Fixing a Broken Food System

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As the presidential campaign heats up, a coalition of organizations has launched a new initiative that’s also taking aim at the White House. The initiative, called The Plate of the Union, brings together the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, the Food Policy Action Educational Fund, and HEAL Food Alliance in a campaign intended to fix our broken food system. Starting its drive at the top of the political hierarchy, the coalition seeks to confront the US presidential candidates with the challenge of recognizing that the US food system is in crisis.

The food system, which should be promoting people’s health, has instead been a cause of chronic illnesses and early deaths. The system thrives on the proliferation of junk food—food stuffs high in calories but low in nutritional value. Junk food is cheap and everywhere abundant, while truly nutritious food, essential to good health, is expensive and often hard to find. Poor and working class people are especially victimized by the food system. Compelled to subsist on the cheap foods sold at convenience stores and supermarkets, they are preyed on by an industry bent more on profit than on health. The spread of diet-related illnesses not only wastes precious lives, but adds billions each year to a national health-care bill that is already severely bloated.

The disparity in prices between junk food and nutritious food has an impact that extends to generations that have not yet reached the prime of life. Statistics show that children born from the 1990s on have a lower life expectancy than children born in earlier decades. Rates of obesity and diet-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension have spiked. Families of color are particularly vulnerable. Fifty percent of youth of color, it is said, will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

This crisis is not due to chance. The root of the problem is US agricultural policy, shaped and determined by commercial interests that favor easy profits over nutritious food. The farm lobby, representing large agricultural and food corporations, pressures the government to subsidize an industrial farming system that produces vast quantities of cheap crops like corn and soybeans, the essential ingredients of processed foods. These then stack the shelves of supermarkets and infiltrate almost everything that comes in a package, can, or bottle. Subsidies of similar scale are not offered where they are truly needed: to farmers who want to grow healthy food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, in ecologically beneficial ways.

The large chemical corporations also have a stake in maintaining this system. The industrial model of agriculture depends on chemical inputs, on fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that degrade the soil, contaminate our water, and pollute our air. Chemical preservatives and coloring are added to the food, where they exist along with the toxic residues that remain from pesticides and herbicides. The system is thereby also largely responsible for the shockingly high rate of cancer in this country.

Together big agriculture, the food industry, and the chemical corporations constitute a powerful bloc having cozy relations with the most influential people in Congress. But scientists and nutritionists are ready to stand up to this Goliath. The Plate of the Union initiative is issuing calls to transform federal food policy at multiple levels, with the aim of ensuring that “every American has access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to food workers, good for the environment, and ensures that farmers can keep farming.”

Among the changes in government policy and programs called for by the initiative are the following:

·         support for farmers who want to grow fruits and vegetables
·         investing in research to improve farming practices
·         fostering ideas to make healthy foods available and conveniently priced
·         paying food and farm workers fair wages
·         promoting the success of small, independent farms
·         protecting rural communities from harmful chemicals that pollute the air             and water.

According to the campaign partners, the first step is getting the presidential candidates to recognize that our food system is indeed broken and then asking them to make a commitment to address it. Since the giant corporations have a strong hold on government, change will not be easy. Firm commitment and the will to resist are necessary. But if we don’t change our food policies, the consequences for ourselves, for this country, and indeed for the world will be disastrous.

To add your voice to the campaign, go here.

Here is an informative video with Dr. Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists explaining the background and purpose of the initiative:


Feeding Schoolchildren in Cameroon

BGR Staff

A few days ago we received the following message and photographs from Kwangene Princely, Executive Director of our partner in Cameroon,  CENCUDER (Centre for Community Development and Environmental Restoration)


The feeding program sponsored by Buddhist Global Relief has so far been  a fantastic success. We are proud to say that many pupils who initially did not like going to school are now the first persons to come to school with their plates. Some even attempt to come on Saturday, which is not a school day, thinking that they are going to be served with food. So far, the performance of the children in the first results has improved by 60% compared to last year’s first term. The health of the children is also becoming better. Children who suffered from diseases due to malnutrition, like Kwashiorkor, which affected their performance in school, are doing quite well.

Many primary schools in the subdivision are coming to our office to have the program extended to their school as well. There is a lot of pressure on our side from the children, the parents, and head teachers of other schools. In fact, our feeding program is the first of its kind to be instituted by an NGO in the southwest region of Cameroon. The program is making great news.

