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Sarah Rodman, MPH

Sarah Rodman, MPH

CLF-Lerner Fellow

Center for a Livable Future

Hard work, low pay, poor conditions: Ag jobs and the immigrants willing to do them

Transplanting celery, Tulelake, Calif., 1942 / LOC

Transplanting celery, Tulelake, Calif., 1942 / LOC

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. Workers across the food system face threats to their health, including serious injury and exposure to a whole host of job-related substances like gases, particulate matter, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, arsenic, novel flu viruses, and pesticides. And then there are the high rates of sexual assault among female farmworkers, lack of access to water and toilets, wage theft…. The list goes on.

Recently, Bob Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, wrote a letter to President Obama and four policymakers to express concerns about health threats to workers in factory farms. In his letter, Dr. Lawrence reminds his readers that the majority of workers in agriculture are not citizens. He emphasizes the widely acknowledged dependence on these workers in the agriculture industry. And he asks Read More >

Despite Chavez, U.S. still falls short in protecting farmworkers

Migrant worker, Robstown, Tex., 1942

Migrant worker, Robstown, Tex., 1942 / Arthur Rothstein, Library of Congress

Greetings from sunny California, where today we celebrate the State holiday Cesar Chavez Day! California is known as the fruit basket and salad bowl of the U.S. When we bite into a grape (or strawberry, orange, lemon, almond, date, fig, raisin, olive…), we rarely think about the first hands that touched it. But chances are those hands belong to a California farmworker.

Those hands probably worked very long hours in hot, difficult conditions for very little pay. Those hands belonged to someone who was probably younger than 31 (sometimes 12 years old) and far away from their family and their birthplace south of the border. On the job, that farmworker may have experienced injury, heat stress, pesticide poisoning, sexual assault, or lack of access to toilets or water [1]. And after long hours of hard work, that farmworker may have not been paid the low wages they were owed. Read More >

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Recent Exceptions for Prepared Foods

This story by Sarah Rodman and Lainie Rutkow has been cross-posted from Corporations and Health Watch.

In August 2011, the Rhode Island Department of Human Services launched a pilot program in the Providence area that allows some elderly, homeless, and disabled households to buy “hot prepared meals” using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – but only at Subway sandwich shops. Read More >

Food Systems After Peak Oil: A Look at Cuba

Organopónicos provide much of the food in Cuba

Peak oil is fast approaching, a reality that is widely recognized by many scientific communities and governmental bodies. Many estimate that oil will peak by 2030, if it has not already. When this occurs, oil supplies will begin to decline, making it harder and more expensive to extract every drop. Our food system as it stands today is not prepared to gracefully withstand that decline.

As Roni Neff and colleagues illustrate in their article “Peak Oil, Food Systems, and Public Health,” recently published in the American Journal of Public Health as part of a supplement addressing peak petroleum, our globalized industrial food system relies heavily on oil at every step. Pesticides and herbicides are petroleum products. Farm machinery is manufactured with and runs on petroleum as an energy source. And transporting food extraordinary distances is only possible because of the oil that powers planes, ships and trucks. A large shock in oil prices would have an enormous impact on the current food system. Read More >

Puget Sound Food Network Connects Locally Grown Food to Institutional Markets

June 9-12, Amanda Behrens and I journeyed to Missoula, Montana for the joint annual meetings of the Agriculture Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS), Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) and the Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN). The conference, entitled Food and Agriculture Under the Big Sky: Peoples, Partnerships, Policies, was impressively diverse in its attendees and covered subject matter.

University of Montana campus, where the conference was held

University of Montana campus, where the conference was held

For each session, conference goers had ten choices of roundtables, panels, workshops, or individual paper presentations to choose from. I was constantly torn between attending sessions on subjects I work on or learning about something totally new – Feminism, Labor and Justice or Adaptations to Climate Change? Food Choice and Identity in the Nineteenth Century or Pursuing Poultry Practicalities? While each choice meant missing many others, I was learning and impressed in every session by the presenters. They all brought with them their unique approaches to food systems issues, as theorists, students, policymakers, advocates, and on-the-ground change makers.

I was particularly drawn to one roundtable: Equity, Health & Regional Food Economies: The Power of Institutional Markets. Sourcing healthy local food to institutions has always struck me as an equally daunting and vital task in improving local food systems. I have imagined taking on that task to mean navigating complex power structures and bureaucracies, permits, vested interests of corporate food sources, distribution jargon, etc. So I was excited to hear what the speakers had to say. Read More >

Fair Food in Our 21st Century Economy

Last Wednesday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) held the last of a series of joint workshops on “Agriculture and Antitrust Enforcement Issues in Our 21st Century Economy.” This particular workshop was held at the USDA in Washington D.C. and focused on the issue of price margins – the discrepancies between prices received by farmers and ranchers for the food they produce and the prices paid by consumers for that food. Panelists and public commentary explored potentially anticompetitive conduct in the agriculture sector and discussed the possible need for the application of antitrust laws to address this conduct.

