Facing Factory Farms Salon Recap

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Michele Merkel Quickbite

Michele Merkel from Food & Water Justice

On June 16th, 2015, Change Food reunited with TEDxManhattan 2015 speakers Michele Merkel of Food & Water Justice and Kendra Kimbirauskas of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project in New York City to host the Facing Factory Farms Salon. Joined by a diverse group of attendees, we sought to accomplish three goals:

  1. Generate actionable ideas on how to fight the growing presence of factory farming in the U.S.
  2. Discuss how to involve urban residents and students in fighting factory farming and other food issues.
  3. Use this Salon as a template for other interested individuals to create their own event around a food issue.

After showing Kendra and Michele’s talks, each speaker gave a brief update (below) on their work.

Kendra Kimbirauskas

Kendra Kimbirauskas from the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project

Despite Kendra Kimbirauskas’ work as an anti-factory farm organizer and the growing number of people increasing their involvement and education on the issue, factory farms continue to expand, affecting more and more communities . CAFOs dramatically degrade the land, and excessive waste and poor containment severely contaminate water sources. Further, AgGag laws make it illegal to take photos and document animal cruelty on CAFOs, making it difficult to expose factory farming practices.

Kendra shared SRAP’s damaging report, The Rap Sheets: Industrial Dairies in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. Over a year in the making, the report provides  a rap sheet on industrial dairy, identifying negligent management and lack of oversight on CAFOs. In some rural communities 75% of wells are polluted with nitrates and 1/3 of people cannot use their tap water. Her hope is that this report will rally more people to do the right thing and to enforce EPA laws. View the full report here.

To get involved, Kendra suggests:

  • Get political and call your local legislators. The voice of people from densely populated areas do a lot of good for those in the rural communities being directly affected by factory farming.
  • Fight against the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), which will remove barriers to trade and cause pork to double its exports in the next 10 years, both undermining the ability of family farmers to compete and causing a huge explosion of factory farms within America.

See Kendra’s full TEDxManhattan talk, Don’t Let the Good Movement Become Only Feel Good, and bio here.

Co-director of Food & Water Justice, the legal arm of Food & Water Watch, Michele Merkel discussed the Food & Water Watch Factory Farm Map. With this tool, Michele identified statistics on farming in America and how the numbers have changed over time – specifically how the size of factory farms have increased by 20% in the last ten years! She also gave an update on Food & Water Watch’s #LoadOfCrap campaign which visually imparts the unsettling fact that every day America’s factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building. You can see these advertisements in Times Square.

Citing John Oliver’s viral video on the poultry industry, Michele emphasized that one of the biggest problems that farmers face is contract farming and the inability to speak out against factory farms. Big meat preys on individual farmers, forcing them into very one-sided contracts. In order to fulfill contracts, growers take on debt, waste, dead animals, utilities and often make very little profit. Michele pointed out that for every bucket of KFC chicken ($3-5 retail price), the grower of the chicken gets roughly 0.25 cents!

To get involved, Michele suggests:

  • Sign bills and petitions and be vocal about the issues. Be an advocate for labeling foods.
  • Ohio Senator Marcy Kaptur is trying to pass a bill that will protect poultry farmers from losing their contracts if they speak out. Support her!
  • Support Representative Slaughter of New York and PAMTA, a bill to ban the use of medically important drugs in agriculture.
  • Take Action and tell the EPA to Regulate Factory Farms!

See Michele’s full TEDxManhattan talk, Using the Legal System to Fight Factory Farms, and bio here.

Solutions Generated by Participants at the Salon:
We ended the evening with an open forum in which attendees and speakers collaborated and generated solutions for the factory farm problem. Here are those ideas.

  • Motivate behavior at the point of purchase. Support and raise awareness about policy in restaurants by sharing information with the bill. For example, instead of sharing a postcard about the restaurant, partner with an organization like Food & Water Watch or a local farm, to present customers with a current issue that they can sign/support/learn about when they pay their bill
  • Studies show people check their phones over 100x per day! Start a text-a-thon to raise money around a food issue.
  • Have a text-to-voice campaign where people can text messages to government officials that automatically become voicemails.
  • Host a webinar or Google Hangout for your workplace or followers to create a forum for educating and sharing ideas with individuals all over the world.
  • Work with for-profit companies to educate them about problems with the food system or to form partnerships that create products or ideas that advocate for change.
  • Lead with taste, then educate. Don’t beat people over the head with the issue, but let them first experience the truth of what you are saying for themselves
  • Emphasize that factory farming isn’t in other countries. In the last thirty years, Europeans have made steady progress in protecting farm animals.
  • Leveraging celebrities to bring awareness (E.g. Beyoncé’s vegan meal delivery service).
  • Use the frightening facts to emphasize the dangers of antibiotic resistance. 80% of antibiotics in this country are used to raise livestock. Every year, due to antibiotic resistance, 2 million people fall ill and 23,000 people die.
  • Build more grocery stores that offer SNAP benefits. Don’t shame people but help them do better with what they have. Organization like Wholesome Wave have started doing this with farmers’ markets across the country.
  • Tap into parents and their purchasing power. When it comes to their kids, parents are often more willing to spend money where it matters. Jessica Alba’s Honest Co, which sells natural and eco-friendly baby products, has raised $122 million to date, is valued at nearly $1 billion and expects to rake in $150 million in revenue this year (three times more than last year).

Facing Factory Farms Sponsors

A special thank you to our amazing sponsors, Farm to People, Clean Plates, Sohha Yogurt, Slant Shack Jerky, Alter Eco and to our Change Food Agents for making the Salon possible!

See all photos from the event here.

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