5 Easy Money-saving Gardening Tips
Posted: 15 May 2013 10:19 PM PDT
Starting and keeping a garden is a great way to spend your time for those of you with a green thumb. I just recently took up the hobby, and was shocked at just how expensive it was to start a relatively large garden in my back yard. Undeterred by the cost, I opened my wallet, pulled out the no fee credit cards and began buying seeds, mulch, and the tools I needed to keep my garden looking great.
Make you own compost. There are two big benefits to composting. First, those scraps from the vegetables and other foods you spent your hard-earned money on don’t go to waste, allowing you to make the most of your purchases. More importantly, however, compost is free nutrient rich soil for your garden. It’s easy, too.
A very simple way to create a compost area is to choose an area of your yard that’s away from everything else and section it off with chicken wire. Once you’ve built your bin, simply toss your scraps, veggie peelings, egg shells, and more into the bin and let it decompose. Compost soil takes about a year to be ready for gardening, but once it’s ready, you’ll have some of the freshest free soil around.
Cut back on mulch. Have you laid mulch and then had pesky weeds pop up anyway? If you answered “yes,” there’s a good chance that you also purchased more mulch to lay over the invading weeds. There’s a simpler solution, however.
Next time you go to lay mulch, take some of those old newspapers out of your recycling bin and lay them flat over the area where you’re going to lay the mulch. With this biodegradable layer between the weeds and the mulch, you’ll see fewer of their little heads popping through the wood chips, and you’ll save money since you’ll have to reapply your mulch less often.
Buy self-seeding plants. Another really great way to save money on your garden going forwards is by not having to by new plants every year. Many plants – like Foxgloves, Oriental Poppies, etc. – are self-seeders. This means that as they deteriorate in the colder months, they will release seeds that will germinate when the weather gets warm again.
This is a great way to save money on your garden because it removes some of the monetary burden of purchasing all-new flowers at the start of each warm season.
Start small. One way to facilitate the lushness of your garden is to buy larger, adult plants instead of growing from seeds. Many gardening stores sell larger plants because they are more expensive to the buyer, however. To save some money this year, but smaller, starter plants or grow your garden from seeds. Seeds and smaller plants cost less because they’ve cost the growers and distributors less to grow and maintain.
For some, growing a garden can be challenging, but if you’re willing to try, going this route will save you money upfront and could very well produce just as beautiful a garden as larger plants.
Become a plant food chef. Another expense that can be very important to your garden (and its health) is purchasing plant food. Plants, like all other organisms, need certain things to thrive—water, light, nutrients, and more. And one of the ways we give plants nutrients is with expensive plant foods.
You can, however, save money on plant food by making your own. Here’s how: take compost and place it into a large container of water for a week. When the week’s up, the water should be murky and brown. That means it’s ready. Now, use this mixture to water your plants—it will work as well as store-bought foods, but will lack the chemicals found in them.
The biggest tip I can give you is to keep it small and simple until you get the hang of it. Gardening is supposed to be relaxing, not complicated. If you want complicated, try understanding section 529 college savings plans. That’s complicated. Gardening should be the opposite of that, and once you get the hang of it, it is.
Make the most of May with some quick recycling projects
Posted: 15 May 2013 07:07 PM PDT
The post Make the most of May with some quick recycling projects appeared first on The Cheap Vegetable Gardener.
May is a great time to start enjoying the warmer weather and longer days by getting out in the garden. By taking the time to smell the roses and stroll around the allotment plot or garden you can help to combat stress levels and restore the Zen to your busy life. Discovering the plant life and wildlife using your senses will bring you closer nature. While you appreciate these little natural miracles why not give a thought to how we can help the environment at home.
While you are (hopefully) having fun in the sun you could have a go at a few recycling and repurposing activities. Here are a few tips that can help you turn your rubbish into something beautiful or functional.
1. Turn rubbish into a planter. A chipped cup and saucer, a teapot with a broken lid, a lonely wellington boot, all can be filled with compost and turned from something unloved into something beautiful. It’s true that flowers can work wonders to cheer up a dull space, all you have to do is to drill some holes in the bottom of the receptacle, fill it with compost and plant flowers or seeds. Summer bedding plants are in available at garden centers right now and can be used to add an instant impact.
