In Chile, lunch ladies beaten and detained

Lunch ladies beaten and detained

Last week women who work as manipuladoras de alimentos for public schools in Chile met with the government in Santiago to negotiate contract issues that have been going on for over a year.  To show support for the negotiators, manipuladoras from regions throughout Chile organized a peaceful demonstration outside the government offices.  Special forces showed up in buses wearing riot gear and sprayed the crowd with hoses.  They beat one woman for “blocking traffic” and detained her along with twelve others.

When the police hauled these twelve women away, the union leaders withdrew from negotiations until they were released.  At that point, the union was able to get the government to agree to an across-the-board salary increase to $300.000 CLP per month ($441 US per month for a full-time job — this in a nation that strives to attain “developed” status in the international economic community by 2020), and a yearly bonus of $67.500 CLP ($99 US).  Importantly, the union was also able to stop the government from reclassifying many of the manipuladoras as “maids” who would receive lower wages.

While the government is the target here, the manipuladoras have had to appeal to them because the private companies that actually employ the women have repeatedly broken their contractual agreements without recourse.  Some of these companies are under investigation for fraud, and one company that went out of business after a fraud investigation simply stopped paying the women.  Because their job is to provide food for children, they continued to show up for work for two months without being paid.

Now the government has made a splashy announcement that October 30 will be the national Dia de la Manipuladora.  The women are not impressed, and they vow to continue to fight for their own rights and protections:

“We will not give up!  We’re not just machines that generate profits to the national and foreign companies that have been sold the feeding of our students.  We’re not statistics, much less maids.  We are people and we are demanding what rightfully belongs to us.”

¡Arriba las que luchan!

 

(Photo Credit: Sandra Carola Olivares Martinez)

Day 4 of #‎LiveTheWageVA: This has been an entirely humbling experience for me

This is “Live the Wage” week, an effort to highlight what it’s like for working women and men making the minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (Find out more at www.livethewageva.org. or, on Twitter, at #‎LiveTheWageVA.) If the question is whether or not people CAN live on minimum wage, many folks would probably say yes. In fact, 1.2 million American workers live on minimum wage. But it takes a lot of planning, sacrifice, and hard choices to make it work. Sometimes that choice boils down to which bills you will pay this month, how much food you can put on the table, or whether or not you can visit a doctor.

The question is whether or not people SHOULD HAVE TO get by on $7.25/hr. If you are working hard and playing by the rules, you should be making enough to support yourself and your family. No one is guaranteed success in America, but everyone deserves a fair shot to succeed and make enough to pay their bills.

Truth be told, I’ve been there. My family has been there. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from my early childhood, but one that sticks out for me is from a time that my dad took me to visit my mom at the end of her work shift, cleaning tables at a local McDonalds. She gave me some French fries, and oh my god, they were so tasty! Seeing me happy made her smile, but underneath that smile, was a woman who knew that this wasn’t the American dream. My parents both worked low-wage jobs. My dad also worked in the food industry as a line cook at Skillagalee in Richmond.

My dad ended up taking out a bunch of loans so that he could get a bachelor’s degree, since none of his academic or military background in Vietnam translated to a meaningful job in America. For years, my dad lived and studied in Connecticut, while my mom continued to make things work in Virginia. He graduated and still couldn’t find a job. So they borrowed more money and opened up a restaurant. A successful restaurant. By my fourth grade year, they were able to buy a house in the West End of Alexandria, Virginia. The American dream!

But success came with sacrifice. They worked around the clock, and closed the restaurant between 2 and 4 every day so that they could race home and spend at least some time with my sisters and me as we came home school. Often, they were so tired, they would nap during this break. Who could blame them?

I share this more as a reminder to myself. Because I have forgotten what it’s like to have to be consciously aware of my spending habits. As challenging as this week has been for me, I know that it is nothing compared to the reality for people who are actually living on minimum wage. I get to end my challenge at the end of this week. But my fight for economic and social justice will never end.

(Photo Credit: Facebook / Ralph Northam)

Keep food companies out of WHO policy-making!

The hours of women’s lives spent “grinding, chopping, and cooking,” as Rachel Laudan put it recently, add up to servitude for those like her mother who prepared “homecooked breakfast, dinner, and tea for eight to ten people three hundred and sixty-five days a year.”

