I got the chance to moderate one of the most diverse panels of speakers I have ever encountered while I was at the BlogHer Food Conference in Atlanta, recently. The subject of the talk was “Food Blogging for Change”. It’s a lofty subject that can be slightly overwhelming.
I introduced Bettina Luescher, Chief Spokesperson for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, which distributes food to over 70 countries; Andrew Wilder of the blog Eating Rules in Southern California, which offers tips and information for eating healthier; Michelle Ferrier of Locally Grown News in North Carolina, who sees food as a pathway to community and social change; and anonymous blogger, Mrs. Q of the blog Fed Up With Lunch in Illinois, who gained fame by blogging about her year-long project eating the school lunches that were served to the kids at the school she works at (hence her anonymity).
They all work passionately in their chosen communities, be it globally, nationally or locally. What they have in common is that they’re all working to promote changes in food policy, food education and the way we see food. They’re also aware of the power of using your voice for change. Here are some highlights of what we discussed.
Elaine: I wanted to pose three words to the panel: budget, taste and health. Can all three values coexist? Can it be done and does it become overwhelming for the average person to achieve all three in their daily lives?
Andrew: Taste is the number one reason people choose something to eat. Folks know they need to eat healthy, but time is a factor for many of us. But change starts with knowledge and knowing what is healthy for you. With budget, a recent study showed that many local farmers markets can be cheaper than going to the big box grocery store. Good food is everybody’s right. And it’s important to focus on ‘better’, not ‘best’. There’s no such thing as a ‘superfood’.
Elaine: Is safe, healthy food hard to access for certain populations, and is it realistic to assume that everyone can get access to it? MF: The Food Environmental Atlas online now has information available to help people find safe, healthy food communities that are developing food hubs for gathering, processing and distribution of healthy foods, such as community gardens. And food trucks are now being used in different communities to deliver safe and healthy food to communities where they don’t have good access to it.
Bettina: On an international scale, we are using some of those same ideas and methods. As an aid organization, we have buying power to purchase from small scale farmers (generally women) and support the farmer to pool food from other farmers and produce larger scale distribution. And in Haiti, we are buying milk from local farmers so they have an income and then we give it to children in school meal programs, which keeps it local and makes a huge difference.
Elaine: We’ve heard over the Conference that change can start with a hashtag. Do you believe social media can have that big of an impact on the various food communities you work with?
Michelle: One person’s website or blog can lead to a Facebook page, which can then lead to a Twitter account. Social media can allow one person to communicate to different audiences with different content. Twitter can provide fast facts, Facebook can give more information, your website can give personal opinions.
Andrew: Change happens one person at a time.
Bettina: I appeal to everyone in this room to be a voice. It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a power trip. It starts with knowledge, how to share and tell stories and present solutions. There are simple tricks to use with huge rewards.
Michelle: We all have images of hunger that we get from television and the media. But we have to turn that story on its head and recognize that all of our children are starved for good food.
Elaine: If you could come up with a “wishlist” of three changes you could enact in this country’s food policy, what would they be?
Mrs. Q: There needs to be legislation changes to our school lunch programs. 1) I think French Fries should no longer be considered a vegetable (applause breaks out). 2) Chocolate milk needs to go. 3) We need to ban processed meats in schools.
Michelle: 1) Local governments need to recognize that food security and access to healthy food needs to be viewed as something just as important as every other issue. 2) We need to bring back Home Economics classes at the elementary school level. 3) We need to change school lunch policies to a “last child-first child” policy.
Andrew: 1) The ideas of “organic” and “conventional” labeling requirements need to be swapped (applause breaks out). 2) Take any marketing language off every food package. 3) Stop subsidizing corn and instead subsidize fresh fruits and vegetables.
Bettina: I have one big one: No funding cuts for child hunger programs…EVER.
*For notes from the entire session, please visit this link.