A food symposium runs the risk of becoming a mawkish gathering of foodie intelligentsia basking in the glow of the locavore's paradise that is here in Durham and Chapel Hill.
Except on the first day of Shared Tables: A Triangle Symposium on Global and Local Food Studies, sitting in UNC-Chapel Hill's Hyde Hall listening to a lecture on food and fuel, I heard this from a professor on the distinguished panel:
"We have a food system that sucks."
And then I heard it again, coming from the moderator.
These people are serious.
The bold approach to food issues began around Jacqueline Olich's kitchen table. As Associate Director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at UNC (CSEES), she was looking for a way to use a Title VI U.S. Department of Education grant awarded to the center for four years of Interdisciplinary Symposia on Sustainability & Innovation in Global Contexts. She thought of the impact of food on global economy and culture and settled on her topic.
Then, she learned that Triangle University Food Studies (TUFS), an organization comprised of members from N.C. State, UNC and Duke, had already scheduled nationally acclaimed urban agronomist and community organizer Will Allen to come speak. It was then that she invited members of TUFS, CSEES and the Kenan-Flagler Center for Sustainable Enterprise to meet around her own kitchen table and collaborate on a two-day event at both UNC and Duke. Why?
"Our brazen challenge or question was: How can we feed the world?"
Today's theme focused on global perspective, kicking off with a panel discussion on food issues, politics and farming in the European Union, a region tangled in economic turmoil. An example of Polish farmers taking the reins of small agriculture and pushing for change proved particularly inspiring among students, professors, researchers and local professionals in the lecture room.
The next panel, titled "Food Security, Sustainable Food Systems, and Global Change," began with a list of harrowing global statistics, such as the fact that by 2050, our global population will reach 9 billion. Currently one-seventh of the world's population (925 million people) experiences chronic hunger. Food production will need to increase by 70 percent by 2050 in order to make sure that number doesn't rise. L. George Wilson of N.C. State provided the statistics, also highlighting food waste and his efforts with U.S. Aid's Feed the Future program to implement programs in developing nations that help preserve the quality of their food in the time it takes to travel from the harvest to the market.
Meanwhile, nutritionist, professor and author Suzanne Havala Hobbs presented the "the global problem of over-nutrition," stating plainly that the United States is "the fattest country in the world," with 30 percent of our citizens listed as obese. "Obesity is a national security issue, in my opinion," she stated.
UNC Department of African and Afro-American Studies Chair Eunice Sahle intrigued the audience with her research on development in Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya, where she said "African countries are forced to destroy their own agriculture in order to export commodities."
The outspoken honesty in these statements carried over to the audience. One woman, a student studying public health, stood up and asked, "As an American consumer and inherent capitalist, what can I do?"
"Your American citizenship, you can use that," Sahle said. "It has a lot of normative power in shaping agrarian policy."
While the after-lunch panel focused on food and fuel, the power of consumer choice in a first-world nation remained a bold theme. We learned that in 2008, the depreciation of the dollar coupled with the rise of the cost of grain increased global food prices by 20 percent. Grain is an energy drain, too, as the crop that uses the most fertilizer.
Another connection with food and energy: meat production. Osei Yeboah, Associate Professor in Agribusiness and Applied Economics and N.C. A&T University, stated that one beef cattle requires 2.5 acres to raise. Duke University law professor Jedediah Purdy, who facetiously prefaced his talk as "unreasonable," said this posed an issue of "the denial of self-satisfaction" for consumers in this country.
"If consumers don't demand those changes in agricultural policy and health," said Yeboah, "it's not going to happen."
The audience left wide-eyed. At Duke tomorrow, they tackle local issues—point-blank.
Food truck vendors hungry to do business in Chapel Hill can apply for a permit beginning Thursday.
From the town's press release: The process will require several permits, including applications from the food truck vendor and the property owner, and business licenses, as well as documentation from the originating county's health department showing that approval has been given. The Town of Chapel Hill's annual fee for the food truck vendor is $718 while the annual fee for the property owner is $118. In addition, the food truck vendor must have a business license to operate in Chapel Hill.
Food truck vending is generally limited to commercially zoned, privately owned properties that can accommodate additional foot traffic. There are restrictions on food truck on-site locations and on hours of operation.
To apply for the associated permits to operate a food truck in Chapel Hill, visit the Permit Center on the 3rd floor of Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., or call 919-968-5066. Staff will help determine which permits an operator at a proposed location will need. For additional information posted online including a Frequently Asked Questions web page.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, as the waiters and waitresses of America braced themselves for the flood of well-intentioned dinner dates, activists gathered in Raleigh to argue restaurant workers should be paid more.
The representatives from the NC Justice Center, N.C. Council of Churches, North Carolina MomsRising, and the North Carolina AFL-CIO met in Nash Square Park on Monday chose the date—Feb. 13—to symbolize the subminimum wage that many restaurant and service workers earn.
At $2.13 an hour, the subminimum wage, also called a tipping wage, is the portion of the minimum wage that employers must guarantee their workers. To earn more than $2.13 an hour, servers depend on tips. When the subminimum wage plus tips is less than the federal minimum hourly wage of $7.25, employers then must make up the difference.
The result, according to a report released by the NC Justice Center, is an average hourly wage of $9.66 for the 340,000 food service and serving-related jobs in North Carolina. A full third of waiters and waitresses live at or below the federal poverty level.
