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A Right to Food?

Frances Moore Lappé, The Nation
“If someone can’t afford to buy food, they’re still a citizen and we’re still responsible to them,” city official Adriana Aranha in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, told me in 2000. What a concept–and one that had helped her to lift her Workers’ Party to victory in municipal elections seven years earlier.

Declaring healthy food a right of citizenship in Brazil’s fourth-largest city, the new administration drew together voices from labor, the church and citizen groups. Their innovations, coordinated by a new city office of food security, range from twenty-five fair-price produce stands supplied by local farmers to open-air restaurants serving 12,000 subsidized meals daily to city-sponsored radio broadcasts leading shoppers to the lowest-priced essentials.

These and many more city-led initiatives to end hunger consume only 1 percent of Belo’s budget, but they’re working. Hard evidence is the city’s infant death rate, a widely accepted measure of hunger, which fell an astonishing 56 percent over the first decade of these efforts. Belo’s approach has inspired multiple right-to-food initiatives nationwide as part of President Lula’s Zero Hunger Program.

…Yet making a “right to eat” our essential frame for fighting hunger has pitfalls, too.

For one, rights and power are too easily uncoupled. Prisoners have a right to food, for instance…but their power? Even a totalitarian state can guarantee the right to food.

Also, hearing “rights,” one can quickly slide into passive mode–to assumed provision by somebody else, as in the right to an education or to a jury trial, where it makes perfect sense. The frame doesn’t necessarily spur people to envision and build their own power. It can also lead one to imagine an end-point state of being–something settled–not necessarily an unending process of citizen co-creation.

So might there be a more basic frame for addressing hunger? Yes, I think so. And it starts with power.
(24 Aug 2006 / Sept 11 issue)
Also posted at Common Dreams.

Biofuels may strain U.N. goals of ending hunger

Alister Doyle, Reuters
STOCKHOLM – Rising production of biofuels from crops might complicate U.N. goals of ending hunger in developing countries, where 850 million people do not have enough to eat, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.

“There’s a huge potential for biofuels but we have to look at … competition with food production,” said Alexander Mueller, assistant Director General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Production of fuels from sugar, maize, soybeans and other corps is surging, spurred by oil prices above $70 a barrel and a drive for more environmentally friendly fuels from renewable sources.

“This is a completely new issue, we only know that this has impact on the question of feeding the world,” he told a news conference during a meeting of 1,500 water experts in Stockholm.

Still, he said that a surge in biofuels production in the past year or two had not hampered food supplies.
(23 Aug 2006)

I was a student dumpster-diver

Larry Barnard, Globe & Mail
Dumpster-diving reminds people that our society is not functioning as well as it should. But what to do with that information? I know what’s easiest.
…I’m a student at the University of Victoria. To expand my employment horizons I enrolled in a business writing course. My final assignment was to write a formal report, and I chose to do mine on the arrest of the two homeless men [for dumpster diving]. The professor said, “That would be too difficult. Instead, why don’t you analyze the nutritional content of several dumpsters? That way, you could moralize without moralizing.”

A fellow classmate, Galen, did not have an idea for a project, so we partnered up. That is how we come to be in a dumpster that smells like a fridge after you’ve been away for a couple of weeks. Times a hundred. It is late at night, so we whisper to avoid detection. I hand food up to Galen and he places it into Ziploc baggies. A row of cedars shields us from the neighbours’ view. Galen asks me a riddle, “What has four wheels and flies?”

Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, known for his studies on poverty, provides evidence that most famines are not caused by a lack of food. Starvation can result from food leaving the afflicted region. Sen notes that the 1974 Bangladesh famine occurred “in a year of peak food availability [because] several occupation groups had lost their entitlement to food through loss of employment and other economic changes.” The problem was not a lack of food; the problem was a lack of money.
(24 Aug 2006)

The shocking truth about bread

Andrew Whitely, The Independent
Flour, yeast, water and salt – a traditional loaf needs only four ingredients. So why are calcium propionate, amylase, chlorine dioxide and L-cysteine hydrochloride now crammed into our daily bread? Andrew Whitely, Britain’s leading organic baker, reveals how our staple foodstuff was transformed into an industrial triumph, but a nutritional and culinary disaster. And, overleaf, he shares essential recipes for making your own slice of homemade heaven

Back in the early 1960s, the national loaf was fundamentally redesigned. The flour and yeast were changed and a combination of intense energy and additives completely displaced time in the maturing of dough. Almost all our bread has been made this way for nearly half a century. It is white and light and stays soft for days. It is made largely with home-grown wheat and it is cheap. For increasing numbers of people, however, it is also inedible.

Now, as technology finds ever more ingenious ways to adulterate our bread, so science is revealing the havoc this may be causing to public health. As recent research suggests, we urgently need to rethink the way we make bread.

British industrial bread commands little respect. This isn’t surprising when it is promoted with such mixed messages. Some loaves, described as having ‘premium’ qualities, seem barely distinguishable from others being sold at less than the price of a postage stamp. ‘Healthy-eating’ brands, adorned with images of nature and vitality, make detailed claims about the virtues of this or that added nutrient. But the big bakers keep quiet about nutrition when pushing their ‘standard’ loaves, which still account for over half of the market and are sold on price alone.
(24 Aug 2006)
My household has been baking a lot of sourdough bread lately. It not only fills the house with a wonderful smell (both when raising and cooking) it is a tastes wonderful. It keeps longer than commercial bread (the heavy rye loaves easily two weeks) without any preservatives. It’s better than anything sold commercially as ‘sourdough’ – most of which have no sourness. As Ran Prieur notes, many people with wheat or “yeast” allergies have no problem eating real sourdough. See Ran’s sourdough page.

To get the most out of your grains you can mill them yourself. Flour is made white for reasons of storage. We remove the nutritious parts of the grain so bacteria and moulds find it difficult to live on them. Wholemeal flours go rancid more readily than white, however by buying whole grains and home milling you get fresh nutritious flour. Commercial milling processes can destroy certain nutrients due to the heat of the process, which surpasses that of baking. Home stone milling is much cooler so beneficial in that regard also.

That said, grain agriculture can be particularly destructive, as I wrote a little about recently. (There may be exceptions.) Perhaps we should ultimately be moving towards nuts and tubers as staple carbohydrate sources.