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Remarks at the Good Food Gala 2017

Keynote: Calla Rose Ostrander, Jena & Michael King Foundation

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Good evening, I am honored, humbled and so excited to be here tonight celebrating all of the flavors, the labor, the ideas and the actions we are collectively taking to make Good Food for All. Thank you to Clare Fox for inviting me and for the work that the LA Food Policy Council does on behalf of this large, diverse and vibrant community.

In thinking about what Good Food for All means, I gave myself the opportunity to pause and imagine what it would look like, taste like, feel like to have that be our reality. And in doing so I realized both how much work we must do and how possible it really is. While one in six people in LA go hungry each day, there is enough food produced in the world to feed 10billion people – 2 billion more than are alive now! Its not a matter of if we can, it’s a matter of how we do it.

When I asked Clare about the role she sees LA Food Policy Council playing in this process she said, “LAFPC is here to nourish the habit of change making, to cultivate how we all work together as an ecosystem for change.” That, I think, is a beautiful response. It’s also one which inherently acknowledges that success comes from partnerships and mutually beneficial relationship- from working together. Too often I have seen progressive movements fail to reach their full potential because of internal fractures.

Her response also got me thinking about how we bring about positive changes in ecosystems. When I was growing up in rural Colorado, my good friend Holly’s mother was a restoration ecologist, and she would take us on long summer trips to help her with her projects. I want to share with you all something that I learned from her and that I see born out over and over again in my current work.

There are four predominate ways to wholesale change an ecosystem:

  • Climate change.
  • Catastrophic change: this can mean long hot files, bulldozing and paving over, or something else catastrophic like a meteorite. No one really likes these (including the plants and animals that also live here).
  • I call this one “attack and control”: in this method what is bad is identified- weeds, invasive species etc- and then the work begins of trying to kill them. This takes a lot of pesticides and other chemicals and its ultimately expensive and exhausting as, having entered into war, you must continue to fight against, or fight to maintain control.
  • Focus on what is good: in this approach you have identified what isn’t working- you see it and you know you want to change it, you have also however, taken the extra time and effort to observe and seek out what is already there and working, what is good. Having identified it you enter into a long-term relationship of discovering what this good thing needs to thrive and you commit to the work of cultivating that.

Nature abhors a vacuum and when you remove something without anything else there, the weeds come back first (a side note here, weeds are actually pioneer species designed to be the first to come back into a disturbed system). Supporting the growth of what is good is ultimately more effective at replacing the weeds, than just attacking them.

In my work today I focus on how we as humans can give back to the land that houses and feeds us and I do so by finding and focusing energy and attention on what is working and how it works.

Recent science has given the western world new information about how the soil functions and how, by changing the way we grow our food, fuel, fiber and flora we can create abundance and balance the global carbon cycle. (We also will make the switch to 100% renewable energy). I say the western world because many other cultures have always known this from the lenses of their different world views). Here’s how it works: ploughed, bear soil erodes and blows away in the sun and wind, it is depleted of carbon (the stuff that gives it that rich dark color and cool moist texture). As it becomes more and more like dust it requires more and more chemicals and synthetic inputs to produce what becomes less and less nutritious food.

On the other hand, if you give carbon back to the soil (compost is an excellent way to do this- it’s like feeding your food), if you cover it instead of keeping it bare, if you cultivate diversity and stop ploughing all the time you can rebuild that beautiful deep, rich top soil. When you do the plants, there grow more and bigger, they become resilient against drought, heavy rains, and pests, and they don’t “need” all those chemicals. As the soil heals so does the whole system

So how do we rebuild our food system to create Good Food for All? One place we can start is with the soil, by feeding our food with what we cannot eat. I would also invite you to imagine that more fundamentally it’s about finding, cultivating and working to expand what is good, both in the land and in people.  This doesn’t mean we won’t have to work, and sometimes we’ll need to stand up for ourselves and we will be challenged to be strong. You have to do this in any good partnership, and like any good partnership it will thrive when you care for it, when you focus on what’s good and cultivate that. I believe from all that I’ve learned thus far about how our world works, that is in supporting what is good that we support each other. And that’s how we will make Good Food for All.

Remarks by our Good Food Heroes FSTOPlafpc0617LR-247

Maria Elena Chavez, on behalf of Dolores Huerta, Dolores Huerta Foundation

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Dolores very much regrets not being able to join you this evening and feels truly honored to be recognized by an organization such as yours which has been instrumental in shaping food policy in Los Angeles County. The Food Justice Movement and Ethical food policy are needed globally as well. Organizations like yours and the many organizations who make up the food council such as UFCW, the farmworkers and street vendors are needed to make change at the local level to ensure that those who harvest the food that feeds the nation, those who pick the food that feeds the nation and those who distribute the food that feeds the nation also a have access to affordable, quality and nutritious food where they live, work, eat, play and pray. I have been fortunate to be a Champions for Change recipient during my work with the YWCA  Great Los Angeles and am learning about social determinants of health, the socio-ecological model etc. and realizing that many in the grassroots movement for social justice such as the farmworkers and the Dolores Huerta Foundation have been doing this work for a long time though we now have common terminology used to identify this important work which is now being carried out by a greater numbers of people. I look forward to the day when the status of a person’s health is no longer determined by the zip code that they live in. Together we can work towards healthier built environments. Si Se Puede!

Larry Frank, Los Angeles Trade-Technical College

FSTOPlafpc0617HR-214First of all, I want to thank the LAFPC for this honor and admit that at best I am an accidental food hero.

