food – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Poverty rising in Chicago Thu, 19 Sep 2013 20:15:45 +0000 Nearly 1 in 4 Chicagoans, totalling over 636,000 people, lived below the federal poverty level in last year, according to the Census Bureau’s newly released community survey — indicating an anemic recovery and city economic development policies which have failed to target living-wage jobs for neighborhood residents.

The number represents an increase of over 6,500 Chicagoans in poverty over last year’s survey.

The Illinois Hunger Coalition cited the figures to argue that Congress should reject cuts to nutrition assistance now under consideration in the House of Representatives.

“Hunger and poverty rates spiked at the beginning of the recession and have stayed high ever since,” said Diane Doherty of IHC.  “Given the economic struggles that continue to persist in this state, it is outrageous that Congress is even debating cuts to SNAP,” said Diane Doherty of IHC.

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.  The House of Representatives is set to vote on a Republican proposal to cut funding for the program by $40 billion over the next ten years.

An estimated 1.85 million people in Illinois live in poverty, including 20.7 percent of children, according to the survey.  Previous surveys have found that more than half of African American children in Chicago live in poverty.

IHC has also cited a new study from the Food Research and Action Center that found that more than 22 percent of Illinois households with children said there were times when they could not afford the food they needed.

“What these data tell us is that there’s a new reality for too many Americans,” Doherty said.

Illinois considers GMO labelling Mon, 16 Sep 2013 20:31:47 +0000 Supporters and opponents of state legislation to require labelling of genetically-engineered food will testify Tuesday at a State Senate subcommittee hearing in Chicago.

The subcommittee on food labelling will consider SB 1666, sponsored by subcommittee chair David Koehler (D-Springfield), on Tuesday, September 17 at 10:30 a.m. in Room C 600 of the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

Testifying in support of Koehler’s bill will be Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist of Consumers Union; Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch; and UIC professors Ann Reisner and William Kling.

Opinion polls show popular support for labelling of genetically-engineered foods in the range of 90 percent.  Fifty developed nations require labelling, including every European Union member.  Connecticut and Maine also require it, and 26 other states are currently considering similar measures.

Two previous hearing showed strong support for the measure downstate, said Emily Carroll of Food and Water Watch.  She said farmers in Central Illinois complain of sharply increased herbicide usage, necessary to address “superweeds” which have developed resistance to herbicides which GE crops are bred to withstand.

“We’re seeing a huge ‘superweed’ problem” as biotech companies respond to “pesticides that are no longer working” by “wratcheting up the toxicity level” — including the recent promotion of 2,4-D, an Agent Orange component — said Emily Carroll, a local organizer for FWW.   Some of these herbicides have demonstrated human health risks, she said.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would raise food costs and give them impression that genetically-engineered foods are unsafe.

According to FWW, many steps that would be required are already being taken, including segregating seeds and labelling products for ingredients and nutritional value, as well as steps required for exporting food to nations requiring labeling.  While the food industry projects major costs for consumers, FWW points to research showing that labeling in Europe has actually had negligible cost effects.

And while the food industry points to numerous studies finding genetically-engineered foods to be safe, critics say the research is incomplete, in part because biotech companies bar cultivation for research purposes.  Some research has turned up evidence of health impacts in laboratory animals, they say.

The federal FDA ruled in 1996 that genetically-engineered foods are no different than conventional foods.  State-level mandating of labelling wouldn’t be the first time that states instituted such regulations before the federal government was willing to do so, Carroll said.

The vast majority of Illinois’s corn crop and the nation’s soybeans and cotton are grown from genetically engineered seeds.  Biotech companies are now experimenting with genetically-engineered salmon and hogs.

Walmart turns 50 Fri, 29 Jun 2012 22:54:40 +0000 A coalition of Walmart workers, community groups, and small businesses is throwing a 50th birthday party for the retail giant.

In that spirit, here’s a story from Walmart’s earliest days (related at length here a few years ago): At the time of Walmart’s founding in July 1962, President John Kennedy passed a law extending the minimum wage to retail workers – with a loophole for companies earning less than $250,000.  Sam Walton promptly divided his stores into individual companies so they could be exempt.

