Edie Jessup

Opinion and Analysis from the Grassroots

Fresno Could End Hunger Here, Now

By Edie Jessup

The fallout of Walmart’s ploy with poor cities, in a pretense of addressing hunger, is a case study and an expose of Walmart’s co-opting the City of Fresno, including some of its leaders who should be more discerning. Becoming complicit with what is destroying our local economies, in addition to the fact that Walmart is being sued because of discrimination of women in employment, does not bode well for Fresno’s idea of itself. This advertising ploy was about Walmart driving people to its Web site—purely a marketing device. One million dollars is nothing for Walmart. If Walmart paid its workers a living wage, that would be a genuine start to permanently ending hunger.

In addition, this frenzy of “voting” to “end hunger” in Fresno is anything but voting or ending hunger. Because people were encouraged to vote multiple times, spending work time on a personal project with Facebook and Walmart (a for-profit entity) is not “voting” with any meaning whatsoever. I suspect that Walmart will next advertise that it has millions of “friends” (implying support for its business), when it is really a self-created advertising tool that has no “one person, one vote” involved, and only those folks who participate in Facebook. This is crazy, Fresno. Well-meaning people are being manipulated by carnival hucksters.

Regarding the Walmart pose of helping to end hunger: I have worked on hunger and nutrition issues in Fresno for the past 10 years, and though one-time infusions of funding for food distribution are helpful, they do not get at the core problem or improve the capacity of our excellent Community Food Bank to do more for more on a regular basis. The issues are about how we cut budgets in this county and do not assure that all eligible for EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer)/CalFresh families are enrolled (so that they can buy healthy food through retail channels, thus supporting our local economy). According to the California Food Policy Advocates, if Fresno County assured that all eligible families were enrolled in Food Stamps, School Meals and Summer Lunch programs, an additional $170 million would come to this county every year, to be used to feed our needy population. $1 million from Walmart once is silly.

Could the folks who have “voted” for Walmart please lobby our Board of Supervisors to assure full enrollment in these federal programs to support local agricultural and our low-wage economy here in the Valley? The Central Valley economy supports cheap food for the nation, resulting in people too poor to eat a healthy diet. We are doubly paying for hunger by the disparity in health outcomes due to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases by diet.

If Fresno can learn something from this fiasco, that would be swell. We need to support the creation of systems that will assure a healthy population and not submit to the inequities and manipulation of our good will and false appearance of charity by Walmart or other irresponsible corporations. (Pepsi is using similar tactics for “Refresh” grants.)

Ultimately, I am for responsible business and my community coming together to solve hunger and the resultant obesity problems due to poor diet. It can be done, but it really takes us as a whole deciding to do it for ourselves by policy and by changes to the environment we create here in Fresno, so that access to affordable, healthy food is the norm in every neighborhood. We can do that by prioritizing good health and deciding that we are going to utilize our best asset, our great food and agriculture to create permanent paths to eating well through normal retail channels. That will mean supporting (and funding) the Fresno County Department of Social Services with sufficient staff to immediately enroll all eligible families in the CalFresh program and then manage that enrollment. Then, as families improve their situations, they can move off of the federal Food Stamp program. Meanwhile, we create a win for families who are hungry and our retail and agriculture industry by people purchasing real food, rather than hit or miss charity distribution.

Let’s do that for the New Year. “Friend” your Fresno County Board of Supervisor and ask him/her to support full enrollment in federal food programs in Fresno County to increase funding spent on food and to improve health. That will bring in an additional $170 million every year to be spent on healthy food, benefiting not only hungry people but also farmers and local businesses.

*****

Edie Jessup is the program development specialist for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP) and co-chair of Roots of Change. She can be reached by e-mail at edijessup@csufresno.edu.

Now or Never

By Ruth Gadebusch

Ruth Gadebusch
Ruth Gadebusch

Finally, a governor who presents a budget of at least some reality. Whether or not we agree with all the proposals, it is time to get real. For far too long, this state has thought it could have its cake and eat it too. Life just does not work that way.