But food companies solved that problem for us, right?  They made our lives easier. They squeezed the sweet syrup right out of the corn and baked it into our bread for us.  They went to the lab and found the chemicals that make food last longer on our shelves.  They even determined the precise combinations of salt, fat, and sugar that make food taste good, helping us keep our kids fed.  No more scurvy, no more rickets.  No more weeks upon weeks of potatoes and tea at every meal.  Instead:  variety! deliciousness! ease! availability!  Or in other words, “food products.”

There’s no doubt that industrial food has changed the ways of life of people around the world. Food companies’ solution to a previous problem, though, has created its own set of new problems. Poor working conditions, environmental degradation, and obesity are just a few.

And now, even though there is almost universal agreement that processed food is not good for the bodies that eat it or the bodies that produce it, food companies are doubling down. They don’t want to bow out gracefully, as in, “It’s been a nice run, y’all! Thanks for all the money!” Instead, they want more involvement in our foodways.

The kind of involvement they are vigorously pursuing right now are public-private partnerships. These partnerships are beneficial, food companies say, because they allow them to “work together” with the state toward their “common goals.” Public-private partnerships with food companies have been embraced in the United States in the form of associations like the Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The United Nations, too, has declared that a spirit of cooperation with the private sector is good for everybody.

Now the World Health Organization (WHO) is debating a new Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA). In English, this means they’re trying to determine how much influence for-profit corporations should have in WHO policy-making. Organizations like the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), along with nearly two dozen others, want a strict barrier between companies and the WHO. “Proposals for ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships,’” they say, “would designate junk food manufacturers as partners in the task of addressing obesity, heart disease and stroke.” They don’t want the fox guarding the hen house.

WHO member states should stand firm on FENSA, resisting corporate efforts to set their own terms and escape regulation. While industrial food may have made some women’s lives easier, it has exacerbated inequalities for those who produce it and resulted in high rates of life-threatening health conditions for those who have little choice but to consume it. More corporate involvement will result in less regulation, fewer safeguards, and an expansion of an industry that should be contained and fundamentally reformed.

To express your support for keeping food companies out of WHO policy-making, you can contact the IBFAN here.

 

(Photo Credit: IBFAN.org) (Video Credit: NPR / CBS / AP) (Video Credit: YouTube / History104WWU)

From field to fork, the feeders are fed up … and organizing

 

Wendy’s shareholders met in New York this week. Shockingly, they didn’t meet at a Wendy’s but rather at a posh hotel somewhere in midtown Manhattan. They were met by farmworkers, “convened” by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). The CIW Fair Food Program has organized and lobbied, with great success, for fast-food chains to pay an additional cent for every pound of tomatoes, which would double field workers’ salaries. Pretty much all the chains have signed on — McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King and Taco Bell. In 2005, Taco Bell led the way on signing, under the leadership of their CEO at the time, Emil Brolick. Of the majors, only Wendy’s is an outlier. Guess who’s the current CEO of Wendy’s. You guessed right: Emil Brolick. Irony? Farce? Tragedy? No, it’s just business as usual.

The farmworkers were not the only workers on the streets and in the corridors of the Wendy’s convocation. Local fast-food workers, organized by Fast Food Forward, also showed up and threw down. Fast Food Forward recently documented that wage theft in the fast-food industry is the hidden crime wave of the day. According to their study, 84% of fast-food workers had experienced one wage theft in the past year. Two-thirds had experienced wage theft twice in the past year. Almost half had experienced wage theft three or more times in the past year.

And who are these workers? Overwhelmingly people of color, largely women. Tabitha Verges works at a Burger King in Harlem and went on strike last month. In a recent interview, Tabitha Verges explained, “I do it all. I do three or four jobs. I take orders, I make the orders. I work the cash register. I say, ‘Have a good day.’ I do the inventory. I take out the trash. I get down and scrub the floor. I don’t think $7.25 is nearly enough.”

