Down in the Papaya Republic

  We have been working very, very hard in the Maine State Legislature this session to get some good, local-food-rights bills passed.   Several have been proposed and finally on Tuesday we had some good news.  Three of those bills were voted out of committee Ought to Pass.   The following is a transcript of the testimony I presented about these bills and the Right to Food constitutional amendment that had been proposed.   It is a personal story that seemed to touch many in the audience.   I fed the papaya and the cheese puffs to the committee afterwards.

“Good afternoon Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman and distinguished members of the committee.   As you all know by now I am Betsy Garrold from Knox and I represent Food for Maine’s Future, Local Food Rules and The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund.  I come here today to speak in favor of this afternoon’s collection of local food bills.

Today I am going to tell you a story.   I brought props.   In the early 1990’s I was a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service stationed in a place we fondly called the Papaya Republic.   The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small nation in the middle of the Pacific.   A tropical paradise filled with coconut, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and pandanus trees; a lagoon teaming with fish; small family gardens scattered here and there around the island.

While I was there I helped the World Health Organization conduct a childhood nutrition survey that revealed that thirty percent of our children were stunted and underweight.    In other words chronically malnourished.   This was not a huge surprise but it lent us weight as we worked to start several programs to combat that blight.   I ran kitchen garden programs with the horticulture students at the college at which I taught.    I wrote a white paper for the Nitijela (the local legislature) on the need to foster breastfeeding.   This lead to National Breastfeeding Week with educational programs and celebrations across the islands.   I filmed, with the Peace Corp volunteers on the island, an educational video about breastfeeding and child-spacing.   But my favorite programs was childhood nutrition education in the elementary schools around the nation.

I would go into elementary classrooms and hold up two things.   In one hand a papaya.  Fresh whole, local food.   Not shipped in on barges.   Growing in the sunshine and ocean breezes.   In the other hand I would hold up a shiny package of cheese puffs.   Definitely not healthy and having been shipped in from the mainland United States on a huge container ship.  I would say to the children,  “Which is healthier for you?   Which is better food?”  

Invariably they would choose the cheese puffs.   But their reasoning was based on different causes then you might think.   They thought that anything that came in a shiny package from the store, and had come over the ocean from the United States must be better for you.    Must be nutritious and healthy.   Shiny packages can never steer you wrong, right?

This always lead to a lively discussion about whole foods versus processed foods.   Local food versus imported food.   Fruit versus cheesy puffs.   By the end of the hour when I opened both packages, cutting open the papaya and opening the bag of puffs the children usually made the right choice and went for the papaya first.

So what is my point?   I would like the committee vote for local food versus manufactured, over- proceed food.    Whole food versus junk food.    I would like the committee to vote the way the school children in the Marshall’s finally did.   Supporting our local, healthy food producers and farmers with their vote for these bills that support the work they do to feed us all.

Thank you for your time.”

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mariah Williams on May 17, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    How beautifully done this is! We’re SO GRATEFUL to have you and your talented and dedicated colleagues working on our behalf!

    Reply

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