We have been told time after time that we were heading for financial disaster. Still we have continued with our “eat, drink and be merry” philosophy, in denial of the rainy day to come. Or, is it that we Californians think a rainy day brings only good tidings to our perennially dry state? If that is the case, we had best take a look at the long-term consequences when it comes in such abundance.

It is that rain that brings the mud slides and the vegetation that ultimately provides the fuel for the fires. The good times led us to think it would continue forever. We did not prepare for anything beyond the moment.

It is a bitter medicine with which we are faced. Proclaiming that we don’t want to pass our problems to future generations, we still refuse to take that medicine. We are in denial just as the alcoholic or the gambler. The time has come. If we don’t face up to it, circumstances will force it on us.

How much better if we take control now and do what is necessary. It will be painful just as the heavily indebted person who finally goes to the credit counselor must first rid him/herself of the credit card so as not to dig a bigger hole. Both cutting back on spending and increased income are needed.

An individual may not have the means of increased income but this state does. It is called taxes. None of us like increased taxes, but there is no way we can expect to dig out of the hole without more income. That is, unless we are devoid of any compassion for the less fortunate dependent on government largess.

In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Then there is that matter of the future—our children and grandchildren for whom we profess such concern. Yet, we continue to disregard what we are doing to that future when we keep piling on the debt. Not only is it the debt, but we are cutting their education. That is the education that might, hopefully, equip them to deal with the problems we are developing for them. Once more I repeat my mantra that the individual will benefit from education but the society pays for that education because a civic society cannot exist without an educated citizenry.

It is said that fat and sassy institutions do not change. Change comes only when lean and hungry. Has our society become lean and hungry enough that we consider solutions rather than digging the hole ever deeper? The late Marcus Foster, superintendent of Oakland schools, advised us to embrace change and direct it lest it roll over us. Are we going to manage that change from riches to less so? The time is now. It isn’t getting better.

With the entire nation suffering we cannot expect to be bailed out. We, including Republican legislators, would do well to give serious consideration to the governor’s budget. It isn’t pretty, but there is no easy out from the current situation. We can let it continue to get worse or we can take our medicine now.

*****

Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified School District Board of Education, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.

 

The Decline of American Science

By George B. Kauffman

 

The bus pulled into the Austin Greyhound terminal after a long and enervating journey across the hot flatlands of southeastern Texas. During the three-hour trip from Baytown, where I was employed as a summer research chemist for Humble Oil Company, I had struck up a conversation with a young man in the next seat—an intimate verbal exchange of the kind we seem prone to indulge in with strangers whom we know we shall never meet again. On discovering I was a chemistry instructor at the University of Texas, my inquisitive neighbor beleaguered me with questions, with which I, a fledgling doctor of philosophy, was unable to answer and to which, even today, I have no answers.

Although the conversation took place more than 55 years ago, I can still recall the awe with which my traveling companion held me, and the naiveté with which he expected me, the epitome of the “objective scientist,” to provide ultimate answers to the perennial problems of humankind. Despite the all-too-human satisfaction at the heady experience of being treated as some sort of superior being, I vividly remember feeling a deep sense of uneasiness; I realized that the perfections my acquaintance attributed to me resided largely in his imagination rather than in reality.

Admittedly, he was an extreme example of boundless admiration for science, but his attitude was typical of that time, when the scientist was frequently treated with great respect and fawning obeisance—almost like the god-king or chieftain of primitive tribes who was considered to possess mana or magic power.

By that time, science and technology had made many cutting-edge discoveries and inventions. The Salk polio vaccine had just been announced. But many of the scientific breakthroughs we now take for granted lay in the future—commercial oral contraceptives, the Internet leading to the World Wide Web, DNA profiling, microprocessors, CDs, DVDs, VCRs, GPS, personal computers, cell phones, lasers, masers, microwave ovens, CT scans, MRI, endorphins, robotic surgery, antidepressants, kidney transplants, eradication of diseases like smallpox, gene replacement therapy, Apollo astronauts’ landing on the moon, the Hubble space telescope, Sputnik (the first of the now-common Earth-orbiting artificial satellites), Viking probes of Mars and myriad devices for space exploration.

