Reclaiming our Food Culture, Rebuilding our Food System

Food First | 02.01.2012

By Tanya Kerssen, Food First Research Coordinator

“The interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them” – Plato

I arrived at Oscar Grant Plaza around midday on November 2nd. It was the day of the General Strike, called by Occupy Oakland at the General Assembly the week before. The atmosphere was festive, and the plaza was packed with families, art installations, workshops and a non-stop schedule of political actions—from a march on the banks to a flash mob choreographed to the disco classic “I Will Survive (capitalism).” A number of Bay Area food justice activists had come together that week to organize food-related activities under the rallying cry “Occupy the Food System!”

The General Strike Food Justice Teach-In showed us the value of coming together face to face to break bread and build relationships.

The plan was to dish out some healthy, organic food and hold a series of educational talks on topics like the corporate control of agriculture; the impact of pesticides; the basics of permaculture and guerrilla gardening; and the global food sovereignty movement. Despite a few early hiccups—the salad dressing disappeared in the chaos, as did a set of expensive chefs’ knives—the food justice teach-in and eat-in was an unqualified success. Food justice ‘artivist’ Jennifer Johns kicked us off with an interactive hip hop performance. Food First fellows Annie Shattuck and Raj Patel served up black bean, spinach and feta salad (prepared by local chef Jenny Huston) to the occupying masses. Author Christopher Cook and organizations like the California Food and Justice Coalition, Baylocalize, People’s Grocery, Planting Justice, SPROUT Seed Library, Food First and Pesticide Action Network led workshops.

Perhaps most importantly, the General Strike Food Justice Teach-In showed us the value of coming together face to face—as opposed to via email, facebook or conference calls—to break bread and build relationships.

After the teach-in, we marched with thousands of Bay Area residents to the West Oakland Port, in solidarity with port workers and West Oakland communities. As the food justice contingent joined the massive march, it was clear that our struggle to rebuild local food systems is part of a larger struggle to rebuild whole communities— with quality education, healthcare, jobs, land and good food for all. The Occupy movement reminds us that food justice is about rebuilding the entire social fabric. And the first step towards rebuilding our social fabric is occupying physical space together, enjoying food together, making art and music together… In short, reclaiming our collective food culture(s).

More recently members of the growing Occupy the Food System collaborative met to discuss using this momentum to build a strong local movement to take back and rebuild the East Bay food system. Our first resolution? Making a commitment to come together on a regular basis, share food and get to know each other. Who knew a potluck could be so political?

Also in this issue of News & Views:

  • “Food Workers for the Food Movement: ROC United” by Katie Brimm
  • “Corporate Tyranny and the Fate of a Nation” by Michelle Rostampour