By Alyssa Sheets, Food Policy Research Intern
This summer I have had food on my mind. I haven’t been literally starving; in fact, my fellow interns at the Community Food and Justice Coalition will vouch for my office notoriety as a gourmand. Rather, I have been pondering and learning to ponder food in ways of which I was totally unaware before I stepped through the Community Food and Justice Coalition’s (CFJC) doors. I noticed throughout thesummer that my thoughts often have a knack for subconsciously turning into food metaphors, a curious habit which I have come to accept and enjoy immensely. Thus, as I write my internship exit blog, I find it only fitting that I incorporate one last food metaphor into my thoughts on my summer experience.
My awareness of the food justice movement before this summer was like a lone grape dangling on a grape stem. My consciousness of the movement is now transformed into a cluster of grapes, so heavy that it weighs down the vine. I came to CFJC in May with a very narrow scope of “Food Justice,” and thought its sole purpose was to increase access to healthy food for people of lower socioeconomic status, namely through federal and state food policy and programs. While this facet of food justice – food security – is a very important facet of movement, that is just what it is: a single facet.
As it turns out, the food justice world is like a many-layered onion, with each layer adding a new and equally important dimension to the movement. Some of these other layers, just to name a few, include agriculture, climate change, farmworkers’ rights, people of color (POC) and equality issues, nutrition, and fighting political battles with corporations. One layer to which I felt especially connected this summer was child nutrition. My interest in ending childhood hunger was sparked in late May, when I attended Hunger Action Day in Sacramento. My CFJC coworkers and I teamed up with members of the Alameda County Community Food Bank to rally together in the name of ending hunger, pay visits to California state legislators, urging them to vote for food policy legislation that would benefit Californians, and sit in on assembly hearings. One hearing, the Child Hunger hearing, struck a chord in me and contained testimony from experts in the field that exposed me to just how pervasive the problem of child hunger is in California.
Inspired by my visit to the state capitol on Hunger Action Day, I signed up through the Alameda County Community Food Bank to volunteer with the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal food program that provides free, nutritious lunches to children under the age of 18. I am now a passionate advocate for the SFSP, because it contains so many useful aspects which further the fight against child hunger in the U.S.
The SFSP’s meals are regulated by the USDA to ensure that they meet up-to-date nutritional requirements for children, and generally contain an entree with starch and lean protein, a fruit or vegetable, and milk; some examples of lunches we served this summer include a ham sandwich on wheat bread with an apple and celery, and beef nachos with lettuce and shredded cheese with a plastic baggie of grapes. The meals are served to all children under age 18, with no questions asked and no paperwork involved to receive a lunch. The lunches are also served in public libraries, which provide children both a safe and supervised place to consume the food and encourage them to spend time in an academic environment where they can access free books.
Serving lunches to children through the Alameda County Community Food Bank was an enjoyable and humbling learning experience for which I am very grateful. It forced me to confront the child hunger issues I had been researching from the cushy CFJC office face-to-face and see what 21st-century hunger looks like in California for myself. Volunteering with the Summer Food Service Program allowed me to participate in and witness the practical application of a federal poverty alleviation program, rather than merely read about its effectiveness. It is because of my experience this summer that I am in staunch support of the Summer Meals Act of 2014, S. 2527/H.R. 5012, introduced by Senators Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA). I encourage anyone with any interest in the child hunger aspect of the food justice movement to check out FRAC’s brief on the Act here: http://frac.org/pdf/support_summer_meals_act_of_2014.pdf.
The fight to end child hunger does not end with any one program or piece of legislation, and it certainly does not take precedence away from any of the other issues within the food justice movement. The food justice movement is a nebulous world in which politics, environmental science, grassroots campaigning, anthropology, biology, and sociology stir together in a melting pot (last food metaphor, I promise!) to form perhaps the most universally relatable and important social justice cause. Food is, after all, a battleground, a basic human right, a relationship-solidifying ritual, and a form of cultural expression. This is the greatest lesson I have learned during my summer as a Food Policy Research Intern for the CFJC.
Alyssa N. Sheets