Tag Archives: food activism

Food OpEd Fellowship opportunity in San Francisco

Received from Polly Adema, who is the Director of the Master of Arts in Food Studies Program at the University of the Pacific. Looks like a great opportunity for anyone interested in writing about food and policy for a broad public audience. Note that the application deadline is March 22, 2017, which is very soon. 

In partnership with The Culinary Trust, the Food Studies program at University of the Pacific San Francisco is offering a 2-day intensive training for rising thought leaders dedicated to crafting impactful  OpEd pieces about contemporary food issues. The program takes place over a weekend in July in San Francisco. Tuition and travel scholarships are available. You’ll find details here:

http://www.pacific.edu/Academics/Schools-and-Colleges/College-of-the-Pacific/Academics/Departments-and-Programs/Food-Studies/OpEd-Workshop-A-Place-at-the-Table.html

Please share widely among your networks, especially among those engaged in food activism and food justice efforts. While authors, scholars, and journalists are encouraged to apply, we are dedicated to empowering people who may not have a background in food journalism or in writing for the public but who are committed to getting their voice more widely heard. The deadline to apply is next week but the application is pretty straightforward. 

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Filed under anthropology, food policy, Food Studies

Activist Chefs and the Food Movement

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

A few weeks ago, Greg de St. Maurice wrote an intriguing piece on this blog about chef activism. He drew on the case of Chef Daniel Giusti, chef de cuisine at Noma, in Copenhagen, who is starting a company that will try to improve food in American schools. Greg raises questions about the ways in which we should evaluate chef activism, as well as about how that activism relates to other social movements. Reading both Greg’s piece and some of the links he provided, I was struck by two things, one related to the idea of a food movement, the other about Giusti’s specific approach.

The idea of a food movement has been discussed a lot in recent years. There has been significant scholarship on activism around food, including a very useful book edited by Carole Counihan and Valeria Siniscalchi, “Food Activism: Agency, Democracy and Economy” (Bloomsbury, 2014). There are a lot of other publications, too many to cite here, focusing on different ways in which all kinds of people are trying to change food systems, ranging from broad questions of science and sustainability, to workplace issues on farms, in processing plants, grocery stores, and restaurants. There are also many efforts to address the ways in which food is processed, distributed, and consumed. It is incredibly hard to summarize all the different kinds of food activism that exist, because there is so much of it (here are three sites that can give you a sense of how much activism is out there: Civil Eats, Food Tank, and Slow Food USA; add more in the comments section below if you want).

Because of this, many people were surprised when a Washington Post writer recently asserted that there really isn’t a food movement. The writer, Tamar Haspel, drew on some studies of consumption as well as surveys about attitudes toward food in order to argue that people’s behavior has not changed significantly enough for her to be able to perceive a food movement. This is an odd way to measure whether or not a movement exists. If Haspel is measuring anything, it is the effectiveness of the food movement, not its existence. In fact, some food activists responded to Haspel’s article with different ways of measuring the success of the food movement. They demonstrate some notable successes.

Yet I wonder if that is the best way to measure the existence of a food movement. Since the 1930s, I am pretty sure that unions never enrolled more than 30% of all American workers. Should we conclude that there has never been a labor movement in the United States? Of course, the labor movement has been very effective at changing the American workplace and in introducing many ideas that we now take for granted, as well as setting the framework for debates about work even today, when few Americans are union members. Along with some very real successes in changing how food is produced, distributed, and consumed, the food movement’s existence can be measured by the ways in which its ideas have come to permeate our public discourse. It is easy to find areas of life where public debates have been influenced by the food movement. Whether we are discussing questions of equal access to healthy food, living wages for food workers, or the availability of organic or local produce at stores and farmers markets, the existence of a food movement—or many food movements—is demonstrated by the ways in which its terms and concepts have become part of how we think and talk.

Which brings me back to Chef Giusti. As he readily acknowledges, the groundwork for reforming school lunches has been laid already by a lot of other activists, including a number of professional chefs (Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver come to mind, of course, but there are many others). Some of the efforts to reform school lunch have focused on trying to get kids to eat healthier foods, while others have tried to get schools and governments to support the schools more, so they can produce better quality food. Giusti is bringing something of a distinct model to this effort. He is creating a for-profit company, Brigaid, that will bring professional chefs and kitchens to schools. Giusti is trying to make working in school cafeterias an attractive career choice for professional chefs. As he comments in his Lucky Peach interview, “The whole point of this is to make it a more attractive space for people who are passionate about food to join in.”

