The Counter x HRN: Together We Asked Pressing Questions About the Food System

The Counter has been a source of groundbreaking, informative, and inspiring journalism, uncovering the money, power, and politics behind our plates. Our hearts are heavy to hear that their nonprofit newsroom is coming to an end.

HRN has been lucky to collaborate with many of their staff and writers. Together we have asked pressing questions about the state of our food system.

Listen below and follow, hire, and collaborate with their brilliant team!

What is Regenerative Agriculture, Really?: “Regenerative Agriculture Needs a Reckoning,” wrote Joe Fassler, Deputy Editor of The Counter. Joe started out writing a short news piece, and ended up with a 13,000-word investigation on how regenerative agriculture is being defined, who is defining it, and who gets left out from the debate. Kat Johnson talks to Joe about his reporting and the wider conversation that it kick-started.

How Will Covid-19 Change the Response to Food Insecurity?: During some of the most harrowing months of the pandemic, journalist Simran Sethi set out to explore the definition and dynamics of food insecurity in the US. Simran’s piece doubled and then tripled in word count as she uncovered the complexities of how we define, track, and address food insecurity. She shares what she learned and informs listeners about what shifted during the pandemic, where our response fell short, and the potential to create change in the face of crisis. Read her article for The Counter, “Hunger and food insecurity are not the same. Here’s why that matters—and what they mean.”


Is Philanthropy Doing Enough to Support Native Food Sovereignty?: Native enterprises and nonprofits are working to ensure food sovereignty for their communities and neighbors. Land access and capital are key to this mission, and philanthropic grants are often a major source of funding. However, grant money often comes with many strings attached and reporting requirements that bog down the organizations they’re trying to help. Marilyn Noble’s reporting in The Counter examines how philanthropies (often private foundations with large endowments) currently support Tribal communities and what advocates say they could be doing better. Read Marilyn’s full piece here.

What Do Communities Gain When Restaurants Reopen?: As the United States rolls back pandemic era restrictions, many restaurants are welcoming eaters back and expanding their seating capacity. After more than a year of isolation, reopenings offer a sorely missed space to connect. Doug Mack discusses an article he wrote for The Counter, which examines the social and cultural benefits of gathering spaces like restaurants by drawing on the academic concept of a “third place.” Plus, enjoy anecdotes from eaters about what they have missed most about dining out and the reasons restaurants are more than the food they serve. 

How Has a Year of Remote Learning Affected Childhood Nutrition?: Covid-19 put school lunch in flux, as cafeteria trays were reconceptualized as brown bags and meal boxes. USDA waivers freed school cafeterias from former limitations about who they can feed and what food they can serve. Previous episodes have covered the effect of these waivers on accessibility and school funding. Today, with the help of The Counter writer Sam Bloch, we investigate how the trajectory school food has been heading in for the past decade was dramatically altered during the pandemic when rigorous nutrition standards were rolled back in response to growing need and supply chain challenges. Many pediatricians, public health experts and parents are growing concerned about potentially rising rates of childhood obesity, which often has lifelong effects. However tensions run deep in the debate about how to balance nutrition with concerns about hunger, accessibility and personal taste, leading to ethical questions about the role of privilege and the right to healthy food. Read Sam’s article about school lunch and childhood obesity here.

Why are School Lunch Programs in Danger of Losing Funding?: This week, we have an update on school lunch, as we mark one year of Covid-19’s impact on our food system. Jessica Fu from The Counter is back to explain some unexpected ramification of the USDA waivers that made school lunch free for all children under 18. Due to this change, free lunch applications are down and this could have a negative impact on future school funding.

Why Are Undocumented Workers On Hunger Strike?: Undocumented and formerly incarcerated Americans have been left out of federal pandemic relief payments. New York is home to about half a million undocumented residents, many of whom are essential workers. One year in, they’re going on a hunger strike. On Tuesday, March 16th protestors gathered at St. John The Divine in Manhattan on the first day of the "Fast for the Forgotten''. Demonstrators are calling for government relief for New Yorkers passed over by federal pandemic relief. Jessica Fu published a story for The Counter after visiting the strike and speaking with participants and organizers. In this episode, she and HRN’s Hannah Fordin discuss the strike, its implications, and what New York State is doing to support these excluded workers. To read Jessica Fu’s coverage of the strike for The Counter, click here

Why are USDA Waivers Crucial to School Lunch Programs?: As millions of kids returned to school over the past month, one of the biggest questions was how to provide nutritious meals to them. It’s become an even bigger problem as many school systems began the year with fully-remote schedules. To understand the role that recently extended USDA waivers play in making food accessible for students, Kat Johnson turns to Jessica Fu, Staff Writer at The Counter.

What Should I Know About the CARES Act?: Negotiations are underway for the second round of coronavirus relief funding, as millions of Americans just received their final $600 weekly unemployment benefits. Congress cancelled its traditional August recess in order to stay in Washington to continue working on the bill, but that doesn’t mean we should expect to see them reach any decisions quickly. To understand where things currently stand on individual payments, farm aid, unemployment, SNAP benefits, PPP, and what we should watch for, we welcome Claire Brown, Senior Staff Writer at The Counter.

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