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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good Intentions

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Awhile back, there was an animal group that I used to really love that used “Good intentions are not enough” as part of their messaging. It always stuck with me because of how true it is. Many times we do things with good intentions, but if we don’t follow through or aren’t very critical about how we do them, we might not be helping. In fact, we might be hurting

I write this not because I have any great solutions to offer, but because I think it is important for us to look more critically at how we view our actions – both individual and state actions – and how capitalism has negative impacts on even the best of intentions.

One of our advisory board members (thanks, Dave!) went to a book signing of Beverly Bell (a board member of TruthOut) who had just written Fault Lines: Views across Haiti’s Divide. He was kind enough to buy me a signed copy and told her about Food Empowerment Project’s work on food justice issues (so cool!).

As we all are busy, I have struggled to find time to read it (and I admit now I am just a chapter or two away from the end), but I could not help myself from commenting on it. Much of what she talks about in the book is so relevant to the type of principles we hold at Food Empowerment Project, such as allowing those who are the focus of a discussion to participate in meaningful decisions. “Not only is it right, but their lived experiences and wisdom are essential to creating a society that functions through equal opportunity, peace and rights,” she writes.

At F.E.P. we work to make sure that community voices are amplified as a solution to the lack of access to healthy foods. Those living in these communities are the ones who are impacted – they know the barriers and they will have ideas on solutions that will work (not policymakers influenced by corporations).

She even talks about language as being essential, and she explains why she uses the term “peasant” (even though Westerners consider it to have a negative connotation) and also the term “’U.S. American” (to differentiate from all other peoples of the Americas who are also Americans). My copy of her book is currently full of notes, and this one has a big star next to it as I was so excited!

I recently wrote a blog on language that discusses just how important it is and how much it can teach us by either connecting us or pulling us apart.

The portion of Bell’s book I found most interesting examines the impacts that foreign food aid had on Haiti after the earthquake of 2010.

I have been hearing about some of the things she mentions for a while, and this book really crystalized it for me.

So many times. we believe we are doing good (have the best of intentions), but the outcome is not the best since we are doing things that we (as individuals and coming from the West) think are important or necessary because we are looking at it from a perspective of who we are.

For example, the U.S. sent an enormous amount of food to Haiti after the earthquake, but they didn’t seem to reduce the amount as time passed, which negatively impacted those who were growing food there. Wouldn’t it make sense to also give money to the growers of the food to help rebuild their infrastructure and make it stronger so that they could grow their own food and be self-reliant? As Bell notes, “peasant organizations urge that foreign dollars go to procuring domestically grown emergency food aid.” Agrarian reform and food sovereignty are a big part of the solution. “For farmers and advocates of a justice-driven reconstruction, the first priority is food sovereignty. This is the belief that every people has the right to make decisions about, produce, and consume its own local, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.”

Maybe that is the catch – food is power, and perhaps the West wants that power over the people.

The West in general, and the U.S. in particular, seem to want to keep people in poverty instead of truly wanting to pull them out of it.

It brings to mind F.E.P.’s fight with a California agency regarding the negative impact they are having on the education of farm worker children. They require the farm workers to move at least 50 miles away from the migrant labor camps when the picking season is over, forcing them to pull their children out of school. They know they are doing this, and instead of immediately trying to remedy the situation, they put up bureaucratic barriers. As Dr. Ann Lopez of the Center for Farmworkers Families has stated, they are doing this in order to keep new farm workers coming in down the road – the current farm workers’ own children.

Another example of this is Tom’s Shoes’ One for One program, where you buy a pair of their shoes and they will send a pair to someone in need. Again, great intentions, but how does it impact the shoemaker in that country? There are a lot of articles on this issue.

Some projects can seem to be so great initially, but things aren’t necessarily as they seem.

And, well, maybe my lifelong suspicion of the U.S. federal government is at play here, but then look at their decision to dump peanuts on Haiti, which impacted farmers there – mostly women.

Charity work is big business and doesn’t always create a way to truly get people out of poverty because it seems to make people dependent instead of self-reliant. This is the old way of thinking, and for those of us who truly give a damn, we must speak out to challenge it.

As someone who has never had a lot of money, I always try to be careful how I use it. I try to decide if I am considering doing something because it makes me feel good versus doing something that actually can make a difference.

And if you are a supporter of F.E.P. and our mission, you know that sometimes doing the right thing takes research.

In her book, Bell urges us to “[A]ct with deliberation instead of acting as quickly as possible. Haitians say that anything that happens fast doesn’t last.” She encourages people to support grassroots organizations in Haiti, to use our voices here to call for reforms from the US government* and the UN in order to end these destructive policies, and to collaborate with advocacy groups – for fairer trade, policies, labor rights, women’s rights environmental health and food sovereignty.

I wrote this because of the great admiration I have for the people of Haiti. Haiti was the first independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean – maybe the West still can’t get over the loss? Toussaint Louverture (a vegetarian) led a slave revolt in 1803, abolished slavery, and booted the French out. Did you catch that? Sixty-two years before the U.S. did.

One of my favorite books by Isabel Allende, Island Beneath the Sea, weaves in the history of Haiti and fiction, if you are interested.

And I am just going to close this with excerpts from the book – some seem so basic, yet why no one is listening is confusing to me:

The meals’ ingredients were all bought from Haitian farmers. Rose Anne said, “I would like to tell the international community that we can grow food.”

“People need to know that we can count on ourselves. We have the capacity. That’s what’s behind this initiative. We accept support that comes, but in the framework of respecting people’s dignity.”

The NGO industry has received most foreign aid since the earthquake. It has largely replicated the practice of foreign governments, excluding the Haitian state from decisions about its own nation. “The NGOs don’t tell us … where the money’s coming from or how they are spending it,” Prime Minister Bellerive said.

*If you have read my blogs before, you know that I am a big supporter of acting locally and in the community, so I am not sure what to say about the federal government – especially now, which I have hesitated blogging about.