On Saturday, community activists will pass out birthday cupcakes outside the Walmart Express at Presidential Towers, and Walmart workers — employees of local stores who are part of the new OUR Walmart group, along with members of Warehouse Workers for Justice — will tell stories of low wages, unaffordable health coverage, and wage theft.

It takes place a 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 30, at 570 W. Monroe.

“The past 50 years have really not been great for our economy, and Walmart’s growth is not unrelated to that,” said Janel Bailey of Chicago Neighborhoods First, a coalition of labor, community groups, and small business.

“Because they’re such a large employer, their model has had an impact throughout the retail industry and throughout the economy,” said Susan Hurley of Chicago Jobs With Justice.  “What they have done to the standard of living of working people has been dramatic and quite harmful.”

With the closing of Walmart departments and stores where employees have voted for union representation, thousands of workers across the country are now coming together in OUR Walmart (it stands for Organization United for Respect at Walmart).  It’s a nonunion association, as is Warehouse Workers for Justice.

And because previous efforts to block Walmart’s entry into Chicago failed – the company is pioneering a smaller format, the Neighborhood Market, allowing it to move into properties already zoned commercial without the public oversight required for big box developments, Hurley points out – local activists are focusing on supporting Walmart workers and “reforming” the company.

Food deserts and food stamps

While the company talked about filling “food deserts,” nearly all its Chicago stores are in affluent areas downtown or on the North Side – and its Walmart Express in Chatham is in an area with a thriving business district.

“The food desert talk was a red herring, part of the p.r. push to get into the city,” said Bailey.

“Food deserts are only part of the story,” she said.  “Areas that lack food access also lack access to good jobs.  Food deserts are also living wage deserts.  The problem is that if you’re not paying a living wage, you’re not really solving the problem of access to food.”

Indeed, half of all Walmart employees qualify for food stamps – not a strong sign that access to food is high on the company’s priorities.  (With Walmart now accepting food stamps, Newstips pointed out a couple years ago, “the money paid by taxpayers to supplement Walmart’s low wages can now be spent at Walmart, contributing even further to the Walton family’s riches.”)

On top of that, it’s estimated that $225 million is spent nationally on free and reduced school lunches for children of Walmart employees.

Meanwhile, in recent years Illinois has led the nation in tax subsidies to Walmart.  That’s in addition to providing Medicaid for many of the company’s employees.

In another 50th anniversary event, Interfaith Worker Justice is holding a prayer vigil on Friday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Walmart at 3636 N. Broadway.  The group is calling on the company to mark its anniversary by finding ways to “give back for the sake of the neighborhood.”

Sustainable backyards Fri, 04 Mar 2011 16:56:33 +0000 A Northwest Side park which has become a hive of urban gardening activity will hold its first garden exchange tomorrow, featuring workshops on creating “sustainable backyards.” If you are looking to have a pond installed then visit, they build beautiful ponds.

The event takes place at  Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, 3501 N. Kilbourn (Saturday, March 5 from 1 to 4 p.m.) and raises funds to support programming for children.

It’s the Chicago Park District’s only “teaching organic greenhouse,” and it features the only public fruit tree orchard in a major city, along with a prairie garden with native wildflowers, a rain garden, and a popular community garden. It’s all backed by a large and enthusiastic group of volunteers (and a Facebook page), said coordinator Kirsten Akre.

The garden exchange will offer donated gardening and cooking supplies, tools, books and magazines at cut-rate prices. Organic compost will be for sale along with seeds for early spring plants, and a rain barrel and a composter will be raffled off.

Three workshops in the fieldhouse are available (there’s a $5 charge for each).  Seneca Kern of We Farm will offer an introduction to organic gardening, Blayne Greiner of the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Windy City Harvest will discuss “farming the frost” with plants appropriate to early spring gardening, and Ellen Meyer of DuPage Master Gardeners will speak on “winter sowing,” using small containers to grow seedlings for transplant.

In the greenhouse there will be free demonstrations covering soil by Robert Lee, a Chicago master gardener; worm composting by master composter Lila Russell; and rain barrels and composting bins by Kathleen Boyle, a Chicago Conservation Corps volunteer.  (CCC now has a blog tracking some of the activities of its many volunteers, by the way.)

