Learn more about our bee catastrophe; More Than Honey
By Andy Fisher for CIVILEATS:
What if the little old ladies who run the neighborhood church food pantry rebelled? What if they said “we’re 70 years old, we’ve been feeding people for 20 years, and hell if we want to do it for another 20?” What if they demanded that the government reduce the incidence of poverty so that food pantries don’t need to exist in the first place?
Hard to imagine? Well, that’s exactly what has happened in the province of Ontario. With the support of an experienced community organizer, volunteers from emergency meal programs, and food banks (what we call a food pantry in the U.S.) have decided to form a “union.” They’re calling it Freedom 90, a spoof on the “Freedom 55” financial planning advertisements that promise the good life to Canadians who work hard and invest their savings wisely, so they can retire by 55.
Tongue in cheek, yet deadly serious, these volunteers want to “retire” by the time they hit 90. They are tired of the perpetual emergency of having to provide free food boxes every week for the past two decades, but are compelled to continue because of the need they see in their communities.
The union charter states that “poverty is being ‘re-branded’ as ‘hunger’ to mask its cause: inadequate incomes, which are due to low wages, precarious work, and social assistance levels too low to provide adequate housing and food.” It holds that every resident of the province has “the right to health and dignity, including enough income to pay the rent and buy food.”
A “separate and segregated food system for people with low incomes” is undignified, humiliating, unsustainable and inefficient, in their opinion. Clarifying their position on the emergency food system, they add:
“We’re not advocating the closing of food banks, rather we want to make food banks obsolete — unnecessary…. Food banks are not bad, but charity has real limitations. Food Banks are addressing a gap in society and it is the gap that we need to close to remove the need for people to rely on food banks in the first place….”
The idea for the union came out of a five-year old campaign to reduce poverty in Ontario, the Put Food in the Budget campaign. The primary goal of the campaign was to gain an immediate $100 per month increase in social assistance checks, to reduce hunger, and to act as a down payment toward poverty reduction.
The union launched in May 2012 on a wing and a prayer, and has since enrolled 100 members. Knowing that humor can be a very effective organizing tool, their Web site lays out three demands, and is a call for forward-thinking public policy:
1) Lay us off! The Government of Ontario must ensure that social assistance and minimum wage levels are sufficient for everyone to have adequate housing and to buy their own food.
2) Mandatory retirement by the age of 90! Many of us have been volunteering for 20 years and there is no end in sight. The Freedom 90 Union demands the Government of Ontario take urgent action to end poverty and make food banks and emergency meal programs unnecessary.
3) Freeze our wages! Or double them! It doesn’t matter because we are unpaid volunteers.
They even have an anthem, a modified version of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover” renamed “50 Ways to Close the Food Bank.”
And uniquely in this discussion, after the launch of the Freedom 90 union in 2012, campaign organizers explored integrating emergency food recipients into the union, bringing together both parties as equals. Interestingly, both volunteers and recipients identified the same problems with food banking. When asked to contemplate the possibility that they would be continue to be involved–either as volunteer or recipient–for the long term, it was “like the ceiling fell in. It was like this horrible terrible feeling of oh my god, could that really happen?”
It is commonly believed that charity separates the giver from the recipient. Yet, in this case, both food pantry volunteers and recipients share the same recognition that the charitable food system is unsustainable and undignified, and that the only exit is through the government taking a larger role in ensuring the public’s right to an adequate living.
Both volunteer and recipient know that the charitable food system enables corporations to keep wages low and profits high. They both know that the charitable food system enables the government to tamp down its expenditures on safety net programs, thus minimizing taxes on the middle class and wealthy. This same system has failed both giver and receiver, yet it continues to grow, in part perpetuated by these entrenched interests, and in part because it preys upon the volunteers’ compassion and the recipients’ desperation.
Maybe the Canadian church ladies are like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, an indicator of a dangerous and unhealthy situation. They are showing us that it is high time that we reverse course across North America and make charitable food obsolete in our communities–for their freedom, but more importantly for the health and dignity of the poor who have come to depend on charity for survival.
New post on Wellcome Collection blog
Ladybirds: good for pest control, or pests themselves? As our Who’s the Pest? season draws to a close, Emma Rhule takes a closer look at our relationship with these tiny flying beetles.
Bright, colourful and hearty eaters of aphids (the sticky little flies that infest everything from cabbages to roses), ladybirds have long been the gardener’s friend. Gardeners and farmers will go to great lengths to encourage more ladybirds onto their patch. One way you can entice ladybirds into your garden is to plant wildflowers – they are particularly fond of marigold and nettles. And, if all else fails, the eggs and larvae can be bought online.
