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01/03/2011: "Eating Alaska from the backyard to policy, politics and engagement"

Part I Reflections
I wanted to sit down and start writing about food issues and using Eating Alaska to add to the conversation, to think about what's happened in 2010 and what's ahead in 2011. Instead, I look out the window into the yard crowded with piles of wood both for the stove and our 10 plus year long remodeling project, my husband's commercial fishing gear and the garden beds, dormant for the winter. It is a solidly gray day, but the clouds haven't covered Gavan Mountain with its thick wall of hemlock, spruce and cedar trees. Leaves gone, the salmonberry and raspberry bushes are a tangle of sticks, except where I trimmed. I wonder if I pruned too much and how the berries will produce next year. It was an excellent summer for carrots and kale and some of the kale is overwintering. Last night we dined local on troll caught salmon, homegrown potatoes and our entire crop of small tender brussel spouts.

I'm not sure what percentage of the food on our plates is local throughout the year. I know there are critiques of the local food movement. Is it really better for the environment? Who has access to it and how much can we really do? I'm no purist and I'm not giving up coffee or chocolate without a struggle, nor am I sure if the way we wash dishes by hand living in a rainforest with hydropower is less efficient than a dishwasher.

It is hard to say here it is: a set in stone solid answer to what makes sense to eat, to buy, to plug in or throw out. We can think about possibilities, accept that our choices have an impact (good and bad) and regain, as others have said, our power as consumers. There are plenty of books and studies about what creates action and change, but instead of reading them, I putter in the garden, smoke salmon, make films, work with kids and explore how that fits into the community and national conversation.

The making and sharing of the documentary Eating Alaska, turned into an amazing opportunity to share not only confusion, but ideas and hope. It has meant screenings with sustainability fairs complete with chickens, worms and talks on harvesting seaweed, beekeepers, butchers, vegans, writers, Slow Fooders, kids and adults. There have been Eating Alaska events tied to fundraisers for new farmers markets and community greenhouses. Elementary students have drawn local foods, listed and portrayed what they'd miss if they left the place they lived (in Alaska that often brings up fish, berries, moose, mountains, the ocean and life in a small town or village), teens have talked about both the ethics behind our food choices and the connection between the way we consume and the contamination from development and industries like gas, oil and mining.

We've heard of families talking together, about their food choices after a screening. A hunter told me she wanted to start gardening and a vegan or two has decided that maybe killing your own food is okay and more sustainable than buying tempeh or tofu that comes from 1500 or more miles away. A man told me that after years he could no longer look into the eyes of a deer, pull a trigger and take a life. At screenings from Long Island to Colorado and California, a hand or two often goes up along with a comment or question about fishing and if it is all bad, emptying the seas forever. We've used these questions as an opportunity to talk about what sustainable non-farmed fishing looks like, to point out that fishermen and fishing families are like small farmers. We've also shared our worries about ocean acidification and what that means for plankton, fish and sea mammals. Two homesteaders debated about whether being plugged into the world and Facebooking and such was a good thing or a bad thing for the purity of their lifestyle, off the grid.

I can't measure the sum total of over two years of these exchanges or to evaluate what they mean statistically and how much impact this stirring up a bit of the pond has had. I do know there is a lot more work to be done to generate awareness, keep the questions both on the surface and deeper, to help lead kids and families to ways to have access to better food, to understand and to connect to where they live and to encourage us all to make active not advertised choices.

Part ll Eating Alaska Inventory

For Eating Alaska, our goal is to take part of the movement for a fair food system that ensures access to good food is not a privilege, but a right. The way we sustain ourselves also needs to minimize our impact on the environment and make sense for our bodies, our families and cultures.

In 2010, with our grassroots projects, we've:
-Shared Eating Alaska with communities, schools, campuses. public libraries, museums, festivals, as part of environmental, food, and sustainability events and conversations in Scotland, Poland, Croatia and across Canada and the U.S.
- Released the film to PBS to approximately 240 stations with 277 airings from Anchorage to Philadelphia to Austin.
-Completed a final DVD with chapters, extras, audio descriptions and close captioning,

2011 Eating Alaska use includes:
-Earth Day Release to PBS

Some of our 2011 Screenings:
-Slow Food in the Tetons February 7, 2010
-Northern Conservation Film Festival
Tok, January 28th
Kotzebue, Feb, 16-24th
Kodiak March. March 23-25th
Skagway. April 3-4th

- Earthday Screening and Speaking Tour to Colleges in the Midwest
(details forthcoming)

-Wenatchee Museum Environmental Festival Screening

Part III Food Safety/Food Policy/Local Eating 2010
Eating local is on the rise, strengthening communities, farmers and consumers. 6,100 farmers markets are now operating across the country, a 16 % increase from last year. Click here to learn more. Plus:

- Food safety reared its ugly head with a large egg recall. And food-safety and local-food issues stirred up with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, because of disruption in fishing and concerns about contamination of any seafood harvested from the gulf.

- It seems as if The United States Food and Drug Agency has approved GMO salmon---fish spawned from genetically engineered salmon eggs to be allowed for use as food. These salmon grow into full-sized fish in half the time that it would take a regular salmon, and could become the first "transgenic" or genetically engineered animals to be approved for human consumption. While digging around for updates on when and if this blue revolution will impact our plates, our health and wild stocks has not led to any clear answer or updates, we can talk a bit about GMO's.

What's so bad about GMO's? We know that scientifically derived foods have genes specifically designed to put an end to reproductive ability and produce pesticides continuously.The main GMO foods are soy, corn, canola, cotton (cottonseed oil), sugar beets (which are made into sugar), Hawaiian papaya and all products derived from them, like soy sauce, tofu, and canola oil. Other GMO crops are zucchini, yellow squash, and soon likely salmon and rice from China.
Want to know more? Click here

-On Nov. 30th, the Senate passed the Food Safety Modernization Act.. The Food Safety bill contained basic protections for small-scale farmers. However, a procedural error has stalled the bill in the House and now Big Ag lobbyists are working to stop the Tester and Manager amendments, which exempt farmers that have sales of less than $500,000 and sell within 275 miles of their farm.

- President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 on Dec. 13. A big part of the bill supplies more money to the reduced-price and free lunch programs in public schools to help keep the nation's children fed. The bill also addresses nutrition standards in other ways. Notably, it gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to set nutrition standards on food served at schools, including food in vending machines.

Food Matters in 2011, a few issues to keep an eye on
-The impact of the economy on hunger and nutrition. There may be indicators of recovery. but is it trickling down to women, children, families and the un or underemployed? Regionally we're hearing of an increase in demand for food stamps and WIC and we'll add some stats on that soon.
- Struggles over food safety. The bill passed in congress, but how will be funded?
-The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue a new food guide. Will it make sense/ Will it be useful?
- The FDA will issue new front-of-package label regulations to show nutritional value of food at a glance.
What will corporations allow or agree too?

- Farm bill advocates will be mobilizing. As Marion Nestle comments "You might think it too early to be worrying about the 2012 Farm Bill, but I've already gotten position papers analyzing commodity and food-assistance issues from groups gearing up to lobby Congress to bring agricultural policy in line with nutrition and public health policy." Click here to read more from Nestle.

Ellen Frankenstein, on 01.03.11 @ 11:53AKT