By Rosalind Waltz-Peters, Food Policy Research Intern
This summer was a summer of small revelations for me. There were no great ahah moments, the kind that seem like they should be accompanied by fanfares and fireworks. Instead, there were small realizations, faint swells in the soundtrack of the summer, about what I want adult life to look like for me, and what makes me happy. Many of these relate to how I deal with living on my own away from friends and family, and so since this is about my time with the Community Food and Justice Coalition, I will not enumerate them here.
But here is one small revelation I will touch on. I haven’t yet found that perfect fit, the career I will never want to leave. But I’m confident that I’m on the path to it. Entering into college, I was convinced that I wanted to go into International Relations. Although I was intrigued by the events and interactions of the rest of the world- their norms, traditions, and views- they felt remote from me. I could feel bad about their problems, but they were worlds away from anything I had any familiarity with or context for imagining. I needed problems that were more real, and more closely linked to my life, to care about.
Here is what I have come to believe: I could most definitely do worthwhile work focused on creating solutions to problems in other countries, but it’s not as if we, Americans, have a magic formula. There is poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and sickness in this country. If we truly want to do good, there is more than enough to do here at home, to clothe, feed, educate, and care for our own. The people suffering aren’t continents away from us. They live next door, walk by us on the streets, pick our vegetables, sell us our sodas, and interact with us in a thousand other ways. Can we look blindly by them, seeing only problems abroad, and call ourselves true humanitarians?
This was not a new thought this summer but it took on new dimensions. I knew these problems existed, but they became more real to me. Working at CFJC, the Detroit water shut-offs and Hmong farmer suicides were topics of great concern in the office and in conversations with partner organizations long before they reached national (or really any kind of) media. The stories were fresh and raw, and came from people directly involved in these tragedies, not freshly made-up reporters spending a few minutes in front of a TV camera for the story. These were things happening to people in the society I was part of, and they were the kind of things I wanted to help mend.
I enjoyed my summer at CFJC: the passion around me for these issues, going to Oakland Food Policy Council (OFPC) meetings and listening in on GOAT (Getting Our Act Together) Calls, and meeting or hearing professionals of their fields trying to use their knowledge to resolve issues in the Bay Area, and sometimes on a more national level. I loved researching GMOs; I loved learning about the complexities of the issues, and although I now know enough about them to talk for hours, I still find the topic fascinating.
And here’s my second revelation: I really like politics and law. In my research, what I found the most intriguing was reading the actual language of bills and court cases related to GMOs and trying to understand exactly what they specified, and what they did not. I aided myself in this task by looking up other legal analyses of these issues and learning about what words and phrases they focused on and what precedents certain court cases set. At OFPC meetings, it was the legal case they were working to build for the creation of greenways and urban agriculture in Oakland that I found most interesting. It’s kind of like a jig-saw puzzle, trying to understand how it fits together, and I can happily spend hours trying to put the pieces into a coherent picture. So as wonderful as a summer with CFJC was, I think that I have also learned that perhaps a more “academic” bent to this work is what I want. This summer I researched food policy. Next summer I’d like to work a little more hands-on with it.
This is not in any way to diminish the time I spent with CFJC this summer. It has, and will continue to, serve me well. I think that to truly help create the justice in society I mentioned above, you need to have spent some time focusing on equity and understanding the structural biases, like classism, racism, and sexism, that still plague American society in an environment that does not try to lure your focus away, before delving into the maze-like political system.
As much as CFJC has helped me to clarify and focus on the ethics of what I want to do, by being in an environment in which my ethics were shared, it has also helped me build confidence in expressing my own opinions, by being in an environment that sought to (gently) alter them. The primary example of this is my stance on GMOs. I believe that they are linked to plenty of agricultural woes, but as a result of current social and economic systems. The technology itself is one to be cautious with, for sure, but it is not an inherently bad thing. This contrasts with the established CFJC opinion that does not distinguish between the technology and the system, and supports a blanket ban on GMOs, but my opinion is not one I am willing to rescind or pretend not to have. And in the context of discussing how to frame my pieces, I got plenty of practice standing up for this belief. Although I was happy to frame things for the organization as they wished (for the writing they release is meant to represent CFJC), in the safe space of the office, I felt free to represent my own opinions.
Now I return to Mount Holyoke for another two years of education, but with more of a direction for my studies and with a little extra moral and personal strength to help me find a way to affect the change I hope to see. Look for me in ten years; I’ll be out there somewhere, helping to make the food you eat better for you, and better for our world.