No doubt some people will see this as an effort to bring a kind of privatized for-profit ideology (aka, “neo-liberal” ideology) into the public sphere. I do not think it is necessarily helpful to frame it that way. On one hand, Giusti is trying to make a profit. Yet school cafeterias are already run by big corporations, with a focus on maximizing profits instead of on making an attractive workplace and producing quality food. Giusti wants his approach to be focused on making people—the cooks, the kids—happy first and on making profits second. Maybe we no longer have to choose between doing good and doing well. In a world that sets its priorities differently—do good for people, then make profits—you should be able to do both.

Can that sort of model be sustained? It appears to be the principle behind a lot of people in the food movement. It certainly seems to be at work in farmers markets, which are often a combination of nonprofit organizers and for profit farmers, bringing improved food that makes people happy. I think there are a lot of small food producers that are also engaged in similar activities, especially among those who promote local foods. It seems to be at work in restaurants that try to pay their workers a living wage. If this is the food movement, then the kinds of metrics invoked by Tamar Haspel will not be very effective in measuring its success or, frankly, its very existence. Understanding what food activists—including activist chefs—are doing, may require rethinking what an activist actually is, as well as paying attention to what they say and what they actually do. This may just be a different sort of movement.

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Filed under anthropology, anthropology of food, chefs, food activism, Food Studies

A Summary of Food Movements @Trent University

Prof and Student, Farm Manager and Project Coordinator tending the fields.

Prof and Student, Farm Manager and Project Coordinator tending the fields.

 

Helen McCarthy
Trent University

Student and faculty involvement in food issues at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario has been long standing, and there are many new exciting initiatives under development.

To begin, the Trent Vegetable Gardens for student research on campus were initiated by a number of students and faculty and they collaborate heavily with the campus vegetarian/vegan student run café, the Seasoned Spoon. These projects and enterprises are not-for–profit, student initiated, and have been running for about a decade.

More recently, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Program was born. This is, a 4-year honours degree program with an Arts stream and a Science stream. This program is one for students to challenge and think about the dominant global food and agricultural systems that we are all embedded in.

35lbs of chilis harvested from the Experimental Farm, Purchased by Chartwells Sept. 2014

35lbs of chilis harvested from the Experimental Farm, Purchased by Chartwells Sept. 2014

This year, there have been many more projects in development that are proving to have a great potential to create positive change surrounding food services at Trent. These include a newly founded student organization, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Society, a Trent Apiary, a Campus Food Sustainability Working Group, a new contract with Compass Group campus food service providers (Chartwells), and an undergoing campus Experimental Farm and Greenhouse project.

The SAFS Society is an inclusive student group that mandates to increase student engagement and community awareness in food and agricultural sustainability issues.

The Sustainability Working Group aims to be involved in all matters concerning sustainability in the expectations from Chartwells (Compass Group), specifically these include monitoring the progress of projects that aim to procure local food, reduce food waste, increase energy efficiency and follow up on goals surrounding food quality, affordability, diversity and special food needs (vegetarian/vegan, gluten/dairy intolerance, religious restrictions).

Trent Farm Table

Experimental Farm Table at first ever Campus Farmers Market (Chartwells organized)

The Experimental Farm is a very exciting enterprise that has become Chartwells Key Focus Initiative for 2015 at Trent. So far, the 33 acres Trent has allocated has grown 1/3rd of an acre of vegetables as part of a organic amendments research project; vegetables were sold to the Seasoned Spoon, local Restaurants, and to Chartwells, 1 acre of quinoa, and a research project on reducing inputs in common Ontario grain rotations. The expansion and breadth for the following season are being planned presently.

The KFI means that the new food services provider is committed to supporting Trent in creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable food production enterprise on campus that would directly provide marketable produce for Chartwells to purchase and use in campus meals as well as student engagement, and program collaboration. They have also committed to providing capital specifically to invest in a campus greenhouse.

These recent projects are what I personally find most exciting about food issues at Trent. I feel that there is potential for real, forthcoming and positive change; creating real awareness and community engagement around broader food and agriculture concerns.

Trent Bees!

Trent Bees!

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Filed under anthropology, farming, food activism, Food Studies, gardening, students, sustainability

The New Southern Food and Beverage Museum

SOFAB sign

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Do you live somewhere with a cuisine of its own? How would you know? There have been some famous attempts to define cuisine, including one by Sidney Mintz that has generated a great deal of debate. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that a cuisine requires some kind of self conscious effort by people within a community to declare that their food should be thought of as a cuisine. Who gets to make that claim, what makes the claim legitimate, whether or not it might be disputed…I recognize that there are many questions that could be raised about this definition. But at least for my current purpose, the definition will work because it allows me to suggest that those of us who live in the American South have a cuisine. How do we know?

