Archive for February 2017 | Monthly archive page

posted by | Comments Off on Hello, From the Intersection!

By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Pick a Fire, Any Fire

It is February in America. Just weeks into a new year, when the national gaze is turned to the contributions, legacy, and value of the black experience to the culture, spirit, and finances of the republic. As an environmentalist and a woman, there is no shortage of challenge, disruption, or calculated dumpster fire upon which to aim my interest in interventions of equity and access on the path to justice. As a member of this community, I know that I am not alone in my concerns for the protection of the people and the planet.

If you are paying the slightest attention to the popular discourse, the practical implications of climate indicators or the totally nonpartisan weather pattern then you aren’t sleeping easily.  So, you’ve marched, and the natural question is, what should you do next?  With so much at stake it is not uncommon to feel whelmed by triggering events. Action and reaction can stir the sensation that one is hitched to the bandwagon of big ideas, big struggle and identity within that struggle without a map, and with little more than an inkling.

Marching to the Intersection, Heart in Hand            

So, yes, you’ve marched. In and of itself, that is not an end. In my mind, the better, next question is: how does a well-meaning EcoWoman decide by what method, when, and where to enter the intersection of ideas to affect change? Or plainly put, how do you show up, when do you show up and who are you when you get there?

There are so many threats to the people, the air, the water, the flora, and fauna. As such, it is important to figure out your personal calculus for entry, into the fight for or against incursion, to increase your chances at effectiveness and to avoid burnout. If your long-term aim is justice for all, then now is the time to get smart. It is important to figure out what the stakes are, determine a measure of success, and plan to avoid numbness by staying engaged at sustainable levels.

As an example, my formula for action is closely linked to my intersection and privilege. I am collocated in my desire to save the planet as an African-American, a woman, a gen-Xer, and an environmentalist from a diversely populated east coast city. Therefore, I see the challenges to the health of frontline communities as a singularity connected to the fight against invasive species and the fight against seeing other human beings as invasive.

I am bound to the history of African people who entered this country as cargo and remained in it as chattel; who made it America through innovation and persistence in it despite unfettered and unceasing legal and illegal attacks. Thus, as I move about the planet I cannot ignore the planning and decision-making that under resources generations of urban people and literally moves them superfund to incinerator zone, and back to brownfield by way of policy and program. I have no choice but to see the matching struggle of rural poverty delineated by the same forces whether or not it’s dressed in overalls. So, you see, my work is “cut out for me.”  I’m focused on the spaces where my skills can affect positive change and my energy supports me.

Food for Thought

As I write, I can assure you that I possess no magic for making effective change but I have hope. And I would love to see you turn marching into sustained support for equity and plain old liberty and justice for all.

If you want to stay sensitive and engaged in the intersection, here is a list of books you can read to support your engagement on matters of race, gender, sexuality, and environment.

Challenging Reads for Challenging Times

  • White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race by Ian Haney Lopez
  • How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
  • Born Palestinian, Born Black by Suheir Hammad
  • Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
  • Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration by Tanner Colby
  • Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldua
  • The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz
  • The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman
  • Tranny by Laura Jane Grace
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Removing the Sacred by Winona La Duke
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Bird of Paradise: How I became Latina by Raquel Cepeda
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • This Changes Everything: Climate versus Capitalism by Naomi Klein


Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on equity, access and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.


posted by | on | Comments Off on Serve your Sweetheart Some Sustainability this Valentine’s Day

By Jackie Marks

We at DC EcoWomen love all things sustainable. On the heels of DC EcoWomen’s visit to local bean-to-bar chocolatier Harper Macaw, and just in time for Valentine’s Day, what better thing to discuss than sustainable chocolate? Chocolate is a popular treat on Valentine’s Day; in 2015, 58 million pounds of chocolate was purchased for Valentine’s Day alone. Read on for a Q&A with Jackie Marks, DC EcoWomen Executive Board Member and Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation, for some sustainable chocolate knowledge that you can share with your sweetheart.

EcoWomen: Chocolate is universally loved and can be found around the world – especially around Valentine’s Day. But few people are aware of where chocolate comes from or how it’s made. Can you tell us a bit about chocolate’s origin?

