Digest This.

I’ve been reading a lot of food articles lately, and I’ve posted some of them to Facebook. Unfortunately I can’t devote the time to write entries in response to each, so I’m using this post as a sort of Marx and Bagels Digest, to give you some “food for thought,” if you will, as you read them yourself. And you should read them. I’m not kidding. I will be checking my clicks-to results in the stats of my blog, and it is so much easier to just do as I ask you to than make me track you down and throw you in the gulag.

Stop Describing Your Diet as “Clean Eating”
It doesn’t mean anything, or it probably doesn’t mean what other people think it means, and either way, it’s oversimplified. You just sound like a foodie elitist, which is really alienating to others that you may be trying to convince to eat better. Barf. Instead, emphasize whole foods, unprocessed foods, and whole grains in your diet and to others. Refer to processed foods or foods high in salt, sugar, and fat as “sometimes foods,” especially to children. I don’t see any room in the discourse of food justice to police anyone’s diet as “clean” or the clear opposite, “dirty;” the only conversation we need to have about labels is the one about nutritional facts.

What Farm to Table Got Wrong
News-flash: Life-stylism, the belief that if we just all changed to a better way of doing X pseudo-political activity, if we just vote with our dollars or our forks, doesn’t work. Shopping at Whole Foods doesn’t really make the world a better place. Sure, we should each do as much as we can to support union, local, Fair Trade, organic everything. Recycle. Be sustainable. But that is simply not enough. This article isn’t enough, either, but maybe it got some Subaru- or Prius-driving hippy to realize that we need system change in order to transform our food system.

Leave “Organic” Out of It
This article really does a marvelous job of speaking for itself. It summarizes my beliefs about GMOs quite well, and there is nothing further that I need to say about it except GO READ THIS ARTICLE.

Let’s Embrace the End of Food
Actually, let’s not. This is an excellent piece about the unfortunately-named food substitute Soylent, wherein Sunkara does a fine job of explaining how, if it doesn’t create a higher rate of exploitation, Soylent could end food insecurity. Sunkara raises interesting points that are worth considering, but no, let’s not embrace the end of food. Let’s embrace socialism, which will create ways of redistributing food and agriculture in sustainable and mutually-beneficial ways. And then let’s celebrate by having a banquet, because one of the things I look forward to most After the Revolution is the time, energy, and resources to prepare delicious, healthful food for my community.

Hipsters on Food Stamps
Surprisingly, I am okay with this.

That’s all for now. I have another article in the works about raising the minimum wage for fast food and restaurant workers, and there should be another about how that relates to the farmworkers’ rights movement. When those are up, you’ll be the first to know.

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Soda industry-funded study touts benefits of, shockingly enough, soda

Imagine, an industry-funded study only confirms what the industry wants it to. Color me shocked. SHOCKED.


Most people choose artificially-sweetened soda over regular soda to avoid packing on extra pounds. But what if you already choose diet? Would it be helpful to quit that too?

Dr. Jim Hill says he gets this question all the time from patients in his weight loss program at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

With funding from the American Beverage Association, Hill helped design a study that divided approximately 300 adults into two groups: One group would continue drinking diet, and the other group — referred to in the study as the “water group” — would go cold turkey. The study was published in the journal Obesity.

Both participant groups received intensive coaching on successful techniques for weight loss, including regular feedback on the meals they logged in journals.

“The results, to us, were not at all surprising,” says Hill.

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Poor diet puts 1/3 of kids on path to diabetes

Thanks for the insight, Eatocracy. I definitely learned something I didn’t already know.

I need a font for sarcasm.


Editor’s note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

It’s been a long time. A very long time. But I cannot forget my first school lunch.
Call it free or call it charity, but it was a good meal that provided me, and so many others, with sustenance that made our school days more delightful. Our meals honored the traditions of the time — red beans and rice with smoked sausage, bread and perhaps dessert. And of course every Friday we had fish sticks, potato salad or French fries.


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Fighting Poverty with Poverty

In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson began the Federal program Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) for young Americans to be the foot soldiers of the War on Poverty. VISTA was conceptualized as a domestic Peace Corps (which is an insidious tool of American imperialism itself). It eventually became housed in the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) in 1994, when the program was merged with Bill Clinton’s own national service program, AmeriCorps. All AmeriCorps members are committed to working for a nonprofit organization, typically for one calendar year. Corps members receive a small living stipend during our national service term, which is typically 105-110% of the Federal poverty line for the area in which they serve. That means that they are receiving the equivalent of a Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security-Disability Income payment each month, while working 40+ hours per week.

Cue that Onion article.

