Category Archives: Food Justice

That’s a Wrap: What We Won in the Farm Bill

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

Photo credit: Nehanda Radio

When we launched the Reverse Hunger campaign on World Food Day 2011, we set out to ensure that the U.S. Farm Bill reflected our Jewish values, ensuring that our international food aid programs feed more hungry people and support local farmers abroad. Never could we have imagined how incredible, sometimes dysfunctional, and downright comical this journey would be.

Today is the culmination of that journey. Later this afternoon, the President will sign the U.S. Farm Bill (officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014) into law. While AJWS does not have a position on the entire bill, a massive piece of legislation that shapes the majority of U.S. food and agricultural policies, we welcome the modest, yet critical improvements to international food aid programs.

The changes in this bill are aimed at increasing flexibility: making it easier to utilize alternative food aid approaches and to move away from inefficient practices that slow down delivery and sometimes undermine our goals of helping people for the long-haul. Read More »

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Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

1st item video screengrab

Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

Read More »

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My Thanksgivukah Recipe

11.13_Thanksgivukah_Recipes_v1 (2)Lately, no matter where I am—conferences, meetings, board rooms—American Jews are buzzing about Thanksgivukah, the concurrent celebration of Thanksgiving and Chanukah on November 28, 2013.

These two holidays have overlapped only once before, in 1888. And, according to calculations by Jonathan Mizrahi, a quantum physicist at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, this Thanksgivukah miracle won’t happen again until 2070 and then again in 2165. After that, Chanukah and Thanksgiving aren’t set to coincide until 76,695!

Food and gratitude are at the center of my Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations. So, it will come as no surprise that I’m eagerly awaiting the convergence of two culinary traditions.

So, as you prepare your own Thanksgivukah menu, I wanted to share my recipe for cranberry-lathered latkes—a mash-up of two signature dishes that will be front and center at my holiday table. Read More »

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Typhoon Haiyan Highlights the Need for a More Flexible Food Aid Response

For more than two years, American Jewish World Service has been working to improve the way the United States delivers life-saving food assistance to millions of hungry people worldwide. Thanks in part to the efforts of committed AJWS activists, AJWS and other allies were able to push forward incremental improvements to food aid programs in the Senate Farm Bill. A vote in the House of Representatives for even stronger reforms fell short by just nine votes.

The United States’ well-intentioned, but ill-advised food aid response in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti demonstrated that the U.S. food aid system was long over-due for a makeover. Typhoon Haiyan and the ongoing massive humanitarian crisis in the Philippines, has only added urgency to that fight. Read More »

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My 2013 Summer Reading List

When summer rolls around, I try to carve out some quiet moments to catch up on my reading. At AJWS, it’s become a tradition for me to share my summer reading list with the staff. This year, I wanted to share it with the whole AJWS family. And even though summer is winding down, I hope you’ll still find time to breeze through a few more books before Labor Day.

The list is in no particular order. Happy reading!

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin: Brilliant, detailed history of Lincoln, his rise to the Presidency and his shaping of his Cabinet.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann: A brilliant new novel weaving together several stories of and about Ireland, Frederick Douglass and George Mitchell. An amazing book!

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: First of a trilogy of historical novels, this one is about Sir Thomas More, Oliver Cromwell and that era of 16th century British history.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: Second volume of the trilogy, which I found in a local bookstore after liking Wolf Hall so much. This one deals with the life of Henry the VIII and Cromwell in the years after Wolf Hall, starting about 1535. Read More »

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The Secret to Building Support for Food Aid Reform: AJWS Activists

It’s not every day you get to personally thank your member of Congress for advancing the issues you care about. But over the past few months, AJWS supporters from across the country have been knocking on their representatives’ doors to deliver framed certificates to members of Congress who have stood up for international food aid reform – and, by extension, for the rights of AJWS’s partners in the developing world.

Thanks to the tireless work of these activists, food aid reform has changed from an “if”… to a “when” and “how.”


An Historic Vote

On June 19, 2013, the House of Representatives held an historic vote to reform the way the U.S. manages and delivers international food aid. As part of the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Farm Bill deliberations, Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced a bi-partisan amendment to build greater flexibility in our system, purchase food locally, when available, instead of shipping food overseas. This bill would enable 4 million more people to receive the food they need— faster, more sustainably and without spending an extra dime.

AJWS activists had been building toward a vote on this bill for many moons. Over the last two years, AJWS supporters have cultivated relationships with their members of Congress through e-actions, hand-written letters, in-district meetings, targeted op-eds and letters to the editor, and monthly national calls to stay on top of the issue and take strategic action as needed. They even traveled to DC—twice—for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill. They have used every platform at their disposal to express their commitment to global justice and to make the case for international food aid reform.

On June 19th, we lost the vote for reform by a narrow margin. Nonetheless, AJWS activists saw much of their hard work bear fruit. As someone who has been involved in organizing for more than a decade, watching the House debate and vote on the issue was incredibly moving. Had you polled Congress six months earlier, it’s very unlikely that anyone would have predicted, 1) an actual debate on the House floor on the issue (it had never made it that far previously), 2) members of Congress (most of whom AJWS had been in contact with) making passionate arguments reflective of the position that AJWS activists have been articulating for 2 years, and 3) a vote so close, with strong support from both parties, that experts are now calling food aid reform ‘inevitable’ (we lost be a mere nine votes). In other words, AJWS activists and our allies moved the discourse from ‘if’ food aid reform should happen to ‘when and how’ it would happen—no small feat!