I was concerned that our national preoccupation with science and technology was not grounded on a true appreciation for science, its methods and how it actually advances—the process of science—but was overly concerned with its fruits—the products of science. I never imagined that science, with its universally acknowledged benefits, would someday be attacked and disparaged, as it presently is today.

Currently, right-wing politicians, the minions of global corporations with excessive profits as their only bottom line, have manipulated the almost traditional American suspicion of the intellectual, of our national resentment of above-average ability in all fields—except for entertainment and athletics—noted by Alexis de Tocqueville 170 years ago, to further their hidden agendas. They have succeeded in denigrating education and learning as well as in making elite a dirty word.

In the guise of reducing the deficit, neocons and war hawks have channeled the grassroots populist rage with government to discredit anything that they oppose—healthcare, immigration reform, education and numerous other problems. They have played on citizens’ patriotism to expend blood and treasure on endless wars profitable only to their clients. They have utilized most people’s lack of understanding of science to label corporate activities with harmful, deleterious effects on public health as “junk science.” Greenhouse gases, anthropogenic climate change, second-hand smoke, the ozone layer depletion and even evolution are currently derided.

A number of surveys have shown that Darwin’s theory of evolution is less accepted in the United States than in other Western countries (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060810-evolution.html; www.gallup.com/poll/21811/american-beliefs-evolution-vs-bibles-explanation-human-origins.aspx). A 2006 study suggests that the primary reason for this parlous state of affairs is a unique confluence of religion, politics and public understanding of biological science in our nation (www.sciencemag.org/content/313/5788/765.full). In the United States, only 14% of adults thought that evolution was “definitely true,” whereas in European countries such as Denmark, Sweden and France more than 80% of adults surveyed accepted the theory of evolution. Also, studies suggest that Americans are confused about some core ideas of modern biology; despite the ubiquity of DNA on almost every TV crime drama, fewer than half of American adults could provide a minimal definition of DNA.

The survey showed that the effect of fundamentalist religious belief on opinions of evolution was almost twice as great in the United States as in Europe. Our country has a tradition of Protestant fundamentalism not found in Europe that takes the Bible literally and views the Book of Genesis as an accurate account of the creation of human life.

The conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as part of a platform designed to consolidate its support in southern and midwestern states (the so-called red states). When Ronald Reagan was campaigning for the presidency and gave speeches in these states, he slyly slipped in the sentence, “I have no chimpanzees in my family,” poking fun at the idea that apes could be the ancestors of humans. Unfortunately, such a view from a U.S. president or prominent politician lends legitimacy to the dispute.

In 2005, our National Academies of Sciences warned that unless we improved the quality of math and science education at all levels, we would continue to lose economic ground to foreign competitors. Currently, the United States ranks 27th out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with degrees in science or engineering, whereas the World Economic Forum ranked us 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in quality of mathematics and science instruction. The politicians in charge of nations competing with us such as China hold degrees primarily in science or engineering, whereas our leaders are mostly lawyers (www.quora.com/Why-do-Chinese-political-leaders-have-engineering-degrees-whereas-their-American-counterparts-have-law-degrees). No wonder they pursue sensible policies and build their infrastructure, whereas we continue to “kick the can down the road”!

The latest three-year (2009) results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that the United States continues to trail much of the industrialized world and rising economies in Asia. American 15-year-old students scored 31st place in mathematics and 23rd place in science (www.oecd.org/document/44/0,3746,en_2649_35845621_44455276_1_1_1_1,00.html).

Much of our current decline is of our own doing. We have enough real external enemies, but as Walt Kelly’s Pogo cogently observed on the first Earth Day (1970), “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

*****

George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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