Eat-In at UCSB: Demanding our right to local, healthy food with community in mind!

By Marissa Diebolt, UCSB Student

At 11:45 am on the morning of Thursday, April 26th, 2011, I was thinking to myself, “Please, let this work.” Standing in the middle of the Arbor at UCSB gazing at the white tablecloths running down the length of our dining table seated for 75 people, freshly picked flowers in vases, and home cooked food at every other seat, I was amazed to see the vision my group had created finally come to fruition. An enormous “Occupy the Food Supply!” poster hung on one end of the tables, a soapbox, display by the Isla Vista Food Co-Op, and a comparison between organic and conventional produce stood at the other end.

Many showed up right before noon and the event started a few minutes late, but at 12:10 when Environmental Studies professor David Cleveland began speaking and questioning the workings of our food system, I began to feel more at ease as an event organizer. Additional participants filtered in, bringing heaping dishes of food. Students walking by were struck by our dramatic event. The Eat-In, located at the center of the UCSB campus, was a statement like no other before. The magic of offering free food and smiles? People actually participate!

As we kindly encouraged curious passersby to join us at the table and become educated on our food system, and taste a little bit of our delicious, healthy, and local food (and believe me, they did-we had about 80 people either seated or gathered at the table by 12:30), I was on cloud nine. I overhead and participated in some great conversations and sampled some delicious food, although I really was a bit too excited to eat, to be honest. Many fellow students I talked with are now looking into joining a CSA at a local farm, and the dramatic comparison in nutrients between conventional and organic produce truly convinced many to support organic because of their higher nutrient content! Both the Santa Barbara Independent and the Bottom Line (a local student run newspaper) were doing interviews, and several other students and I got up to the soapbox and voiced our demands and shared our motivations for holding this protest.

So what was my motivation behind holding this Eat-In, a public potluck-meets protest, in the middle of my university campus? I am a college student after all, and as we all know it, the cost of food is definitely a determining factor in many students’ food choices. More importantly, however, I am a human being, and as a human, I have a right to: 1) have access to fresh, local, and healthy food, free of pesticides, sprays, GMOs, and the like, and 2) KNOW what is being put in my food via labels. I feel it is my obligation as a human to inform other human beings of the dangers associated with our industrial agriculture system, to withdraw all support from “Big Ag.,” but more importantly, to support the local food system. Santa Barbara is fortunate enough to have a vibrant, high-producing agricultural system and broad availability of fresh produce and foods year-round, with plenty of organizations involved in sustaining our local food supply. However, the unfortunate fact is that approximately 95% of food consumed is Santa Barbara County is imported (260,900,000 lbs), and 99% of what is grown in Santa Barbara County is exported- (2,360,800,000 lbs) annually.* What is grown and eaten in Santa Barbara County only makes up a mere 8,500,000 lbs, and is a serious problem that needs to be addressed directly.

I feel the Eat-In was a true success, and I would love to see more events like this sprout up all over Santa Barbara County, and even our state, and country. I have a million ideas streaming in and out of my mind on how to provide everyone, especially those in areas of lower incomes and/or higher obesity rates access to healthy, fresh food. This can be achieved by implementing community and school garden programs, nutrition lessons, and utilizing the ideals behind urban agriculture, slow food, permaculture and other practices. I feel the next step for me personally, as I look into my life post-graduation this coming June, is to become involved in under-resourced communities teaching the basics of gardening and health, continuing to educate and promote the importance of local, healthy food. However, I am just one person, and there are many roadblocks ahead to achieving access to real food for all people of our nation, and it will take many more individuals, just like you and I, to start this revolution. The trend of “local,” “organic,” and “sustainable” is becoming more prominent in today’s society, and it is important to keep in mind the integrity of this food revolution in a country based on profit and convenience. Nonetheless, I am optimistic in knowing that Eat-In events, like the one held at UC Santa Barbara, can be the initiation for change in the path towards taking back control of our food system; a path I encourage everyone to take.

*information provided by David Cleveland and the UCSB Santa Barbara County Agrifood Systems Research Group. More info: http://es.ucsb.edu/faculty/cleveland/CV/pub.htm

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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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