Educational efforts at the greenhouse range from programming for preschool and elementary school kids to service learning for high school students, Akre said.

“They get so enthused,” she said.  “They beg me for salad, they beg me for kale.  They want to grow, they want to cook.”

Protest Monsanto in Haiti Fri, 04 Jun 2010 18:13:55 +0000 Supporters of Haitian peasants will burn hybrid seeds and plant heirloom seeds at a community garden in Woodlawn tonight to support a similar action in Haiti protesting a shipment of Monsanto seeds by US AID.

It’s sponsored by Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti and takes place at the new Woodlawn Community Garden, 65th and Woodlawn, tonight (Friday, June 4) starting at 6:30 p.m.

The event will feature spoken word artists, reports from Haiti, and speakouts about food security and access to fresh produce on the South Side.

According to reports, the Peasant Movement of Papay will burn Monsanto seed at a march in Haiti today, World Environment Day, to protest the seed shipment.

Monsanto’s hybrid corn doesn’t produce usable seed the way traditional varieties do, thus potentially “forcing the now-indentured peasant to buy seeds from Monsanto or one of the other hybrid/GMO seed monopolies in perpetuity….

“Since gaining their independence from France more than 200 years ago in a bloody slave uprising, Haitian farmers have wisely protected their seeds and nurtured native crop varieties,” writes Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association at Huffington Post. “They know that true food security is maintained by farmers who save, trade and breed indigenous seeds using traditional organic methods.”

The Monsanto seed requires intensive water, pesticides and herbicides. And it’s treated with a toxic fungicide, which the US EPA has banned for the home garden market.  The EPA requires farmworkers handling fungicide-treated seed in the U.S. to wear protective clothing.

Via Campesina, a worldwide federation of farmer organizations, has called Monsanto “a principal enemy of peasant sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.”

According to Cummins, food justice activists opposed President Obama’s appointment of Rajiv Shah to head US AID due to his work promoting GMOs with the Gates Foundation, which works closely with Monsanto.

In the event of rain the program will take place in the Backstory Cafe at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone.

Company store: Pullman to Wal-Mart Tue, 04 May 2010 21:24:47 +0000 Wal-Mart’s effort to move into Pullman invites a comparison of the 21st century company store with the 19th century version.

“The parallels are almost too obvious too mention,” said Jeff Helgeson, a Pullman resident who teaches labor studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  “There’s a sense in which [Wal-Mart] is very much like the model community of Pullman.”

Built by George Pullman as a planned community for workers at his railroad car plant, the town of Pullman was “celebrated internationally as a utopia,” but “within 15 years was the scene of one of the largest labor strikes in U.S. history,” Helgeson said.  He’s one of a group of neighborhood residents who’ve organized Labor Day celebrations to mark Pullman’s history.

Like Wal-Mart, the Pullman Company paid lower wages than other employers. (In 2004 a University of California-Berkeley study found Wal-Mart’s wages for non-managerial employees were 31 percent lower than the average retail wage; Chicago’s Center for Labor and Community Research estimated that Wal-Mart wages were $2 to $3 below those of its competitors.)

Both companies banned trade unions.  Both companies are known for spying on their workers to prevent any stirrings of organization.

The Pullman Company also owned every home, every store, every school, and every church in the town – even the town library – until the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the sale of all non-manufacturing property in 1898, ruling that company towns are “opposed to good public policy and incompatible with the theory and spirit of our institutions.”

A low-income cycle

Wal-Mart has commonly been called a “company store” because, in economist R.J. Eskow’s words at Huffington Post, “Wal-Mart lowers your living standards then sells you cheap goods that are all you can afford.”

“Wal-Mart has created and perpetuated a low-income cycle of worker/consumer,” said Al Norman of Wal-Mart Watch in an interview with Grist.  “Wal-Mart’s 1.5 million workers have to shop at the company store because they can’t afford to shop elsewhere. It’s a great closed-loop system, akin to a plantation where the field workers went to the company store with their day’s wages.”

