by Andrea Lindsay ’13
As an Environmental Policy major and Latina/o Studies concentrator, I have spent most of my time at Williams exploring the connections between sustainability and social justice through the lens of food. The 2013 Just Food conference in New York City provided an incredible opportunity to connect my studies and activism at Williams with work that other are doing nearby and around the country.
The annual Just Food conference, hosted by a NYC-based nonprofit of the same name, brings together a wide range of individuals and organizations, from CSA members to anti-racist organizers, for talks and workshops designed to foster communication and build critical capacity within the food movement. Two days of presentations, panels, and workshops drew over 2,000 attendees. While many workshops were presented by individuals and organizations grounded in the spatial, economic, and cultural geography of New York, the issues discusses can be applied to food movement work in other cities and also in broader national and international contexts.
Four conference-wide sessions framed both days, with workshop sessions filling the rest of the days. Just Food Executive Director Jacquie Berger welcomed attendees to the conference on Friday morning before introducing a series of “Food Talks” presented by speakers who reflected on the past, present and future of the movement for just and sustainable food. Friday afternoon concluded with “Policy Matters,” a panel discussion featuring speakers from the New York State Department of Agriculture, the NYC Department of Health, and the City Council Speaker’s office. Participants reflected on the variety of ways in which city and state governments can partner with community organizations promoting healthy food access and local agriculture, from incentivizing healthy purchasing to promoting school gardens. On Saturday morning, keynote speaker and filmmaker Byron Hurt presented clips from his recent documentary Soul Food Junkies and described his personal journey in exploring the connections between food, health and culture while emphasizing the importance of outreach to communities of color in his publicizing of the film. Finally, a Beginning Farmer panel on Saturday afternoon offered conference participants the opportunity to hear from five farmers working in the New York area. All five farmers noted that their greatest challenge was in accessing land, and also offered varying perspectives on the social context of farming today.
In addition to attending conference-wide sessions, I participated in workshops on “Resource Grabs: Taking Back Our Rights to Land and the Sea,” “Setting an Anti-Racist Table,” “Immigration Policy and the Rights of Food Workers,” white privilege in the food movement, and techniques for urban agriculture. The activists and organizers who shared their stories and offered strategies in the movements to support community control over land and fisheries, ensure workers’ rights in food processing and service, and promote inclusion and commitments to anti-oppression in food movement activism were truly inspiring. Seeing not only how practical strategies for growing food can connect urban and rural places—look out for sub-irrigated planters conserving water in the garden next season!—but how our food choices and institutional purchasing practices are intimately linked to the lives of individuals and communities from the Maine coast, to Brooklyn factories, to southern California fields was a deeply educational experience. Participating in the Just Food conference has definitely renewed my commitment to promoting social justice and sustainability in the food system at Williams and beyond.