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Oxfam: slim down; feed more

Oxfam America, part of a global network of food aid and development groups that started in Britain, served a meatless, locally grown meal in Des Moines, Iowa Wednesday to encourage overfed Americans to help the planet's hungry.

And the group brought star power – the award-winning Chef Jose Andres, a native of Spain who is a television food personality as well as being involved in anti-hunger programs in the Washington, DC area.

Oxfam was promoting its low-energy approach to eating during the side events held every year along with the World Food Prize dialogue and award ceremony.

Andres said he'd like to see more talk about food issues during the current election campaigns.

"I would love to see our presidential candidates, congressmen and senators have a food policy," he said.

He also would like to see better communication between different parts of America's food system.

"It seems we are in this big war between agribusiness and small farmers," he said  "Each going to their own corner and finger pointing in the other's direction isn't going to take us anywhere."

Andres visited Haiti two months after the 2010 earthquake in its capital, Port-au-Prince and concluded that the massive food aid to that country that followed was hurting local farmers.

"Haiti is a country were 70% of the people are farmers. We were putting farmers out of business," he said.

Andres decided to focus on how food is cooked in Haiti, setting up a sustainable school canteen there through a nonprofit he founded, World Central Kitchen. He's encouraging the use of solar stoves to help replace cooking with firewood and charcoal, a commodity that takes up 30% of Haitians' income.

In this country, too, consumers can use less energy simply by putting a lid on boiling food.

"You know that an egg only needs 70 degrees Celsius to cook but we boil the eggs to death," Andres said.

Saving energy is a theme in Oxfam America's GROW campaign for American consumers. The five-point program asks Americans to:

  • reduce food waste, to help save the resources used to grow food.

  • buy products and brands that reward small-scale farmers in developing countries with fair prices

  • cook smart to conserve energy

  • buy food that's in season, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions

  • and eat less meat and dairy products to save on greeenhouse gas emissions and water use.

As Oxfam lobbies in Washington, the group is trying to get the next farm bill to reform international food aid,  using more cash vouchers in developing nations instead of shipping grains from the U.S.

Over 50% of the costs of U.S. international food aid is wasted on shipping costs and subsidies to U.S. agribusinesses, said Oxfam America president, Raymond Offenheiser.

The group is also supporting a waiver of the Renewable Fuel Standard's ethanol mandate, sending a letter to EPA signed by 17,500  people who back the idea.

"The unmistakable fact is that 40% of the corn grown in the United States today is going into cars," Offenheiser said.

Oxfam believes that food prices are being driven higher partly because of ethanol production.

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