Sunday, April 21st, 2013...10:51 pm

Overcoming the divides

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“The ‘Food Movement’ is a movement of well-fed, affluent, liberal/left elitist Westerners who think with their emotions rather than their brains,” writes Huffpost “super user” under the screenname Cybernia. Cybernia is not alone in voicing this criticism. In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, the editors write, “[The food movement] consists of a group of ‘like-minded’ people, with similar backgrounds, values, and proclivities, who have come to similar conclusions about how our food system should change.” The movement largely lacks diversity in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity and race, profession, and political ideology (although libertarian ideology is largely consistent with many of the concerns of the “liberal” food movement).

Brandy Brooks of the Food Project explains why this is a problem in this video:

In the Ivory Tower this is particularly noticeable. We can talk about how homogenous the movement is all we want, but armchair theorizing and writing papers is not necessarily going to further the conditions on the ground. So how do the white, upper middle class participants in the food movement help the movement stop being dominated by white, upper middle class participants, and how do they do it from an academic setting?

There is no one right answer, but on April 13, I saw a possible approach that can mediate the divide. At the Cultivating a New Food Economy Conference hosted by Tufts New Economics group, members of the Boston food community came together to talk about issues surrounding food. The morning was devoted to dialogue centered more on theory, which got people talking and thinking. The afternoon was more focused on the on-the-ground impacts people could make through their actions.

cultivating a new food economy logo

Cultivating a New Food Economy Conference logo

In the first half of the day, I helped run an exercise concerning food spending. Our group of roughly 90 was split up among tables and seated at my table was a rather diverse mix of people. We were all women with some level of higher education, but 2 of the 4 participants were of color. One woman had been homeless during her teen years, the other spoke about her Jamaican heritage. Ages at our table ran from 50-something to a junior in college, and among the four of us we represented farmers, farmworkers, gardeners, distributors, teachers, students, and organizers.

The variety of people was no accident. The organizers of the conference had intentionally designed the conference to be not just about talking about the issues, but to also introduce the people addressing said issues and the way they were going about it. For example, an organizing member of the Dorchester Food Coop spoke about how her often-marginalized community is coming together to secure access to better, fresher, healthier food.


By not only acknowledging the divide, but by making an effort to bring people from different backgrounds together, the conference took a first step in making the food movement more inclusive and encompassing.

It was a diverse group on many levels, but it was still a group of people of mainly the same ideology. Much of the conversations were people agreeing with each other, and hardly any debate was heard. This is one of the things that frustrates me about conferences like this and about being in the “bubble” of the food movement on the Tufts Campus. Often speakers are just preaching to the choir. We already know the things they’re talking about and we agree with them.

To make the food movement truly inclusive and capable of change, the divide between the food movement and players in the industrial food system needs to be bridged as well. Perhaps we should continue to design conferences in the same fashion as the Cultivating a New Food Economy conference, but expand the community that is invited to include those groups that may be conceptualized as the “enemy” in the fight for fair food.

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