Monday, August 25, 2014

What FUN! Music, Food, and Doing Good!

The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had an amazing summer run: volunteering at St. Timothy's Faith and Grace garden, tabling at farmer's markets, and spreading Oxfam's message at major musical events like 80/35 and Fitz and the Tantrums at Des Moines Nitefall on the River.

How about one final summer hurrah?! Yes, please!

The World Food and Music Festival (WFMF) is coming up - September 19th, 20th, and 21st. And, what a way to finish the summer! The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had a presence there for the last two years and it's been greatly successful. Check out the photos from 2012 and 2013. As you can see, the festival-goers have really enjoyed Oxfam's message as well as taking part in our table activities.

What's more is that the WFMF is an amazing celebration of culture paired with some truly delicious worldly food and spectacular tunes. 75,000+ people attend this multi-day celebration in the Des Moines East Village. Attendance is free, but food and drink do have a cost. See their website for more details.

Action Corps volunteers Aaron and Brittany
showcase the Oxfam tent!

Your Iowa Oxfam Action Corps will again have a strong presence at the WFMF but we need your help. Tabling at an event like this is best enjoyed with many people to help spread Oxfam's message of righting the many social injustices that face our world. Whether you can offer 1 hour or an entire afternoon, we want to hear from you! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and we'll provide some basic training on how to speak to people about the issues. Click here to sign-up for a time and shoot us an email so we can keep you in the loop with all the important details! Thank you for your help in making this year another successful World Food and Music Festival!

Oh, yeah - I almost forgot! Banana man is making a return appearance...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The New Face of Hunger

Iowa is well-known as a state where a lot of stuff is grown. The dark soil, often described as “black gold”, is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - nutrients that corn, soybeans, and a variety of other plants need in order to grow.  Last year (2013), Iowa saw 2.2 billion (yes – with a ‘b’) bushels of corn grown and harvested (the majority going to feed livestock). The numbers are equally impressive for soybeans and other vegetables.

In a place where so much food is grown, it’s hard to believe that still 1 in 5 Iowans faces food insecurity. Fields upon fields of lush green crop spread over tens of millions of acres across Iowa and, yet, 20% of the people living in the state struggle to feed themselves and their families on an ongoing basis.

That isn't right!

National Geographic Magazine (yes, THAT National Geographic) has a new 8-month series focused on the future of food. They recognize that feeding a planet of 9 billion people by the year 2050 will be a major stressor on our planet’s natural resources and want to draw attention to the importance of and struggles of our food system.  Going to their website on hunger in America, a visitor is met with a very basic question:  Why are people malnourished in the richest country on Earth? Now that’s a big (and good!) question! Why should anyone have to experience malnourishment?

As a part of their series, NatGeo spent time investigating hunger and food culture in three specific communities across the United States, including Osage, IA. Yes, Iowa. Land of the farmer. Fields of plentiful corn, soybeans, and other vegetables. Home to “the new face of hunger”.

The magazine’s August issue captures the story of the Dreier family who is supported in part with the money that spouse and father Jim Dreier makes applying pesticides to fields and driving trucks. But it's not enough. The family said their SNAP benefits were cut 16 percent, to $172 a month, after Congress cut the program last year. The Des Moines Register wrote an article about the magazine’s focus in Iowa and further described the food insecurity rate for children in the 16-county region as well as why NatGeo picked a community in Iowa to spotlight. Briefly: farm subsidies.

A nationwide look at the percentage of people around the country who
rely on SNAP assistance. Darker colors represent higher percentages.

Be sure to check out the amazing, yet saddening infographics, videos, pictures, research, and other details on the National Geographic website or pick up a copy of their August magazine to read more about Osage, Iowa and the other communities NatGeo visited.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014

How do you get your news? Do you turn on a television, perhaps a radio? Do you "fire up" an Internet browser and type in your favorite news URL?

For all the many ways that we can have news communicated to us, so much never gets delivered. Or, rather, so much else gets in the way that we miss important stories. Stories of hope. Stories of tragedy.

The story of South Sudan is the latter, I'm afraid. It's an ongoing story of lives lost, lives disrupted, and livelihoods and futures in peril...but it doesn't have to be!

