Evelyn Hartman, Evaluation and Food Policy Research Intern
I had a frustrating relationship with my undergraduate thesis. Before immersing myself in the research of my thesis on the alternative food movement, I thought I strongly identified with the movement. I made a conscious effort to visit my local farmer’s market every Saturday morning, worked with my university’s dining service to increase local food procurement, helped to organize and participated in the development of our university’s community garden, and screamed with excitement at a weekly Ecology Club meeting after we discovered that Polyface Farm was only a short road trip away from campus. I continue to enjoy visiting the farmer’s market to support the local farmers, but I now walk through the market with a new perspective.
In the early stages of my research I began to reevaluate my own philosophies in regards to food. As I further immersed myself in the fieldwork and literature, I began to critique many of the movement’s efforts in creating a sustainable and just food system. I came to argue that the discourse of the alternative food movement creates an exclusionary space. When I walk through the farmer’s market today, I am aware of the people who wish to participate in the space and the significance of their presence. The values, ethics, and morals associated with an individual’s interest in participating at a farmer’s market reflect those of the alternative food movement. Many of the people strolling through the market as they inspect the displays of dark leafy greens, assortments of root vegetables, and freshly baked loaves of bread share similar values. Many people of different racial and class groups, however, do not identify with these same values, ethics, and morals that entice one to attend a farmer’s market. The white, upper middle class appeal of the alternative food movement extends beyond the farmer’s market and becomes problematic when the movement attempts to apply the ideals across “food desert” communities that may not embody similar values, ethics, and morals as those a part of the alternative food movement.
I honestly submitted my thesis and graduated from my university believing I was of the very few that realized the consequences of the current actions that individuals, organizations, and corporations were taking to address the issue of food justice. Of those very few, I believed all of them existed within academia.
I was wrong. My internship with Community Food and Justice Coalition was a window into a world of conversation I thought existed only within academia. CFJC’s unique approach to the inequities of our food system recognizes the value of partnering with communities. Through CFJC’s community-based approach, the communities experiencing the major consequences of our flawed food system have a voice in determining appropriate solutions. As a policy and evaluation intern, CFJC offered me a front row seat to experience and be a part of coalitions and campaigns addressing social, economic, and environmental issues on the local, state, and national level. To my surprise, conversations acknowledging the value of community are beginning to happen.