(Un)accepted foods: Why are some edible substances considered food and others not?

My Little Pony Burger

Last night I gave a presentation and moderated discussion at an event on “(Un)accepted Foods,” hosted by a group in Wageningen called Stichting Ruw.

The goal of the evening was to learn more about the potential of insects as food and about eating unconventional food products like horse and goose meat. 

There were excellent presentations.

Rob Hagenouw, an artist, spoke about his project Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier (Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal) where they make and sell  “My Little Pony Burgers” and croquettes from geese shot at the airport.

Arnold van Huis, author of ‘The Insect Cookbook’ and Professor of Entomology (see his TED talk here) gave a fascinating talk covering the opportunities and challenges association with the development of an insect eating culture in Europe.

I provided a socio-cultural perspective on food categorisation: why are some edible substances considered food and others not. If you are interested in seeing my presentation, here it is: (Un)Accepted Foods 08.04.14

Imagining Research for Food Sovereignty (video)

This video – Imagining Research for Food Sovereignty – highlights the outcomes of the farmer exchanges and the St Ulrich workshop deliberations.

For more information about the St. Ulrich Workshop on Democratising Agricultural Research for Food Sovereignty and Peasant Agrarian Cultures and the Democratising Food and Agricultural Research initiative go here: http://www.excludedvoices.org/st-ulrich-workshop-democratising-agricultural-research-food-sovereignty-and-peasant-agrarian-culture

Meet John Koileken, Narok County

John has a very diverse and productive farm. On his 2 acre farm he grows potatoes, beans, peas and raises chickens and cows for milk. He noted that he does not produce enough to warrant trying to access the Nairobi markets and sells instead at the farm gate as well as locally into the Narok market. 

Meet John (with some fresh potatoes

John has implemented several resilience strategies on his farm. He has stored enough silage for his animals to last an entire year. To store the silage he mixes wheat straw and husks, as well as maize cobs, with molasses and then compresses it under a plastic sheet and covers with soil. During the dry season when there is no grass for his animals he mixes it with Napier grass and corn.

John’s brother shows off their fodder bank

On top of this silage, he grows pumpkins. Fodder security is very important for the Koileken family. As John’s wife explained, the money earned from the sale of milk was used to pay school fees for their children (2 boys and a girl).  They milk 5 cows twice a day and get about 30 litres a day. They can sell1 litre of milk for 50 Kenyan shillings. The milk is collected on the farm and money is paid once a month. His family is a member of a dairy farmer value chain of 64 daily farmers that are pushing for higher yields. They are looking into a milk cooling facility but noted that milk is in high demand so it may not be necessary. The biggest problem for John was buying hybrid cows. Such cows are desirable because of the higher milk production but he exampled they cost around 70,000 Kenyan shilling and also require a lot of extra feed.

The water tank

When it comes to crops, John told us he prefers short season crops which provide a more steady stream of income throughout the year. To support his horticultural activities, John has dug out a water tank under a field (5 feet wide, by 6 feet deep, by 40 feet long). The tank stores water that he harvests off his roof in the rainy season. The tank is simply a large hole lined with polyurethane, the top reinforced with wooden beams and then planted over. He told us that it cost him The water is clean: it is used for household and animal consumption. There is also another tank that takes overflow from the road and is used for irrigation.  He told us that including labour, the tank cost 10,000 Kenyan Shillings to build.

Meet a Farmer: Mary Kahwai

I mentioned in a post last week that I would be providing short profiles of some of the people we met while doing field work in Kenya.  

The first profile is that of Mary Kahwai, Chair of the Githunguri District Smallholder Farmers Association (Kiambu County)

Mary has cows, chickens, banana, avocado and maize. She has stated to grow Napier grass as fodder for her cows to supplement the hay.

Mary makes use of the manure produced by her cows for both biogas and for compost. The biogas is connected directly to her stove, meaning she spends less time and money collecting firewood or charcoal. The farm-level biogas plant was installed by a German NGO in 2003.

Biogas plant

Mary gets ready to prepare tea with biogas from her cow’s manure

Mary explained that climate change has led to some big problems, especially around accessing enough water for her and her animals.  This year, due to drought, she does not expect to harvest her maize.

Mary works to teach other farmers in her area about the value of using manure as fertilizer. She is also looking to work with dairy goats which require less food, as her access to grass lands is limited.

Sludge makes its way into this compost hole. The compost is then used as fertilizers for her food crops.

Consultation on Food Losses and Waste

The High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has launched a consultation on the draft of the study: Food losses and waste in the context of sustainable food systems.

The draft study can be downloaded here (English) and the HLPE would welcome submission of material, suggestions, references, examples, on measurement of food losses and waste, key policies, successful initiatives and cost-benefits of different options, systemic approaches and solutions to reduce food losses and waste. Please read the topic to know more, available in EnglishFrench and Spanish.

Your inputs will be used to further elaborate the final report and findings of the study will feed into CFS 41 Plenary session on policy convergence (October 2014).

Gendering Food Security

Last year I spoke at a workshop on gender and food security

The summary has been posted:


This workshop addressed the international gender dimensions of food security, focusing on women as producers as well as consumers of food. It explored the significance of gender in developing policies that will reduce rather than exacerbate gender-based inequalities in a situation of food inequalities and climate change.

