• Round Table Raises Issues of World Consumption

10/2/2008

Frances Moore Lappé, environmental activist and author of Diet for a Small Planet and numerous other books, returned to Suffolk this September as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar for the second year in a row.  On Wednesday, September 24th, Lappé joined fellow activist and Distinguished Visiting Scholar Judy Norsigian, and author and activist Ellen Messer at a roundtable discussion on the status of world hunger and domestic nutrition.

Lappé opened the discussion by discussing the concept of “centralized sameness,” or the notion that  a very small number of companies hold power over most of the food production in the world. Those companies exert a heavy influence on the products and information available to consumers.  According to a 2007 poll, 850 million people worldwide are going hungry; by the end of 2008, 150 million more people will join them.  Lappé attributed this projected increase to the failure of the companies that hold the power, and to a lack of knowledge within communities about finding and preparing fresh foods. 

Ellen Messer, an anthropologist, specialist in human rights, food security, and religion, and professor at Brandeis University, spoke about getting nutrient-rich foods into the hands of those who need it.  She described the inaccessibility of low cost grocery stores in densely populated urban areas of the United States, which often have a low per-capita income, and where women are often left to shop in convenience stores in order to feed their families. While the problems with the distribution of healthy, organic foods are global, she explained, local problems are important as well.  Country of residence does not necessarily denote families’ nutritional status.

Judy Norsigian, executive director and a founder of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, an author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and a speaker on many important issues facing women throughout the world, connected food production with the growing empowerment of women in some of the world’s poorest countries.  She explained how giving women the power to produce nutritious, cost-effective food for their families can be a catalyst for even greater change.  In societies where young women are often the most undernourished, outreach programs are not only teaching women how to plant and harvest their own food, but also giving them the confidence to understand that they deserve to eat it. 

With the floor opened to questions from the audience, many students weighed in with their opinions on the cost of organic foods versus non-organic, the convenience of foods that are prepackaged and prepared, and the power of advertising and how it affects families.  Sandra Zerbo, graduate student and one of Suffolk’s country ambassadors ,  asked the panel what can be done when convenient, heavily processed, heavily advertised foods influence children so strongly that they  refuse to eat anything that isn’t a “lunchables” or “easy mac” option. 

The three speakers agreed that education is the only way to start making positive changes, for global food projects and local ones as well.  Children need to be taught that preparing food can be fun and that  home-made food can be delicious.  Parents need to know that spending time in the kitchen with their  families can be cost-effective, as well as a great way to spend time together.  The panelists urged the members of the audience to contact their local political leaders and encourage them to lobby for better policies around food.  Small changes, they assured, can have a big impact on local and global hunger. 

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