the ground up. For those unfamiliar with the SDGs, they were created by the UN in 2015 as a comprehensive platform of 17 goals that cover the world’s most pressing issues: gender equality, hunger and malnutrition, and climate change mitigation, among many others.

By popular consensus, the SDGs are seen as a much-needed improvement from the UN’s previous set of Millennium Development Goals, which many viewed as too vague and intangible. Instead the SDGs work to define timely, measurable goals that nations can properly mobilize—for instance, reducing current levels of food waste by half, or completely eradicating poverty for people living on less than $1.90 a day.

Fostering the notion that young people have exceptional power to drive social change, the Youth Forum focused specifically on six SDGs that dealt with clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, sustainable consumption and production, life on land, and technological innovation, and how to empower youth to achieving these goals.

The structure of the forum allowed participants to choose only one SDG-focused brainstorming session, and as the pious AFE student that I am, I naturally gravitated towards the session on SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production. Voices from Great Britain, Nepal, and Saudi Arabia all echoed sentiments familiar to the halls of Jaharis—we’re consuming too much and too quickly for our planet to withstand. We ought to know better by now, but we’re not living up to our own standards as we should be. And under the framework of youth empowerment, the subtext of these truisms begged the question: how can we raise our children to be more mindful than we’ve been?

The voices from developed nations, including my own American perspective, maintained that serious gaps in our educational institutions preclude most youth from even realizing that their choices have an impact on the natural environment. Exposure to nature, agriculture, and nutrition have become secondary and tertiary priorities in most public school systems, which ultimately neglects the chance to positively influence the consumers that all children will become.

So, when it came time to distill our ideas into concrete policy recommendations, we converged on a few points central to the evolution of education. We recommended increasing diverse and equitable educational experiences across all types of school systems, emphasizing focus on transforming the mindsets of youth from those of a consumer towards those of a producer. In this sense, sustainable development means an expanded awareness of the relationship between consumption and production, and that even the simplest of our everyday choices has the power to influence how the world’s natural resources are used.

Image source: Author

Image source: Author

Ultimately, the participants’ recommendations will be compiled into a broader report on youth engagement published by the United Nations, reflecting official policy goals of the signatory countries to the SDGs. And though I gleaned constructive insight into the annals of UN procedure—how they gather information, how they form their policy stances—I found that the hallway conservations I had with my peers were far more valuable. These events function to tap into the infinite potential of minds with vision and hope, and the sum of our parts are starting to become an incredibly powerful whole. Earnestly, I hope to see the Tufts community continue to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals at this level and beyond.

Laura Barley is a second-year Agriculture, Food, and Environment master’s student ceaselessly curious about the complexity that global food systems has to offer. She’s always happy to indulge conversation at laurabarley88@gmail.com.

A Statement of Support to our Colleagues at the Fletcher School

by The Friedman Justice League

The Friedman Justice League responds to Anthony Scaramucci’s resignation from the Advisory Board at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on November 28, 2017. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jdarsie11 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Friedman Justice League, with support from the Friedman Sprout, is writing to state its solidarity with the students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who bravely spoke out when they felt that a member of the Fletcher Advisory Board was not upholding the school’s core values. As a student organization, The Friedman Justice League is committed to finding ways to allow the Friedman community to better address issues of discrimination and oppression in its teachings, research, and programs. We believe the actions taken by fellow students at the Fletcher school reflect this same mission, and for that we affirm our support.

On November 28, financier and former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci resigned from the Fletcher School’s Advisory Board after students and faculty rightly called attention to the discrepancy between his unethical behavior and the values befitting a Fletcher School board member. Earlier in November, Camilo Caballero, a graduate student at Fletcher, wrote an op-ed calling for Scaramucci’s removal from the board, following a petition by fellow student Carter Banker to remove Scaramucci from the board. In the op-ed, he described Scaramucci as an “irresponsible, inconsistent and unethical opportunist,” questioning his position on the Advisory board. They feared that the university was foregoing the long-term benefit of upholding its core values for the short-term benefit of monetary gain. Clearly, the actions Scaramucci took towards Caballero–to threaten a lawsuit because of our fellow student’s opinion–illustrate that his values may no longer align with those of the school, and thus he was no longer fit to continue serving on the board.