Some 60 people from around the UK, and representing many disciplines and professions, took part, listening to and engaging with the 4 speakers below, from lunch onwards. The discussions were lively and wide-ranging, and were reluctantly halted only at 5.30 (to allow distant travellers to leave for trains); but most carried on, talking and networking, over drinks. It was a very good occasion. Thanks to Dr Deb Butler and Prof Nickie Charles (both in Department of Sociology) for organizing and facilitating it.

Topics and Speakers

Chair: Prof Liz Dowler (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, and member of CSWG and the Food Global Priority Programme)

Women farmers and workers in Gender Production Networks: Surviving the Cocoa-Chocolate Sourcing in Ghana and India.
Dr Stephanie Barrientos, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester.

Women Livestock Keepers and the White Revolution: Assessing the impacts of dairy coops on the pastoralists of Gujarat, India.
Ms Jessica Duncan, Centre for Food Policy, City University London.

Food Security, sustainable livelihoods and gender in South Africa.
Dr Stefanie Lemke, Department of Gender and Nutrition, Institute for Social Sciences in Agriculture, University of ohenheim.

Gender, Climate Change & Food Security in South Asia
Dr Lopamudra Patnaik Saxena, independent academic researcher and consultant.


Agribusiness and Human Rights: Briefing for Social Movements

CIDSE has just published a new brief on Agribusiness and Human Rights.

In this briefing CIDSE asks

 what global business & human rights standards should be applied to agricultural investment in order to reach the ultimate objectives of achieving the right to food, alleviating poverty, enhancing sustainable food production and creating decent employment conditions for agricultural workers. Our aim is to outline the obligations of States and the responsibilities of business with regard to agricultural investment, by highlighting how these are defined within existing international mechanisms. The briefing is aimed at civil society organisations, particularly social movements that are affected by the impacts of business investment in their communities. As smallholder food producers bear the highest risks from these investments, the briefing seeks to provide tools to hold governments to account for their duty to protect these rights holders. It is intended to provide an overview of existing business & human rights standards that can be applied to a broad range of international agricultural policy initiatives.

They have a section on “The Need for Coherent Global Food Governance” which is perhaps of interest you some of you food governance folks!

More information here: http://www.cidse.org/content/publications/just-food/agricultural-investment/agribusiness-and-human-rights-briefing-for-social-movements.html

Right to Food Journal

The new issue of FIAN International’s Right to Food journal is available at: http://www.fian.org/news/article/detail/right-to-food-journal-vol-8-no-1/

It contains the following articles:

  •  ‘Strengthening the Human Rights Movement Globally: The Vienna+20 CSO Conference’ by Brid Brennan and Rolf Künnemann
  • ‘A Source of Inspiration’ – The New Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition’ written in collaboration by Carolin Callenius, Stineke Oenema and Flavio Valente
  • In the Path to Food Sovereignty – Rights for peasants are taking power’ by Mohammed Ikhwan
  • Towards the Development of a National Right to Food Framework Law in the Phillipines’ by Aurea Miclat-Teves
  • ‘All Human Rights for All: Celebrating the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR’ by Suad Elias
  •  ‘The National Food Security Act: A long Road towards the realization of the right to food’ by FIAN India
  •   ‘Methodological Approaches to Field Work – Dignity for the Right to Adequate Food and Nutrition of Afro-Colombian Peasant Women’ by Ingrid Paola Romero Niño and Denisse Córdova R. Montes
  •  ‘Judgement in Favor of Evictees in the case Mubende in Uganda’ written by Anton Pieper.

Food Security, G33 and the WTO: will food security move WTO trade talks

The WTO… what can we say? It’s complex. Here is an older but still very relevant guide to help you out: http://www.iatp.org/files/451_2_77538.pdf

The G-33  is a coalition of developing countries with large populations of  smallholder farmers. They have recently proposed that WTO members seek to fast-track agreement on three paragraphs of the draft Doha accord, at the Organization’s Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2013.

Some developing countries have argued that progress on agricultural trade issues is needed in order to ‘balance’ concessions on an eventual deal on ‘trade facilitation’. The aim would be to ease restrictions at customs. They argue that focusing food security could help to advance negotiations so as to achieve at least some outcomes in agriculture.

They are focused on the ‘aggregate measure of support’ (AMS) which countries have agreed at the global trade body.

Continue reading

26 Films Every Food Activist Must Watch

FoodTank have compiled a list of 26 food activism films. Those who know me know that I really dislike watching movies. It’s not some sort of high-culture “I prefer books, I don’t own a TV” thing… I just can’t keep still that long. I usually get very frustrated that issues being presented are  over-simplified. The process of watching is one-sided, leaving you as a passive observer. Despite educating and motiving people, very little social change results from the quick burst of anger that comes from watching “activisty” films although they tend to leave people feeling well educated and superior (I can lump Ted-Talks in this mix).

These are but a few reasons why I don’t like films…  BUT… I know I am lame and in the minority…. so, for your viewing pleasure: http://foodtank.org/news/2013/09/twenty-six-films-every-food-activist-must-watch#.UkRHkTv3gXI.twitter