Three years ago (in 2011), Africa's longest-running civil war ended. But peace in the newly formed South Sudan didn't hold. In December of last year (2013), violence erupted largely upon ethnic lines as a result of a decaying relationship between the president of South Sudan and his former deputy. Since the violence started, over 10,000 people have been killed. Over a million people have been displaced and nearly 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Worse yet, the violence has left upwards of 4 million people in need of immediate assistance: food, clean water, shelter. Without it, the United Nations estimates 50,000 children could die of malnutrition by year's end.

All this has me an era of political wrangling, budget cutting, of putting forth fiscally conservative solutions, how can we, the United States, make our overseas food aid programs do more to save more [lives, money, time, etc.]?

Food aid has its issues. You can read more about them here. Truth is, it’s a system that could do a lot more with existing taxpayer dollars if it just made a few changes. “Get more bang for your buck,” as it were. A current piece of bipartisan legislation – the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 – is aiming to do just that. By ending some ineffective practices with how food is shipped and where it is purchased, existing money can be freed to do more for more people. Millions more people, same amount of money. People, just like those in the South Sudan, could benefit from modernizing the policies in our food aid system. Let's get it done!

Use your voice - take action today! Call your U.S. Senators and ask them to support the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014! If you are not sure who your member of Congress is, click here and enter your five-digit ZIP code. It only takes a few minutes and is a great way to easily participate in the democratic process - remember: they are elected to serve you!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If you build it...

"If you build it, he will come.”

Okay, so maybe I stole that line from the iconic 1989 fantasy-drama film Field of Dreams which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post.  Yet, allow me to modify the quote to its more recognized misquoted form, “If you build it, they will come.”
I’m talking, of course, about that delightful family-friendly tabletop game called Jenga. True story. How so? Easy! For those unfamiliar with Jenga, players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 equally sized blocks. Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller yet less stable structure. Make sense? Good!
Are you ready to have your mind blown? Jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning “to build”.
Therefore…“If you Jenga, they will come.”

I think the pictures speak for themselves. What success we had! 80/35 Music Festival-goers had a delightful time playing our home-built oversized game of Jenga (aptly named: Giant Jenga) while learning about the serious issue of climate change and the role that top food and beverage companies play in contributing greenhouse gases. Think of it as educational Jenga! Or Jenga with a conscience!
Regardless of whatever you might call it, there were several intense games played over the two day festival – some even came back to play multiple games. During more tense moments, when the swaying structure seemed on the edge of collapse, dozens of people along a busy walkway would be at a dead stop, staring, waiting for the tower of bricks to come crashing down. It was fun to watch them.
The goal of Oxfam’s signature campaigns such as GROW and Behind the Brands is to build a better food system for all. After this last weekend, I might say that Oxfam’s goal is Jenga a better food system for all. Brick by brick, lifting up others so that those communities can Jenga a better future for themselves.

To see more pictures from our time at the 80/35 Music Festival, click here.

To learn how to build your own Giant Jenga set, click here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Let's Raise The Wage to Right The Wrong

“I will have more money overall, and it would come from my own hard work, and my family will be better off. … I want to work and stand on my own two feet."

Alicia McCrary, a fast food worker and mother of four from Mason City, Iowa, gave the above statement during testimony at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee meeting in March of this year. Click here to see the video and Des Moines Register article about her testimony.
She was talking about the minimum wage in America: $7.25 per hour; $15,080 per year (full-time work); nearly $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
For too many families in the United States, the minimum wage isn’t enough. I’ve often heard it described as “treading water”. With assistance, you have a chance at meeting your basic needs and staying “afloat” – but you never get ahead. There’s no way to prepare for the next “wave” which could sink you under.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the HELP Committee, has helped champion a #RaisetheWage movement. This legislation would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. It’s a step toward lessening the growing income inequality in the United States. Over the last 30-40 years, the very wealthy have seen a skyrocketing increase in income while middle-class and low-wage earners have seen wages stagnate or decline. It’s not right.
Time to right that wrong, says Oxfam. Oxfam recently released a new report called “Working Poor in America” which contains some incredible, yet, easy to understand data on workers and pay in the United States. And, it’s disheartening. Over 25 million workers in the United States would see their wages improve as a result of a raising of the minimum wage. That’s 25 million people who would see greater disposable income to reinvest into our economy and less dependence on federal and state government aid. That’s 25 million people who will see their first raise since the last federal minimum wage increase in 2007.
As President Obama described it in his 2014 State of the Union address, “Nobody who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” To workers like Alicia McCrary, achieving this real American Dream is when she can take pride in knowing that a hard day’s work means that she doesn’t have to decide between feeding her children and one day sending them off to college. Let’s #RaiseTheWage to #RightTheWrong for 25 million!
Click here to go to the White House’s #RaisetheWage movement and add your name to their list of persons demanding that Congress raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Tell 'em Oxfam sent ya!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to do better...

