While it’s hard for me to fathom, I know that some people are just not interested in food. However, whether you’re interested in food or not, it relates to you. The mere fact that you eat food daily automatically makes you a part of our food system and related to the problems and issues surrounding food. Unlike any other product or object, everyone has to eat food. And with every food choice we make, we affect our food system.
Although we may not always realize it, many social and political issues are related to food. I recently went to a food conference sponsored by an organization called “Just Food” with several other Middlebury students where we saw how food is connected to so many other issues, like racism, workers’ rights, and environmental issues. The conference was the biggest it's been yet, with 1000 people attending and a wait list of another 1000 people.
For some people, food is just a vehicle for other issues. For example, the meatpacking industry heavily employs Mexican immigrants. Because most of these immigrants are illegal (studies estimate that 25% of workers are illegal immigrants), companies can easily get away with extremely harsh conditions, low wages, and atrocious treatment of their employees. The jobs are generally very dangerous, but companies can easily let go and hire new workers quickly, so workers are almost disposable. This example is just one of many in which an important social justice issue is related to food.
So what exactly does “Just Food” do? Well, they support many different initiatives and do an awesome job of connecting people within a community, as well as communities with each other. Among other things, they’ve created and organized CSAs (community-supported agriculture) in New York City, established and supported urban farms (particularly in low-income areas), provided support for food pantries and soup kitchens, and taught families and communities to cook using fresh, healthy ingredients.
While Just Food as an organization is inspirational, meeting and hearing about the people taking part in Just Food’s programs and initiatives are even more inspirational. I took a canning class by a vivacious woman, Classie Parker, and immediately was enthralled by the passion she felt about good food and community. Not only did I learn how to can and preserve, but I got in some great dancing and laughs too.
We also heard the story of an amazingly strong woman, Tanya Fields, who is the founder of an organization dedicated to creating economic development opportunities and empowering underserved women of color called the BLK Projek. Under the BLK Projek, Tanya helps run community meals in the Bronx and is currently in the process of creating an urban farm in the Bronx.
Lastly, there was Ana I. Rodriguez Angel, who runs a farm with her family in New York. Ana, representing immigrants, racial minorities, and women, is dedicated to giving back to the community, even when she is struggling to make ends meet. Just Food helped Ana get to where she is today under a program called “The New Farmer Development Project,” (NFDP) where they train, support, connect immigrant farmers in the region. Through the help of NFDP, immigrants can begin their own business and provide for their communities.
These three women were just some of the many inspirational people at Just Food’s conference and show how food can be a vehicle for addressing so many problems. To learn more, go to justfood.org