Elsewhere Tabitha Verges elaborated: “I’m tired of being taken advantage of, working hard doing a three or four person job when there should be other employees there doing the job with us… iIm fed up. I’m so fed up. It’s not right for us to be busting our hump everyday making $7.25 an hour. I myself make $120 a week. I have to provide myself with food, clothes, a roof over my head. My rent is over $700 a month. I’m backed up on my bills. I have to pay Con Edison. I don’t have enough to even survive for the basic necessities in my household… I’m working full time. It’s not right and it’s unfair.”

It’s not right and it’s unfair. What are the good people of Wendy’s waiting for, apart from dessert and drinks after the speeches? From field to fork, the feeders of the United States are fed up. They’re fed up with the common sense that accepts the not-right and the unfair. They’re fed up with the racism, the sexism, the slave wages, the daily abuses. They are tired and fed up with the assaults on personal and individual dignity, on family and community, the assaults on humanity. That’s the reason fast-food workers on strike carried signs that read, “I AM A MAN” and “I AM A WOMAN.” Tabitha Verges is fed up. All the Tabitha Verges’ are fed up. The Burger Kings and the Wendy’s better watch out.

 

(Photo Credit: The Nation / AP / Mary Altaffer)

 

Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

 

(Image Credit: American Dairy Association of Indiana)

It wasn’t Uncle Sam, it was Aunt Sammie (and all her women friends and kin)

The National Archives, in Washington, DC, has an exhibit called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.” It’s a terrific exhibition, open through January 3. If you care about food, the State, agriculture, the table, and what’s in your body and what’s in our bodies and body politic, it’s well worth the visit.

At the same time walking through this bit of history is, at best, a bittersweet experience, given where the United States is today. Lettuce recalled due to listeria contamination. A peanut company that sickened hundreds is fighting tooth and nail to keep its records closed. With thirteen deaths, and rising, the cantaloupe listeria contamination is now the deadliest food poisoning “event” the country has suffered in twelve years, since 1998, when listeria killed 21 people.

Not surprisingly, recent polls show that “Americans” don’t trust their food “system”, and I would say they don’t trust their government either.

That’s why the exhibition is bittersweet. It documents a period in which people hoped, and with reason, that the United States federal government would address food production and distribution, would address hunger, would address everything having to do with “the American Diet.” In 1974, the US government actually paid Dick Van Dyke to explain, in clear and direct language, the meaning of food labels: “Read the label, set a better table.”

But that was 1974. Today? The United States has a First Lady, Michelle Obama, who cares, genuinely, about food, health, the obesity crisis, diet, and well being, and who has absolutely no power whatsoever. Otherwise, the battle continues.

It is the battle, in fact, as shown in the exhibit that may be of most interest. Although the exhibit seems to focus on “Uncle Sam”, it’s actually all the aunts, sisters, mothers, daughters, female partners who forced the State to pay attention to the food system, from field to fork, and to do something, rather than just blather on.

The exhibit shows that the food industry was never too concerned about consumers’ health or well being, and the food industry, from early in the country’s history to present, has never been short of cash or of “friends in high places.” So what’s a woman to do? Organize. Demonstrate. Protest. Turn aprons into lab coats, turn lab coats and aprons into placards, turn lab coats and aprons and placards into movements, legislation, and sustained structures.

And that’s what women did. Women who self identified as farm women, as mothers, as housewives, as home economists, as nutritionists, as teachers, as provisioners. In the twentieth century, women forced the State to engage in school lunch programs. In the nineteenth century, women, like “Mrs. Duragnac”, forced the State to address the contamination of food products, such as exploding ketchup containers and lethal candies, to mention just two items. From the beginning of the United States to today, women have been engaged in one long, continuous food uprising. It’s all in the Archives.

So, Uncle Sam, thanks for your interest. You would never have done a thing, however, if it weren’t for the army of Sammie’s and Sammy’s – aunts and all their friends and kin – pushing, pulling, prodding, and lighting the fire. Aunt Sammie haunts the history of the American diet.

 

(Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives)

 

Women at work, not miracles, feed the village

At the end of November, Durban, South Africa, will host COP 17, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As happened last year, in the run-up to the Cancun conference, the press yet again `discovers’ women farmers, women fisherfolk, women workers, who are at the core of the struggle for climate justice, both as active participants and as targets of environmental devastation and climate change. Yet again, the story is that women `bear the brunt.’

