PAST: You and Your Food 5-12-13

On Sunday, May 12, 2013, we assembled a panel called “You and Your Food: What You Don’t Taste.” An article about the event appeared on p. 5 of the 5/30/13 issue of the Linewaiters’ Gazette (PDF) and is reproduced here below the panelists’ bios. Audio of the second half of the event is available at the Internet Archive.

The Coop is a great place for delicious, inexpensive food, and it’s also where we can talk about the politics behind what we eat. Food sovereignty, environmental racism, water supply threats, labor struggles, urban agriculture initiatives, geopolitical issues, international solidarity—these forces are inevitably mixed into what we put on our plates. What are our opportunities and responsibilities as New Yorkers, as consumers, and as Coop members?

Carl Arnold has been working on the hydraulic fracturing issue for almost five years, both upstate and down. He has given speeches at rallies, lobbied in Albany and New York City, written and edited articles and flyers, co-wrote the first ban bill (April 2010), and helped organize forums and screenings to publicize the impossibility of allowing further fossil and nuclear fuel extraction to threaten our lives.

Naomi Brussel has been a political activist for many decades, recently focusing on the issue of Palestinian liberation. She was part of the 2010-2011 campaign for the US Boat to Gaza, works with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and is also a supporter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions at the Coop. She has been a Coop member since 1985.

Sarita Daftary is the Program Director of East New York Farms!. ENYF is a vibrant hub for community gardeners, youth interns, and upstate farmers in one of Brooklyn’s most diverse neighborhoods.

Sarah Koshar has been an active member of the Community/Farmworker Alliance (CFA) for three years. CFA is a volunteer collective that works in solidarity with the Coalition of Immokalee workers, a farmworker-led organization based in Southwest Florida, fighting for better working conditions, for better wages, and against modern day slavery.

Anim Steel is the co-founder of the Real Food Challenge, a national campaign that leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair, and green food. Previously, Anim served as the Director of National Programs for The Food Project in Boston.

“Justice Doesn’t Just Happen”: On the Politics of Food

On Mother’s Day, a panel of Coop members assembled to talk about “You and Your Food: What You Don’t Taste.” The purpose was to shed light on some of the political forces behind what we eat, including food sovereignty, environmental racism, water supply threats, labor struggles, urban agriculture initiatives, and international solidarity.

“Food has a story,” Anim Steel, co-founder of the Real Food Challenge, began. It’s not just what you put in your mouth, he explained; it’s also the people and the environment that helped produce it. Moving to a local context, Sarita Daftary, Program Director of East New York Farms!, asked, “How many people here have been to East New York?” A community needs analysis conducted in the mid-1990s found that residents wanted safe, public, green spaces, as well as access to fresh food. East New York now has lots of community gardens and a vibrant farmers’ market. Sarita stressed that access to healthy, affordable food is key; education alone is not enough.

To Sarah Koshar, a member of the Community/Farmworker Alliance (CFA), being a Coop member is a political choice. However, she said, being part of the Coop doesn’t necessarily address systemic problems. The CFA primarily works with the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a community organization that advocates for low-wage workers’ rights. Elbin from the CIW, translated by Just Harvest member Jake, told the audience that 90% of the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. come from Florida, where seven cases of modern-day slavery have been prosecuted. The Campaign for Fair Food is an opportunity to partner with consumers in pressuring the powerful bulk tomato buyers to pay farmworkers a better wage. McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s, and other corporations have already signed a code of conduct with the CIW.

Anti-fracking activist Carl Arnold’s talk seemed to leave the audience with the greatest sense of urgency. He outlined the environmental destruction from fracking and other energy extraction techniques, and he informed us that approximately one million NYC kitchens have cooking gas, which comes mostly via fracking in Texas and Louisiana (and arrives mixed with radon and other chemicals). Carl cited a report by the International Energy Agency that concluded we will see irreversible climate chaos by 2017 if no significant changes are made as soon as possible. He pointed to local groups that are working on these issues: the Sane Energy Project and the Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline.

Longtime activist Naomi Brussel spoke about the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In explaining why she and others want to see the Coop support BDS, she listed some of the historic and existing boycotts observed here (including the United Farmworkers and Flaum Appetizing). Holding aloft a charred branch that she had acquired on a trip to Israel/Palestine, she described how some settlers burn olive trees, attack Palestinian farmers, and take over water supplies in the West Bank. “Control of land means control of food production,” she said.

The discussion opened with a question about prioritization and maintaining a sense of possibility in the face of so many pressing needs. Anim answered that he looks at it all with a spirit of “both/and.” Prioritizing is entirely appropriate, he said, but we can still keep working in specific areas. Despite the bleakness of his presentation, Carl responded, “We can’t panic!” In all our various ways, he went on, we are spreading the word about challenges and successes. Sarita talked about how the bad U.S. policies that, for example, enable famine in Somalia are the same bad policies that have negative effects in our food systems here at home. She encouraged everyone to do something, and not to get overwhelmed.

The topic of BDS garnered the most questions, with several audience members speaking both for and against the idea. Jake from Just Harvest related the Palestinian call for an international boycott movement back to the CIW’s work. It’s about listening to the voices of the most affected and the least heard, he said, and forming partnerships that illustrate how a struggle affects us all.

This event was an important reminder that as Coop members and as consumers, we have the power to make positive environmental and political changes. Among the suggestions from both the speakers and audience members were going vegan/vegetarian, boycotting corporations and countries that violate human rights, demanding renewable energy sources, and shopping at local farmers’ markets. As Elbin so rightly put it, “Justice doesn’t just happen.