This weekend (Friday, February 19 through Monday, February 21) the University of Oregon at Eugene is hosting a Food Justice conference, where Civil Eats’ editor Naomi Starkman and I will join Friends of Family Farmers’ Megan Fehrman on a panel on New Media and Food Activism, moderated by Michelle Branch. (Those who can make it to Eugene, you should – it promises to be a fantastic event, with keynotes from Vandana Shiva and Fred Kirschenmann, a staged reading of the play Salmon is Everything, a First Foods/Indigenous food politics panel and a FOOD: Art Exhibition.)
A few years ago, Naomi and I spoke on the subject at the Brooklyn Food Conference, where I haphazardly proclaimed emerging media our greatest hope for meaningful change in our food systems and for a more just democracy. I still think this is mostly true (though the softie of inside me thinks it’s more about the better aspects of human nature, which of course drive the content we post to Twitter and Facebook-wink, wink). My understanding of new media has deepened over time and I now worry more about net neutrality and lack thereof, especially regulations on mobile phones, since for many people, especially those who lack broadband access, smart phones are a primary mode of Internet access. I worry about access in general, and I think more nowadays about who’s not taking part in the important conversations. I worry about the idea of a shut-off switch.
Before I lead you too far down the net neutrality freak-out path, there are many inspiring examples of the use of new media to promote fairer food systems. Consider the backlash to Andrew Breitbart’s unfair video edit of former USDA official Shirley Sherrod. Consider Roger Doiron’s Eat the View campaign, which no doubt had a hand in convincing First Lady’s Michelle Obama to plant the White House garden. Consider the organization of rallies around the country by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Consider the work of the Real Food Challenge.
Are we building a better food justice movement with new and social media? Without a doubt. But we need to think about who is not at the proverbial table; we also need to keep an eye on media policy, and we need to use new media nimbly, cleverly and locally. I hear from many people who say they don’t have time for Twitter, and not every group or individual needs to be on Twitter, or Facebook, or Jumo, or whatever is next. In fact, in preparing for this panel, I was reminded by Megan Fehrman that without laying the groundwork of forming relationships with the farmers she works with, they wouldn’t read the e-mails she sends them. As much as we use new media to keep in touch with our networks and spread information rapidly, no digital tool will ever take the place of making those personal connections.
That said, I dream of a more personal Web, where local food enthusiasts use YouTube to document and share traditional foodways, where Groupon helps farmers find CSA (community supported agriculture) members and where the transmission of hundreds of thousands of e-mails against genetically modified alfalfa result in it actually not being approved by the USDA.
Throughout this weekend’s conference, Naomi and I will be videotaping and tweeting fellow attendees answering the question, “What does food justice mean to you?” But just because we’re not there holding a mobile phone camera in your face doesn’t mean you can’t weigh in, too. We’ve asked friends and colleagues to help us gear up for our panel by jumping into the Tweet stream, and taking food justice messages to Facebook walls and the blogosphere.
Here, a few of my favorites so far:
Ever the early bird, Civil Eats editor Paula Crossfield (@CivilEater) tweeted Monday:
#foodjustice means that everyone has access to healthful (chemical and antibiotic-free), culturally appropriate, fairly produced food
And Bonnie Powell (@ethicurean), formerly known as the Dairy Queen:
Healthy, real food, prod fairly, for ALL > RT @naomistarkman: What does #foodjustice mean 2 u? @FoodJustice2011 conf http://bit.ly/ib3NM3
And Hank Herrera (@hankherrera):
@NaomiStarkman #foodjustice means ownership of the means of production and exchange of food by the people eating it. Fairness. Equity.
And friends from CUESA (@CUESA):
#foodjustice means small-scale family farmers can stay in business AND everyone can access healthy food (i.e. we have a way to go!)
And then our friends at Slow Food USA and Cooking Up a Story retweeted the question to their networks, which led to some great tweets from people we didn’t know before.
@cookingupastory Enough food, good food, for everyone. #foodjustice
RT @cookingupastory: Raj Patel: Food Sovereignty (vid) http://bit.ly/cju3Bk Country’s right to shape their own food & ag policy
#foodjustice means transparency, where whistleblowers in the industry do not face retaliation for ensuring food integrity.
@SlowFoodUSA @naomistarkman #foodjustice = a food system that doesn’t abuse nature, while being healthy and tasty to humans
By the time I publish this post, surely, there will be more. We want to know: What does food justice mean to you?
Originally published on Ecocentric