This story takes one of two routes, miracle or mercy. According to the first, by some miracle, women discover a way to feed their communities. According to the second, the slow death of climate change shall have no mercy on women. This week’s Mail & Guardian offers a prime example of the miracle narrative.

In “The `miracle’ tree”, the village of Tooseng is saved by the `miracle’ of the moringa tree. It was no miracle. It was instead Mavis Mathabatha, of the Sedikong sa Lerato drop-in center, which feeds 320 children and provides after-school care. As well it was her mentor, Mamakgeme Mphahlele, who directs Lenkwane Lamaphiri drop-in center, in Mphahlele Seleteng. Both Mathabatha and Mphalele have committed their centers to planting the super-nutritious moringa trees. The moringa leaves are a treasure of nutrients: calcium, vitamin C, potassium, iron, vitamin A, protein, and lots of each.

There was no miracle. Mathabatha and Mphalele, as women in charge of drop-in centers, did what women in charge of drop-in centers do. As Mavis Mathabatha tells the story, the women performed research. They asked questions. They went on-line and researched some more. They found the information, then they found the agencies to provide the seeds, then they found the means. They took care of the children, the community, and, in their way, the world.

Climate justice. Sustaining and sustainable food. Healthy children. These are not lofty, impossible goals, and they are never the result of miracles. They are, instead, produced by women who live in the everyday, in the odinary world we all inhabit, and who struggle to improve it. We have had too many stories of miracle workers. Instead, let’s hear about the neighbors and friends, the women around the corner or in the next village, and what they’re doing. Let’s admire Mavis Mathabatha and Mamakgeme Mphahlele for their radically ordinary pursuit of well being for all.

 

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian)

 

The low spark of high-heeled African women farmers

Esnai Ngwira in mucuna field

The planet of slums is fed, clothed and sheltered by continents, and oceans, of farms, many of them small farms. Many small hold farmers are women. This is the case in China. By focusing on women farmers, China, with 10% of the world’s arable land, now feeds 20% of the world’s population.

And now, according to reports, China is turning to Africa, not in a land grab but rather in skills sharing and capacity building. China “seeks to show its trading partners in Africa that feeding their populations is only possible when women are empowered.” China is pushing for land rights for women farmers and for investing in women farmers. A key problem, however, is “the low skill base of Africa’s farmers, who are mainly women”.

What?

The clause concerning “low skills” is slipped in at the end of an article, but it’s actually a bombshell. The reason “Africa” is hungry is that its women are “low skilled”?

This would come as a surprise to those, such as Andrew Mushita and Carol B. Campbell, who have argued, “Most often, women are the keepers of the seeds, tucked away among the beams in the thatched roof, protected from pests by smoke from cooking fire. Others are stored in tins in another location. Villagers volunteer labour to build storage buildings for seed banks, protecting the treasure within the public trust.”

For centuries, and more, women farmers have tended to the seeds, nurtured biodiversity, sustained communities, developed new, and successful, medical treatments, and more.

Esnai Ngwira, a 57-year-old farmer in Ekwendeni, northern Malawi, would be surprised to hear she has a low skills base. Ngwira has been working with a program that builds social ecology in sustainable ways. Rather than using fertilizer, for example, Ngwira uses crop residue. She gets a better maize harvest, helps the soil, helps the earth. Esnai Ngwira is considered “a star innovator.”

Marie Johansson and Victoria Mulunga, of the Creative Entrepreneur Solutions (CES) in northern Namibia, would also be surprised. They, and the other women in their group, are fusing farming practices, gender-responsive environmentalism, and women’s market practices into a sustainable agricultural political economy. They haven’t done that by relying on a “low skill base.”

Likewise, in Kenya, Joyce Odari, an elderly subsistence farmer, was once arrested by forest guards for having cut down trees in a public preserve. She turned her imprisonment into a women’s sustainable agro-forestry operation, that now involves over 200 women in her region.

There are other stories, other women, other names. In the Gambia, women farmers are using simple store-powered dehydrators and dryers to preserve mangoes, which, as dried fruit, they sell to local schools. The mango is a key source of Vitamin A, and its season is short. By drying and distributing them the women farmers are combating blindness, providing extra nutrition in their own homes, and securing extra income.