2. Build a bug hotel. These can be made from all sorts of weather durable scraps of building material and garden material. The easiest bug hotel can be made from broken garden canes which are too small for anything else. All you have to do is chop them up into similar lengths and tie them together with twine and leave it in a quiet corner of the garden. Bugs, insects and even bees will crawl in to this safe place during bad weather and frosts.
3. Make use of kitchen scraps. Slugs are a gardener’s public enemy number 1, use broken eggshells or anything prickly (holly leaves work well too) scattered around your most precious plants to deter the slimy horrible critters from munching their way through the irresistible fresh new shoots. Other kitchen scraps such a vegetable peelings can be added to the compost where they will provide valuable nutrients and help improve the structure of the soil.
4. Use finished water bottles. Empty water bottles are one of the world’s biggest recycling problems but there are so many uses for them around the garden. In May when frosts can still happen, water bottles filled with water can be used to protect courgette plants. By filling up the bottle with collected rain water and then placing the bottle (or 2 of them) next to your courgette plants you can provide extra warmth during the last frosts. The water in the bottle will warm up during the day in the sun and then cool down slower than the air at night, thus keeping your plants toasty should a frost happen. Used water bottles can also be made into slow release drip feeders which will make efficient use of water as none runs away from its intended destination.
With so many ways to recycle you need never look at your rubbish in the same way again!
This article is a guest post from Dan Whiteside, Dan blogs about DIY and gardening topics at DIY Newbie, where he discusses a variety of issues including plumbing repairs and building projects.
Pema Chodron “This Lousy World”
Pema tells us how our suffering inclines us to blame others and the external world rather than change our relationship with our suffering by wearing leather shoes
via Apartment Therapy | Saving the world, one room at a time by Kim R. McCormick on 5/10/13
The recent discovery of aphids camped out on the big rose bush in my backyard got me Googling “organic pest control.” While I read about many different methods (beer, ladybugs, strong sprays of water), I was intrigued by this spray concocted by the editors of Organic Gardening.
via Design*Sponge by Ashley on 5/10/13
Homemade Bath Salt Base
-3/4 cup Epsom salt
-3/4 cup Sea salt
-1 cup Baking soda
-10 drops Rosewood essential oil
-10 drops Sandalwood essential oil
-10 drops Lavender essential oil
-1 Tablespoon Rose petals (organic/no-spray, if at all possible)
-1 Tablespoon Lavender petals
-10 drops Fir essential oil
-10 drops Cedar essential oil
-10 drops Frankincense essential oil
-1 Tablespoon Lapsong Souchong tea
-1 Tablespoon Juniper Berries
-1 Tablespoon Pine Needles (finely chopped; I just plucked some leaves off a pine tree in the woods around my house)
-10 drops Lime essential oil
-10 drops Lemongrass essential oil
-10 drops Grapefruit essential oil
-1 Tablespoon Safflower petals
-1 Tablespoon Hibiscus petals, dried
-1 Tablespoon Lemon peel, dried
1) Place the salts, baking soda, and essential oils you’ll be using in a food processor or blender. Process until the mixture is uniform in texture.
2) Transfer the mixture to a medium size bowl. Add in the botanical elements you’ve selected. Stir with a metal spoon until everything is fully combined.
3) Store the bath salt blend in a covered jar until ready to use.
4) To use, place around 1/4 cup into a small muslin bag or tea bag (readily available at natural foods stores). Secure the top of the bath and place into the bath water as it’s filling.
via Natural Home Remedies by author on 5/8/13
What do you mean by Vegan?
Veganism is a term meaning ‘non-dairy vegetarianism’. The term ‘vegan’ was first used in England in the year 1944, by Donald Watson, who is also the co-founder of the Vegan Society.
The society was founded on 1st November which is now celebrated as Vegan Day. People following Veganism follow a strict vegetarian diet and refrain from the consumption of all dairy products as well as eggs.
In other words, veganism is ‘the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals’. Vegans, in addition, do not use any animal products or by-products, be it honey, wool, leather, fur, silk or soaps and cosmetics manufactured using animal products.
What is Vegan Cheese?