The majority of Corps members receive some kind of small end-of-service stipend, either a cash award (only for VISTAs) or an education award to be used for qualifying Federal loans or higher education programs. Members may also be eligible to put qualifying Federal loans into forbearance during their term of service, and the education award will be increased to cover the interest that accrues through forbearance.

The living, cash, and education stipends are all taxable, of course. So, don’t spend all of it all at once.

You may have guessed by now, if you didn’t already know, that I am a current AmeriCorps member as well as an alumna. I served for one year in an AmeriCorps State program, where I worked as the program manager for an after-school program and summer camp for teenagers living at the YWCA. Currently I am approaching the end of my second term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA, working in volunteer resources for a small food justice nonprofit. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I am looking down the barrel of my third year of National Service (you can just hear the capitals when people say this out loud) as a VISTA Leader, which amounts to a slight pay increase and a doubled cash stipend.

Throughout my career as an AmeriCorps member, I have worked to benefit individuals and families who were recipients of Federal aid programs, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Asssistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants and Children), Section 8 (housing vouchers), Cash Assistance, and Medicaid, while finding myself in a position to qualify and receive some of those benefits myself. It’s not as easy to become enrolled in these programs as the common myth would have you believe. Poverty itself is a full-time job.

Fifty years after Johnson declared War on Poverty in 1964, refugees still receive aid through food, housing, and medical subsidy programs. I doubt that he would have guessed that fifty years later, his foot soldiers would as well.

Because I am a VISTA, I am bound by the Hatch Act even though I am technically a “volunteer” and not an employee (which is a laughable distinction). Being an AmeriCorps member and a member of the “voluntariat” or a “volumployee” (or whatever other portmanteau) is a strange political space to occupy as a Marxist. I’m not supposed to participate in partisan politics while representing AmeriCorps. I cannot support a political candidate, particularly from one of the two major political parties. I cannot run for office. That doesn’t make a difference to me, because my Marxist political organization does not run candidates and we’re unlikely to, for quite a while.  I cannot represent VISTA in labor organizing, nor can I organize with my other Corps members. I cannot lobby for support of AmeriCorps, SNAP, or other programs. I cannot advocate for abortion (though when I worked for the YWCA, my insurance could cover an early term one). And so on.

I must apply for Medicaid to be in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. I must apply for SNAP in order to afford my groceries. But I can’t tell my legislators why, as a currently serving AmeriCorps member, why I need these programs and why I believe that others should have access to them as well.

I get to say that I chose to do AmeriCorps, I “chose” to live in poverty, and with more than an ounce of white guilt I get to use the phrase “poverty tourism.” But I get to get out of this at some point.

I get to get out of poverty.

But what choice did I really have, when after graduating from college, I applied for over 100 positions and only heard back from the AmeriCorps programs? When I received offers, they were only for AmeriCorps. When I left National Service to find gainful full-time employment, I couldn’t.

But I don’t know if I would make another choice, even if I had the chance.

My experiences with AmeriCorps have shaped many of my political beliefs. AmeriCorps has done more to make me a Marxist than four years of a private liberal arts college education ever could, and you can take that straight to the pundits on Faux News. It doesn’t take much to imagine that thrusting bright, passionate, educated young people into poverty would make them question capitalism, make them weary of the 40-hr workweek, and ultimately make them mad enough to do something about it. That’s why we’re not allowed to organize our own union or participate in labor organizing outside of our service. If we could, you better believe that we would.

Of course, the shtick is that AmeriCorps members earn poverty wages so they can “better understand” those they are serving (there’s that “poverty tourism” thing again), but it’s really a way of coaxing talented, educated, and experienced people into “doing what they love” for less money. Creating surplus value for the sheer pleasure of working, that’s the American way! But does it really “feel like work” if you really “enjoy” what you’re doing, or if it’s a calling?

Why do we have to sacrifice our standard of living in order to help people or feel good about our jobs? When did that become an expectation? Why?

I could go on, but I’d probably actually violate the Hatch Act — or give the U.S. Congress more reason to make an amendment to it (though they can’t be bothered to create an act that would align our health coverage program with the ACA’s new standards…). I do love AmeriCorps. I am proud of my service. But as a Marxist, I am critical of its implications. This won’t be the last time you’ll hear about it, either.


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A bit of fried and gory

I was out of town last week and while I was away, my Facebook wall became plastered with food-related articles from my friends. In addition to writing about them, I have at least three other draft posts that are waiting in the wings.

But what am I going to share with you today, instead?

This. Behold, and be disgusted.

Seriously, it’s so bad, I had to create a new category for this post.

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International Workers’ Day

Today we commemorate the anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre, where many workers were killed for demanding an 8-hour work day (among other standards that we take for granted today). On May 4th, 1886, a peaceful protest literally exploded into a riot after someone threw dynamite at the police who were trying to disperse the rally. International Workers’ Day is the most widely celebrated holiday to honor workers and the labor movement, but it is observed the least in the country of its origin, the United States.