AJWS activists know that to keep fighting the good fight, in solidarity with our partners in the developing world, it is critical to keep flexing our civic muscles and cultivating ongoing relationships with our elected representatives. Doing so means that when the next vote comes, whether it’s on the issue of food aid reform or any of the other important human rights issues confronting our partners on a daily basis, we’ll be even better positioned to make an impact as a Jewish community working for global justice.

To get a taste of our work, check out some of the great photos above, featuring activists who are mobilizing their communities in NY and LA, Boston and San Francisco! We’re excited to continue building our power as a community that makes meaningful, lasting change—together. If you’d like to get involved in our efforts, please email us at getinvolved@ajws.org.

Audrey Sasson is a senior organizer at American Jewish World Service.

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Historic Vote on Food Aid in Congress This Week

The fight for food aid reform is about to come down to an historic vote. With our partners at the leading development and humanitarian organizations in the country, we just released a joint statement of our support for updating the U.S. food aid system, making it more flexible and effective.

Building on the ideas for reform we have been promoting for years, last month President Obama called for improvements to our outdated and inefficient international food aid system.  This week the House will vote on a bi-partisan amendment, sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) to provide greater flexibility and help more people with our international food assistance without spending any additional U.S. taxpayer dollars.

As committed AJWS activist  Jonathan Zasloff recently noted the reforms have  widespread support, from organizations spanning the ideological divide from the Heritage Foundation to the Center for American Progress. It’s not surprising, as the reforms are really just common sense updates to outdated laws.

[The current, outdated law requires that] the vast majority of our aid be provided in the form of U.S.-sourced commodities, but] the U.S. needs greater flexibility to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies and longer-term food insecurity. In emergency situations in particular, the delivery of U.S. commodities can be extremely difficult – due to insecurity, as has been the case in Syria, or due to a host of other obstacles. Purchasing food locally or regionally, or providing cash transfers/food vouchers that work through local market systems, is often the best option for getting food aid to people who need it. Independent research has shown this approach can reach people considerably faster than shipping commodities from the U.S. These are well-tested and proven approaches that come with strong safeguards to ensure assistance is delivered quickly and not diverted from those in need.

Email your representative in Congress now and tell him or her that food aid reform matters to you!

When 870 million people around the world suffering from hunger every day, making every food aid dollar count is not only a responsible use of taxpayer money — it is a moral imperative. We thank all of our partners and supporters who have brought us so close to making these critically important reforms into a reality.

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A (tentative) win for food justice activists!

Originally posted on the blog of the Brooklyn Food Coalition.

This looks good.

As part of the 2014 Budget Request released last week, President Obama included a proposal that would overhaul America’s international food aid system. It’s not a perfect proposal and it still needs to be approved by Congress, but it’s a huge leap forward.

Right now, the U.S. has a well-intentioned yet wildly inefficient food aid system. Unlike other donor countries, the U.S. ships food from here rather than donating money to purchase food available in or near disaster-stricken countries. As a way of unloading surplus grain, this system works well. As a smart, efficient way of responding to humanitarian crises, it’s atrocious. Read More »

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Facing a Food Crisis: The Ingenuity of Haitian Farmers

Originally posted on The Jew and the Carrot.

With Passover around the corner, many of us are poised to recite the words, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” But when nearly 1 billion people around the world are hungry or malnourished, these words become acutely daunting—particularly for communities recovering from disasters.

More than three years after a major earthquake ravaged Haiti, the country is still struggling to recover. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of problems: homelessness, violence, political corruption and, perhaps most severe, a shortage of food—resulting in hunger. In November 2012, these crises were further exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through Haiti before wreaking havoc in New York and New Jersey. Read More »

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Activism in Asia – Link Roundup

April, May and June have unleashed a firestorm of media coverage for our grantees in Asia. Check out this roundup of the most significant stories:

For the first time ever, our Burma grantees garnered tremendous media coverage in major outlets around the world. But what’s so significant about this coverage? Our grantees are speaking and the world is listening. More than ever before, our grantees are being tapped by policy makers and journalists for their on-the-ground experience and their decades-long work on documenting human rights abuses. Though our grantees are excited about the changes happening in the country, they are quick to remind the international community that human rights abuses abound and there is still tremendous work to be done. Here are a few of the stories:

  • The Bangkok Post wrote a piece about the underbelly of an “open” Burma, highlighting that though cosmetic political changes have been made, activists are drawing attention to the stream of constant, brutal abuse committed by Burmese authorities against ethnic minorities and political prisoners. The first part of the article is told from the perspective of Moon Lay Ni, coordinator of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). Formed in 1999, KWAT works with vulnerable refugees and migrant workers from Kachin state in Thailand and Burma to provide leadership training and educational programs to increase awareness of women’s rights, health and environmental protection.
  • On June 5, The Nation ran an opinion piece by Jackie Pollock, director of Map Foundation, an organization that strives for Burmese migrant workers to be free from discrimination and live safely and securely in Thailand. Pollock’s article calls for Thailand to include domestic and migrant workers in national labor laws in addition to “act quickly improve the pay and conditions of domestic workers” in the country, particularly with the number of arrests that will follow any kind of nationality verification processes.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights has also been a critical topic this spring. From sex workers to LGBTI communities, AJWS grantees are making waves in the news:

  • In April, when a pregnant Indian sex worker was assaulted by the police and miscarried, SANGRAM organized a vast cross-section of organizations (including AJWS partner Awaaz-E-Niswaan) to protest the human rights violations that sex workers suffer at the hands of the police. Read the article about the protest in The Hindu here. Sign the Change.org petition here.
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