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 »
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)
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.
Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audrey Sasson is a senior organizer at American Jewish World Service.
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.
[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.
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.
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 »
I think of myself as a foodie. Maybe not a spend-25%-of-my-salary-on-pickled-lamb-tongue omnivore—not even someone who would choose pickled lamb tongue off the menu—but someone who buys organic, goes to the farmer’s market on Sundays, and appreciates not only how my food tastes, but how it was grown, made, packaged and sold. I also read enough to know that the story of how my food got to my plate is hardly straightforward, shaped by a tangled web of political, economic, and cultural forces. (Global ones, too: just see where your salad comes from.) Read More »
Contradictions are popping up a lot around here lately: By now, you’ve likely heard AJWS say “U.S. food aid saves lives but it’s also causing more hunger.” We’re often uncomfortable with contradictions like these, and instead, crave clear messages that we can embrace: hunger is bad. Aid is good. Too bad things can’t be that simple.
It turns out that food aid has been a complicated topic all the way back to biblical times, when the imprisoned patriarch Joseph was charged with devising a plan for avoiding a hunger crisis in Egypt. He decided to hoard food during the “seven years of plenty” and distribute it to hungry Egyptians during the “seven years of famine”—the world’s earliest example of in-kind food aid. Read More »
The U.S. Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that is reauthorized every five to seven years. It covers many food-related government programs like SNAP in addition to international food aid programs. With the failure of the Super Committee to sneak the Farm Bill in under the rug, we have an opportunity, as Congress breaks for winter, to make sure that food aid and food justice are on the minds of our congresspeople.
It goes without saying that American Jews are pretty into food—especially during the Jewish holidays.
Food plays a central and sensory role in our lives and serves as a map of our history. Meals, recipes and the acts of eating and drinking teach us about who we are, where we live and where we come from.
But there’s a crisis on our hands—a global food crisis—and it isn’t only because of food scarcity. Sometimes it’s because of the unintended but tragic consequences of our own government’s policies—policies that we have the power to change, if only we’d do our part. Read More »
During the keynote speech of the Hazon Food Conference, which was held in Davis, California last weekend, Judith Belasco, Hazon’s Director of Food Programs, reminded us that four years ago the expression “New Jewish Food Movement” didn’t even exist.
Well, if the conference was any indication, the New Jewish Food Movement is thriving, consisting of hundreds of Jewish individuals and communities across the country who are working to change a world where U.S. food aid policy undermines farmers in developing countries, where 50 million people in the U.S. face food insecurity every day and where people can’t access or afford fresh food in neighborhoods like the South Bronx, which has only twelve grocery stores for 88,000 people.