There is a long history of introducing exotic ladybirds to help control agricultural pests. The Vedalia ladybird, Rodolia cardinalis, which was originally from Australia, is credited with saving the Californian citrus industry in the late 1880s. It was the start of the biological control industry that controls pest species using other organisms.
Following in this tradition, the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, was released across the USA and Europe to help combat aphid infestations. Originally from Asia, the voracious appetite of this beetle makes it an extremely successful control agent. A single adult can eat more than 200 aphids a day, and a developing larva can consume upwards of 1000 aphids. Their use allows farmers to reduce the amount of insecticides they need on their crops which should, in turn, allow other beneficial insects to flourish.
The very hungry ladybird
Unfortunately, the harlequin’s insatiable appetite is not limited to aphids: the larvae are particularly indiscriminate. They will eat almost anything they encounter – including other aphid eaters such as hoverflies and lacewings, as well as caterpillars. They will also eat the eggs and larvae of other ladybirds, and their cannibalistic tendencies even extend to their own siblings. To make matters worse, there is little that eats the harlequin. Like our native ladybirds, their bright colours advertise the toxins present in their blood. These chemicals make ladybirds taste foul and can be deadly to imprudent would-be predators.
In 2004, the first British harlequin was spotted in the car park of a country pub in Essex called The White Lion. Never intentionally introduced, researchers suspect the early arrivals that reached the UK were a combination of hardy pioneers flying across the Channel and sneaky stowaways in imported goods. Since then, they have spread across the UK and been reported as far north as the Shetland Islands.
Since arriving, the harlequin’s wide-ranging diet has had serious implications for British ladybirds. The once familiar two-spot ladybird has been particularly hard hit, losing out to the larger, hungrier competitor with which it now shares its habitat. The wider ecosystem is affected, too – particularly the predators, parasites and pathogens that rely on these native species for their own existence.
And humans do not escape unscathed. Over the past few years, come October and November, you may have seen harlequins in your house. In the winter, our native species mostly hibernate outside in dead leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks, sheltered from the cold and rain. In their native Asia, harlequins normally use rocks and cliffs. In the relatively flat UK, houses must seem like a good alternative. Once the central heating comes on, though, the beetles warm up and start flying around. They may be hungry and take a nibble. A little nip is usually not a problem, but some people can experience an allergic reaction. If they are feeling threatened, the natural response of all ladybirds is to leak a small amount of foul-smelling yellow blood from their knees, which can stain curtains and sofas.
So what can we do? It would be impossible to capture and kill all the harlequin ladybirds in the country. In fact, the Harlequin Ladybird Survey, which has been monitoring the spread of the ladybird since its arrival, strongly discourages this because there is a real risk of misidentification. The harlequin was the focus of my PhD research: one of my jobs involved opening letters containing live ladybirds, sent to us by members of the public for identification. These days, photos can be uploaded with records of sightings allowing researchers to verify exactly which species has been found, saving us from climbing onto tables to recapture escapee beetles crawling across the ceiling.
When the harlequin was taken from its native environment, researchers made sure that any released into the wild were free of parasites. As such, many of the natural checks and balances that would have kept the numbers of individuals under control were removed. Nothing in the new environment would have been immediately able to fill the gap, allowing populations to flourish. One hope is that the parasites and pathogens that exploit our native ladybirds will start to adapt to the newcomer. Nearly ten years on, there is some evidence that this is starting to happen.
But how long can we wait when the problems are already apparent? My research looked at whether a sexually transmitted parasite found on European ladybirds,including the harlequin, could help. The blood-sucking parasite can be thought of as a form of ladybird birth control. When females are infected with adult parasites, they still lay eggs, but these do not hatch – the ladybird is effectively sterile. If the parasites die, within a couple of days any eggs laid will hatch. Of course, I am aware of the irony of my work – could we, and should we, introduce yet another species to help control an exotic beetle that was itself introduced to fight an insect pest? Could the parasite become the next problem in town?
After five years, I came to the conclusion that we still didn’t know enough to justify taking that risk. Increasingly aware of what can go wrong when we tinker with ecosystems, we are much more cautious than we used to be, and rightly so. From grey squirrels to cane toads, knotweed to ladybirds, there are lots of examples of the unintended side-effects of our actions. So, who is really the pest? Those species that arrive in a new place and wreak havoc, or the species that put them there?
