Sharing Food, Shaping Policy

November 21, 2011 § 3 Comments

[The food movement] has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves.  And that vast power is just beginning to erupt.  France Moore Lappe

Attending a local Food Policy Council meeting is a prescription for fending off recession blues, climate change worries, dread about the next presidential election, and how to pay my recent $260 parking ticket.

Where I live in Berkeley, this council first convened itself in 1998 from indignation that children were not being fed properly in the public schools, and that all citizens did not enjoy food security in a region blessed with abundance from the land.

Fourteen years later I look around the conference room in the downtown YMCA Teen Center, and see thirty people representing county-wide grassroots, government and nonprofit organizations who’ve found their voices as leaders since that first moment of anger.

High school and college students, young nonprofit and local government staffers, veteran organizers and food activists, along with several of the original food policy council members are moving through an agenda packed with action items. They deliberate, vote, and take on concrete, food-related issues that are impacting real neighborhoods, public or private gardens, and public agencies.

There are reports and presentations. Three 18 year-old students from Farm Fresh Choice tell us about their project to draft a Youth Food Bill of Rights. From The Ecology Center Martin Borque leads the Food Day planning session and Gwen Loeb explains the neighborhood Kitchen Table Talks series.  There is discussion about the policy to allow people to sell their backyard produce.

The impulse to create social change through the food justice pathway focuses this group of farsighted individuals. Collaborating and organizing is a strong current of interest here and one of the only ways to survive these hard times.

This impulse flows with a strong current of public awareness building.  Restoring people’s ability to provide food for their families, and figuring out ways to bring individuals together in community in order to produce deep change, action by action, over years is in the long view for council members.

It never occurs to me that I’m wasting my time here in another meeting. Food is the bond I can share with people I don’t know. I’ll leave the meeting energized, knowing that the thread of this work thickens and lengthens when I make a meal with neighbors and talk; or take a bumper crop of figs from the backyard tree to local crop swap on a November evening. Pleasure and sensuality are the secret weapon of food politics.

The smart and strategic young people packing the room are transforming this movement. They work in community gardens and they work on farms.  They draft policy statements and plan strategies for change at the state legislative level.  They make surveys, collect evidence and gather data to prove that there is justice in having a strong local food system available to everyone. They are entrepreneurs who believe that healthy local and inexpensive eating is a human right that they are more than willing to fight for and educate others about.

Like the original food policy council members, they ignore opponents who brush off this work as a ‘nice’ middle-class phenomenon.  Giving time and attention to food system change is one way to find a voice, they say, to broaden the focus on the bigger picture.  The food justice movement is quickly discovering new ways to pressure corporate power, gain all workers a living wage and safe workplace, and demand that good health and nutrition is a basic American right.

By early afternoon we all are gone, back to our jobs — promising to stay connected on a regular basis, and take part in actions that will change upcoming legislation. No matter how much I think I already know about this subject, everyday I learn a new fragment of information that changes my relationship to food and strengthens my basic food choices to ethics, spiritual values and most importantly, my own acts towards combating isolation and despair at the state of the world.

I’m now writing this in November 2011, the peak of harvest and eating season for most of us.  Food security is on everyone’s minds this autumn — the inaugural Food Day launched on October 24, and the 2011 Community Food Security Conference just ended in Oakland. The great thing about the Berkeley Food Policy Council is that it was generated from frustration with how children were eating in the schools. And now, a growing cohort of those kids are leading it into courageous new directions.

Their determination and actions ask us to listen to what food tells us about ourselves, how we understand the world, and how to make those changes, one mouth and one meal at a time.

Just like the process of cooking and …making films like Feeding the Body Politic.

§ 3 Responses to Sharing Food, Shaping Policy

  • Kate kinney says:

    “Pleasure and sensuality are the secret weapon of food politics.” Beautiful writing, Helen.

  • I personally blog too and I’m composing a little something alike to this excellent blog, “Sharing Food, Shaping Policy Lunch Love
    Community”. Do you care in the event that I actuallyutilize a number of your personal concepts?
    Thanks for your effort ,Jolene

    • Helen De Michiel says:

      Yes, actually, I do care. Please do not PLAGARIZE my work and ideas. You are welcome to quote me and source me by naming my blog and film project. If you do use my ideas and concepts without sourcing it to me and my blog post, this is pure and simple plagiarism.

      And…why would you do this? Please let me know.


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