Our colleagues at the Fletcher school held themselves accountable for creating the change they wished to see within their institution. Rather than resigning themselves to defeat, they took action when they perceived an injustice. They took action when they perceived that “the power of money [was] taking precedent over the power of values.” We stand in solidarity with the brave steps taken by Camilo Caballero and Carter Banker.

We recognize that our Fletcher colleagues Caballero, Banker, and the editors and staff at The Tufts Daily published their articles at great personal risk to themselves, and we applaud them for doing so. In a statement on behalf of the Friedman Sprout, current co-editor Kathleen Nay says,Though we hope our writers would never feel intimidated or harassed into silence by outside forces, the Friedman Sprout upholds its commitment to empowering students’ voices, especially when challenging injustices in our school’s administration and in our food system more broadly.”

In keeping with the University’s vision “to be an innovative university of creative scholars…who have a profound impact on one another and the world,” we should be proud of our Fletcher colleagues for demonstrating the power of democratic free speech, civic engagement, and commitment to values over financial gain. We hope that should an occasion ever arise, the community at the Friedman School would respond with the same amount of conviction and integrity these students exemplified. The Friedman School prides itself in generating trusted science, educating future leaders, and creating a positive impact in the world of food and nutrition. We know that this is only truly possible if we have trusted experts and citizens at the helm guiding it in the right direction. Anything short of this would place the credibility of Friedman, and by extension the science and policy its research generates, at risk.

Moving forward, we also believe it is in the best interest of the university to develop a process for removing board members that are no longer fit to advise our school. Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins noted that there is no known precedent for removing an advisor from a board; they have only resigned when new positions create conflicts of interest. Although in this case Scaramucci resigned, we believe that no person should take being placed in such an honorable position for granted, and that as representatives of our institution they should be held to the highest standards of morality both within and outside of board meetings. We hope that the administration will take action to ensure that only those who continue to uphold the university’s values continue to have the privilege of a seat on the Board of Advisors.

With the brave voices of a few, our colleagues at the Fletcher school made national waves and created an impact that we believe makes Tufts University a more just and ethically consistent institution. We reaffirm our support of the actions of our fellow students. They inspire us at Friedman to remember to be vigilant, to speak up, and to never underestimate the power of your own voice.

In solidarity,

The Friedman Justice League
Alejandra Cabrera, NICBC 18
Tessa Salzman, AFE/UEP 18
Julie Kurtz, AFE/MPH 18
Casey Leger, NICBC 18
Yvonne Socolar, AFE 18
Kristin Sukys, AFE 18
John VanderHeide, AFE/UEP 18
Kirsten Archer, FPAN/MPH 17
Kathleen Nay, AFE/UEP 18
Eliza Hallett, NICBC 19
Alyssa Melendez, AFE 19
Hannah Meier, NutComm 18
Michelle Darian, NICBC/MPH 19
Megan Maisano, NICBC 18
Sara Scinto, NICBC 18
Jennifer Oslund, FPAN 19
Sabrina Kerin, AFE, 19
Jennifer Pustz, NICBC/MPH 19
Leah Powley, AFE 18
Michelle Rossi, NICBC/MPH 18
Hattie Brown, FPAN 19
Ryan Nebeker, AFE 19
Eliot Martin, FPAN 19
Maria Wrabel, FPAN, 18
Katherine Rancaño, NEPI 17/NICBC 20
Rachel Baer, NICBC 18
Madeline Bennett, FPAN 17
Alana Davidson, FPAN 19
Simon Ye, BMN 17/20
Jessica Manly, AFE 18
Caitlin Matthews, AFE/UEP 17
Amy Byrne, AFE/MPH 19
Ayten Salahi, FPAN/DPD 20
Theodore Fitopoulos, FPAN 18
Kimberly Lagasse, NICBC 18
Rachel Hoh, AFE/ UEP 19
Molly Knudsen, NICBC 19
Victoria Chase, AFE 18
Caitlin Bailey, NICBC 19
Sarah Chang, AFE/MPH 16
Suzanne Kline, FPAN 19
Carla Curle, AFE 16
Hannah Packman, AFE 16
Dianna Bartone, FPAN/MPH 17
Elisabeth Learned, NICBC 19
Bridget Gayer, FPAN/MPH 18
Abel Sandoval, NICBC 18
Rebecca Cohen, BMN 19
Nayla Bezares, AFE 19
Sabina C Robillard, FPAN 17
Laura Gallagher, AFE 19
Natalie Kaner, AFE 18
Lindsay Margolis, NICBC 17
Tori Wong, AFE 18
Megan Lehnerd, N14/PhD 18
Laura Walsh, NICBC 19
Alison Brown, FPAN 17
Marielle Hampton, AFE 19
Christine Sinclair, NICBC 19
Rebecca Boehm, AFE 12/17
Johanna Andrews Trevino, FPAN 18

