We dig into Mark Bittman's world history of food when our Homo erectus ancestors improved their food hunting and gathering efficiency some 6 million years ago, now using only two feet for mobility. Bittman continues with important topics: "Food affects everything", "Agriculture is an eternal experiment," and "Soil and Civilization."
About seventy thousand years ago, Homo sapiens survived along with Neanderthals eating what they could find in Eurasia, later roaming deeper into Europe and Asia with crude tools, fire for cooking, and new, larger brains!
Agricultural Revolutions 10,000 BCE to 2021CE (Before and during the Common Era.)
The farming innovations of the early agricultural revolution greatly improved land productivity with organized planting, while making human communities possible, especially In Mesopotamia, the "Fertile Crescent" of Southwest Asia.
About 10,000 BCE, human populations and agriculture expanded widely in England, India, China, Central America and the Andes. This Neolithic/Agricultural "Revolution" was of "inestimable importance" in human history. But was it ultimately good for us a millennia or two later? Below, two-historians join with Bittman to answer that question:
The Agricultural Revolution was
"The worst mistake in the history of the human race."
- Historian Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel
The Agricultural Revolution was "History's biggest fraud."
- Yuval Noah Harari, Historian/Author of SAPIENS
First, to cover the basics, keep in mind that the main reason we eat is because NUTRITION= ENERGY! Now, Bittman explains that as agriculture became organized and mechanized over the last three centuries, family farms grew into today's factory farms, dependent on sales to capitalized megamarkets at ever-increasing distances. This later agricultural revolution didn't end with the 18th century! Profit was its goal, driven by innovation then as now, much of it is not good for soil, plants or nutrients for humans. There were also new mechanized needs for animals down on the farm; they've been industrialized, too, and their life on factory farms is not exactly idyllic. Farm"stock" now has a new capitalistic meaning. Ubiquitous chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides, once-upon-a time organic, but no longer. Growth hormones, anything that would hasten growth (and certain death) of any animal or plant intended as food for people including GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms). The food chemistry is truly revolutionary, but is it good for today's man or beast -or woman or plant? These three experts say "NO."
Agriculture starts World-wide trade -Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond
Bittman paints Medieval farming done primarily by peasants on small plots of land owned by their Lords who decided how much each would get. Guess who went hungry! Starvation was common, France alone suffered 26 famines during the eleventh century. Diets were poor and families often spent everything on food. Despite shortages, Western Europe would remerge as a global superpower
after the plague of 1737 killed some twenty million.Yet the stage was set for world-wide trade and future globalization.
HELLO to the New World: America, Sugar, and Slavery
HELLO to Factory Farms, monoculture, and Caribbean Sugar
Goodbye, Nutrition and Family Farm
Sugar became the primary commodity in the Atlantic trade. No matter how much was produced, America was always ready to ship more, especially after human slaves also became a commodity (bought with money), and worked for no pay.
Bittman summarizes Sugarmania: "In 1700 England's annual per capita consumption of sugar was about five pounds. By 1800 it was nearly twenty, and in 1900, nearly a hundred pounds. Annual sugar consumption in the U.S. is over one hundred pounds even now.Sugar scholar Sidney Mintz says "The English quickly understood that "the whole process- from the establishment of colonies, the seizure of slaves, the amassing of capital,the protecting of shipping, and all else took shape under the wing of the state."Thus, the world's most far-reaching and powerful empire was born on the backs of Brown and Black humans. What began as a brutal way to produce food for the rich helped establish a tragic pattern of global food production that became the norm. Slavery's impact in America can hardly be overstated. Food was no longer something you cultivated outside your door to feed your community. It was produced far afield, by exploited labor overseen by strangers, then shipped in previously unimaginable quantities to supply huge markets. It didn't take long for the Americas to become the center of this kind of food production. And the costs to nature and humans especially were even more staggering than the profits."
It was left to indigenous American farmers to continue growing food in the traditional ways of their ancestors, and many dedicated, diehard traditionalists to gently hold on to the old ways as long as possible. Some of their descendants are still at it, producing food at little cost to nature and staggering benefits to human nutrition and energy.
This feature blog piece is a review of A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal by Mark Bittman. It was summarized by Gregory Barnes for the purposes of being shared as part of this blog. His hope is to provide insight into the flaws of modern agriculture by giving an overview of its history and how it developed into the system in place today.
Thanks for reading! -Jordan Tisaranni
Who am I and why am I writing this blog? To start, my name is Jordan Tisaranni and I am currently a senior at the University of Maryland studying Marketing, International Business, and nonprofit leadership. My goal with my degree is to apply what I have learned in business school to organizations focused on solving societal problems, such as FEAST Virginia! The skills that drive profits in the corporate world are the same that drive efficiency and donations in the nonprofit world, and as such they are needed just the same.