Secretary Vilsack and Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Holder and Secretary Vilsack

This workshop series was the first ever to bring the DOJ and USDA together around competition and regulatory issues in agriculture industries. The attention being given to this subject was reflected in the participation of senior staff at the USDA and DOJ, including Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture, USDA) and Eric Holder (US Attorney General). In addition to senior-level representation, the panels were well balanced to reflect the viewpoints of producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Read More >

Baltimore City Data Day Aims to Empower Baltimore Communities through Democratization of Data

As I intend to dedicate the better part of my career to research, I am often confronted with the fear that even the highest quality data can end up out in the ether of peer-reviewed publications that never make their intended splash, seen by a limited few and impacting even fewer. Last Friday I attended Baltimore City Data Day, held at the University of Baltimore, which was the product of the work of AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, in collaboration with the Baltimore City Department of Planning and Health and the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance – Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI). The goal of the free-to-register conference was to inform community organizations and residents about how to access different neighborhood-based data in order to “help communities expand their capacity to use technology and data to advance their goals.” The idea of allowing data that is collected at all tiers to be used for bottom-up action and advocacy sits well with me. Filtering data back to the communities that they are collected from, in order to strengthen the communities’ own agendas, begins to quell my fears about an academic research career and the uneasiness I feel about the town-gown tension that has historically plagued Johns Hopkins University.

The conference crowd was a mix of community organization representatives, interested citizens and data collectors and researchers. All in attendance received a binder of references for data resources, organized by neighborhood resources, economic development, crime and public safety, public health, housing, environment and 2000 Census information. In addition, there was a grants section with lists of diverse grants available for community organizations and residents to apply to and tips on writing strong grant applications. In this post, I will summarize some of the key resources I encountered throughout the day. For more information on the conference, the agenda, and some of the final presentations, click here.

The morning started with a poster session, followed by a panel discussion on Perspectives on Exploring Your Community Through Data. Kathryn Pettit, Co-Director of the National Neighborhoods Indicators Partnership (NNIP) and Senior Associate at the Urban Institute, highlighted the need to spend resources wisely and to look at communities as a whole, to avoid the warring between silos that may fight for different causes, but share the goal of improving their community. NNIP is a collaboration between the Urban Institute and 34 local partners nationwide that focuses on direct data use by stakeholders to advance the state of practice, build and strengthen local capacity and influence local and national policy. In 2004, they were instrumental in repealing a Rhode Island ban that stopped felons convicted of selling drugs and the felons’ families from ever receiving benefits from the Family Independence Program or Food Stamps. They did so by using data on how many children of felons were being adversely affected by the ban. Read More >

Biological Food in the Netherlands – Big Presence, but Ambiguous Labels, Cost and Disparities Still Issues

When I first arrived in Amsterdam, I was thrilled to see that there was a good-sized and well-stocked organic market on the corner of the street I was staying on. I immediately saw that the awareness of and demand for biological (organic) foods was widespread. I saw organic markets littering many neighborhoods in Amsterdam, along with biological options for almost any kind of food offered in regular supermarkets. In many of the restaurants and cafes I visited, there was often an asterix next to the meat on the menu, with “biologische” in the footnote. The only chain fast-food restaurants I saw were in the busiest most tourist-ridden part of the city. However, my initial enthusiasm was a bit blunted by my eventual discovery that the Netherlands seems plagued by some of the same food systems issues as the United States.

German biological lemonade

German biological lemonade popular in the Netherlands

After Amsterdam, I moved on to visit a friend for a week in University town about 30 minutes away by train, Ütrecht. Ütrecht was also littered with biological markets and even clothing stores. I saw the same presence of biological foods in menus, supermarkets, cheese shops and butcher shops. I began to believe I needed to move there.

I went into a couple of cafes that did not advertise themselves as organic, but in fact, had all biological items on the menus. At one such café, the waiter told me that you have to be careful when considering businesses’ and products’ claims of being organic. It is his impression that there is very little enforcement of biological guidelines in the Netherlands for meat production and produce farming, so it is wise to be wary about what you are being sold. The owners of this café had decided to provide food produced in ways they believed in (organically). They know their meat sources and butchers and have visited them multiple times. But because of the lack of credibility in organic advertising, they operate their business without it. Read More >