Part of the problem is that the $2.13 tipping wage hasn’t increased in more than 20 years. After its introduction in 1966, the tipping wage was pegged at or near 50 percent of the federal minimum wage. However, in 1996 federal legislation, the tipping wage was frozen at $2.13 while minimum wage rose to $5.15. The tipping wage has remained at $2.13 ever since, even as the minimum wage has increased.
That five-dollar gap has enormous ramifications. “When two-thirds of your wage comes from whether or not the person in front of you likes the way you look, you end up acting in a way that matches their desires, not really as a human interaction,” said Sendolo Diaminah, who worked as a server from 2008—2011, after one year of looking for a job. Although he was a successful waiter, Diaminah’s income fluctuated widely depending on how busy his shifts happened to be, or if nearby Duke University was in session.
Current conditions in the restaurant industry are also a threat to public health, according to the NC Justice Center report’s author, Sabine Schoenbach. “In North Carolina, four out of five workers in food-service occupations lack paid sick days,” Schoenefeld wrote, often forcing them to work when they’re ill because they could not afford the lost income, or because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
She reports a statistic that two-thirds of restaurant workers had served or prepared food while sick, and a more horrifying statistic that 12 percent of restaurant workers had stayed on the job while experiencing vomiting and diarrhea.
The lack of paid sick days and volatility of income also has nuances of a gender equality issue, says Schoenbach, noting that almost 80 percent of tipped workers are women. Beth Messersmith, campaign director of NC MomsRising, says the conditions are especially difficult for mothers, who must balance motherhood with unforgiving schedules, and low wages with childcare costs. “Mothers shouldn’t have to choose between being good parents and good employees,” said Messersmith.
The voices and concerns from Nash Square echoed a national day of action from the Restaurant Opportunities Center, whose local branches nationwide met with national legislators to discuss the tipping wage.
The ROC is campaigning for the passage of the WAGES Act, a bill that would update the tipping wage to $5.50 over two years. The bill would also ensure the tipping wage would be at least 70 percent of the minimum wage.
The WAGES Act, however, is facing opposition from the National Restaurant Association and others. “I think ultimately what it’s about is passing the costs of uncertainty onto the workers,” said Diaminah. During the recession, he noticed diners continued to eat out, but tipped less—a hit absorbed entirely by his and his co-workers’ paychecks. “We become the shock absorber for the economy.”
There was no chicken coup in Cary Thursday night, as the Town Council postponed a final decision on whether to ease restrictions on backyard hens within the town limits.
The council voted 5-2 to direct town staff to draft an ordinance that would allow backyard hens, albeit with some restrictions. A public hearing will be held on the ordinance before the Town Council takes a final vote.
Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and Councilman Jack Smith cast the dissenting votes. Weinbrecht said he is concerned about the enforcement of the ordinance, real estate values of properties near homes with backyard hens and the possible conflicts with homeowners’ association covenants.
“I’m kind of leaning toward the Mayor’s perspective,” Smith said, in reference to homeowners’ association concerns. Although Smith voted against the request to revisit Cary’s ordinance, he did suggest that the eventual proposal should “have teeth” in it to reduce the likelihood of being overturned by the court.
Councilman Don Frantz, who used to oppose backyard chickens but has relaxed his views, and Councilwoman Gale Adcock proposed amending the ordinance to allow the fowl.
“Some concerns I’ve had are no longer concerns of mine,” Frantz said. He suggested several restrictions for the amendment, including a maximum of eight chickens per single-family home (a standalone home, meaning no single-family apartments), a ban on roosters and backyard slaughter. In addition, the chickens would be for personal use only and could not be sold. Each household with backyard chickens would pay a $10 licensing fee.
Frantz adopted the proposal from other ordinances that allow backyard hens—Carrboro, Raleigh, Wake Forest and Durham allow them, also with some restrictions. However, Frantz said even if council passes the ordinance, there should be a delay before it is implemented to allow homeowners’ associations to adjust.
Alissa Manfre, co-founder of Cary Chickens, which advocates for backyard hens, thanked Town Council for its “open-mindedness and being willing to reconsider this issue.”
Buckeyes and Buttercups, Lakenfelders and Leghorns: So many breeds of chickens, so few yards in Cary in which to raise them.
But Cary's great back yard chicken controversy could peak tonight as the Cary Town Council reconsiders an ordinance that would allow residents to raise hens in their back yards with some restrictions. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 316 N. Academy St.
With the exception of some rural areas in Cary, back yard chickens are prohibited within the town limits. But the tide may be turning for urban fowl: Even Councilman Don Frantz, a former opponent of back yard chickens, has reversed his position based on Cary residents' private property rights.
If passed, the ordinance would allow residents to raise up to eight chickens per property.
Only hens would be allowed—no roosters cock-a-doodling at 5:30 in the morning;
There would be an annual license fee of $10 per household raising the chickens (not per chicken);
Back yard slaughter would be prohibited, as would the sale of chickens;
Chickens would be required to remain in the coop or fenced yard when unsupervised; they would be allowed in the front yard with supervision (a good idea for kids, too!)
There are more proposed restrictions as well, listed on Frantz' blog.
Check out the Cary Chickens blog for more discussion on the issue.