by Abby Reimer
photography by Alexandria Huber
We went to Fair Local Organic’s “Food 101” last night. Speakers, from UNC-Chapel Hill professors to a local meat distributor, discussed North Carolina’s food system.
Here’s what you missed:
Dr. Steve Wing—Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Industrial food production is a big deal in North Carolina— eastern North Carolina has the densest area of hog production and three of the top ten turkey producing counties in the country.
Industrial food production makes food cheap. But this cheap food comes at an environmental, social and health cost, said Wing.
“The mass food supply here in this country comes from these facilities and that’s why food is cheap,” Wing said. “The food is cheap because the workers pay with their health, because the people who live near these communities pay with their health and their quality of life.”
CAFOs, concentrated animal feeding operations, harm nearby communities by storing and praying fecal matter, Wing said.
“They (CAFOs) are not present where people with political clout live,” Wing said. “And that means wealthy people and white people.”
On Sept. 3, environmental agencies filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights claiming that North Carolina’s hog-industry regulation discriminates against minority communities in eastern North Carolina.
Dr. Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld— Professor, Department of Anthropology
“Farmers’ markets, knowing your farmer, local food is great. But that’s not going to change things.”
For Colloredo-Mansfeld, who studies local food systems, broad university and business partnerships are the only way to change harmful industrial food systems.
Larger businesses, like Lowes Foods, can give farmers the stability they need to make the change by creating large and efficient distribution networks, he said.
“In trying to make this change, we need to get out of Chapel Hill and get out of this bubble we get into as Tar Heels and work with partners and work with businesses,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said.
Jennifer Curtis—Co-CEO, Firsthand Foods
Curtis is an unlikely owner for a meat company: a woman when most in the industry are men, a former vegetarian and environmental activist.
But she saw the danger in industrial farm production and wanted to do something different: buying whole animals, all pasture raised without antibiotics, from over 50 regional farmers.
Firsthand Foods’ meats are about two times more expensive than industrially produced meat, Curtis said.
But demand is growing.
“All meat is not bad,” she said, referring back to CAFOs. “We’re always going to be ambivalent about eating animals. What I want you to think about is being a discerning customers.”
Scott Weir— Aramark District Manager, Carolina Dining Services
Serving 4.3 million meals every year, Carolina Dining Services has a huge sway on the central North Carolina food system.
16 percent of dining hall food counts as “real food,” Weir said.
According to Fair Local Organic, fair food is either fair, local, humane and community-based, or ecologically sound.
Even with partnerships with sustainable food businesses like Firsthand Foods, Carolina Dining Services must rely on broadline food distributors, like Cisco, for over 70 percent of campus food, Weir said.
Campus Dining Services plans on increasing its “real food” use by one percent each year, Weir said.
Weir said feeding UNC-Chapel Hill sustainably, and keeping waste down, is a challenge.
“It’s not a linear answer, there’s a lot of gray, Weir said. “It’s not black and white.”
Melissa Tinling—Food Corps
Tingling got her start in FLO at UNC-Chapel Hill and now works for Food Corps in Guilford County, a nonprofit organization focusing on children’s nutrition.
The National School Lunch Program provides schools with $2.75 for every free lunch. That goes down to 70 cents for food after overhead, Tingling said.
With millions of children in the U.S. getting most of their daily calories from schools, this just isn’t cutting it, Tingling said.
To combat childhood obesity and malnutrition, hands-on food education and a strong local food economy is necessary, Tingling said.