Vegan Cheese is basically a non-dairy cheese. It is made from plant foods. This kind of cheese does not include rennet which is an extract from the stomach of animals, used in making cheese.
If you make this your default search bar, a penny goes to your charity pick every time you use search. Might as well.
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. –Kahlil Gibran
Seva Cafe Serves Generosity on a Platter
–by Smita Pranav Kothari, Original Story, Apr 29, 2013
The milieu at Shantivan, a garden in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill area, on February 17 was like a hangover from Valentine’s Day. Placards displaying messages like ‘Love is all we need’ were tied to tree branches and hearts were chalked with bounty throughout the green sprawl. Except that it wasn’t an ode to Cupid. The occasion was the second monthly lunch hosted by Seva Café.
Omnipresent at the venue was a bespectacled man in khadi kurta-pyjama. He, along with other volunteers, was welcoming the guests and explaining the concept of the café—here, patrons aren’t charged for the food they’re served, instead they are free to pay whatever they want. Or, they can walk out without shelling out a single penny.
Meet Siddharth Sthalekar, who was orchestrating this “generosity enterprise” with ease. About three years ago, he was the co-head of the derivatives trading desk and the head of algorithmic trading at Edelweiss Capital. A typical day for this financier then would begin when the gong woke up DalalStreet at 9 am. That was when he would appear on CNBC, dressed in a crisp, formal shirt and tie, and share his expertise on accumulating stocks.
On one such morning in 2010, even as he was offering investors advice on what stocks to buy and sell, Sthelekar had the hint of a smile on his face. So much so that the cameraman asked him what’s brewing. Little could he explain to him then that the decision that he had taken—to throw it all away—had lit up his poker face that morning.
For some time, the 31-year-old Mumbaikar had been contemplating quitting his cushy job to explore if there is an alternative to the premise of accumulation that seemed to drive individuals in the corporate world. When he finally took the plunge, he set out to travel across India with his wife Lahar, a freelancing interior designer who graduated from the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) in Ahmedabad. Over the next six months, as they visited several non-profit organisations, they woke up to the concept of gift economy where goods and services are extended without any formal quid pro quo. This motto formed the cornerstone of Moved by Love, an incubator at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, which carries out various projects.
One such project, Seva Café, was in hibernation. Sthalekar, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate, and his wife became its core volunteers and helped reopen it in September 2011. Seva Café practises giving, the antithesis to accumulation. At the café, volunteers cook and serve meals every week from Thursday toSunday for free.
What is Sthalekar’s takeaway from the experiment? The proof that customers have kept the café running by paying up even when they could have got away without it. That there are enough people not governed by greed—something he had set out to test in the first place.
However, Sthalekar admits that the transition in his mind from market to trust economy did not occur overnight. “Initially, I used to put price tags on customers as they walked into the café,” he says. That’s in tune with the rationale of profit maximisation that business schools teach and the corporate world practises. So, Sthalekar often spent more time at the table of a potential Mr 3,000 compared to the table of a tea-stall owner, who was in his perception Mr 100. Then, his “noble friends”, including his wife and other volunteers, stepped in and pointed out the flaw in his approach, prompting a course correction.
However, running the café till eternity is not the objective of this entrepreneur. In fact, it’s quite on the contrary. Sthalekar says the ultimate aim of this gift-economy project is to shut it down. “If the aim was to keep the café open forever, we would have gone with a presentation to the Bill Gates Foundation and asked for a corpus.”
The idea, he says, is to trust the assumption that every individual, irrespective of his economic standing, can be generous. Seva Café provides a space for people to practice generosity by recognising the selfless giving of the volunteers. But, in the long term, Sthalekar hopes that people will develop the habit of being generous even outside the café—in all environments and circumstances. When this would happen, Sthalekar would lock the doors of SevaCafé and put the sign ‘Mission Accomplished’ on it. “When there will be enough generosity in the world, there would be no need for the café,” he says.
Although Sthalekar doesn’t know when this will happen, he says he is optimistic as he is coming in touch with more and more people who are generous. The other situation in which the café would close, he says, is if it does not receive enough support from volunteers and/or customers. This has not happened for seven years, even from before he joined the project.
