Food justice dialogue engages community

Written by Timothy Kim ’15

Cross posted from the Office of Student Diversity Programs Blog

icebreakerOn October 23rd the Office of Student Diversity Programs and Sustainable Skidmore hosted a collaborative dialogue event on food justice and food accessibility. The event helped to kickoff Food Day, a national “celebration and movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.” The dialogue took place at the Media Viewing room in the library, which is personally one of my favorite locations on campus.

Three students who are all Environmental Studies majors facilitated the discussion: Jess Aleman ’15, Sarah Arndt ’14, and Elizabeth Cohen ’14. Before starting the dialogue, the facilitators shared the following four goals that they wanted to see happen throughout the event:

  • To have participants understand and think about food in relation to place (physical and economic).
  • To challenge the myth that food is just a health, personal, or family choice.
  • To connect personal experiences with food and personal values to larger contexts, like media, marketing, facts, etc.
  • To understand the intersection of food and justice. (In order to build a more sustainable food system there needs to be righting of injustice, and there needs to be righting of injustice in the food system in order to achieve justice.)

The event started with a time for the participants to introduce each other and share why they were at the event and what they hoped to gain from the conversation. The participants came from various backgrounds and guidelineshad different reasons why they came to the event. However, everyone was eager to learn through the dialogue. We also played a quick icebreaker that involved some running to “break the ice”!

The facilitators shared guidelines of the dialogue in order to have a safe space for open and thoughtful conversations. The first activity was a large group brainstorm to talk about what influences our individual food choice. There were various suggestions, such as taste, money, health, identity, time, family, class, etc.

Then the large group was split into conversationthree smaller groups to discuss issues on a more personal level regarding food choice. We talked about what sort of food decisions were made at home and how those decisions changed after coming to Skidmore. People were open to sharing their experiences and each experience provided unique perspectives. Some said how coming to Skidmore actually made them appreciate food more, while others said that the Skidmore experience restricted options regarding food decisions.

The small groups came back together and were engaged in a group activity called “Agree-Disagree.” The facilitators presented some statements and people had to go to the corner (strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree) that best represented their reaction to the statement. The following statements were presented during the activity:

  • Good health is a personal responsibility.
  • Being an “environmentalist” means purchasing organic, sustainable foods.

This activity allowed participants to actively think more about our food system and analyze differences between personal choices and decisions enforced by the food system.

CornersPeople who came to this first Food Justice event were able to learn and engage in the topic of food justice by sharing personal thoughts and experiences. Even though the event lasted for 2 hours, which might seem very long, I wished there was more time to process and further discuss issues that were brought up. OSDP and Sustainable Skidmore are planning to have this Food Justice Dialogue as a series, so I hope there will be more opportunities to engage in this topic, since as one of the goals mentions, justice in the food system is essential to achieve justice as a whole.

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