By Porus Mistry, CFJC intern
On Thursday October 20th, CFJC hosted its first Kitchen Table Talk (KTT) at the University of California, Berkeley. As a CFJC student intern, I took the lead on organizing and arranging the event.
This KTT was rather unique, because it was composed entirely of students who were interested in issues relating to food. The event was held in a classroom on campus, and although there was no kitchen or table, the event was a success.
Over 30 students with a wide variety of majors showed up to take part in the conversation. Having a discussion amongst people with such a diverse collection of backgrounds proved to be very beneficial. The issue of food justice and how to approach problems with our food system was seen from numerous perspectives. Dietetics majors brought up issues regarding the depletion of nutritional value in foods stemming from the industrial food system. At the same time, economic majors were able to discuss how money has influenced and shaped the food system. Then political science majors discussed actual policies that set up the way the food system functions. More importantly, students whose majors did not directly correlate with food issues were present to voice their concerns with the food they eat.
One individual shared an interesting debate topic regarding the way people in today’s world are eating. He argued that in modern times, the influence of the nutritional value and the science that goes into what our bodies are digesting inadvertently disregards the cultural aspect of eating food. He associated this claim with how it has become socially taboo (and in some regions illegal) to eat certain items, such as insects. For example, some cultures would eat certain insects, which provide a cheap way of obtaining a low-fat and high-protein meal. He acknowledged that this may seem strange, but asserted that ultimately what to eat is the individual’s choice and the system that we have in play not only makes it hard to eat what we want, but in some cases prohibits it.
The main thrust of the discussion was more along the lines of how people feel food access is limited and how it has changed throughout the years. One person discussed issues pertaining to food stamps and how health epidemics associated with low income populations such as obesity are treated as an individual problem and not a structural problem. The question posed was: When a person is supposed to live off of as little as $4 a day, how are they supposed to purchase a healthy, nutritious, and fulfilling meal? Students discussed the assertion that the food system is set up in such a way that subsidies favor 20% of farmers, most of whom farm only corn, soybeans, and wheat. This structure allows corn products to go to industrial uses such as ethanol instead of food, as well as providing a cheap source of unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup. This means that products with high-fructose corn syrup will be made into cheap foods for people to buy, while the healthier foods that are unsubsidized are more expensive and therefore less accessible in terms of price for people to purchase.
Despite the serious nature of the discussion, there was also a positive side to the event. In the last part of the KTT, people started to discuss solutions and possible future steps to take in terms of changing our food system. Someone mentioned that in terms of subsidies, the answer may not be as black and white as whether to keep them or kill them, but rather reallocating them. He argued that if subsidies favored produce and small local farmers, maybe the power dynamics will shift to help favor local food systems with a greater diversity of cheap, healthy produce.
Another very interesting subject that came up was how to use media to spread the message of creating that shift to a local, healthy food system. One student said that she felt it would be very empowering to have a film similar to Thank You for Smoking, which could highlight the obvious flaws in the structure and functioning of the food system we have at play today. I personally feel that having a satirical comedy could prove very beneficial for acknowledging and exposing the politics behind the food system, especially how so much is influenced by just a small percentage of businesses. This could help spread the message to many people who do not see the problems in the food system and shed some light on the subject. In doing so, a stronger grassroots movement can grow and change can be possible!
The UC Berkeley students were very engaging and had unique perspectives and viewpoints in discussing the food system. I believe the UC Berkeley KTT was a great success; while it was framed with a depressing overview of how the food system is poorly established, it also included an uplifting attitude about moving forward to effect change. I truly hope we at CFJC can help host more university talks, because having more support from youth is just the kind of rejuvenating strength that the food movement needs.