There are things in my life that I can always improve upon. I could watch less instant video and spend a little more time outside – maybe then I’d feel more connected to nature. I could get out of bed on the first alarm and not hit the snooze – maybe then I’d have less rushing around in the morning to get ready for work.

The point is, in each of our individual lives, there are things that we could always do better. It’s different for every person and it’s not recognition that the life you/we live is inherently bad in any way. Honestly, there are just THOSE THINGS that we know we could do better. In my life, I’m fortunate (?) to have family, friends, and co-workers who tend to let me know when I could do better. Although not always expressed, I know they share most of what they do out of the desire to see me live up to my full potential.
Oh, the parallels!
For General Mills and Kellogg’s, this is exactly what Behind the Brands is all about! People love Cheerios and Frosted Flakes and Pillsbury Crescents and Pringles. But, we, the consumers, have to recognize the environmental impact that is made when they produce these products. And when that impact is large (and it is!), we need these companies to change the way they do business. They can do better! We don't want General Mills and Kellogg's to stop making these products - instead, they should improve their policies, set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and tell their friends in the food industry that there are ways that we can all do better.
Climate change isn't a distant problem. It's here and it's now. Communities all over the globe are beginning to understand the many ways that climate change will make life harder for them. The sooner we work together to correct course, the easier our work will be. To General Mills and Kellogg's: let's work together! Let's find solutions that respect the environment as well as your bottom line. Your consumers, including many Iowans, are demanding change...just check out the pictures below.
An Oxfam volunteer outside of General Mills processing plant in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Oxfam volunteers inside of a Des Moines, IA grocery store in the cereal asile.

Oxfam volunteers near downtown Des Moines, IA.
Thousands have already spoken on and thousands will continue to add their voices to the challenge: Do better, General Mills and Kellogg’s - stop driving climate change!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cheerios: Little Life Preservers or Little Climate Destroyers

For nearly as long as this blogger has been alive, General Mills has been advertising (touting, if you will) that Cheerios cereal-as part of a healthy, balanced diet-can help to lower cholesterol. TV advertisements focusing on the “heart-healthy little life preservers”, especially through the 1990’s and 2000’s, appealed to a public audience who was becoming ever more aware that good nutritional choices would lessen one’s risk of obesity, diabetes, and various other health challenges. Most television commercials and magazine advertisements took advantage of the imagery. That is, little round cholesterol-reducing “life preservers” floating atop an “ocean” of milk (see picture). Utterly slick marketing if you ask me. After all, nobody wants an unhealthy heart.

But for all the effort that General Mills has given to want to protect you, your heart, and (of course) their sales figures, they seem to have forgotten the impact their heart-healthy promoting business has on the environment in which they do business: the Earth. Recent research from Oxfam and their Behind the Brands campaign has revealed that General Mills, maker of some of your favorite products including Cheerios, doesn’t do nearly enough to help protect us or our home.
For example, the top ten food and beverage companies around the world (of which General Mills is a part) use suppliers who contribute enough greenhouse gases annually through raw agricultural production that emissions equal the same as 40 coal-fired power plants. Yet, General Mills remains silent on setting meaningful goals with their suppliers to address and reduce these emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The same basically applies to their supplier’s deforestation policies – mostly non-existent. To be brief, the news doesn’t get any better from there. Check out the full report for more on Oxfam's research (link at the bottom).
From a company that seems to go to a great deal of effort to make me believe that they’re concerned about my heart-health, I'm not feeling like they’re much interested in my longevity or the planet’s.

Oxfam believes that General Mills can and should do more to address their impact on our changing climate:
Step 1: Commit to evaluate and disclose emissions from their supply chains.
Step 2: Commit to set clear targets and actions to reduce these emissions.
Step 3: Speak up on the impact of climate change with their industry partners.
If you believe General Mills should commit to these actions, let them know! Sign the petition and add your voice to the tens of thousands demanding change.
Know and show, Act, and Speak Up. You can do it, General Mills. Be the little life preserver that this planet needs.
Click here to read the full Behind the Brands report, "Standing on the sidelines".