To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help—not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons.
Belo, a city of 2. Then in , a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
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The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.
One of its programs puts local farm produce into school meals.
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This and other projects cost the city less than 2 percent of its budget. Above, fresh passion fruit juice and salad as part of a school lunch. The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers.
It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer markups on produce—which often reached percent—to consumers and the farmers. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that, as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw their incomes drop by almost half. Everything else they can sell at the market price.
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When Anna and I ate in one, we saw hundreds of diners—grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still others in business suits. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.
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It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.
The shift in frame to food as a right also led the Belo hunger fighters to look for novel solutions. This enriched food also goes to nursery school children, who receive three meals a day courtesy of the city. One six-month period in saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And when the river is dried up, well there is a whole other source of poetic imagery.
There is a sense of place and belonging around rivers. We are all equals standing on the bank of a river. In the case of what I plan to sing about it represents restoration by the washing away of sins and starting anew in the form of baptism. Do you have a favourite river?
The Editor's Notes:
I spent a lot of time with that river as a child and it was a big part of our lives. What is your favourite river themed song? I love her so much! It gets me in the guts. My grandfather loved the Highwaymen and I grew up listening to that track a lot — about following a lady from town to town along the Mississippi. Have you written about a river? The river becomes a way of keeping an eye on and protecting someone I love and worry over.