War, Peace, Farming, and Art

Returning to civilian life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, a growing group of veterans find refuge through art and farming. Republished from Fresh Dirt Ithaca.

Nathan Lewis in the greenhouse.
Photos by Lauren DeCicca.

In a humid greenhouse on the backroads of Trumansburg, Nathan Lewis, a 28-year old veteran of the Iraq war, weaves through a maze of of tables, hoses, and water tanks, pointing out the various plants he and other members of the Veterans’ Sanctuary are cultivating this year—chives, licorice, a hardy citrus tree, a hardy kiwi, a curling willow.

It’s an odd selection for upstate New York, but the veterans, who get most of their plants by donation, fill pools of water in the greenhouse to keep the air humid for the nonnative species. Despite their efforts, they can’t seem to solve their mouse problem, which raises the question: How does a peaceful, antiwar group like this one deal with pests?

“My friend John said to ask them nicely to leave,” Lewis says. “After a while, I’m inclined to stomp on them.”

The Veterans’ Sanctuary, which was set up to help soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan acclimate to civilian life, is a recent addition to the list of project partners at Cornell’s Center for Transformative Action. Located in an Italianate house on a hill overlooking the village of Trumansburg, the sanctuary endeavors to create a new model for healing from war trauma—one that involves peer support, reconnection with nature through farming, and a connection to self-expression through art. Continue reading

The US Food Aid Industry: Food for Peace or Food for Profit?

Republished from Food First: Institute for Food & Development Policy and written by Brock Hicks.

Posted March 26th, 2013 by kerssen

On February 21st, 69 organizations submitted a letter to President Barack Obama in support of continued funding for Public Law 480 (also known as Food for Peace) and Food for Progress international food aid programs in the FY 2014 budget, and opposing rumored proposals to shift resources to local and regional commodity procurement. The signatory organizations were comprised almost exclusively by the iron triangle of US food aid spending recipients (the US agribusiness, shipping, and international development industries). Funding, which is attached to the Farm Bill, has been reauthorized by President Obama under Title VII of the fiscal cliff legislation through this September. However, these food aid programs depend on congressional appropriations, which have only been approved through March 27th. Big changes, or more of the same, could be in store for food aid legislation in the near future[1].

Currently, US food aid is dominated by in-kind donations (direct gifts of food)-an infamously inefficient system-and monetization, a system in which US agricultural commodities are donated to development organizations so that they can sell them to fund projects. This approach to food aid has been widely criticized for decades, including by the Congress’ Government Accountability Office. The NGO Oxfam, once a beneficiary of PL 480, has been calling for food aid reform for years, putting an emphasis on the need for local commodity procurement. CARE, one of the three major NGO distributors of US food aid across the world, recently followed suit. Canada and Europe have shifted nearly all food aid resources away from in-kind distribution in favor of local procurement. The US, sticking to its M.O., is the loner; in 2007, 99.3% of US food aid was in-kind. Continue reading

Peace, Food and our Future

Geoff Tansey will be in Toronto to present “Tinkering or Transformation: going beyond food and energy security for a well-fed world at peace” at the University of Toronto on Tuesday, April 16th.

2:00pm – 4:00pm
Anthropology Building, 19 Russell Street, AP246

He will discuss the range of innovations needed if we are to avoid food and farming becoming a source of conflict in the 21st century. He will outline a new project with the working title ‘Food is a key to avoiding World War Three.’  The following article is republished from Geoff Tansey’s website:

Peace, Food and our Future

A key challenge this century is to create sustainable ways in which everyone can feed themselves well, in communities that peacefully cooperate with each other. If we humans carry on in the way we have let our leaders manage our affairs to date, then we are likely to see even greater conflict and loss of life this century than before – because of not despite our technological wizardry.

How we meet everyone’s food needs will be a key factor in shaping the kind of world we have this century. It is part of a real security agenda I have been concerned with for decades. It goes back to the shocking sight for me, when I was working in Turkey in the early 1980s, of visiting a village where the people could run out of water for some time in the summer when their wells dried up. This in sight of a well-provisioned NATO installation, there as part of an early warning system. Far too much of human ingenuity, creativity, money, research and development activity focuses on better means of killing each other not supporting each other.

