RPCV Activist Helps Prepare for World Food Day
By Guest Contributor on Friday, October 5th, 2012
October 16th marks World Food Day, a global day of education and action focusing on the need to end world hunger.
As a lead-up to the day, National Peace Corps Association Advocacy intern Zahara Nakibuule-McCoy interviewed a member of the Peace Corps community who is preparing for the day.
Oxfam America’s Cynthia Hellman served from 1999-2001 as an Agriculture Extension Agent in Mali, working with her fellow village community members to create two community/market gardens. Raised in Indiana, Cynthia relocated to Vermont following Peace Corps service, where she worked on an organic farm and completing her Masers Degree in Sustainable Development.
In 2007, Cindy and her RPCV husband Greg Flatt (Mali 97-99), created a non-profit organization in Mali called Economic and Ecologically Viability through Agriculture, or ECOVA-Mali. ECOVA provides microloans and peer-to-peer agricultural and business training to Malian farmers who want to create small-scale agricultural enterprises.
What made you interested in helping for World Food Day?
I passionately believe in a world where hunger does not exist, where farmers are valued and supported, where local food economies are strong and vibrant, where safe, healthy, nutritious food is accessible to everyone, and I believe this world is possible.
How did your experience as a Peace Corps volunteer impact your perspective on the global food system?
I witnessed firsthand how export driven agriculture keeps farmers in a situation of indentured servitude, ruins the local economy, destroys the land and soil, and leads to poverty and hunger. But I also was deeply impacted by that fact that food in Mali was more than just nourishment or fuel for the body – it was spiritual and communal sustenance. Eating and sharing food was a sacred, ceremonial act of reverence for and bonding to each other, nature, the earth, and the plants and animals we ate. It was symbolic of how these are inextricably linked.
Compare your food experience abroad and your experience back here in America.
In Mali, I ate every meal with several members of our village community. We shared a common bowl, and ate with our hands. The majority of the food had been produced in the village, or purchased from nearby farmers. Here in the US, a lot of the food I consume was produced hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. The food products are often produced and distributed by multinational corporations, and I purchase most of it in chain grocery store owned by a multinational corporation. I don’t know anyone on the supply chain, not even the clerk who rings my purchase. Except for the consciousness and awareness that drive my food choices, there is no outwardly demonstrated reverence for the food that I eat, and save for holidays and special get-togethers, there is little collective or communal sharing or celebration of food.
What type of specific actions should be taken to improve the global food system?
We need to enact policies that support the creation of local food economies, systems of trade that are fair and farm-worker supportive, and methods of agriculture that are sustainable. We need to purchase as much food as possible from local producers that grow organically, and purchase as much food as possible to support farm-workers, indigenous communities, the conservation of resources and a system of trade that is fair. We need to educate ourselves and talk about these issues with members of your community.
In which ways do you believe that the World Food Day activities will improve the food system?
World Food Day activities will raise a huge amount of awareness, inspire people to make conscious food choices, and send a message to the policy makers and corporate board rooms that the people want a just and sustainable food system.
Oxfam America encourages you to organize or participate in a World Food Day dinner, a gathering that fosters conversation about where your food comes from, who cultivates food, and what you can do to make a difference. Or, visit the World Food Day USA website, for other action opportunities and a listing of planned events.