An Email I recieved with a remarkable
> The City that Ended Hunger
> by Frances Moore Lappé
> A city in Brazil recruited local farmers to help do something U.S. cities have
> yet to do: end hunger.
> In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not
> caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy. But that realization
> was only the beginning, for then I had to ask: What does a democracy look like
> that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials?
> Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise
> here in the United States—one in 10 of us is now turning to food
> stamps—these questions take on new urgency.
> To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens
> making democracy work for them, real-life stories help—not models to adopt
> wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of
> Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such
> lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its
> population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children
> going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a
> right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy
> food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
> The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger
> effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member
> council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in
> the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved
> regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the
> “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread
> across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy,
> perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of
> citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to
> more than 31,000.
> The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to
> food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It
> offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to
> sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on
> produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers.
> Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor
> people got access to fresh, healthy food.
> When my daughter Anna and I visited Belo Horizonte to write Hope’s Edge we
> approached one of these stands. A farmer in a cheerful green smock, emblazoned
> with “Direct from the Countryside,” grinned as she told us, “I am able to
> support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with
> the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck.”
> The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that,
> as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw
> their incomes drop by almost half.
> In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by
> offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use
> well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese
> acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the
> city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about
> twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners.
> Everything else they can sell at the market price.
> “For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached
> to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city
> agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive
> produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so
> everyone can get good produce.”
> Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy “People’s
> Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily
> serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent
> of less than 50 cents a meal. When Anna and I ate in one, we saw hundreds of
> diners—grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers
> with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still
> others in business suits.
> “I’ve been coming here every day for five years and have gained six
> kilos,” beamed one elderly, energetic man in faded khakis.
> “It’s silly to pay more somewhere else for lower quality food,” an
> athletic-looking young man in a military police uniform told us. “I’ve been
> eating here every day for two years. It’s a good way to save money to buy a
> house so I can get married,” he said with a smile.
> No one has to prove they’re poor to eat in a People’s Restaurant, although
> about 85 percent of the diners are. The mixed clientele erases stigma and
> allows “food with dignity,” say those involved.
> Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school
> gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government
> contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now
> buys whole food mostly from local growers.
> “We’re fighting the concept that the state is a terrible, incompetent
> administrator,” Adriana explained. “We’re showing that the state
> doesn’t have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels
> for people to find solutions themselves.”
> For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to
> “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana
> told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens
> of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and
> radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.
> The shift in frame to food as a right also led the Belo hunger-fighters to look
> for novel solutions. In one successful experiment, egg shells, manioc leaves,
> and other material normally thrown away were ground and mixed into flour for
> school kids’ daily bread. This enriched food also goes to nursery school
> children, who receive three meals a day courtesy of the city.
> The result of these and other related innovations?
> In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as
> evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit
> almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period
> in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And
> between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption
> of fruits and vegetables went up.
> The cost of these efforts?
> Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget.
> That’s about a penny a day per Belo resident.
> Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a “new social
> mentality”—the realization that “everyone in our city benefits if all of
> us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food
> for all is a public good.”
> The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more
> public handouts (although in emergencies, of course, it does.) It can mean
> redefining the “free” in “free market” as the freedom of all to
> participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships
> driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect.
> And when imagining food as a right of citizenship, please note: No change in
> human nature is required! Through most of human evolution—except for the last
> few thousand of roughly 200,000 years—Homo sapiens lived in societies where
> pervasive sharing of food was the norm. As food sharers, “especially among
> unrelated individuals,” humans are unique, writes Michael Gurven, an
> authority on hunter-gatherer food transfers. Except in times of extreme
> privation, when some eat, all eat.
> Before leaving Belo, Anna and I had time to reflect a bit with Adriana. We
> wondered whether she realized that her city may be one of the few in the world
> taking this approach—food as a right of membership in the human family. So I
> asked, “When you began, did you realize how important what you are doing was?
> How much difference it might make? How rare it is in the entire world?”
> Listening to her long response in Portuguese without understanding, I tried to
> be patient. But when her eyes moistened, I nudged our interpreter. I wanted to
> know what had touched her emotions.
> “I knew we had so much hunger in the world,” Adriana said. “But what is
> so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy.
> It’s so easy to end it.”
> Adriana’s words have stayed with me. They will forever. They hold perhaps
> Belo’s greatest lesson: that it is easy to end hunger if we are willing to
> break free of limiting frames and to see with new eyes—if we trust our
> hard-wired fellow feeling and act, no longer as mere voters or protesters, for
> or against government, but as problem-solving partners with government
> accountable to us.
> Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the
> Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is the author of many books
> including Diet for a Small Planet and Get a Grip, co-founder of Food First and
> the Small Planet Institute, and a YES! contributing editor.
> The author thanks Dr. M. Jahi Chappell for his contribution to the article
Monday, March 09, 2009
In Reno, Nevada, the state with the nation's highest repossessions rate, a tent city recently sprung up on the city's outskirts and quickly filled up with about 150 people Photo: AP
Robert Scott Cook, originally from Alaska, walks his dog Tramp through the tent city that sprung up next to the homeless shelter in downtown Reno, Nevada Photo: AP
Nearly 61 per cent of local and state homeless organisations say they have witnessed an increase in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, the Washington DC-based National Coalition for the Homeless study says.
And the problem has intensified since the report was produced in April, along with rising repossessions, soaring energy and food prices and job losses, the group says.
"It's clear that poverty and homelessness have increased," Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition, said.
"The economy is in chaos, we're in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future."
Homeless groups and government agencies from Seattle, in Washington state, to Athens in Georgia, report the most visible increase in homeless encampments in a generation.
"What you're seeing is encampments that I haven't seen since the '80s," said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group of homeless groups in west coast cities.
In Reno, Nevada, the state with the nation's highest repossessions rate, a tent city recently sprung up on the city's outskirts and quickly filled up with about 150 people. Many, such as Sylvia Flynn, 51, who came from northern California, ended up homeless after losing their jobs and home.
Officials say they do not know how many homeless the city has. "But we do know that the soup kitchens are serving hundreds more meals a day and that we have more people who are homeless than we can remember," Jodi Royal-Goodwin, the city's redevelopment agency director, said.
In California, the upmarket city of Santa Barbara is housing homeless people who live in their cars in city car parks while Fresno, has several tent cities. Others have sprung up in Portland in Oregon, and Seattle, where homeless activists have set up mock tent cities at city hall to draw attention to the problem.
Meanwhile, new encampments have appeared, or existing ones grown, in San Diego, Chattanooga in Tennessee, and Columbus, Ohio.
A recent report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development noted a 12 per cent drop in homelessness across the nation, but the latest figures – from 2007 – predates the current housing and economic crisis.