After returning from Turkey in the mid-1980s I supported the World Development Movement in the late 1980s / early 1990s in looking at real security. This resulted in a couple of publications – a briefing, Disarm or develop and a paper Real Security – East, West, North and South - and campaigning activities. It also lead to the work with Paul Rogers, prof of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, and the book A World Divided.

UNGVA

Giant chair with broken leg sculpture outside the United Nations in Geneva – a symbol of opposition to land mines and cluster bombsThese weapons have made farming very hazardous or impossible in many areas where conflicts have raged. Continue reading

Peace Education in the Purest Sense

John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4′x5′ plywood board — and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages school kids, and why the complex lessons it teaches — spontaneous, and always surprising — go further than classroom lectures can.

Music to Spread the Word on Peace Through Food

It’s amazing just how many popular education tools are being created to spread the word about the importance of healthy eating, citizen engagement, and food systems these days.  Here are just a sampling of some of the latest (and oldies but goodies):

Tunataka Amani kwa Kenya / We Wish Peace for Kenya

In the summer of 2007, I spent two months living and working in Kenya with a youth group in the Kibera slums of Nairobi that had self-organized as SHOFCO, or Shining Hope for Communities, an association of young people dedicated to improving their own lives and opportunities for the future. It was during this trip that I met Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Editor-in-Chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development, who had worked extensively on issues of rural poverty, encouraging people to grow food gardens.  

As we remember the intense violence that occurred in January 2008 following the presidential elections, and look ahead to elections in March, we honour the work happening on the ground in Kenya to advocate for and promote peace.  This month, AJFAND has published an article devoted to Global Peace, while SHOFCO’s youth-run newsletter is devoted to the same subject.  Warm thanks to both organizations for their commitment to peace and to sharing their hopes and work through these written media.

AJFAND Volume 13, No. 1 Foreword (excerpt)

AJFAND online

The Year 2013 is already getting old. For us here in Kenya, it is our Jubilee year, marking 50 years since Kenya became independent from British colonialism after a hard fought war. People of my generation remember the celebrations, the hope that was exuded and the many promises our founding fathers made at the time, of better quality of life for all the citizens, who at the time were about 7 million.

Fifty years later, we are a population of approximately 44 million, with about 70% under the age of 35, many with a good education that was promised, but most of those educated now looking for jobs which are difficult to come by. I am aware unemployment is currently a problem world over, as economies struggle to survive; youth unemployment is even worse.

Exactly 5 years ago, around this time, Kenya was at the brink of disintegration, with vicious violence and burning, and massacres in a number of parts of the country, reason: The person that was expected to be announced as having won the election was relegated to the second slot. Prior to the elections, the polls were showing a close race, and in some cases, a tie. I see again now, the polls being used to sway the crowds, to say ”we are on the winning side and you better join us”. We need to sit back and keep reminding ourselves of what aspects were being set prior to the 2007 elections that might have contributed to the post-election violence then. I thought the US elections constituted TV drama for us; right now Kenyans are being treated to an even more intense drama right here at home. Why am I starting my Foreword for issue 56 of AJFAND with this? Well, I am aware most of my friends are aware of the political situation that is pertaining in Kenya now, and are worried about me and our country, given what happened in 2007/2008. Let me tell you that many Kenyans are also anxious and have resorted to prayer and fasting, and are hoping that all will be well. We are doing more than that though.

There are peace rallies, many of them spearheaded by young people. Everywhere people are preaching peace. Even as our government assures us of security, Kenyans are not sure because even in these “normal times”, there are many parts of the country like the Tana and northern Kenya which are not safe. This makes world news.

Editorial

Without Global Peace, we can never eradicate hunger or food insecurity, let alone enjoy the food we eat. Is it just me who is feeling it, or the world is truly seem more troubled? Are our leaders investing enough in trying to understand these trends? The world is now indeed a global village. The conflicts in different parts of the world, whether in Syria or in Mali or terrorist attacks in Nigeria or in my own country of Kenya, come to us direct on our media screens and more and more on our mobile phones.