My interest in solving food insecurity began with a research project on food waste, where I learned that the problem was not in the amount of food being produced but in the allocation of these resources. For the first time as a human race we have more than enough to go around, and the amount of food wasted on an annual basis is enough to feed everyone that is hungry 4 times over. This fact alone was enough to inspire me to join the fight in whatever ways I could, and while levels of food insecurity in this country seem to be only rising, the more people that we can educate and involve in this conversation the better. By writing this blog I hope to present relevant information in a digestible way to inspire as many people as possible to find ways to help!
To share more about my experiences with tackling food insecurity, I have recently had the opportunity to witness up close the desperate situations that many are experiencing right now. Every Saturday I help with mutual aid in DC and hear the stories of people that effectively have been left behind by the system. Even in our nation's capital that is home to some of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in the country, there are pockets of neighborhoods that don’t even have a grocery store. Many that do are still suffering from a lack of fresh produce, and affordable nutritious food that is required to fulfill basic human needs. We call these areas “food deserts” and they unfortunately exist in urban and rural areas alike. Amplifying the stories of the people experiencing these situations is another crucial part of what I aim to do with this platform, as I do believe that the solution is best known to the people experiencing the problem.
For those who are still reading, you may be wondering how I got involved with FEAST VA, and while I am not even from the state of Virginia, my mother’s side of the family is deeply rooted here. I was introduced to my second cousin Bev Sell, the wonderful founder of this organization, over a family FaceTime and realized that we had similar interests. I was so inspired by her dedication to helping those most vulnerable in her community and the solutions that she had implemented by far and offered to help in any way that I could. With my educational pursuits in nonprofit leadership & social innovation, it was determined that I would start writing blog posts for the website to help engage people interested in food insecurity with FEAST VA.
As we welcome a new administration into the white house the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on across the nation, with the death toll surpassing 475,000 just a few days ago (New York Times). While this change in administration is promising to many, today there are millions of people both infected with the virus and suffering from the disparaging economic fallout including food insecurity, unemployment, and eviction. Those Americans already living in poverty have undeniably suffered the most given the fragility of their situations, and with COVID-19 welcoming an additional 15 million citizens to this category, the public assistance programs that help keep them afloat are faced with an increasingly daunting challenge. In Virginia alone, the number of residents facing food insecurity grew by over 50%, leaving over a million Virginians questioning the source of their next meal (Virginia Road Map to End Hunger).
Biden’s recent release of his $1.9 Trillion coronavirus stimulus plan includes an extension of the 15% increase in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits through September of 2021 for the programs 43 million beneficiaries, which will provide crucial aid to many hit hardest by the pandemic. However, the bulk of the work will continue to fall on the shoulders of nonprofits. As quoted in Virginia’s Roadmap to End Hunger, seven regional food banks “represent the largest charitable response to hunger in the Commonwealth,” meaning these nonprofit organizations provided more support to those in need than any of the federally funded programs available. Even with the “nonprofit sector” first being considered an established market in the 1970s, the wide range of organizations that exist under this umbrella provide a larger safety net to Americans than the government or private sectors ever have. The concept of charity and mutual aid between fellow humans has certainly existed long before that, but the two main bodies tasked with solving major humanitarian and social issues were the government and the private sector. Most evidence suggests neither of these bodies made much progress, partly due to a lack of resources (pre industrial revolution), and partly due to apathy and the normalization of significant wealth inequality. Now, there is no denying that we have more than enough food to go around. With the introduction of what many call the “social sector” we are starting to see more progress in addressing hunger and other issues; but it goes without saying that there is a lot of work to be done.
Without going into too much detail (we’ll save that for the next post!), one of the major faults of the food stamp program is that it only allows for the purchase of the cheapest and most basic food items that consequently take the most time to prepare. For example, dried beans are less costly than canned beans (and therefore are the only kind food stamps allow for), but require an overnight soak and up to an hour on the stove whereas a standard can of beans is ready to eat. As a result, those with objectively the least amount of spare time and energy are forced to cook everything from scratch which requires not only time but also serious skill and access to recipes. This is where an organization like FEAST comes in to provide the required nutritional and culinary knowledge that government programs fail to deliver. As they say at FEAST, food insecurity is an issue that will require all of us to solve, and no one sector or organization can do it alone.
Hope you enjoyed my first post! More Coming Soon. -Jordan Tisaranni
Our Not-To-Be-Missed Fundraiser
Chef Raffle – FEAST Virginia will be raffling off a sumptuous catered in home dinner for 4 people with a choice from 3 menus (beef, seafood or vegetarian including an appetizer, entree and dessert) by Chef Cory Owens. Details coming soon on Facebook. A very limited number of tickets (200) will be sold and will be available to purchase in mid-January. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Public Screening of a noted documentary film: “The Skin You're In” presented by writer and producer Dr. Thomas LaVeist Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk
6 pm – 8 p.m.– this important film is open to the public – Q&A afterwards
Did you know that African Americans live “sicker” and die younger than any other ethnic group in the nation. Why is this happening? In this feature documentary, The Skin You're In, we will investigate this disturbing phenomenon: the astonishing disparity between black and white health in America, find out why the disparity exists and discover what can be done about it.