We thank you all at Buddhist Global Relief. It is really a veritable change in the lives of these children and the most powerful tool to increase the school attendance rate in rural areas of Africa



The Revolutionary Message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the half-century since his tragic death at the age of 39, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been turned into a national idol. His birthday has been made a public holiday. His memorial stands in the heart of our capital city, close to the memorials of our greatest presidents. His name is invoked by politicians on both the left and the right, treated almost as sacrosanct. In the process of being glorified, however, King has been domesticated, sanitized, and tamed. His powerful voice, which once sent tremors down the spines of the power elites, now speaks in muffled tones. His speeches are quoted selectively, stripped of their fiercest and most insistent words. Nowadays we can even visit his memorial in D.C., read the quotations blazoned on the walls, and still chat blandly about the weather and the baseball scores.

MLK is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which in the mid-1960s became the anthem of the civil rights movement. But King was more than just a civil rights leader representing the concerns of African Americans. He was above all a man of deep faith who was ready to follow the call of conscience no matter where it led him, even into dangerous waters. He stood up against all travesties of human dignity, against all violations against the integrity of the human person, without concern for the identity of the victims.
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On Hope and Hype: Reflections on a New Year’s Tradition

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

2016 New Year's at CYM

At the dawn of a new year it’s customary to suspend our habitual cynicism about human nature in order to express joyful hopes for the year that lies ahead. While this practice helps to spread good cheer, at least for a day, it often seems to me an exercise with no practical consequences. How, I ask myself, can declaring my hopes to others make a dent in a world oblivious to our dreams? How can we expect the mere change of a date to alter the conditions under which we live?

The practice, I fear, may not be very different from a drug habit. Both seem to serve a similar purpose. If I find my life’s circumstances intolerable, I may try to numb my pain and frustration by taking a drug. If I perceive the world descending into chaos, I  try to console myself and cheer up others by declaring that this year things will be better. In this way, hope may turn out to be little more than hype: a psychological hypodermic needle filled with a mind-numbing narcotic, a hyperbole that obscures the grim reality that engulfs us all.
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Bolstering a Food Budget for Hungry Kids in Haiti

BGR Staff

This past May BGR approved a six-month renewable grant to the Art Creation Foundation for Children, in Haiti, to bolster its food program, which a budget shortfall had forced to be cut in half. This is a brief report on the project.


Kids enjoy a meal together

The Art Creation Foundation for Children is an arts-based non-profit organization created for the personal growth, empowerment, and education of children in need in Jacmel, Haiti. The Foundation provides art instruction, tutoring, medical care, daily food and water, and educational expenses for students in the program. Its mission is to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries, and dynamic thinkers who are empowered to better their lives and their world through the arts and education. “Rather than hand out a temporary fix,” they say, “we focus on empowering our students with the tools to create their own reality and decide the course of their lives.”
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Climate Change as a Moral Call to Social Transformation

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Image: NASA

As negotiators gather in Paris this week and next for the COP 21 conference, it is important to recognize that solving the climate crisis is not merely a matter of adopting new policies but of transforming our ways of relating to the world. It entails adopting a new sense of responsibility for the fate of humanity, for the planet and the entire global community. The realization that human activity is altering the earth’s climate assigns to human beings the gravest moral responsibility we have ever faced. It puts the destiny of the planet squarely in our own hands just at a time when we are inflicting near-lethal wounds on its surface and seas and instigating what has been called “the sixth great extinction.”

As an ethical issue, however, climate change cannot be viewed in isolation. To understand its ethical aspects adequately, it is necessary to recognize the close links between climate change and a host of other factors that initially may appear to have little to do with the disruptions affecting the earth’s geophysical processes. Today we face not merely a climate emergency but a single multidimensional crisis whose diverse facets—environmental, social, political, and economic—intersect and reinforce each other with dizzying complexity.
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Thanksgiving Reflections

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Sunday I attended an interfaith Thanksgiving service at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Peekskill, New York. I spoke extemporaneously. This is a polished version of my talk.

Thanksgiving is a time when we all gather to give thanks for the blessings we have received over the past year. Here, in the US, we have much to be thankful for, but as I reflect on the blessings that I have experienced, I also realize that almost every one of them represents a privilege that I enjoy but which too few people in the world share.

First, I realize that I live in a country that has not been subjected to devastating military assaults, and thus I enjoy relative security in my physical person. When I recognize this, I think of the millions upon millions of people around the world, especially in the Middle East, who do not have this sense of security. I think of the civilian populations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan who have seen their own countries shattered by war, their homes demolished, their livelihoods destroyed; whose loved ones have been killed right before their eyes; who have had to flee their native lands for distant shores, often at great peril, or who stay behind, where they live in the shadow of fear and danger. I realize that I should not take my own security for granted, knowing that it is part of a global system that entails devastation and despair for many millions.
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