We have a museum dedicated to proving it.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is an actual free-standing cultural institution devoted to documenting the foodways of the American South. I have visited some fascinating, fun, and sometimes odd exhibits and museums devoted to food over the years. These include the Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory in Switzerland (and Hershey, PA as a kid), a mustard museum in Dijon, a beer museum in Prague, a flour museum in Minneapolis, many brewery and winery tours, visits to cheese makers (Roquefort Société puts on a good show), and of course the Coca Cola museum. Fascinating and entertaining as these can be, most are really advertisements for a particular company and its products, often with an excellent opportunity for sampling at the end of the tour. The Mill City museum is an exception. Run by the Minnesota Historical Society, it is built in the ruins of a flour mill on the banks of the Mississippi and really does make an effort to put the history of flour into a social context. But it, like nearly all the others, is still devoted to only one product. This is not where you go to learn about the food of a region or country.

As an effort to document and display the foods and foodways of the American South, SoFAB (yes, that is the acronym) joins a surprisingly robust range of other institutions around the region devoted to similar objectives. The Southern Foodways Alliance, which is part of the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, for example, or food studies as part of a larger program in American Studies at the University of North Carolina, contribute to the idea of distinctively southern culture and foodways.

SoFAB started out as the vision of one woman, Elizabeth Williams, who began work on the idea well over a decade ago. Starting in improvised spaces, she recruited people to build exhibits, participate in conferences, and organize events over the years, eventually landing a space in the Riverwalk shopping mall in New Orleans. I should probably reveal at this point that I am one of the people she recruited and am thus no impartial observer, having enthusiastically participated in a wide range of events at the museum. Liz has worked hard to build an institution that has ties to an immense network of people involved in food studies (including scholars from all over the world), but also to people in the food industry and activists of all sorts.

The museum has a new home, where it may become even more of a cultural juggernaut in the South and beyond. Last week I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new museum, which is now housed in a substantially renovated former market building in a neighborhood of New Orleans that is, as we say, “coming back.” The new site is quite a bit larger and will house permanent and temporary exhibits, a restaurant devoted to the region’s foods, the Museum of the American Cocktail (yes, that has been part of SoFAB all along), and an ongoing series of lectures, cooking demonstrations, conferences, and other events. SoFAB is also home to a substantial research library that is already a very useful resource for scholars interested in the study of food.

The new museum is a big deal here in New Orleans. The ribbon cutting was standing room only, with a surprisingly large media scrum and celebrities from all parts of New Orleans life in attendance. These included chefs and restaurateurs, musicians, scholars, neighborhood activists, and a large number of elected officials (or their representatives) from the state and the city. The museum’s new location contributes to the renovation of a neighborhood that has seen better days and is part of other development in the area, including the future home of the New Orleans Jazz Market (a performance space organized by musician and cultural activist Irvin Mayfield) and other restaurants (including Café Reconcile, a restaurant and institute devoted to training “at risk” young people for the restaurant industry). All of this is part of the ongoing effort to develop New Orleans “cultural economy” by the city and state, turning culture into an economic asset.

Which leads me back to the original question: how would you know if you have a cuisine? I don’t think having good or interesting food is enough. All food is interesting, at least for anthropologists. Not only that, but every society has its own foodways. To make those foodways a cuisine, people need to be interested and passionate about it. They have to be self-conscious about it. Above all, they must want to call it a cuisine. Here, in the American South and, especially, in New Orleans. we have all that. We have a museum to prove it.

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Filed under anthropology, cuisine, culture, foodways, museums, New Orleans, south

Real Food on Campus

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

Are student activists transforming campus dining? And, if they succeed, what are the implications for the way Americans think about food?

We recently posted an article by Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert, of Southeastern Louisiana University, about efforts by students there to convince their university administration and Aramark (their food service contractor) to source more food locally. They have been building ties to local farmers, organizing a farmers market on campus and working to get Aramark to stock the campus salad bar with local produce. However, Aramark actively resisted these ideas and even took actions that undermined the students’ and farmers’ efforts. Even though SLU is located in a very productive agricultural region, with a long growing season and many farmers eager to work with the university, students eating on campus have very little access to local food.