Jackie: Chocolate has a long, intricate history and has been consumed in various forms since the time of the Mayans in Mesoamerica. The primary ingredient in chocolate is cocoa (or cacao) – the ‘beans’ (which are actually seeds) extracted from the cocoa tree. Cocoa pods which hold these beans are the beautiful fruit of the cocoa tree and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. While cocoa trees rely on tropical environments within 15 – 20 degrees north and south of the equator to thrive, you can visit a beautiful, live cocoa tree right here in Washington, D.C. at the Botanic Garden.

Photo by Jackie Marks. Pods, containing the cocoa ‘beans’, grow on trees in tropical climates.

EcoWomen: Wow, cocoa right in our back yard! As consumers, how can we be sure we’re buying chocolate that is ‘green’? What does it mean for cocoa to be sustainable?

Jackie: Cocoa is sustainable when you put farmers first. Cocoa is primarily grown on small farms by men and women who rely on the sale of cocoa beans for income. Many cocoa and chocolate companies support training and infrastructure in cocoa communities to ensure long-term social, economic and environmental viability for cocoa farms and farmers. As a consumer, you can educate yourself about what your favorite chocolate company is doing to help cocoa farmers around the world.

Photo by Jackie Marks. Pods, containing the cocoa ‘beans’, grow on trees in tropical climates.

EcoWomen: Good idea – knowledge is power. Can you tell us three fun facts about cocoa that we can share with our sweethearts?


  1. Like kombucha or kimchi, most cocoa is fermented! This brings out the true chocolatey flavor in cocoa beans.
  2. Ivory Coast – the french speaking, coastal, West African nation – is the number one producer of cocoa. Ghana is second, and Indonesia is third. Latin America is a big contributor, too.
  3. The latin name for cocoa – Theobroma cacao – literally translates to ‘food of the Gods’. How’s that for a heavenly treat this Valentine’s Day?


Photo by Jackie Marks. Cocoa seedlings awaiting planting.

Jackie Marks has spent the last three and a half years working with cocoa and chocolate companies to share sustainable cocoa stories with the world as Communications & Marketing Manager at the World Cocoa Foundation. Her background is in non-profit communications focused on environment, conservation and sustainability issues. Jackie joined the DC EcoWomen Executive Board in 2016 and serves on the Communications Committee. When she’s not writing about cocoa, you can find her tending to her garden, inventing new ice cream flavors, sampling craft beer and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter: @JackieMarks.

posted by | Comments Off on Food System Change in a Political World: Food Tank 2017 D.C. Summit Highlights

By Michelle Winglee

A packed George Washington University auditorium that included farmers, policymakers, businesses, media, and academics convened last Thursday at Food Tank’s D.C. Summit to spur action on changing the food system. Over 40,000 people from 150 countries also tuned in to view the live broadcast of the day-long panel discussions, which highlighted issues in immigration, national security, and food policy.

Organized by Food Tank, an online platform that supports sustainable food communities around the world, the D.C. food summit comes at a time when President Trump nominees threaten to roll back Obama-era policies supporting greater nutrition.

However, Food Tank founder Danielle Nierenberg remains optimistic about the polarized D.C. climate. “I remain hopeful that food is the thing that unites us all.” Danielle encouraged pursuit of “unusual collaborations” across fields that could help put the culture back in agriculture.

The thirty-six summit speakers featured Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D), Fran Dresner from the hit series “The Nanny,” and NPR food correspondent Allison Aubrey, in addition to agricultural experts from research think tanks and farm associations. Panelist speakers cut across political and industry divides, from multinational food corporations to family farm chicken operations in Shenandoah, Virginia.

John Glover of USAID shows audience members what a resilient root system can look like next to Ann O’Connor of Organic Valley and Ted Monk from Sodexo.

The following are highlights from the panelist discussions. Videos from the summit are available online here.

