By Chris Iberle, Food Justice Project Co-Chair
On May 19-21st, 2011 I had the honor of attending the Community Food Security Coalition’s first policy-focused conference, bringing together food policymakers, food policy council participants, activists from varying sectors of the food movement, farmers, food workers, and experts on food policy for three days of learning and sharing through workshops, plenaries and networking. CAGJ’s Director Heather Day and I attended, representing one of the only globally focused groups working on food justice issues at the conference and soaking up the wealth of knowledge and energy from other great groups and activists.
Overall, it was a great experience and it certainly felt like a “food movement” focused on justice, equity, and sovereignty was growing, along with the pains that accompany such growth. The opening plenary was phenomenal, with Jaron Browne from POWER San Francisco, Saru Jayaraman, from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Rodrigo Rodriguez from South West Organizing Project and Feed The Hood, and Kolu Zigbi of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. They all brought stories of amazing organizing going on around food in varying locales and communities, recognizing the connections, and inspiring us to move forward to change the way our food system operates so everyone can participate and live well. The plenary, focusing on organizing and stories of change led by people of color, also highlighted the issues of representation, diversity, and racism in the politics of food that would become a common theme throughout the weekend. Multiple workshops and sessions focused on issues of race and inclusive organizing – from diversifying your Food Policy Council to organizing models that are empowering, inclusive, and engaging to all people. Problems of representation and engagement in food policy, especially in the realm of councils, seemed to confront most communities (many of who, like our Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council, are in their first 6 months of existence). Models to engage more voices in the Food Policy Councils, as well as those that stress community organizing alongside the Council process, are starting to evolve and we were excited to hear all about so many of them and make connections with organizers in other cities and towns!
The CFSC is still in the process of determining how to move forward with organizing for change to the Farm Bill, and it’s exciting to see how the Coalition can come together to confront a bill representing so many powerful interests. There were attempts to gauge and take direction from conference attendees for CFSC’s Farm Bill priorities, yet many participants also seemed to be waiting on CFSC for that direction, being new to the politics of the Farm Bill (and what it means for local food, access, justice, sustainability, and so much more) and therefore not feeling ready to set priorities one way or another. This really highlighted the importance of education and activism around the Farm Bill, which CAGJ, the Food Justice Project, and the NW Farm Bill Action Group have been central to organizing around in our region, and the Seattle Farm Bill Principles being a good first step towards tackling this huge issue.
One plenary speaker in particular ignited the audience and hit home the need for connecting struggles in the “food movement”: Saru Jayaraman, from Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said she often felt like she was making a stretch in connecting food and restaurant workers’ rights to local and community food access issues. But no longer: “If workers’ rights aren’t a local food issue, then I don’t know what is”, said Jayaraman. As CAGJ continues to educate and agitate across communities to build a movement for food sovereignty, we can take inspiration from that revelation and take note of the critical role CAGJ needs to play in order to make those kinds of connections. As one of the only globally-focused organizations, we tried our best to bring to the conversation the problems of multi-national corporate power, trade agreements, global ramifications of US food policy, and the struggles of small-scale farmers, the food insecure, and others worldwide.