How Nutrition in MassCare May Put The ‘Health’ Back in ‘Universal Health Coverage’

by Ayten Salahi & Hattie Brown

Including local incentives for food equity and nutritional status may boost momentum and potential of the MA Right to Health movement. Members of budding student group – the Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) – met with Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge to discuss the need to include nutrition in a proposed cost analysis of a single payer health system (S.2202).

Pictured left to right: Ayten Salahi (MS/RD Candidate), Kurt Hager (MS/MPH Candidate), Senator Jamie Eldridge, Alana Davidson (MS Candidate). 22 NOV 2017

In thousands of American households, the prohibitive cost of healthcare has forced families into an impossible position: choose between financial ruin or the health decline and possible death of a loved one. In Massachusetts, this bleak reality has motivated both the state legislature and its constituents to revive a movement in favor of a single payer healthcare system. However, the degree to which nutrition interventions and food access will be covered in the proposed model remains largely unknown.

The central tenet of a single payer scheme under universal health coverage (UHC) is that health care is a human right. The proposed legislation in Massachusetts seeks to offer and protect healthcare for all residents through a publicly-financed program that provides comprehensive care and coverage under a single insurance plan. The single payer public option would serve as an alternative to employer-sponsored healthcare, in which premiums are paid through payroll deductions, coupled with co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles. For middle- and lower-income beneficiaries, a single payer system means lower cost for better access to care.

In Massachusetts, the single-payer campaign has reached unprecedented support with 120 co-signers under a 2017 proposal colloquially called MassCare (H. 2987, S. 619). Though neither of the proposed legislation were passed this year, an amended bill (S. 2202) was passed with overwhelming support by the state Senate on November 10 by a 33-6 vote (all six Republicans in the chamber being against). S.2202 authorizes a cost analysis of a state-wide single payer system, and will be reviewed by the House in early 2018.

While MassCare holds promising potential to reduce healthcare spending for both the state and per capita, the proposed legislation does not explicitly or implicitly include nutrition interventions as a line item for consideration in the single payer costing analysis. Historically, UHC policy-makers have deemed nutrition-related services as non-essential, and therefore not covered by insurance. The World Bank refutes this trend, and reports that to accelerate progress towards affordability and access of care requires a “fundamental rethinking of how to keep people healthy.” The recommendations go on to cite regulatory measures targeted to improve diet-related behavior as seminal to the public health agenda. Just last year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) further urged policy-makers to include access to adequate nutrients as an essential service in all UHC programs.

To learn more about how nutrition might fit into the proposed single payer costing analysis, three members of the nascent, student-run Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) took to the Massachusetts State House in late November to meet with single payer champion and state Senator Jamie Eldridge. FFPAC emphasized that, as Massachusetts prepares to analyze the cost effectiveness of single payer models as outlined in S.2202, additional resources should be allocated to determine the efficacy of funding nutrition therapy programs within the model. To achieve this, FFPAC proposed that the MA single payer costing analysis include: 1) medical nutrition therapy coverage for patients with, or at risk for, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular disease (CVD); 2) enteral nutrition coverage as outlined in MassHealth; 3) food insecurity screenings for all patients; and 4) tailored food prescriptions for low-income patients.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge, lead Senate sponsor of An Act Establishing Medicare For All in Massachusetts, said, “I was excited to meet with graduate students from the Friedman School of Nutrition, to discuss how preventative health, including nutrition interventions, would be a key component of single payer healthcare, and would help reduce healthcare costs in Massachusetts.”

