Growing community discussion on food and food politics

28 October 2011

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By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate

In the spirit of the first National Food Day, CFJC in partnership with Food First and Oakland Food Policy Council held a potluck dinner on October 24th to discuss community concerns related to food. CFJC’s larger Kitchen Table Talk series, of which this dinner was a part, brings people together to share ideas, knowledge, and experience and acts as a tool in strengthening and expanding our food justice movement from the ground up.

The potluck took place at the residence of Marilyn Borchardt, the Development Director for Food First. This intimate setting provided space for community members to sit down together over a shared, home-cooked meal and really talk about the food they were eating. I was excited to actually have an earnest, face-to-face conversation with the people who showed up, many of whom were familiar faces but a couple who were new as well.

We started off with drinks and appetizers, mingling and meeting each other. As we sat down for the main course, smells of delicious split pea dal, samosas, pumpkin bread, and more overwhelmed the kitchen and dining room. We started our dinner conversation off with the simple question of why food was important to us. People shared stories of their past and how food influenced their lives, others shared their passion for food as the base of all life on Earth. Lilia Smelkova, the National Campaign Manager for Food Day, spoke about the delicious food she ate growing up in the Soviet Union, and how as she moved around the world later on in life, she realized how much taste and nutritional value of common foods can change from place to place.

Helping to facilitate the discussion was Christina from CFJC, who then asked everyone how food and meals have changed in their lifetime. Again, personal stories of home-grown produce and knowing your farmer abounded as people spoke about their youth. Production and distribution within our food system dramatically changed starting in the 1970s, and several members of the group laughed over the ubiquitous propaganda of the time: Better Living Through Chemistry, a variant of a DuPont advertisement.

Personal stories gave way to political discussions, and soon we were discussing this 1970s shift in the food system and the role of corporations. What struck me as interesting was a particular comment that these industries are enslaving our food system. At first, I didn’t quite understand; people are enslaved, not a system. But through this conversation, I realized he meant that people are enslaved through the food system. These corporations are not looking for one-time, quick deal; they are looking to take away the power people have over their food and what they eat by controlling supply and profits over the long term. They do this by introducing new seeds that can’t reproduce and require enormous amounts of pesticides, keeping farmers dependent on biotech corporations and injecting potentially-hazardous materials into the very food we ingest. I was excited to hear one participant vehemently advocating that pesticides be called what they are—poison. And I learned from another guest how these corporations are controlling us economically as well; through complicated investment procedures, they lump grains together with other commodities and metals (such as gold) and determine the current and future price of some basic food items.

The numerous conversations throughout the night were illuminating for me in many ways, teaching me about the history and economics behind our modern food system, and acknowledging the grave problems we face and the immense work that needs to be done to fix it. The group gave resounding support to investing more in our local food system, to getting back to our roots and knowing our farmers and food again. This would break the grasp monopolistic food and biotech corporations have over us, by putting the power of sustenance back in our hands, the hands of the people.

If you are interested in hosting a similar community discussion on food, please email us at foodtalks@cafoodjustice.org.

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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

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