Emma Rhule is a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust. Play our Who’s the Pest gameonline.
May 9, 2013, 4:39 pm NY TIMES: By INDRANI SEN
Guerrilla filmmakers often face crackdowns by the powers that be, and Zachary Maxwell is no exception.
His hidden-camera documentary was almost derailed last year when he was caught filming without permission by a fearsome enforcer – the lunchroom monitor in his school cafeteria.
“She sent me to my teacher, and my teacher told me to delete everything,” said Zachary, who is now 11.
Zachary pretended to delete the day’s shots. After that lapse in production security, he said, “I fired my lookouts.”
What his teacher didn’t know, though, was that Zachary had six months of footage shot surreptitiously in the cafeteria, forming the spine of his 20-minute movie “Yuck: A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch.”
Like many things in the life of a fourth grader, Zachary’s movie started as a dispute with his parents. He told them that he wanted to start packing his own lunch, but they were skeptical. Lunch is free at his school, P.S. 130 Hernando De Soto in Little Italy, and his parents liked the look of the Department of Education’s online menus, which describe delicious meals, full of whole grains and fresh vegetables, some even designed by celebrity chefs.
“I told them that’s not what they were actually serving me,” Zachary said. “But I don’t think they believed me.”
So he smuggled in a camera in his sweatshirt pocket the next day and filmed lunch.
“When I came back home and showed them the footage, they were like, ugh!” he said.
Soon, Zachary and his father, a lawyer and video hobbyist, were cutting together the footage he brought home every day. (In the film, Zachary goes by the name Zachary Maxwell, though Maxwell is his middle name. His family asked that their last name be withheld because of Zachary’s age.)
In the film, Zachary, who is not above cheesy costumes and goofy special effects, makes a point that is under the radar of most conversations about the quality of school lunches: that despite the Education Department’s efforts to improve nutrition, there is a disconnect between the wholesome meals described on school menus and the soggy, deep-fried nuggets frequently dished up in the lunchrooms.
The film offers no shortage of examples. On a day advertising “cheesy lasagna rolls with tomato basil sauce, roasted spinach with garlic and herbs,” for instance, Zachary is handed a plastic-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich on an otherwise bare plastic foam tray.
A “Pasta Party” is described as “zesty Italian meatballs with tomato-basil sauce, whole grain pasta, Parmesan cheese and roasted capri vegetables.” Meatballs and pasta show up on the tray, if none too zesty-looking, but the vegetables are nowhere to be seen.
Salads devised by the Food Network chefs Rachael Ray and Ellie Krieger are similarly plagued by missing ingredients. On the day Ms. Ray’s “Yum-O! Marinated Tomato Salad” is listed, Zachary is served a slice of pizza accompanied by a wisp of lettuce.
Ms. Krieger’s “Tri-color Salad” is a no-show on one day it is promised, and on another, it lacks its cauliflower, broccoli and red peppers. The shreds of lettuce and slice of cucumber could still be described as tri-color, Zachary points out, if you count “green, light green and brown.”
Indeed, among the 75 lunches that Zachary recorded – chosen randomly, he swears – he found the menus to be “substantially” accurate, with two or more of the advertised menu items served, only 51 percent of the time. The menus were “totally” accurate, with all of the advertised items served, only 16 percent of the time. And by Zachary’s count, 28 percent of the lunches he recorded were built around either pizza or cheese sticks.
A spokeswoman for the Education Department, Marge Feinberg, said in an e-mail that vegetables and fruit were served daily and she suggested that Zachary must have chosen not to take the vegetables served in his cafeteria.
“It would not be the first time a youngster would find a way to get out of eating vegetables,” she wrote. Zachary responded that he always took every item he was offered.
Until this past September, Ms. Feinberg said, schools did have some freedom to deviate from the systemwide lunch menus. New federal regulations for the current school year set stricter guidelines for what elements need to be on each child’s plate.
On Monday, Zachary thought he was in trouble again when he was sent to the principal’s office and found two men in black suits waiting for him.
They turned out to be representatives from the Education Department’s Office of School Food, he said, who complimented him on his movie, asked for feedback on some new menu choices, and took him on a tour of the cafeteria kitchen.
There, Zachary met one of his school’s cooks, and got some insight into her thinking.
“She wants us to be happy,” he reported. “So she cooks what she thinks the kids will like.”
Then he sat down for lunch with the officials. The adults ate the cafeteria lunch of chicken nuggets, carrots and salad.
Zachary had pork and vegetable dumplings – brought from home.
You can read the article here