Martha Ma is a food and media educator and producer, community chef and health counselor. She is the host and producer of “The Tasty Life,” a bi-weekly television show on Manhattan Public Access channel 57, and the editor of the e-newsletter, “Eater’s Digest.”
Martha is also executive producer of the Food for Thought Film Festival. If you’re in the NYC area this weekend, check out the last weekend of the festival at Cooper Union’s Wollman Auditorium, 51 Astor Place at Third Ave. Feature films include King Corn, Black Gold, and Life and Debt. Shorts include The Meatrix I, II and II 1/2 and The True Cost of Food.
When did you begin this film festival and what was the first film you showcased and why?
The Food For Thought Film Festival began in 2007. The first films showcased were Super Size Me, The Future of Food and The Global Banquet. My goal was to raise awareness about certain issues related to our current food system that everyone has the right to know: the effects of fast food on our physical and emotional health, and corporate responsibility; what genetically modified organisms are and how they got into our food; and the social and economic impacts of policies of multinational corporations and organizations such as WTO and the World Bank, on developing nations around the world.
What do you hope to accomplish through the showing of the films you showcase during Food For Thought?
My hope is to provide information, provoke thought and action. My idealistic belief is that if people really understood how damaging our current food system is to our health, the planet, and to the livelihood of our global neighbors, we would be compelled to make different choices.
I believe a true democracy is only possible with an informed public and we need to begin to educate ourselves in order to take back our power as citizens in exchange for the dazed consumer.
What was your journey to becoming what you describe as a “community chef and health counselor”? And when did you start connecting this work to media education?
Iâ€™ve always been passionate about food. Food is the most intimate connection we have to the universe and every human being makes this connection about three times daily throughout their entire lives. It amazes me how disconnected we are as a society to the food we put into our bodies — that becomes our cells and molecules, the stuff weâ€™re made of.
I got interested in health counseling and cooking because I wanted to help people cultivate a healthy relationship to food to the point of pure adoration and excitement! Food and media were easy to connect, because they both deal with the issues of control, access, increasing consolidation and centralization — leaving us with fewer choices and less information or misinformation, and less democracy. I believe media is also in some part responsible for driving our behavior and ideas about food.
What do you think are common misconceptions or assumptions about the U.S. food supply?
The two biggest misconceptions are that our food supply is safe and that food should be cheap. Few people know that our food system is completely chemical and fuel dependent. Itâ€™s cheap now, but with rising fuel prices, that wonâ€™t last much longer. Conventionally grown food is also doused with chemical pesticides and herbicides which means we’re basically consuming poison. The chemical fertilizer used to keep the soil productive harms people and devastates the environment. The environmental impacts alone have been linked to growing illnesses such as increased rates of cancer, respiratory problems and developmental delays in children. Few also know that much of our processed food is made of genetically engineered corn and soybeans.
Our cheap food supply costs tax payers billions in environmental clean up costs, and subsidies for the biggest producers. We spend less money on food than we did 50 years ago but we spend much more on health care. We always want the most expensive of everything but food. I find that strange.
If you could have a meeting all about food with the next president of the U.S., what would you discuss? What is one change you think is essential and will like to see made during our next president’s first term in office?
Thatâ€™s a big question! Well, first I would recommend to the President that the revamping of our current industrialized
food system be placed on the top of the priorities list. We are at the cusp of a world crisis that we can no longer
ignore. There are so many underlying issues that are related directly to the way we produce, consume and distribute food in this country. This would cover issues of the current crisis we face in health, environmental degradation, energy, human rights, immigration, hunger, poverty, unemployment, war, loss of biodiversity, global warming and loss of democracy, to name a few. It is also of great importance to our national security because our current free trade policies in regards to commodity food trading — it is absolutely essential to keeping peace in the world.
Our current food system is unhealthy, destructive and unsustainable. It is also run by a handful of very huge corporate players that have currently been enjoying a revolving door policy from the corporate sector to the
top levels of government making decisions on the behalf of the American people that only benefit a handful of
multinational corporations who are intent on controlling the agricultural and chemical industries. The very first
thing to do is to fire all top government officials that have any history or link to corporate entities related to the agricultural or chemical industry and replace them with environmental stewards, agronomists, scientists, health
The second thing to do is to get Congress back to work on a Farm Bill that promotes local, sustainable agriculture and land stewardship; fair distribution of government subsidies; healthy, clean and whole foods for all school kids; funding for local initiatives that promote equal access to good food, and community food security, autonomy and education.
For readers who want to become more involved and aware of the foods they eat, what are some steps they can start taking now?
The first step is to take some time to get educated. There are so many great books written on the subject of food that have been published recently. A great place to start is The Omnivorerâ€™s Dilemma by Micheal Pollan or What to Eat by Marion Nestle. There are dozens more!
Then decide for yourself what the most important issue is for you personally and think about what choice you can make in your daily life that might make a difference based on what your beliefs are. You might start shopping at a
farmerâ€™s market or join a CSA, a community garden or switch to fair trade products, itâ€™s up to you. Start on one thing and you will find that as you become more aware, other changes will follow. Share information with your friends and family so you donâ€™t feel alone. Become politically active if youâ€™re the feisty type.
Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on? How can readers contribute to the Food For Thought film festival or start a similar film festival where they live?
I am currently working on a media literacy curriculum around food issues aimed at teens. I am also working on trying to get the film festival to other communities. I have been asked to bring the festival to Oklahoma and Washington and hopefully to Hawaii (my second home).
Readers can contribute by making a donation to the film festival that is 100% tax deductible through the website
www.foodfilmfest.com. More importantly, if you are interested in bringing the film festival to your community, I would love to help.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Let’s eat our way to good health and freedom.