Along with several other students from Brown, I headed to the Northeast Food and Justice Summit in Boston last weekend. Instead of spending the weekend party-hopping, sleeping in, brunching, then dutifully doing our readings, we met up with fellow activists for some challenging discussion.
The Summit, sponsored by the Real Food Challenge, sought to unite college students from across the Northeast who are involved in developing sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and delicious food programs at their universities. It was co-sponsored by the Food Project, an amazing initiative in Boston that brings urban and suburban teenagers to inner-city farms. These students learn how to garden, eat healthily, and rally others for food justice and access.
The Summit consisted of many workshops led by youth organizations as well as established food think tanks: Local Food in the New Economy; Sustainable Food Procurement on Your Campus; Global Food Justice. These were just a few of the dozens of sessions offered to attendees. Nearly 600 students participated in the Summit, and each workshop was filled with inspiring dialogue.
As a Brown representative, I spent much time discussing the state of our campus's food activism. Brown is currently working on several projects: getting more "real food" into dining halls, establishing various compost sites across campus, employing students in the student garden, and supporting a campus-wide CSA (which I help to coordinate). But even though my peers and I are making strides, the other students at the Summit certainly provided new ideas.
At the University of Maryland, one student has championed a completely student-operated effort to transport leftover hot meals from dining halls directly to a local homeless shelter. Wesleyan's food advocacy group WesFRESH has put together events drawing attention to issues of sustainability and is pushing their dining halls to source more local food. And Yale is always inspiring with its highly active student farm and strong local-sourcing initiatives.
After two days of conversation, the next step was taking action.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 900 citizens took to the streets of Boston to protest unfair farmworker wages in Immokalee, Florida. The march was organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (who we've profiled previously), whose current campaign is challenging supermarket giants to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased from this Florida region. Such a pay bump could raise the farmworkers salaries from $50 to $70 per day: a huge increase for a community that exists in difficult living conditions and often below the poverty line.
This march was powerful. Participants varied greatly in age, religious affiliation, race, and hometown. To be surrounded by those who are working tirelessly to see justice and fair labor practices in our food system was really inspiring.
So, the big million-dollar question. How will we reform our food system? There's no simple answer yet and the events of this past weekend are only a smidgen of the efforts being made nationwide to make healthy, fair food available to everyone.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.