We now live with these issues on a day-to-day basis. Strange occurrences are taking place all over the world; in addition to man precipitated events, there are also increased natural events, such as killer storms and floods. Then we have human tragedies such as child shootings in the USA and men exterminating their families for reasons not easy to understand. As we travel, we are made aware of the possible risks and threats out there that could manifest in different forms; it is the same when we enter buildings, when we walk in malls, and even when we live in our traditional homes in the villages. No one is spared.  I remember years back attending a seminar on bioterrorism and at the time, it sounded far-fetched; that is not the case anymore.

There are so many other situations which both you and I are aware of. In the past, we have worried about nuclear warfare; but just think about the many weapons that could be used to mass-kill? Are human minds being impacted differently by modern technology? Are we investing enough in forensic audits or in research on how the human mind is being affected by new events, new situations, new inventions? We talk of climate change as if it is an isolated event. What else is changing? Whatever we do, if we do not keep our eyes on the food situation, we may regret. There is so much going on that is diverting our thinking away from how we shall feed the world in the coming years, that it is about time this issue became our leaders’ priority. Even those in wars have to be fed, and those on the run from wars and disasters have to be fed too.

What we call climate change is being manifested in severe drought events where there have not been any, torrential rain for longer periods that could affect crop maturity and sun-drying of grain (for example in East Africa), new volcano eruptions, mudslides killing hundreds of people, and avalanches causing havoc. All these events disrupt lives and cause suffering for families, because there does not appear to be early warning signs in some of these areas, to enable mitigation arrangements. Lives are lost, property is destroyed and mothers, children and the elderly become more vulnerable. To fix all this requires money at a time when world economies are struggling. When people face financial challenges, or are uncertain about the future, their temperaments will clearly be affected. I know it happens to me. Whenever my mood changed when I was bringing up my children, they would ask me:  “Mummy, what has happened?” It is worse when you have others that depend on you. These “others” could be your parents who no longer have an income, your own children who have been used to a certain lifestyle or “others” such as orphans that you support as a charity function.  I recall during the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, I had 67 orphans/vulnerable children I was supporting with my own salary, and my worry afterwards was more about these children, whose futures had been shattered for no fault of theirs, and less about my own personal and economic security.

Immediately following this violence, Kenya was short of food and in fact our development partners had to come to our aid. As I open my computer to access my yahoo account, I am confronted by news, mostly bad, and of very strange happenings. A former journalist friend of mine told me: “Ruth, bad news sells”. While it sells and we read it, how are our brains affected? How do you explain criminal actions of a seemingly intelligent, quiet and friendly person with no criminal history? Are we seeing more and more of these cases, or is it just that now I can be in a village in Kenya and read of such an event happening in Australia? And if I have a criminal mind, will I be influenced by certain actions? What then triggers such minds to go into negative action? I am not a psychiatrist but being a teacher, I better be able to understand a bit of human nature. Are we investing enough in understanding these emerging events? We can talk of ensuring food security for all, which for now appears a battle we are losing, but we need to understand these new unsettling events, and try to do something about them. Can we use our efforts in agriculture to preach peace? How do we engage everyone in some productive action, good action that is? In my own country, young people do not want to be told” you are leaders of tomorrow”. Not anymore. They want to be leaders now because they feel left behind and out by successive governments, and by adults.

Young people have degrees because we wanted to have education, but what do we do when there are no jobs? We spend far too much time on other things than ensuring peaceful co-existence. With peaceful co-existence, we can focus of the right things in life, especially according to what your own religion teaches. Otherwise, as we hull abuses at others on the internet because nobody can see us, nations fight against each other, and we discriminate against other as if it were a right, we shall wake up to a disaster that wipes out our ability to feed ourselves and our loved ones, and at that time, we shall have NO choice.

Leaders need to invest more in peace efforts. Almost everywhere in the world, people are either in the streets demonstrating or fighting, for different reasons. In some areas citizens have realized that their rights are being violated and are, therefore, demanding them; in others, citizens want a piece of the national cake; in others still certain groups feel it is their turn to ascend to power; in others more, citizens are protesting long standing dynasties as they do not consider these democratic. In all these situations, emergency food aid is called for. In these situations of personal safety threats, food production takes a back seat as people are forced to move from their own areas of food production. Personal safety is paramount for food and nutrition safety, for personal growth and for national development. These are issues for us all to ponder.

