Most black families I know strongly believe the way you season food comes from your soul. It’s the heart and love of the cook that makes the meal special. In my own family, “If it ain’t spicy, it ain’t good.” When I was a little boy, and I would be punished, usually for making too much noise, it was off to a chair in the kitchen, where my grandmother would be cooking for the family. This wasn’t really punishment to me, but it did keep me in one place so I couldn’t get into more trouble. I will never forget what seemed like magic, in my grandmother’s kitchen. There would be a pot on every burner, steam clouds to the ceiling, and always something boiling over (usually rice). My grandmother reminded me (as I look back) of a music conductor. If something steams too much, lower the fire or if something boils over, take the lid off or take the lid off AND lower the fire – you get the gist. In any case, she conducted her cooking and tended to it as seriously as if she was babysitting the most fragile and littlest of her grandkids. Food smoke and cloud puffs filled the ceiling and made for quite a scene. It would literally take her all day to get the entire meal prepared. The gas stove in my grandmother’s house would burn from AM to PM and then some, depending on what was on the menu that day. I recall we always had some sort of bean – red, kidney, white or butter. It was always the main course, over rice, with usually a variety of side meats – pickled, smoked or both.
My grandmother had a small garden in the backyard, before it was trendy, as did most of her neighbors. There she grew peppers, tomatoes and of course chayote (or as we say, mirliton). If she didn’t have something fresh in the garden, a trip to the Circle Food store was needed. This usually involved a series of buses to get across town. Making groceries, then loaded with bags, boarding a bus, and then another, or sometimes more, and then walking about a mile with both arms full of food for the family, to get back home and cook. Worth it? I don’t remember any leftovers!
President Ford designated February “Black History month” in 1976, but its roots date back significantly farther. The annual celebration came to be largely through the efforts of Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, Woodson was one of the first African Americans to receive a doctorate degree from Harvard. He dedicated his career to the field of African-American history and lobbied extensively to establish Black History Month as a nationwide institution. Some say February was particularly chosen to coincide with both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays, to acknowledge their roles in the abolition of slavery. Black History Month is the expansion of an annual week in early February that was previously the time African American history and achievement were highlighted.
Black History Month is an important acknowledgement of African American culture, challenges and most notably, contributions in the United States. In celebration of Black History Month we are featuring a series of blog posts about food and farming from various African American authors. Check back weekly for new posts!
Our first blog post is from our Board President, Anthony “Tony” Griffith.
This week, the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory body to the USDA on all things organic met to discuss whether some hydroponic and aquaponic farms could keep their organic certifications. Marianne Cufone, Recirculating Farms Coalition ED, was on the appointed Task Force that collected information and submitted a report for the NOSB on this matter. There were a number of articles discussing the issue – on the front page of New York Times, and National Geographic – and she wrote an op-ed that ran on CNN.com
What’s your take on the matter? Write in and let us know on Facebook!
On Friday afternoon, February 12th, twelve fishing and public interest groups jointly sued the federal government, challenging new regulations allowing industrial fish farming in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), under the Department of Commerce are agencies charged with protecting and managing ocean resources. The groups allege the agencies overextended their authority in creating a permitting scheme for ocean fish farming.
The questionable federal permitting scheme, more than ten years in the making, is an attempt to do an end-run around the United States Congress: multiple national bills that would have allowed and regulated industrial aquaculture never made it into law in the past decade. In an effort to push offshore aquaculture forward without a new law permitting it, NOAA and NMFS decided they would try to regulate fishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the main federal law that controls fishing, and now plan to permit offshore aquaculture as a “fishing” activity.
Finalized in January 2016, the regulations will allow up to 20 industrial facilities and collectively 64 million pounds of fish to be produced each year in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the same amount of wild fish currently caught from the Gulf of Mexico annually (excluding menhaden, a fish used mainly in pharmaceuticals, and pet and fish feed, not for direct human consumption), so farmed fish would essentially double offerings and flood the market.
Fishing communities, conservation organizations, consumer groups, scientists and many others are very concerned about the regulations to allow this new industry. The global experience with open water aquaculture has been riddled with serious problems – water pollution, fish escaping, habitat damage, spread of disease and parasites and more.
With the Gulf of Mexico still recovering from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and existing issues like a large dead zone and run-off pollution, allowing development of aquaculture in the Gulf to many seems irresponsible and unnecessary. Especially given that there are other more sustainable ways to increase availability of domestic seafood without risking harm to the natural environment or competing with commercial fishermen.
Recirculating farms raise fish in aquarium like tanks, located on land. They reuse waste and water, and are closed loop, so they avoid many of the problems associated with open water farms – escapes are very difficult and there is no pollution of the surrounding environment, as everything in system is recycled. Further, because they are not attached to natural waters, a wide range of fish can be raised, to avoid competition with local fishermen.
The groups are challenging the new regulations allowing industrial aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
Read the entire press release here.
On Thursday November 19, 2015 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored major concerns voiced by a wide range of environmental, consumer advocacy, scientific and other organizations, and over 2 million public comments (the most the agency has ever received on a topic) to approve the first ever genetically modified (GM) animal for human consumption – a reportedly “fast growing” salmon.
RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released a statement about the approval.
Some of the major concerns with the salmon are that:
- There are no meaningful long-term studies done on health effects from eating this fish, or the real risks involved if these salmon were to escape into the wild;
- The main stated reason for approval is to strengthen farmed fish’s economic viability — but the FDA has not done due diligence in exploring alternative options;
- While the FDA echoes the company’s contention that the engineered fish are sterile, and thus supposedly unable to reproduce, 100 percent sterility is highly unlikely. There is still risk the fish could unintentionally end up in the wild and intermix with wild salmon; these risks have not been well evaluated;
- The salmon contains compounds that may cause increased allergic reactions;
- FDA failed to adequately explore safer methods for fish production. For example, aquaponics – raising fish in tanks connected to plant grow beds in a closed-loop recirculating system – can naturally achieve fast growth rates for fish, making genetic modification to artificially enhance growth unnecessary. These systems are also space, energy and water efficient – an all around win for our planet; and
- The company that created and will sell the salmon supplied the data FDA used to evaluate the fish’s safety. That is in no way objective or rigorous.
Surprisingly, FDA also decided that the new salmon will not be labeled as GM in stores because the agency says ‘ it is nutritionally equivalent to conventional farm-raised Atlantic salmon’. This is problematic for consumers – they deserve to know that the fish they may be buying and eating is genetically modified, so they can make informed decisions.
Over 9,000 stores owned by 60 chains across the nation have already rejected genetically engineered salmon, including Kroger, Target, Aldi, Trader Joe’s and others. Seventy-five percent of respondents to a New York Times poll said they would not eat genetically engineered salmon, and 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing approval of the so-called “frankenfish.”
With this first approval of a GM animal for human consumption, there is widespread concerns that other GM animals will be approved soon.