“In a chilling reversal of Henry Ford’s strategy, which was to pay his workers amply so they could buy Ford cars, Wal-Mart’s stingy compensation policies…contribute to an economy in which, increasingly, workers can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart,” wrote Liz Featherstone in the Nation in 2004.

A couple years later Barbara Ehrenreich wrote of “signs… that Wal-Mart was beginning to be priced out of the reach of its own employees.”  Workers getting $8 or $9 an hour buy their clothes at thrift stores, she pointed out, and the store’s electronics and lawn and garden products “weren’t even on the distant horizon.”

In at least one other country, an old-school solution was attempted – company scrip.  But in September 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court ordered Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary to stop paying its employees in vouchers redeemable only at Wal-Marts.  (The company called the program its “Social Welfare Plan,” according to one report.)

The court held that the practice was “similar to what happened in old company stores” that were outlawed by the constitution of 1917, Reuters reported.

Food stamps: a double boost

Another approach may be on view in Wal-Mart’s store on Chicago’s West Side.  Employees there interviewed by Chicagoist said “the company purposely cut worker’s hours [so they] can remain eligible for the Link Card,” the state’s food assistance program.

“There’s a lot of workers on Link,” says one employee, and when workers’ hours are cut, their Link Card allocation goes up.  And “shoppers that use their Link card at Wal-Mart include many Wal-Mart employees,” according to Chicagoist.

The use of public assistance programs like food stamps and Medicaid by underpaid Wal-Mart employees has long been an issue.  In 2004 California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber released Wal-Mart’s “Instructions to Employees” telling them how to sign up for food stamps and health assistance.  “Public assistance is very clearly part of the retailer’s cost-cutting strategy,” Featherstone wrote.

But with Wal-Mart supercenters now selling food – and accepting Link Cards – the company gets a double boost to its bottom line.

The old company store merely recouped the wages the employer had paid out.  In this innovative twist, the money paid by taxpayers to supplement Wal-Mart’s low wages can now be spent at Wal-Mart, contributing even further to the Walton family’s riches.

It gives an entirely new meaning to the term “corporate welfare.”

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Washington and Wal-Mart Sun, 01 Nov 2009 19:54:43 +0000 At Mechanics, Ramsin Canon looks into Laura Washington’s recent writings attacking Chicago unions for opposing jobs in the black community (meaning Wal-Mart jobs).

“In Laura Washington’s world, is the choice only between food deserts and terrible working conditions for working people of color? Can’t we eliminate food deserts without making the standard of living even worse for working class people?”

Washington’s current piece presents Republican candidates in search of black votes; her earlier piece relied on data from the Chamber of Commerce.  There might be other sources of information worth checking into.

Earlier we highlighted a report by In These Times (where Washington is a columnist) noting judgments by the NLRB and Human Rights Watch that Wal-Mart regularly and systematically violates the legal and human rights of its employees.  And reviewing  the company’s long history of law-breaking, we cited a report that after Wal-Mart moved into southern California and forced groceries there into a race to the bottom, the proportion of grocery workers in the region who had health benefits dropped from 97 percent in 2003 to 54 percent in 2007.

Washington might want to check with South Side faith leaders who joined Grassroots Collaborative this summer in calling for standards for large retailers.  And she might want to check with food justice activist LaDonna Redmond, who recently opened an organic grocery in Englewood; she stressed the importance of local ownership when she talked with Newstips in June.

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Food justice, Chicago and Detroit Wed, 16 Sep 2009 15:13:46 +0000 The Root profiles Chicago food justice activist LaDonna Redmond (via Progress Illinois) — including her Graffiti and Grub store (first covered by Newstips) and a related effort in conjunction with the Washington Park Homeowners Association and Southwest Youth Collaborative to develop empty lots into community farms employing local youth. 

Redmond also has a contribution to the Nation’s recent forum on Food and Democracy — but the most fascinating piece there is from 94-year-old Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs. 

In her town, a group called Detroit United which defeated a 1988 attempt to develop a casino industry there went on to establish Detroit Summer, an intergenerational, multicultural program involving youth and elders in planting community gardens and painting community murals.  That movement triggered the Detroit Agricultural Network, which now includes 700 community gardens.