The film will take viewers on a journey of exploration of this critical health problem. We will talk to leading experts and researchers from around the country who will explain the problems and what can be done. But mostly we will see the problem first hand in the everyday lives of African American families telling their stories, and meet people who are making a difference.
February 19, 20, & 21, 2020
FEAST Train the Trainer 3 Day workshop - $375.
Help! We need donations for scholarships for those who want to take training but don't have the funds. Please consider making a donation of $375 for a scholarship. We have 4 would be trainers who have signed up but don't have funds – the more trainers we have, the more people we can train! Instructors: Dana Rizer, Executive Director FEAST L.A. and Amy Vu Program Director FEAST L.A.
Queen Street Baptist Church
413 Brambleton Avenue, Norfolk
Please sign up on line now.
Once our initial trainers are trained we will be able to determine how many programs we can support ($5,000 for 12 weeks) and days, times and locations. Donations are gratefully received and deeply appreciated.
Thank you for your interest and support in the FEAST Virginia program! We hope to provide a quarterly newsletter that brings you updates on all of the programs being offered, the progress and the successes along the way. Please help us spread the word about FEAST Virginia and please stay connected to us. It will truly take a village to bring about the needed change in how we think and deal with our complicated food system. However together this is possible!
Start off your New Year by becoming more mindful of the foods that you incorporate into YOU!
With deepest gratitude for all of your help and support, I wish you a happy, healthy, connected New Year. As always--
Welcome to our first edition of the FEAST (Food Education Access Support Together) Virginia Newsletter. We hope you will “like us” on Facebook. 2019 has been a productive year laying the foundation for our FEAST Virginia program! We started
the year by working with our attorney Dirk Sampselle to incorporate and become a 501(c)3 non profit organization. By May, we received our certification of incorporation, and in September we received our 501(c)3 non profit status!
Much of my time was also spent meeting with community leaders, organizations and church leaders. “Planting seeds” is a lesson I learned well coming from my experience as a Farm Market manager for 15 years!
We provided an introduction to FEAST Virginia to the public at Queen Street Baptist Church on September 19, 2019, which was well attended, and included Mayor Alexander who drew winners for the grocery bags provided by the Foodbank that
were raffled. We shared our Fish Stick Tacos after our presentation
and answered questions.
In October, we received our Dun & Bradstreet number which is required to apply for funding from the City of Norfolk. We received initial City funding of $3,000 in November. On October 22, Dana Wakefield, co owner of Pendulum Meats in Ghent, hosted a FEAST Virginia information gathering for friends, customers and the public to learn more about the benefits and plans of the program. Also in October, Ms. Michelle Cook and I started volunteering a few times a month at the Foodbank of
Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore on Fridays when participants pick up food from 9a.m. to 11 a.m. I was pleased to see that the Foodbank is providing “healthier” food donations and has improved their distribution method. The Foodbank has created “a line” where folks are asked what they would like to receive, instead of a prepared bag/box of foods that they may or may not wish to eat. I was thrilled to see a robust selection of fresh vegetables such as green beans, asparagus and brussels sprouts being offered and being chosen by participants! I had the chance to chat with folks about their veggies and was told how much the kids enjoy them. So glad to hear that! The Foodbank also offers meats and fish on occasion. And recipes are provided! So if you are looking to volunteer a few hours a week, please consider the Foodbank, who is one of our Community Partners.
In November, we produced a FEAST Virginia presentation to students in the Eastern Virginia Medical School Masters of Public Health program which included sharing our Fish Stick Tacos. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce the FEAST program to the health care community and gauge the interest among the medical students in signing up for the upcoming 3 day Train the Trainer FEAST program in February. The Brock Institute is giving 10 scholarships to students who would like to
attend. Unfortunately only one student signed up. This is not surprising given the course load of med students and the newness of this start up new program.
In December, Dana Wakefield, a teacher at ADL School (Academy of Discovery at Lakewood) and supporter of FEAST Virginia introduced me to the 5 th grade teacher at ADL School, Ms. Christina Bishop. This is the fourth year that the 5th grade class has participated in a Young Chef Competition. It was quite wonderful that they decided to include FEAST Virginia this year. The Young Chef Competition was held on December 5 at the school. Students were challenged to design a recipe they could make for $1.25 or less a serving and also keep it healthy.
The competition helped develop their math skills by figuring out the food costs, and also honed their writing skills by developing a written recipe with clear instructions. Students were also assigned to research the FEAST Virginia website for the goals of the organization. A total of 96 students participated and were very excited
about their creations! Several local chefs, parents, teachers, ADL Principal Tommy Smigiel and myself judged the competition. Competition categories included
appetizers, entrees and desserts. Of course, we know that all of the students who participated were winners. We are hoping to incorporate student recipes in our 2020 FEAST Virginia program.