As the proposed bill continues to undergo revision and review into 2018, FFPAC will continue to advocate that Massachusetts – home of the healthcare law that led to the Affordable Care Act –should again lead by investing in nutritional therapy programs in a single payer model as a method to improve the health of its citizens, lower healthcare costs, and lower the tax burdens of its residents.

The Friedman Food Policy Action Council (FFPAC) is a developing student-run organization of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. The group will be formally established in December 2017, with a mission to advance evidence-based nutrition and agricultural policies in support of public and environmental health, by equipping students with the skills and relationships necessary to impact policy through advocacy. FFPAC will host its general interest meeting in the early 2018. For further information, please contact friedmanfpac@googlegroups.com. Stay tuned for opportunities to join us and amplify the voice of food advocates in 2018!

Ayten Salahi is a first-year FPAN MS/RD candidate, co-founder of the FFPAC, and is dedicated to the future of policy, programming, and clinical practice in sustainable diets. Ayten came to Friedman after working as a molecular and clinical researcher in neuropharmacology and diabetes management for nearly 8 years.

Hattie Brown is an MS candidate in the FPAN program, and a co-founder of FFPAC. Her interests at Friedman are in the economic implications of food systems, with a focus on the intersection of sustainable agriculture and access to nutritious food. Before coming to Friedman, Hattie worked as a researcher in various capacities, including legal, for a public finance firm, and clinical, for a study analyzing phytochemical compounds in cocoa and their impacts on satiety.

 

 

Friedman Policy Corner: Massachusetts’s First Farm to School Awareness Day at the State Capitol

by Alana Davidson

October is National Farm to School Month. To celebrate, Massachusetts Farm to School hosted the first Farm to School Awareness Day at the state Capitol on October 26th. Alana Davidson recounts what happened at the event, and details current legislation that is being considered on Farm to School and ways to get involved and support strong Farm to School programs.  

Dozens of students, advocates, and government officials flocked to the state Capitol on October 26th for the first Farm to School Awareness Day, as part of National Farm to School Month. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 spurred the creation of Farm to School programs to provide grants and technical assistance to schools so they can provide more locally grown food in school meals. This State House event reflected on the progress Massachusetts has made in expanding Farm to School programs, as well as what more needs to be done.

The speakers at the event ranged from United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to state senators. The USDA’s Farm to School Director, Erin Healy, spoke about the importance of these programs, and how the USDA 2015 Census of Farm to School found that 68% of Massachusetts’ school districts participated in these activities. That is 828 schools and 422,072 students! Rob Leshin, Director of Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Education, added that Farm to School programs have led to the investment of over $10 million in local foods. The locally grown food is not just being used in school lunch, but also in school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool snack programs. Leshin also described how some schools are including local seafood in school meals. During lunchtime students get to eat Tilapia, the “Catch of the Day” that was caught that morning. Students learn about local fishermen and where and how their seafood is caught. The chairs of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, Senator Gobi and Congressman Pignatelli, also spoke. They expressed their support for Farm to School programs and recognized the importance of connecting local farmers with students and school meals. Having the support of the chairs is important because they can influence what bills ought to pass out of committee and what amendments are accepted or rejected. Also, if the House and Senate pass different bills, the chair is in charge of the committee that combines the two bills into one final version.

Photo: Alana Davidson. Rob Leshin Speaking

There is currently one bill in the Massachusetts congress that affects Farm to School programs (An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias, H.3549). The bill includes a three-year grant program to fund kitchen upgrades for one school each year, with the goal of improving fresh food accommodation and storage. Additionally, a four-year pilot grant program will provide funds to multiple schools to increase their supplies of locally grown foods in school meals, and improve student education and engagement around healthy eating. Finally, the bill establishes a School Interagency Task Force that will aim to increase the sustainability of Farm to School programs in Massachusetts, and provide guidance for the four-year grant. This bill has been introduced in the Joint Committee on Education and has had one hearing thus far on July 18th. Next, the bill is “reported out of committee”, which means committee members must decide if the bill ought to pass or not. They have until the third Wednesday of March 2018 to do this. If they decide it ought to pass the bill can then be debated and amendments added before the full House and Senate vote it on.