As a cadre I know has remarked, the U.S. does “honor” workers on Labor Day in September, but this day has been morphed into another three-day weekend to promote shopping and consumerism.

“Stop in for the International Workers’ Day Sale, going on now!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, unless it’s low-wage workers ringing up your brand name clothing made by low-wage workers in sweat shops.

My Photoshop skills are not nearly as awesome as Andrew's, but I tried.

I have several other posts in the works on the National Restaurant Association, the anniversary of the War on Poverty, and more, but because today is International Workers’ Day, or May Day, I decided that I should say a little something about food justice and workers’ rights.

From those who produce our food, pick it from the fields, prepare it in our processing plants and restaurants, and stock our grocery store shelves, to those who purchase and consume food (which happens to be, hmm, let me do the math…everyone!), we all need to eat. We are all workers and consumers, but first and foremost we are all people. And the people, they gotta eat.

Everyone deserves to have access to fresh, healthful food in their communities — including the resources to travel to a grocery store and purchase ingredients, the ability to grow food close to home in backyard or community gardens, and the knowledge and capacity to prepare wholesome, delicious recipes for them and their families.

I know that in Columbus this May Day, the local IWW is hosting a potluck while many other community groups and organizations, including the local branch of the International Socialist Organization, Ohio Fair Food, SEIU 1199, OCSEA and many others will be marching to a free meal hosted at the Ohio Educators Association (OEA) office this evening because all of us believe that #OhioNeedsARaise. We need to raise our wages, our children, our voices. We need to address issues of access for so many people in our community for so many resources, and we need to start now.

The lowest common denominator that all of us share is that we must eat in order to survive. That’s where I want to start the conversation.


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Re: The Secret Life of a Food Stamp

Slate and NPR recently released a series called The Secret Life of a Food Stamp. The series contains articles and videos about the hidden side of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially referred to by its former name, Food Stamps. The website for the series also has a budget tool to simulate a budget based on the income from differing positions, from a part-time cashier at McDonald’s to a truck driver. The articles, videos, and budget tool give the average person a small glimpse of it is like to be a low-wage (or no-wage) worker and a SNAP recipient.

This is the most brilliant series on Food Stamps that I have encountered, and I read A LOT about Food Stamps. Not just because I am a staunch supporter of the program for its innovative approach to alleviating hunger in the United States, but because as a low-wage worker, I am a recipient of SNAP benefits myself.

This series raises some interesting questions. While the public discourse focuses primarily on the individual consumers (most of whom are low-wage workers) who receive benefits, who they are, whether they deserve their benefits, little attention is paid to the ultimate recipients of Food Stamps: major grocery store chains such as Wal-mart, Kroger, Giant Eagle, Publix, Jewel, etc. With these employers under frequent scrutiny for the (mis)treatment of their workers and the appallingly low wages (and laughable, if any, benefits) they offer, it’s reprehensible to me that they should be profiting from sales made with SNAP (and WIC, and Cash Assistance) benefits.

I was discussing this with my partner the other night, and his point was that any SNAP/WIC/CA benefit would be likely spent at a major grocery corporation, because there are not enough “independent” grocers and markets to meet the need. Logistically, I concur. I’m no mathematician, but there’s probably something about the law of large numbers that applies in this situation. I don’t believe that this particular revelation is a call for more independent stores nor a call to shrug our shoulders and accept that bigger companies rake in more revenue. No, my point is that when it’s painfully obvious that these companies are in competition to not only drive down prices but also wages, and their workers must apply for assistance in order just to survive, we need to question how much money, exactly, they are making in tax-payer-funded assistance. We also need to question how much money they’re making overall and compare that to the average salary — not the “mean” income but the mode and median as well. No working person should be living in poverty.

Let me revise that. No person should be living in poverty.

As long as capitalism exists, poverty will exist (even capitalists admit this fact). As long as poverty exists, some form of medical, housing, and food subsidy program needs to exist in order for workers to continue social reproduction — and not just for the benefit of the low-wage workers, but for the continuation of capitalism and the accumulation of wealth from the labor of others. However, with neoliberalism’s slash-and-burn approach to social welfare programming budgets, tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, de-regulation of working conditions and pay standards, the law of diminishing returns will soon take effect. The renewed fervor of the ruling class to dismantle social reproduction one safety-net at a time will ultimately take workers from publicly-funded serfs shopping at the private company store to simply being unable to purchase necessities at all. When there is no money left, there is no one left to make money off of.

Who is really benefiting from Federal subsidy programs? The people, or the profiteers?

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