The stories are everywhere because the women farmers, everywhere across the African continent, are doing what they do. Storing. Sharing. Experiment. Farming. Sustaining. Experimenting some more. Sharing some more.

The first problem for women farmers, on the African continent as elsewhere, is access. Access to land, access to market. Access to resources, access to decent and equal pay. Access to education and then more education. The second problem is security. Land tenure security, market access security. The third problem is autonomy. Global systems of exchange have no respect for the local “customs”, much less the biodiversity that women farmers have created over centuries through open and principled sharing.

“The low skill base of Africa’s farmers, who are mainly women” pretends to focus on women as it obscures the actual lives that women, in this instance women farmers, lead. Not women farmers’ low skill but women farmers’ access to real power haunts a world teetering on the brink of famine. That’s our world.

 

(Photo Credit: Flickr.com / soilsandfood)

 

Let them eat pesticide

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes.

For the past 37 days, six pro-democracy Iranian asylum seekers have been on a hunger strike outside the central headquarters of the United Kingdom Border Agency, in Croydon, in the south of London. Some had sewn their lips shut. Sewing one’s lips is minor compared to the torture all six had suffered in Iranian prisons. They had the medical evidence to prove the torture, and yet were initially denied asylum. Finally, today, after 37 days on hunger strike, the six refugees – Ahmad  Sadeghi Pour, Morteza Bayat, Keyvan Bahari, Kiarash Bahari, Mahyrar Meyari and Mehran Meyari – were assured their cases would be reopened and they would at least be able to apply once again. They ended the hunger strikes, and proclaimed the struggle continues.

Sometimes, hunger strikes save lives and secure at least the glimmering hope of something like justice.

Then there are the hunger strikes that are fatal and ferocious drone strikes, assaults on the body, community, and land. Globally, over 900 million people go hungry every day. That’s down from one billion the year before, but the prospects for the next year are gloomy. Food prices are on the rise everywhere. In fact, food prices are at a twenty-year high. In Asia and among Pacific island nations, food prices are skyrocketing and food `shortages’ loom large. For example, in the Philippines, thanks in large part to marketization and speculation, rice is suddenly both scarce and overly expensive.  Egypt is running out of food, as is the entire Middle East and North Africa.

But it’s not all bad news. Glencore, for example, is “a leading commodities producer and marketer.” Glencore is doing fine. Along with tons of mineral, literally, Glencore controls 10 percent of the world’s wheat, and 25% of the world’s barley, sunflower, and rape seed. Glencore takes, the world slakes. And then dies … again, literally.

Across the United States, two million men, women and children work on farms, picking by hand fresh fruits and vegetables. The US government estimates that every year 10,000 to 20,000 of those workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning.

In India, over the last sixteen years, 250,000 farmers have committed suicide. That’s one farmer every 30 minutes. And this number only includes the farmers who are acknowledged as such by the national government. Those who can’t hold title, they’re not included. Women farmers, Dalit farmers, Adivasi farmers: they don’t count in life, they don’t count in death. What killed these farmers? Indebtedness. Market liberalization. The invisible hand of the market, that hand which polished shining India, provided farmers with loans they could never pay but had to assume, with dwindling access to water, with impossible competitive demands. And so the farmers die.

And they leave behind notes, addressed to the Prime Minister, to the President, to all the lofty people who are nestled in the invisible hand that killed them.

And they leave loved ones behind. Widows. Children. Women like Nanda Bhandare, a farmer, a widow since 2008. When her husband killed himself, she had to pull her two young children out of school to work the farm. The money, if there was any, has gone to pay off the predators. The land, a small parcel, no longer provides sufficient harvest in the current economies to feed even a family of three. Who will be next to drink the pesticide in that household?

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes. For every hunger strike that saves a life, even temporarily, such as that of the six Iranians in England, there are literally 900 million deadly hunger strikes. The planet is aflame with hunger strikes. Farmers are poisoned and are dying, women and children in particular are starving, and the response of the global market, and of the nation-States it supports and controls, is as it has always been. Let them eat pesticide.

 

(Photo Credit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

 

Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

 

(Photo Credit: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)