  • Immigration and a shrinking farm labor supply: “Ninety-six percent of our employees come from outside of the U.S.” said Kip Tom, former CEO of Tom Farms and member of President Trump’s agricultural advisory committee. Tom Farms, which specializes in corn and soy production while being the largest agri-business farm operator in Indiana, struggles with the tightening supply of farm labor — a wide-ranging challenge among farmers in the United States. Even with tech solutions to provide more with less, panelist speaker Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, who leads the George Washington University Sustainability Collaborative, noted, “without immigration reform we can’t sustain a legal workforce.”
  • The fight for Farm Bill funding: Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), a member of the House subcommittee that oversees Farm Bill appropriations and proud owner of an organic farm in Maine, advocates to move Farm Bill money from commodity crops to the less than 1% that supports organic farming. The Congresswoman urged participants to stay informed and hold policy makers accountable for food legislation through Food Policy Action.
  • Too fat to fight: During the food security panel, a discussion normally centered around domestic supply and the controversies of food aid, an audience member raised a 2012 Mission Readiness report finding that a quarter of young Americas are too fat to serve in the military. The project called on Congress to remove junk food and high-sugar beverages from schools that contribute to childhood obesity and diabetes.
  • Hidden hunger: The deprivation of important micronutrients even with a full belly, “hidden hunger” affects two billion or one in three people according to a 2014 International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report. Though concentrated in developing nations, Director General of IFPRI Shengen Fan, noted that hidden hunger also coincides with obesity in high-income urban areas too. Iodine and iron deficiency are wide-spread in the developed world according to the IFPRI report.
  • “They want what we have”: Erica Hellen, who raises and processes their farm’s own pasture-raised chicken, pigs, and cattle with her partner on their 13-acre Free Union Grass Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, sees a problem with false advertising and consumer education. “They want what we have,” said Erica about food conglomerates that advertise happy hens roaming around on grass despite realities of crowded cages and low, if any, access to sunlight. However, consumers still don’t get why higher prices for food are worth it. “We gladly spend an extra dollar for a latte, but we can’t pay $5 for eggs?” she asked incredulously. On average, the U.S. spends less on food than anywhere else in the world.
  • “Stop! Stop! Stop!”: Cried Fran Dresner in her unique nasal twang that charmed “The Nanny” TV-watchers around the country. Fran, a cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer, called on audience members to pause before they bought into societal norms that promote pills, waste, and pollution. Fran pointed out how current culture in the U.S. is far removed from indigenous lifestyles that lived in harmony with nature. “We don’t know that food is medicine.”

While telling the audience to skip the drug store and focus on swapping out food choices, Fran noted how consumer decisions like buying single-use plastic utensils contribute to the petroleum industry and pollutants released into the environment. “Did you know that 90% of cancer is related to the environment?” Fran asked. Cancer Schmancer looks to help consumers identify and eliminate toxins in food, cosmetics, and around the home.

Though the conference highlighted challenges of the food system, attendees also saw rays of hope in the trend towards more sustainable food. For the past four years, the organic industry has seen double digit growth while 2016 marked a record high of 10.8% growth at $43.3 billion in organic sales according to an Organic Trade Association industry survey. Comparatively, the overall food market grew at 3.3%. The USDA reports a surge in farmers’ markets in the United States, growing from 1,755 markets in 1994 to over 8,144 in 2013. Meanwhile, Food Tank DC Summit sponsors like Organic Valley, a billion dollar enterprise that incorporates small dairy farmers into its business model, restaurants like Elevation Burger, committed to supplying grass-fed organic beef, or Shouk, which serves middle eastern-inspired vegan sandwiches, were also a testament to the opportunities for profitability and sustainability.

“’Organic’ is the new ‘plastics,’” said Dan Glickman of the Aspen Institute, referencing the 60’s movie The Graduate allusion to the next big industry.

On a more somber note, remarks by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, warned attendees of the battle that lay ahead. Trump cabinet picks include Representative Tom Price (R-GA), slated for Secretary of Health, who has a history for voting against healthier school meals and increased food-safety inspections. Scott Pruitt, selected to run the EPA, received more than $40,000 in campaign donations from poultry companies accused of poultry runoff in the Illinois River Basin in addition to filing lawsuits against the EPA as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. Trump USDA pick, former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue has called climate change “a running joke among the public.” Food Summit speaker Roger Johnson from the National Farmers Union, representing conventional and organic farms across the United States, commented on undeniable seasonal changes that have affected planting seasons around the country.

Despite the grim political outlook, Ken called on attendees to be “happy warriors.” He urged sustainable food advocates to vote with their dollar and join forces with other movements. “Advocacy is a team sport,” said Ken, “if you’re resisting on your own you may just be moping.”


Michelle Winglee is a freelance writer who covers topics on the environment, agriculture, and energy. She previously worked as a Research Assistant at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Fellow at Food Day before embarking on a year-long Mandarin fellowship in Taipei and Beijing. Her publications have appeared in outlets such as Foreign Policy, SupChina, The Diplomat Magazine, and ChinaDialogue. She is interested in the nexus between economic and environmentally sustainable development. You can follow her @MichelleWinglee.