By Ruth Oniang’o

Ruth was educated in Kenya and in the USA . She has worked in Kenya throughout her professional life, gaining her international experience through meetings and conferences and through participation in multi-national dialogues. Beyond her academic training, she has spent a considerable amount of time researching talking about food security and hunger issues. Ruth K. Oniang’o is the executive director of the Rural Outreach Program, a non-profit development organization that empowers women through agriculture and entrepreneurial projects. Prof.(Dr.) Oniang’o was a nominated member of Kenya ’s ninth parliament from 2003-2007 and served as Shadow Minister for Education. As a parliamentarian, she was Vice-Chair of Kenya’s Women Parliamentary Association and worked on the Sexual Offences Bill with fellow women colleagues, a landmark bill regarding punishment for sexual violence in Kenya and championed the passing of the Kenya Biosafety Bill and the Nutritionists and Dietetics Bills. Before becoming a member of the Kenyan Parliament, she was Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi , Kenya. Her areas of research and consultation are household food and nutrition security, women’s nutrition, child health, and community-level agro-processing and related enterprises. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Development ( AJFAND).She serves on a number of Boards (HarvestPlus, IRRI, IFDC until a year ago) to name a few.

Shining Hope for Communities Newspaper – Peace Edition

Click to read the Ghetto Mirror Peace Edition

Shining Hope for Communities combats intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality by linking tuition-free schools for girls to essential social services for all through a holistic, community-driven approach. By concretely linking essential health and economic services to a school for girls, we demonstrate that benefiting women benefits the whole community, cultivating a community ethos that makes women respected members of society.

Creature Comforts: Feeding Time

Creature Comforts was originally a short film produced by Nick Park and Aardman Animations showcasing animals in the zoo in a documentary-style series of interviews about their living conditions.  The actual interviews were conducted with residents of a senior’s home and a housing estate, offering poignant, unscripted views on life and space, which were then complemented by stop-motion claymation, giving each interviewee an animal persona.

This later spin-off is an episode of the TV series Creature Comforts, in which interviewees discuss their eating habits.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the way we carry out our lives and the thoughts we have about our own behaviours. Enjoy!

If you just can’t get enough, here’s a seasonal Creature Comforts clip Continue reading

The Artichoke

by Pablo Neruda
translation by Jodey Bateman

IMG_8729The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable,
By its side
The crazy vegetables
Uncurled
Their tendrills and leaf-crowns,
Throbbing bulbs,
In the sub-soil
The carrot
With its red mustaches
Was sleeping,
The grapevine
Hung out to dry its branches
Through which the wine will rise,
The cabbage
Dedicated itself
To trying on skirts,
The oregano
To perfuming the world,
And the sweet
Artichoke
There in the garden,
Dressed like a warrior,
Burnished
Like a proud
Pomegranate.

IMG_8722

And one day
Side by side
In big wicker baskets
Walking through the market
To realize their dream
The artichoke army
In formation.
Never was it so military
Like on parade.
The men
In their white shirts
Among the vegetables
Were
The Marshals
Of the artichokes
Lines in close order
Command voices,
And the bang
Of a falling box.IMG_7984

But
Then
Maria
Comes
With her basket
She chooses
An artichoke,
She’s not afraid of it.
She examines it, she observes it
Up against the light like it was an egg,
She buys it,
She mixes it up
In her handbag
With a pair of shoes
With a cabbage head and a
Bottle
Of vinegar
Until
She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

IMG_8719

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

What Can We Do?

As we read the news, witness changing climates, and experience our own daily struggles to access healthy, affordable, good food, we are left wanting to know, what can we do to transform this crazy food system? Or, at the very least, how can we find ways to cope with living within it?? Mark Menjivar‘s blog (from where our earlier refrigerator post originated) offers a starting point for constructive action.

What can one do? Here is a list, probably not definitive:

1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.

2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of “quality control”: you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat.

3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence.

4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate the whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers.

5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to the food that is not food, and what do you pay for those additions?

6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening.

7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

What do you do?