In the beginning, Sthalekar confesses, he could not fathom the motive of gift-economy projects. Given his background, it was a huge deviation from the aim of multiplying revenues manifold. He recollects that when he was at Edelweiss, he used to entertain clients with lavish dinners and alcohol at five-star hotels to extract the best deals from them. He doesn’t deny that he enjoyed the high life and his work per se, but instances like those made him question the morality beneath his work. “The contradiction of charging my corporate card for an expensive bottle of champagne when I knew there are hungry people on the street did not align with my values,” he says.
That led to a constant struggle in his conscience. At one level, he was carrying the stern face expected of a financier. But the realisation that the efficiency which money provides is skewed took him closer and closer to the decision of moving on. “It was brewing inside me,” he says. He found moral support from some unexpected quarters—his boss at Edelweiss. When he told him that he would quit, his seemingly-capitalist boss opened up to him about a secret desire that he nurtures in his heart: He wanted to build an ashram for old people. This reaffirmed his conviction that people are generous by nature, but they act in correspondence with the space they are in.
There are days when he has his doubts about the choices he has made. “On some days, I do feel ‘what I am doing here, travelling on a train when my friend owns a BMW?’” he says. Nevertheless, his experiment of living on people’s generosity affirms to him that it is possible to sustain oneself by giving. “The litmus test of this experiment is that if I create value for the society, the society will support me,” he says.
Even though Sthalekar’s ultimate dream is to shut down the café, for now, he wants to open more Seva Cafés across the country. It pops up once a month in Pune and Bangalore. In January, he decided to try his luck in Mumbai. He was apprehensive, unsure of how the financial capital would react to a pursuit completely non-material. “We decided it would be a one-off experiment. But because the response was overwhelming, we served Mumbai inFeburary too and are scheduled to hold another gathering in late-March,” he says.
On both occasions, Seva Café served about 100 guests comprising an eclectic background—from professionals to slum children. Although they had anticipated serving about 60-70 patrons, the participation of a dozen-plus volunteers from the city came as a bonus and helped them enhance the scale of hospitality by a notch.
However, for Sthalekar, opening more cafés is just the means to the end: The day when people will make giving a way of life and these spaces will become redundant. It is hard to believe that the images of Sthalekar Google juxtaposes are of the same person: One clad in a loose khadi kurta, sporting a French beard and wearing a hearty smile; the other a snapshot of him in the CNBC show. Ask him and he’ll tell you that maybe they aren’t the same person. Today, if Siddarth Sthalekar were to appear on the CNBC show, he would advise investors to give all their stocks away.
You can visit Seva Cafe online at SevaCafe.org This article first appeared in Forbes India. As a freelance writer, Smita Pranav Kothari writes across genres and subjects. She seeks to surface the human side to every story. You can read more of her work on her website.
We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already. –J.K. Rowling
The Magic of Compassion Science
–by Janis Daddona, Original Story, Feb 22, 2013
Have you ever sat down with your doctor and talked about your brain—heart to heart? Neither have I. But that’s exactly what happened in our Forest Call with Dr. James Doty.
Apparently he is capable of living several lives simultaneously. Among other things
He is a neurosurgeon with top ratings from the Consumer Research Council of America.
He is the founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University.
He is an inventor of surgical instruments and an entrepreneur.
He is a philanthropist whose gifts support global health and peace initiatives as well as major universities.
He also serves on numerous boards and as an advisor to nonprofit organizations as diverse as the Association of Medical Ethics and the Council for a Parliament of the Worlds Religions.
But he is no stranger to struggle. He served as a caregiver in a family whose mother was an invalid and father suffered from alcoholism. They were on public assistance all that time. As he said, “At that age you feel like a leaf being blown by an ill wind.” He witnessed the indifference of those with money and influence, but also the compassion and generosity of those with nothing, and it made an impact. At age 13 he wandered into a magic store and had a serendipitous conversation with the mother of the owner who was there. She took a tender interest in him and said, “If you come back every day for six weeks, I’ll teach you something.” He did. And what he learned was the practice of mindfulness, envisioning, positive thinking, and making his choices his own and no one else’s. The lessons were transformational. Magic indeed! It put him on an amazing path that defied the odds and led him to medical school, neurosurgery, and a persistent curiosity about the power of compassion and neuroplasticity. What he learned is that the brain has an amazing capacity to grow in compassion. That in turn plays a huge role in our physical and psychological health. We benefit ourselves and others when we practice it.