The story for this goes back 40 years, to when I came out from Colorado to work for the UFW with my best friend. We had both gone through a work action in Colorado where Cesar Chavez had shown up the previous year at the canning factory where we were both working. It was 1976 and the canning factory was the Kuner-Empson Canning factory in Brighton Colorado. In fact, we were there during the momentous occasion when the production manager got thrown into a pickling vat. Several of us went down to the Denver headquarters of the UFW to get help and found an empty office, because as it turned out all of the UFW staff around the country got pulled back to California to work on Prop 14, for the farmworkers right to vote.

Vance and I found ourselves working in LA on the UFW boycott campaigns and being trained as organizers by historic organizers like our other honoree tonight, Dolores Huerta. When the boycott ended my friend Vance Corum and I took divergent paths. I spent the next 10 years as an organizer in LA with labor; Vance went to work for the Southern California Ecumenical Council under the visionary leadership of Pastor Gene Boutillier. It was Pastor Boutillier’s idea to save family farms and he hired Vance to be the first head of direct marketing.

Vance spent his life starting about 175 farmers markets on the west coast.

Fast forward 30 years — and I am working at city hall and hanging out with Vance on one of his visits here. He was commenting on starting the farmers market work 30 years earlier and I asked him if he was still in touch with the farmers and market managers who had started the first farmers markets and he said “I know them all!” Since some the first farmers markets started in the city of LA, specifically the ones at Adam and Vermont, I said — the city should honor that work, and we should celebrate the 30th anniversary.

So I called a meeting to plan it and I called in Juliette Flores who was then on my team at the Mayor’s office (she is now at the Annenberg Foundation), and called Bob Gottlieb of the Urban Environmental Policy Institute to invite him. Bob wanted to also focus on some kind of policy work, so I invited Paula to the meetings also.

I just want to say in terms of being an accidental hero that most of the people mentioned so far were “but for” causes — in that, if not for them and the work they had done up to a certain point, this idea may not have gotten rolling — and I put myself on that list. I see Romel Pascual here too and he had a role in it also. But the two people who I want to call out as the real food heroes are for me: my friend Vance Corum, and then the person who was the proximate cause — the lawyers in the room will understand this distinction — the proximate cause, the person who stepped up to lead this work and drive it home and who put all the pieces together, the founder of the LA Food Policy Council, Paula Daniels.

So now I find myself at LA Trade Tech and we have this culinary arts program, the oldest culinary arts academy in the country, at a community college with over 1,000 students. I see one of our faculty, Chef Bob (Robert Wemischnier), here tonight.

The food system does not take care of the people who pick our food, does not really take care of the people who cook and serve our food. Our students will graduate from our program and go into a world where their wages are lower than they should be. We should all take this issue seriously and I know that the LA Food Policy Council is doing so.

And so I want to honor the true food heroes: Paula Daniels, Clare Fox, Evan Kleiman, Rudy Espinosa, Joann Lo and Richard Marosi.

Thank you for this honor of me and in doing that, everyone who has made a contribution to this great organization.

Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times

FSTOPlafpc0617HR-193Thanks so much for this honor. It’s something I never expected to achieve, given I was just a Mexico beat reporter writing about the border and drug war for many years.

But like many stories, this one started with an interview.  A 12-year-old boy I met at a migrant shelter told me he used to pick chili peppers in the fields of Sinaloa.

That piqued my interest. I started investigating. I found out that labor abuses were hardly limited to children, and that the produce wasn’t limited to chile peppers.

During the last decade so much attention was given to the drug war, that another huge story had been largely missed:  Mexico had become a produce export powerhouse.

More than 50 percent of the tomatoes and cucumbers and bell peppers that we eat come from Mexico. Along with countless other fruits and vegetables.

The Mexican countryside is dotted with enormous agribusiness complexes, the rows of greenhouses so extensive that they are visible from space. Agribusinesses in Mexico use state-of-the-art technologies to grow tomato vines as tall as 12 feet. Ag engineers monitored the produce day and night, making sure only the best and most delicious vegetables are exported.  

The produce, I found out, was pampered; the laborers were not.

They were Mexico’s poorest people, bused in from indigenous villages and housed in squalid labor camps overrun with rodents. They couldn’t leave because their wages were withheld until the end of their contracts. Much of their salaries went to buying overpriced food at company stores.

America’s largest supermarket and restaurant chains were the biggest customers for the produce they picked. The company’s websites and public relations material proclaimed that their supply chains met high labor standards.

The reality was different.

The publication of the Product of Mexico series, with big assists from photographer Don Bartletti and Editor Steve Clow, had an immediate impact. The Mexican government formed a social responsibility alliance to improve lives of one million laborers . Walmart announced reforms. The two biggest produce associations in North America started working on an ethical charter that would bring the biggest industry players together to improve standards.

It showed that good-old-fashioned investigative reporting still has power.

But more importantly, I think, it demonstrated the increasingly important role that consumers play.

The stories spread widely on social media. Turns out that consumers, especially young consumers, are more demanding, and responsive, than ever. They don’t want their produce tainted by the stain of labor abuses, and they’re willing to back it up with their buying power.

They made their concerns known to retailers. And the industry responded.

So where are we now? Well, there are some good signs; and worrisome signs.

Some farms have improved their living facilities. A strike in Baja California led to a historic wage increase.

But farm labor unions are just about non-existent in Mexico.

There are no farm labor leaders like Dolores Huerta in Mexico. And it’s too early to tell if the industry, as a whole, is making good on its many pledges.

One thing seems likely – produce from Mexico will take an increasing share of the supermarket shelves and restaurant food bars in this country.

And let’s hope the laborers who pick the crops aren’t left behind by this booming economy.

Thanks again to the LA Food Policy Council for this great honor.

 

For more photos of the event, check our album on Facebook here.