Slow Food Nation to Release Healthy Food & Agriculture Declaration

“We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time,” begins the final draft of the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture. Initiated by Roots of Change and half a year in the drafting, it will be released August 29 at Slow Food Nation (SFN) at San Francisco’s City Hall.

Organizers of the Labor Day weekend celebration to follow expect to draw over 50,000 people to a variety of events, including a victory garden, food tastings, a Food for Thought speakers’ series, a marketplace, and chef demonstrations. It could be the largest food event in American history.

Some of the leading voices in “the good food movement” have drafted the petition. It seeks to change the food policy of the United States and is described as a “national call for a new, sustainable food system.” It intends to provide “a clear and commonly held framework for future action to educate citizens and policy makers.”

The president of Roots of Change (ROC), a San Francisco-based group, and former chairman of Slow Food USA, Michael Dimock, initiated the concept of such a petition. “This declaration is a call to action by and for all Americans,” he said. “The purpose of U.S. food and agriculture must change and it can no longer focus on the production of cheap calories. Conditions demand a more holistic approach to human and community health that begins on our farms and ranches,” he added.

Among the drafting team and original framers were the following: UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan, Dan Imhoff, author of “Food Fight,” and Chez Panisse Restaurant founder Alice Waters. Additional contributors to the final draft to be presented at SFN included Kentucky author and farmer Wendell Berry, environmentalist Bll McKibbon, and Native American leader Winona LaDuke.

Former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Richard Rominger, a farmer, helped draft the petition and said, “This Declaration, which is being crafted by a broad coalition, is the preamble for the next generation of farm policy, and we hope it will stimulate the discussion to help get us there.”

“Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources, and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories,” the Declaration’s first paragraph asserts. “Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population, and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity,” it continues.

Such claims were documented at the weeklong Stockholm International Water Conference attended by 2,400 water experts and government officials. “A spectre is haunting the cities and villages of most developing nations, warns a senior official of a World Bank-affiliated organization,” begins an Aug. 22 Inter Press Service (IPS) article by Thalif Deen.

“’It’s the spectre of a food, fuel and water crisis,’ says Lars Thunell,” the IPS article continues. He is the executive vice president of the Washington-based International Finance Corporation. Agriculture is the most water-intensive sector. The decline in fresh water threatens the food supply. Thunell described recent riots over food prices, growing hunger, and rising malnutrition. Current estimates are that the world will not have enough water to feed itself within 40 years.

“Keeping water under local, public and democratic control is the most just way to insure the greatest degree of water access for the greatest number of people,” according to Patti Lynn of Corporate Accountability International, the IPS article concludes.

This is the context within which the Food Declaration will be unveiled in San Francisco. Endorsements and comments will be solicited. The public will be given 90 days to comment before the drafting team creates the final document. The goal is to get at least 300,000 signatures to present it in Washington, D.C. to Congress in the Fall of 2009.

“The movement to create better food and agriculture in the U.S. has been slowly and steadily gaining ground for well over a decade,” according to a recent Roots of Change (ROC) statement. “The public’s increasing interest and the media’s deepening coverage of climate change, energy, agriculture, labor issues, food costs, food quality and obesity may finally illuminate the interrelationship of these crises and provide a context for urgently needed changes,” ROC continues.

The intention is to influence the next national farm bill. “The last farm bill cycle,” ROC maintains, “confirmed that a tight cadre of lobbyists control the debate to protect the status quo rather than aid the population of the nation.” The current farm policy “is mired in a 20th Century industrial paradigm” that benefits “entrenched interests,” ROC asserts.

The Declaration calls “for a radically different approach to food and agriculture. We believe that the food system must be reorganized on a foundation of health.”

A healthy food and agriculture policy, according to the Declaration, would follow twelve foundational principles. Among them are the following:

  • Provides access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone;
  • Prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers and natural resources and the cruel treatment of animals;
  • Informs customers of how food is produced, where it comes from, and what it contains;
  • Protects the finite resources of productive soils, fresh water, and biological diversity;
  • Strives to remove fossil fuel from every link in the food chain and replace it with renewable resources and energy;
  • Originates from a biological rather than an industrial framework;
  • Requires a national dialog concerning technologies used in production.

The final principle affirms “the development of just and sustainable regional farm and food networks.”

“Most all the major organizations seeking reform in agriculture in the U.S. have signed on to the Declaration. The challenge remains to bring in more of the current mainstream,” ROC president Dimock explained in a phone interview from his home in Santa Rosa, Northern California. “Slow Food Nation is part of a mosaic that can help change food policy in the U.S.,” according to Dimock.

Shepherd Bliss (3sb@comcast.net) teaches college part-time and farms. Read other articles by Shepherd, or visit Shepherd's website.