This is true on university campuses all over the country. But there has also been a great deal of student activism around food, resulting in a growing commitment to local food by some colleges and universities. In perhaps the biggest move in this direction, the California State University system announced this week that 20% of the food on its 23 campuses will, by 2020, meet the standards of the Real Food Challenge (visit the site for details on those standards). The Cal State system is very large, with 447,000 students and 45,000 faculty and staff, spending over $100 million annually on food. This could prove to be a big enough move to catch the attention of companies like Aramark. One of Aramark’s competitors, a company called Bon Appetit, already promotes itself as providing a sustainable alternative food service. Their presence on campuses is probably evidence of successful student activism.

The movement for “real food” on campuses is more complicated than simply sourcing food from local producers. Students, faculty, and staff on campuses around the United States have long debated the quality of the food provided by food services. This has included an interest in food perceived to be healthier than had been offered in the past. But activists have also pushed for food that is more environmentally sustainable, which can mean a lot of different things, including local sourcing of ingredients. It might include food that reflects the local culinary culture, for example. Some have suggested cooperating with local restaurateurs, caterers, and food truck operators to increase the variety of dining options on campus and to encourage local business development. Organizing students to grow food on campus has also been a popular idea.

What does this all mean? It might be tempting to suggest that this is merely a kind of consumerist fight. After all, college is expensive and students are the customers. If they don’t like what they are getting, they have a right to demand something else. Yet that is not really how the fight is framed. Rather, students involved in these campaigns draw on ideas about health, about the environment, fairness (to workers, farmers, and fishers) and about local business. The movement is clearly connected with food activism in other segments of American society. It may represent a challenge to the corporate logic that has come to dominate higher education in recent years.

It would be interesting to hear from SAFN members about their experiences of student food activism. Is food a target for student activism where you work?

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Filed under agriculture, economics, farming, food activism, students

Connecting Students and Farmers—Still Trying

SLU students educating students

SLU students promoting real food.

Bonnie May, David Burley and Kellen Gilbert
Southeastern Louisiana University

Part Two

Our last installment, in spring 2013, left us on a high note as we introduced our student group Reconnect, the environmental sociology class project and the very successful farmers market.  There was a real buzz we all felt at the market on Food Day.  We were excited the diversity of produce grown just a few miles from campus.  It should be possible to have locally grown real food available in our campus cafeteria, right?  The farmers were game.  So, that brings us to…

Corporate Bullies.

Our students challenged the University administration and local Aramark dining managers to source more food directly.  They started by bringing the Aramark manager and the leaders of the local farmers’ cooperative together to develop a plan in which the farmers could regularly deliver sustainable, seasonal produce for the campus cafeteria’s salad bar.  The farmers were excited about the possibilities—not only connecting more with students but also opening up a new market for their produce.  This was a small step, but one both the students and the farmers were convinced could be successful, with potential for growth.

Then, inexplicably, Aramark ceased contact with Reconnect. The students continued to send emails to the dining manager and other personnel, but, still, no response. At the same time this was happening, Aramark’s corporate headquarters issued a national directive forbidding communication with university students affiliated with the Real Food Challenge.

After months of letters and emails from Reconnect requesting meetings, the local Aramark representatives finally reached out to the students right before the next campus farmers market.  The campus dining manager acknowledged the students’ efforts and wanted to be involved but still was not ready to discuss “real food.”

SLU spring campus farmers market

Spring campus farmers market.

Aramark did indeed get involved.   The morning of the farmers market, as the farmers were unloading produce and setting up, Aramark set up their own table.   Right next to the Indian Springs Farmers Cooperative farmers, the dining manager and campus chef handed out brochures highlighting the “local” food they serve and their corporate policy on sustainable practices. They also handed out free fruit and vegetables.  The farmers and students of Reconnect felt this directly undermined their effort and goals.

Instead of cooperating with students, the corporate dining service at our university chose to dismiss a student-led initiative that would not have cost them, and in fact might have enhanced their image of ecological responsibility.  In the meantime, the salad bar in the cafeteria continues to feature tomatoes shipped from Mexico, onions from Washington and iceberg lettuce from California.

Some good has come out of this process.  Students are interested in learning about local farms and continue to support the markets on campus.  More farmers are participating, and local chefs have gotten in on the action, preparing dishes on the spot with the available produce.   We also have a new Farmers Market Manager Internship program.  While there have yet to be negotiations with Aramark, students are looking for other ways to achieve the goals of food justice…

To Be Continued…

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Filed under agriculture, anthropology, economics, farming, food activism, food politics, students