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Activist gives speech advocating food industry reform

Kaitlyn Rabach | Thursday, April 19, 2012

Food activist Temra Costa gave the keynote address of Saint Mary’s Food Week, titled “The Roots of the American Meal,” in Carroll Auditorium on Wednesday evening. The week is sponsored by the Saint Mary’s Sustainable Food Committee.

Kimberly Roland, the head of this committee, said she believes Costa was the perfect activist to inspire Saint Mary’s women to make a change in the food industry.

“I think it is important to raise awareness on the variety of food issues that exist,” Roland said. “It is important to have Temra on our campus because she focuses not only on food issues, but how women are involved in this industry. Her talk can inspire and empower women on this campus.”

Costa talked about the history of the food industry to date.

“How did we get here?” she asked. “How did we get to the point where we praise big farm lands that are making us money, but are simultaneously making us sick?”

She said events such as the Great Depression, both world wars and the rise of companies such as McDonald’s all impacted the food industry we know today.

Costa said the government has played an essential role in shaping the food industry.

“The dust bowl disaster was due to the government teaching farmers to produce the most goods without teaching them how to properly care for their soil,” she said. “Even today, the foods that make us the most sick are owned by the government.”

She also discussed women’s historical role in the food industry, which was the topic of her book, “Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat.”

“A lot of people do not know about the ‘farmerettes’ of World War I,” Costa said. “This ‘Women’s Land Army’ was composed of women who were empowered to work in the fields and take over for the men that were overseas.”

Costa said she believes women are a driving force in the food industry.

“Women take charge of putting the food on the table in their own homes and in the community,” she said. “This is a responsibility that comes naturally to women. Someone once told me that a good organizer organizes women first, and I think this is true when fighting for justice in the food industry.”

Costa expressed the need for education and awareness on sustainable agriculture.

“Today, I think we are in a real literal food fight,” she said. “We as eaters need to push the agenda and change the way we look at food.”

She said the first step in changing the agenda is examining your own diet.

“Start with what you are eating,” Costa said. “Start looking at the foods you are consuming and remember to buy locally.”

Educating the youth on these issues is essential in making a difference, Costa said.

“If we start healthy habits at a young age it will continue into adulthood,” she said.

Costa said she encourages all college students to raise their voices and demand for their schools to buy locally.

“Being a college student you have little say in what your dining hall provides, so you must step up and ask that your food service buys locally and provides organic foods,” she said. “Voice your opinion.”