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No Justice, No Juice: Food as a Tool for Organizing

It’s hard to talk about race in this country. People across the country come together to march and voice frustration with the verdict from the Zimmerman trail. We are now forced to talk about race. The silence of the food movement on the issue of justice in the case of Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman trial is deafening. I know that many of us were among the thousands that marched. I marched too. I wondered, what can the food movement offer the social movement against racism and injustice? Read more

All Praise the Civics of Food Hubs

Just a few years ago there were but a smattering of “networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution,” as Grist writer Claire Thompson observed, “networks that include a broad range of operations, from multi-farm CSAs to Craigslist-like virtual markets where buyers and producers can connect.”

Today, news stories about such food hubs are as frequent as a retweeted Mark Bittman article. With a big-tent definition, the USDA lists over 160 in operation from non-profits to private for-profit models. The East Coast is in the vanguard; New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and Vermont host the most. More remarkable than their media-worthy increase in numbers, is that food hubs are a wonderful example of the best face of the food movement’s transition beyond an earlier focus on labeling, markets, and matters of quantity, toward broader cultural issues of justice, sovereignty, and community. Read more

Justice for Food Workers: An Interview with Sarumathi Jayaraman

Sarumathi Jayaraman, co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) and author of the upcoming book Behind The Kitchen Door, says that what’s at stake when we choose a restaurant are the lives of 10 million people, many immigrants, many people of color, who bring passion, tenacity, and important insight into the American dining experience.

The Huffington Post posted a story about working conditions for restaurant staff that recants the stifling history of the “tipped minimum wage,” the lack of regulatory influence on service workers, and the harsh realities of being paid bare minimum for hard work in situations that are neither stable nor compassionate.

Jayaraman’s promising book, Behind The Kitchen Door, investigates further and asks whether we can really eat ethically if we’re only purchasing ethical food, but not ensuring that there are ethical labor practices for the people who get the food to our plates?

I had an opportunity to talk more via eemail with Jayaraman about ROC’s work with immigrant and low-wage restaurant workers. Read more

From Backyard Farmer to Community Visionary in Oakland

Abeni Ramsey started growing food in her West Oakland backyard when she was a college-aged single mom who wanted her kids to eat better food than what they could afford. Some seven years later, she’s well known among the Bay Area food community, selling produce from her business, City Girl Farms, to local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Now she plans to open an urban farm store and restaurant in Oakland, and is working with a partner to start farming on 220 acres about an hour outside the Bay Area. I caught up with Ramsey recently to learn more about her involvement in the local food movement and her plans for the future. Read more

The Revolution Will Be Cofed

Young food movement activists may be idealistic but we are not flower children. We are process and results-oriented; we may criticize, but also we learn from successful business models. We’re comfortable with money, know how to network and are handy with a spreadsheet.

Three years ago, I was organizing protests at UC Berkeley. Now I’m at my laptop, speaking with Camilla Bustamante, a Northern New Mexico College Dean.  She’s enthusiastically telling me about a student-run, local foods cafe that has just opened at her campus. Read more

Trayvon Martin and Getting at the Roots of Food Justice

This is not a food story. On the surface the only real connection this story has to food is that a young man named Trayvon Martin was at a convenience store buying Skittles and iced tea. If it was a food story, we would be shaking our finger at him for eating junk food. We’d be scolding the neighborhood for not providing him a fresh, affordable apple. But instead, because he–a young, unarmed black man wearing a hoodie–got murdered, this isn’t a food story, but a story about justice.

As a health writer who often talks about the links between what gets grown and what gets put on the plate, I consider myself an advocate. I want to see people eating good food in close proximity to their homes. It never occurred to me that walking to the store—no matter what you go there to get–could get you murdered. And as a person who cares about justice, I never thought that in 2012, our system would care so little about seeking justice for this boy. He was somebody’s son. As the mother of a young black male who often walks to the convenience store by our house, my heart is broken.  Read more

Cultivating A Movement: A Living History In Santa Cruz

Oral history is a tool for conveying first-hand experience and sharing knowledge. It also provides a medium to weave experiences together, crafting a whole patchwork of personal stories into a larger history. The 29 oral history excerpts in the recently released, Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming & Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast, capture the integral 40-year history of the organic movement in Santa Cruz and its rippling effect onto the rest of the world. As part of the Regional History Project set in motion by the University of California, Santa Cruz, this curated anthology defines an organic food revolution. And according to forward, written by Linda L. Ivey, Ph.D., the organic movement is indeed a revolution: “a historic shift in the way a society operates within its natural environment.” Twenty-nine voices attest to the large-scale shifts in cultural, economic, societal, and environmental practices by explaining their strategies for navigating a sustainable way of life.

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Malik Yakini of Detroit’s Black Community Food Security Network

When he was seven years old, Malik Yakini, inspired by his grandfather, planted his own backyard garden in Detroit, seeding it with carrots and other vegetables. Should it come as any surprise that today, Yakini has made urban farming his vocation? The Executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), which he co-founded in 2006, he is also chair of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which advocates for a sustainable, localized food system and a food-secure Detroit.

It’s well known that Detroit has been hard hit by the economic crisis—its unemployment rate is a staggering 28 percent—but it also has one of the most well-developed urban agriculture scenes in the country. Over the past decade, resourceful Detroiters and organizations such as DBCFSN have been converting the city’s vacant lots and fallow land into lush farms and community gardens. According to the Greening of Detroit, there are now over 1,351 gardens in the city.

I spoke to Yakini, one of the leaders of Detroit’s vibrant food justice movement, about  the problem with the term “food desert,” how Detroit vegans survive the winter, and what the DBCFSN is doing to change the food landscape in Detroit. “We’re really making an effort to reach beyond the foodies—to get to the common folk who are not really involved in food system reform,” says Yakini. Read more

The Deli Renaissance

Is the Jewish deli in decline or the midst of a revival?

It depends on where you’re sitting. Recently I found myself sitting in front of a panel of deli owners who had gathered in Berkeley, California to talk about their efforts to redefine and save the beloved institution of the Jewish deli. Read more