Farm to School programs help increase students’ access to healthy, nutritious food in schools. They also stimulate local economies by directing money to local farms and fisheries. These programs can be expanded by providing more funding to schools to increase educational activities, improve kitchen equipment, and strengthen local food systems through greater procurement policies with local farms.

If you are a supporter of these programs, contact your state members of Congress and tell them to support H.3549 and strong Farm to School programs! To find your legislator, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Also, tell your legislators to maintain the current funding for Farm to School programs ($120,000) in the fiscal year 2019 Massachusetts’s Budget!

If you do not live in Massachusetts, or are interested in federal policy (as opposed to state policy) – the Farm to School Act of 2017 is currently in committee in the House and Senate. This bill increases mandatory funding for the program from $5 million to $15 million due to increased demand. Tell your federal members of Congress to support this bill and strong Farm to School programs! To find your members, call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

Alana Davidson is a first year MS candidate in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program. For the last three years she has interned in the anti-hunger field at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Share Our Strength, and End Hunger Connecticut!. Her research and advocacy have centered on domestic food insecurity and nutrition issues.

 

On the Present Past and the Struggle for Land Justice

by Kathleen Nay

On Wednesday, September 20th, Grassroots International hosted a reading and panel discussion with authors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons at the Tufts Health Sciences Campus. The event was co-sponsored in part by the Tufts Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEP) program, Friedman Justice League, and Friedman Student Council. Student Kathleen Nay reflects on what she learned. (A version of this article was also published at UEP’s Practical Visionaries blog.)

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Land Justice Book Tour. Photo: Kathleen Nay

In undergrad, I had a history professor who liked to remind us that “the past is always present.” He opened each class period with a quirky anecdote tying the distant past to today. We learned things like the origin of the phrase “to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and the ancient beginnings of practices we think of as quite modern: applying makeup or playing table games. He used the phrase as a mnemonic device to encourage students to remember the importance of history. While most of the historical snippets he shared escape me now, the idea that the roots of the past reach like tendrils into the present is something I still think about often.

But history is not always a quirky story about babies and bathwater. For many, historical oppression manifests as inherited present-day trauma. I’ve been reminded of this throughout my time in the Friedman and UEP programs, where I’m not only learning what it means to be an expert in my field (environmental and agricultural policy), but also where I’m learning to confront privilege in my life and practice, so as not to become a policy “expert” who ignores the lived experiences of others.

On the evening of September 20, around sixty people gathered to hear from the editor and coauthors of a new book from Food First, entitled Land Justice: Re-imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States. Land justice is the idea that people and communities that have been historically oppressed have a right to land and territory. The book’s 20 contributors examine themes of privilege in property ownership; black agrarianism and liberation; women’s work on the land; indigenous leadership; migration and dispossession; the implications of transnational food regimes; land-based racism; and finally, opportunities for activism and healing. Notably, the volume includes a chapter on land access written by Caitlyn Hachmyer, a 2013 alum of Tufts University’s Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy program.

The evening began with a short mistica ceremony that grounded us, leading us to reflect on our relationship with the Earth and our place upon it. We honored those who have sacrificed (and are sacrificing) everything on the front lines of land justice; and reflected upon the ways in which we might continue learning and offering solidarity to those fighting for land justice. On the ground in front of us were seeds, soil, and signifiers of the struggle against capitalist interests and colonialist occupiers of contested land.

Mistica Ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Mistica ceremony. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Director of Food First and coeditor of the new book, Eric Holt-Gimenez opened with a reading from the volume’s introduction, which reflects on a mythos well-known to Americans and to New Englanders in particular, wherein Squanto [Tisquantum] shows the pilgrims how to plant herring alongside corn, to nourish the crop and ensure a plentiful harvest. What the mythic Thanksgiving story fails to capture, however, is that Tisquantum was a captive of European explorers. While held in Europe for 16 years, his tribes—the Massasoit and Wampanoag peoples of the “New World”—were decimated by disease introduced by the colonists who overtook their homeland.