The establishment of CCARE came about with some bit of magic as well. Dr. Doty kept urging his colleagues to bring this research into their department until one colleague gave in and agreed to do so. As reinforcement of the idea, they thought it might be helpful to ask the Dalai Lama to come and speak at Stanford on the subject of compassion. His Holiness was pleased to accept the invitation. Upon their first meeting, Dr. Doty explained his vision for the research to him. The Dalai Lama became so enthused that, on the spot, he directed the first significant personal donation to a non-Tibetan enterprise. Two other large donations followed, and with that—and some advocating with the dean of the medical school—the Center was established.
Dr. Doty captivated all of us with his wisdom and insights, based on research as well as personal experience. This posting could go on for miles, so let me see if I can condense this down to the deeply heartfelt gems he expressed during our conversation and urge you to make time to listen to the 70 minute audio. Trust me, you have to experience it first hand.
“While science and technology offer great hope to cure various ills, the cures I have seen are equally associated with the art of medicine. There is no science or technology that will hold or comfort a child in pain or comfort the dying. It is human touch and connection that is equally if not more powerful than all the science and technology in the world.”
The US suffers an epidemic of depression and loneliness. This is due to our money-conscious, do-it-yourself nature which creates a fear of vulnerability. We wear a mask of invincibility which cuts us off from our feelings, and authentic human connection dissolves. We get little nurturing, and so we isolate. Loneliness sets in. This creates more stress, depression, and less productivity. We become self-absorbed and mindless of what benefits we do enjoy. Ultimately this makes us less compassionate. However, in Third World countries, survival depends on every individual in the group. This in turn makes everyone, regardless of talents or idiosyncrasies, immensely valuable. They have a sense of worth and connectedness, and so they are far less vulnerable to our psychological deficits.
Transformation is an inward journey, and meditation and mindfulness help in that process. It should then take us to the next level, transcendence. Transcendence takes us out of ourselves and compels us to connect with others for a higher good. If used improperly, transformation practices can lead to more isolation and barriers. But when married with wisdom and compassion they accomplish what they were originally intended to do. When we reach out to another, one plus one no longer equals 2; it equals infinity. Now there’s some mathematical magic.
Compassion fatigue is really empathy in overdrive. With all the suffering in the world, we sometimes get caught up in it and feel overwhelmed. In some cases we burnout; in others we shield ourselves so thoroughly from it as to lose our compassion entirely. But this observation reminded me of something I learned in my sangha: being non-attached and being indifferent are not the same thing. So the healthy middle road, Dr. Doty said, is to assess the situation, know what we can reasonably do in the moment, do it, and be at peace with the effort and result. He reminded us of other compassion leaders who have to use this approach, the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They have the ability to do two things very well that we should learn: they maintain perspective and a healthy sense of humor! It is also vital to practice self-compassion; we are no less worthy of it than another. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others.
His own practice of mindfulness comes from a mnemonic device he recites daily: C=Compassion, D=Dignity, E=Equanimity, F=Forgiveness, G=Gratitude, H=Humility, I=Integrity, J=Justice, K=Kindness, and L=Love.
He noted that there are other leaders in this field. They include Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Tania Singer of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Stephanie Brown at Stonybrook University.
When asked what his vision was for his work, he excitedly told us of an upcoming event. He is mounting a World Compassion Festival in 2015—the year of the Dali Lama’s 80th birthday, and he has already agreed to attend. Its purpose is to bring youth together in service, because when we do that, they step up to the plate and incorporate it into their lives. That’s when real, global change can happen. He is working with Karen Armstrong to hold it in 100 of the Compassionate Cities she is developing around the world. It will include music and speakers. I’d suggest checking back at the CCARE website for more information as the date approaches.
Finally one shout out of my own. Dr. Doty is on the advisory board of Super Better Labs. You have to check this out! It is wonderful.
