State of the Food Movement: A Dispatch from the Kellogg Conference | Civil Eats

State of the Food Movement: A Dispatch from the Kellogg Conference

Last week, I spent four days on the Gila River Community Reservation in Chandler, Arizona, where I attended the WK Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Conference. This conference is the nation’s largest annual gathering of NGO, business, academic and government leaders working to create an affordable, nutritious, accessible, and ecologically sound supply of food for all Americans. I am left with several thoughts and a theme as a result of the presentations, conversations, sights and sounds there.

First, the interests and people that now constitutes the “movement” for good food is truly diverse. Over six hundred folks ranging from late teens to late seventies, white, brown, black, Asian, African, European, Indigenous, urban, rural and suburban showed up. Some of them focus on nutrition and health, others on urban or rural food production, some on farmworker rights or distributing good food to schools and low-income communities of color. Others are improving policy or doing research to support all the areas represented. Any way you slice it, the evidence exists that the movement is getting very large, representing millions of Americans.

Second, the issue of race relations and the impacts of race on health and good food access now sits atop an inevitable hierarchy of priorities. From the drama spawned by being in Arizona, which just passed a racially charged immigration policy, to discussions about farmworker rights and health disparities for inner city African Americans, the underlying need for this nation to embrace racial healing was obvious to all. The movement for good food is now also a platform for dismantling structural racism.

Third, the need for deeper research on the biological realities underlying health is clear and exciting. The research findings related to secondary plant metabolites (plant properties beyond the carbohydrates typically discussed for their impact on nutrition) provide a pathway for humans to understand the synergistic or relational nature of ecosystems, plants and human health. We need more variety in our diets from a diverse set of plants that emerge from deeply healthy ecosystems. Diets rich in plant diversity will ensure that our cells receive the full spectrum of nutrition that evolution has made available to us.

Fourth, there is so much more to be learned from dialog among the various interests now committed to good food. I always attend this conference because I thirst for the interaction. The “mash up” of perspectives unleashes synthesis and synthesis is what we need in this country to work through the polarization that reveals a national fear shared by both right and left of changes we cannot fully control. Food producers and food and farming activists must learn to hear one another better by loosening their certainty about what is the right or wrong path. We all have much to learn.

If the story of human civilization provides a continuous theme, it is that change is upon us here, now and always. Yet, in the realm of politics, humans struggle to limit and/or control change in order to gain or to protect perceived good fortune or perhaps merely acceptable pain. But given the monumental economic, health, climate, and security challenges today, we must overcome our national fears and engage our in-born ability to adapt.

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Evolution teaches us that species amass within their genetic make up a spectrum of abilities to respond in diverse environments. The more adaptable an individual, the more likely they are to survive. We are living a moment of massive social and biological transformation and those who adapt will more likely thrive and survive. I do see it happening through the folks I met from Detroit, Boston, Madison, Los Angeles, Oakland, Fresno, Kansas City, San Francisco and Des Moines to name only a few. Sustainable food production is emerging to underpin sustainable communities where healthy food is widely available to everyone.

The WK Kellogg Food and Community conference reminds me that adapting can be fulfilling as well as challenging. This nation and all nations only exist because countless generations have risen to challenges they faced. Some were larger and some were smaller, but all were met. Creating a healthy food and agriculture for this nation will not be easy or happen quickly, but the effort will be worth it for us and for future generations. Thank you WK Kellogg Foundation for another rejuvenating conference.

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Michael R. Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a “think and do tank” developing road maps to victory for the California food movement, and the strategic advisor to the California Food Policy Council. Read more >

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  1. Thanks for the wrap up, Michael. I'm curious if the conference issued a statement denouncing Arizona's immigration policy? Or if WK Kellogg Foundation did so? Can anyone point me to a link, if so?

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