The story of early America doesn’t offer much more hope for agrarianism. Over the next centuries, dispossessed British, Nordic, and European peasants led the transition from agrarianism to the Industrial Revolution, and over time agriculture became less about feeding people and more about feeding the capitalist machine that is corporate agriculture. Holt-Gimenez’s introduction to the book sets the historical stage by emphasizing that “racial injustice and the stark inequities in property and wealth in the US countryside aren’t just a quirk of history, but a structural feature of capitalist agriculture… In order to succeed in building an alternative agrarian future, today’s social movements will have to dismantle those structures.” When you begin to examine—really examine—the root causes of hunger in our country, he says, it all comes back to the land. The past is always present.

But there are seeds of resistance, and their stories are told in Land Justice.

The first author to speak at Wednesday’s panel was Kirtrina Baxter, whose contribution to the book centers on black women healing through innate agrarian artistry. In her talk, she introduced the concept of women as seed keepers. “Black women’s acts of creating are often relegated to carrying the seeds of the human population,” Baxter and her chapter coauthors write, but “through historical and contemporary narratives of Black women agrarians, activists, and organizers, we describe innate agrarian artistry as the creative, feminine use of land-based resistance to simultaneously preserve the people and soil.” Baxter et al. acknowledge women as creators—not simply as prolific wombs, but also as literal and spiritual seed keepers, carrying on the traditions of seed saving and telling “seed stories,” (the cultural missives that get passed down along with the seeds). Baxter’s chapter in Land Justice celebrates the historical resistance “of which Black women have woven quilts, sang spirituals, and foraged from the land for survival.”

Suyapa Gonzalez was the next panelist to speak. Though not a contributing author, Gonzalez is an organizer with GreenRoots, a community-based organization in Chelsea, Massachusetts committed to achieving environmental justice through collective action, unity, education, and youth leadership. Through a translator, she gave a rousing appeal for land justice in Chelsea, where much of the soil is contaminated from years of chemical dumping, and where 72% of households are renter-occupied. “After God, it is to la madre Tierra that we owe our lives. If [our Mother Earth] dies, we will also die,” she opened, and ended with a call for everyone to demand better protections for the land that gives life.

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, Suyapa Gonzalez (and Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

Panel speakers from left: Eric Holt-Gimenez, Kirtrina Baxter, Hartman Deetz, and Suyapa Gonzalez (with Friedman AFE student, Nayla Bezares, translating). Photo: Kathleen Nay

The final coauthor to speak was Hartman Deetz, a member of the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe and an activist for land justice and indigenous rights. Deetz owns two acres of Mashpee land in Cape Cod—two acres of land, he emphasized, which has perpetually been under Mashpee ownership and never owned by white men. He pointed out that North America is entirely stolen land, evidenced by the many places across the continent bearing now-familiar American and Canadian names, but rooted in indigenous words: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts; Narragansett, Rhode Island; Nashua, New Hampshire; the Dakotas; Ottawa, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; even Massachusetts itself. It’s a long list.

But the taking of indigenous land is not simply a footnote in the distant past. Here too, the past is present. Today the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe is fighting the government for federal recognition of their tribal status and rights to retain ownership over 11,000 acres of ancestral land. Unfortunately, it’s a situation not unique to the Mashpee; in his Land Justice chapter, Deetz recounts his experience standing alongside the Standing Rock Sioux in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. People are still losing lives and livelihoods in the struggle for land justice.

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Small group discussions. Photo: Kathleen Nay

The evening closed with a chance for attendees to break into small groups for discussion and reflection. My group took the opportunity to consider just how present the past really is. We reflected on how the histories of indigenous peoples and people of color, so deeply tied to land ownership (or lack thereof), are all but erased in our culture. I left with a deeper resolve to seek out those hidden histories, to use my profession and practice to amplify efforts for democratic community control of land, and to lend my support to organizations that do the same.

Kathleen Nay is a third year AFE/UEP dual degree student. This summer she discovered Native-Land.ca, a resource to help North Americans learn more about the indigenous histories and languages of the region where they live. If you have a zip or postal code, you too can learn more about your home on native land.