My Dear Friends:
This is a big week where federal food policy is concerned. While the Senate Agriculture Committee under Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) prepares to finalize a Farm Bill budget, the House continues its process to implement draconian measures that will adversely affect the dinner plate of every person in the country.
By now it should come as no surprise that the House’s measures actually hurt those people least able to afford proposed cuts in the name of “responsible government.”
There is a lot that we as individuals and “we the people” can do to make politicians hounded by thousands of corporate lobbyists remember that their first duty is to our common welfare, and not the corporate bottom line.
First and foremost talk with your neighbors.
This year CFJC and Food First launched the Taking Back Our Food System call to action, with Kitchen Table Talks (KTTs) a primary strategy. This means that people gather around food to talk about the issues of concern to them. It is amazing what we are hearing once people begin to talk with one another, in settings as varied as college classrooms, family gatherings, and neighborhood centers. We truly have a lot to learn from one another, if we only take the time to listen.
In this way we provide support for one another, and desperately needed leadership.
Remember, we are the country where when we went to war, our president told us to “go shopping.” Obviously, we deserve a different—a better kind of leadership.
It is time to talk amongst ourselves about our values, about what “we the people” believe our government should be doing for our people, and to people in other countries. Enough from the television talking heads, already. We don’t need to hear about patriotism from angry men and women on the tube. We live it every day of our lives.
We also begin to take responsibility for our government by connecting with one another in community and learning from one another what we value: a roof over our heads; a warm bed in which to sleep; and decent and healthy food on our plates. Simple.
At CFJC we begin there, and take that message and methodology from community, all the way up to and including policy meetings in Washington, D.C.
Elsewhere in this newsletter you will read about the policy priorities on which staff and CFJC will focus this year. Please weigh in on what you think of them. For certain, I expect to get an earful.
Concerning food policy, we continue to travel around the state, and more and more, across the country. Because we have learned that to make sure the concerns of California communities have a hearing at the federal level, CFJC must have a seat at the policy making table. Our commitment to you is to report back on our activities, and on the process of policy making, no matter how dysfunctional, or distasteful.
Fortunately, support and concern for the issues of California and other communities is making it possible for CFJC to continue efforts on your behalf. Three specific efforts include:
- Health Farms, Healthy People, a national coalition of health, agriculture, and other groups working on short and long term solutions for better economic and health outcomes. CFJC houses the project coordinator (Holly Calhoun) in Oakland, and provides support for the coalition Steering Committee and senior policy analyst (Gabrielle Serra) in D.C.
- GOAT (Getting Our Act Together), another broad national coalition that CFJC helps facilitate, and which developed a letter signed by many groups proposing that this Farm Bill be grounded in equity.
- Food Policy Equity Cluster, a group of five organizations that have embarked on a 3-5 year program focusing on policy that not only is economically healthy and sustainable, but that is also based in equity. With support from the Kellogg Foundation, we are excited about the possibilities a partnership comprised of the Center for Social Inclusion, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, Union of Concerned Scientists, and CFJC will explore and achieve.
Yes, these are very exciting times.
On a personal note, less than two years ago the California Food and Justice Coalition gave me the great honor of hiring me to “take CFJC to the next level.” Along the way I have had the support and mentorship of a thoughtful and engaged Steering Committee.
In particular, Melissa Guajardo from Soil Born Farms in Sacramento; Heather Fenney Alexander from Community Services Unlimited in Los Angeles; Annie Lorrie Anderson from the One in Ten Coalition in San Diego; and Matthew Marsom from PHI in Oakland provided the leadership that made it possible for me to guide CFJC to this point.
While some of them have rotated off the Steering Committee, I know that their efforts on behalf of us all continue in their local communities. I wanted to give a shout out to acknowledge that the recent success of CFJC has everything to do with their leadership and foresight.
Finally, as a veteran of the environment, environmental justice, climate change, social justice, and economic justice battles, I want to point out that the success of CFJC means that their will be efforts to undermine our work on your behalf. This is not paranoia—it is fact. It always happens.
Most recently, people who should know better convened a meeting of local, state and national groups in Oakland to discuss the need for a “coalition of food justice groups.” One of the principles in that effort was a former member of the CFJC Steering Committee. And CFJC was not invited to the party.
In terms of power mapping and power dynamics, this is known as “divide and conquer.”
I challenge each and every one of us to rise above any and all such small minded efforts to undermine the success of any of our community and NGO work.
Instead, I want to extend the hand of CFJC to anyone who eats; to any person who wants to work for food policy that supports food for people, and not just for corporate profit. We are ready, willing and more and more, able to work hand in hand with you.
Indeed, these are interesting times.
I look forward to sharing conversation with you, in a Kitchen Table Talk, or via electronic media. Hopefully, one day we will break bread together.
Until then, best wishes as we walk this road to a new future together.
Please stay informed by reading CFJC newsletters and messages, and by staying connected and engaged in the activities of our member groups at your local level.
These are exciting times, and I want to personally thank you for your continuing commitment to and engagement in creating the future in which we all want—and deserve—to live.
And yes, if you can, once more I would ask that you please consider making a financial contribution to help CFJC continue its work on your behalf.
Again, all the best.
Y. Armando Nieto