“What we have are not food deserts. What we have is food apartheid.”
Almost three weeks ago, this statement struck the ears of an audience whose hunger for change neared starvation. On August 25th, Vallejo’s famous Empress Theater witnessed yet another groundbreaking snippet of history.
That quote, by Eric Holt-Giménez of Food First, comes from “Survival Pending Transformation of Society,” a conversation facilitated by CFJC’s own Y. Armando Nieto that included Dr. Stan Oden, David Hilliard (Intercommunal Institute for Research and Social Change), Rita LeRoy (Loma Vista Farm), Kelly Carlisle (Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project), and the aforementioned Mr. Holt-Giménez—and “conversation” is not a word I use lightly, as you can read below.
As these five conversed from the comfort of plush couches and armchairs, the Empress began to transform. Just like a thrilling movie or Farm Bill news can keep me glued for hours, hearing the speakers make connections in the theater set me into a trance. This was the floodgate beginning to crack.
Eventually, those floodgates came crashing open.
To the sound of clapping hands and stomping boots (as well as the occasional impromptu cheer), the attendees reinforced the lightbulbs going off in my head. As Ms. Carlisle’s stories of corndog-wielding children transitioned into reflections on her exasperation with the status quo, I felt the urgency in her words.
“You have to know that everything you eat, everything you do, is going to affect you in the future.” Ms. Carlisle was issuing a rallying cry.
Not a moment went by where this urgency wasn’t matched by Mr. Hilliard’s recollection of his days as the Black Panthers’ Chief of Staff. Then, as now, the issue for Mr. Hilliard was survival—on its most fundamental level:
One of the most frustrating aspects of the system we’re currently struggling with is the extent of its failure. The conversation addressed food, but the issues discussed span the spectrum of class, societal, and economic issues. To be sure, the world is not perfect, but remaining ignorant of this system’s shortcomings is the same as being ignorant of the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”We’re dealing with the basic needs of the people. If we’re not, people don’t have time to do anything else,” said Hilliard.
“Give us a chance to use our techniques and methods. Come to us, bring your problems, we’ll work together.”
With those words, the possibility of change became the imminence of transformation. With those words, Mr. Hilliard showed me that he, the other speakers, and the rest of our leaders are all listening.
Throughout the various portions of the event, which included live music, an art exhibition, and an open house, I became sure that we face tremendous obstacles (individually and collectively) on the path to an equitable and just food system. At the same time, I became sure that there are great people who are doing unprecedented work. The connections made on that theater stage are the beginning to a societal transformation.
I urge those who did not experience “Survival Pending Transformation of Society” on August 25th to visit CFJC’s event summary page that includes a full-length Podcast, an album of Photos, and the entire list of Questions and Comments from the audience.
To summarize, our own Y. Armando Nieto:
“Events like that in Vallejo can begin the conversations we need to continue to remember how to rebuild our economies, food system, and communities on the values we seem to have lost track of, since unmitigated greed became the socially acceptable motivation for work.”