I followed up with him after our call to ask the question that time did not allow, “What can we do to support you and your work?” He kindly responded with this:
“My greatest wish is that by each of our actions, we create a “meme” of compassion that permeates our world and by doing so decreases suffering. That instead of reacting to negative behavior by, for example, spending billions on weapons to destroy lives, we are proactive and spend billions to improve lives.
Each of us has the ability regardless of our wealth or stature in this world to do an act every day that will relieve another’s suffering and tell them they are valued and you recognize their dignity.
Those actions above are what will offer the greatest support of my work.”
So it turns out there really is a magic pill for all our problems. Being compassionate improves not only the health and wellbeing of others, but our own as well. And it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Reprinted with permission. Janis Daddona has extensive non-profit experience as a therapist, college academic advisor, grant writer, librarian, HR manager, and more. She is a dedicated ServiceSpace.org volunteer and an accomplished writer for its weekly Forest Calls.
I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for the minds and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. –Martin Luther King, Jr. http://www.dailygood.org/ story/351/the-city-that-ended- hunger-frances-moore-lapp-/
The City That Ended Hunger
–by Frances Moore LappÃ©, Yes Magazine, Nov 27, 2012
“To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer.”
CITY OF BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL
In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy. But that realization was only the beginning, for then I had to ask: What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States—one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps—these questions take on new urgency.
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. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, 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.
The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.
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 mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
When my daughter Anna and I visited Belo Horizonte to write Hope’s Edge we approached one of these stands. A farmer in a cheerful green smock, emblazoned with “Direct from the Countryside,” grinned as she told us, “I am able to support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck.”
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.
In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.
“For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.”
Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal. 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.
“I’ve been coming here every day for five years and have gained six kilos,” beamed one elderly, energetic man in faded khakis.
“It’s silly to pay more somewhere else for lower quality food,” an athletic-looking young man in a military police uniform told us. “I’ve been eating here every day for two years. It’s a good way to save money to buy a house so I can get married,” he said with a smile.
No one has to prove they’re poor to eat in a People’s Restaurant, although about 85 percent of the diners are. The mixed clientele erases stigma and allows “food with dignity,” say those involved.
Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.
“We’re fighting the concept that the state is a terrible, incompetent administrator,” Adriana explained. “We’re showing that the state doesn’t have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves.”
For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. 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. In one successful experiment, egg shells, manioc leaves, and other material normally thrown away were ground and mixed into flour for school kids’ daily bread. This enriched food also goes to nursery school children, who receive three meals a day courtesy of the city.
“I knew we had so much hunger in the world. But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”
The result of these and other related innovations?
In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.
The cost of these efforts?
Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget. That’s about a penny a day per Belo resident.
Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a “new social mentality”—the realization that “everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.”
The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more public handouts (although in emergencies, of course, it does.) It can mean redefining the “free” in “free market” as the freedom of all to participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect.
And when imagining food as a right of citizenship, please note: No change in human nature is required! Through most of human evolution—except for the last few thousand of roughly 200,000 years—Homo sapiens lived in societies where pervasive sharing of food was the norm. As food sharers, “especially among unrelated individuals,” humans are unique, writes Michael Gurven, an authority on hunter-gatherer food transfers. Except in times of extreme privation, when some eat, all eat.
Before leaving Belo, Anna and I had time to reflect a bit with Adriana. We wondered whether she realized that her city may be one of the few in the world taking this approach—food as a right of membership in the human family. So I asked, “When you began, did you realize how important what you are doing was? How much difference it might make? How rare it is in the entire world?”
Listening to her long response in Portuguese without understanding, I tried to be patient. But when her eyes moistened, I nudged our interpreter. I wanted to know what had touched her emotions.
“I knew we had so much hunger in the world,” Adriana said. “But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”
Adriana’s words have stayed with me. They will forever. They hold perhaps Belo’s greatest lesson: that it is easy to end hunger if we are willing to break free of limiting frames and to see with new eyes—if we trust our hard-wired fellow feeling and act, no longer as mere voters or protesters, for or against government, but as problem-solving partners with government accountable to us.
Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is the author of many books including Diet for a Small Planet and Get a Grip. YES! Magazine is a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. This article is shared here with permission.