Food Fight: In Judgement of Food Activism
The food was flying - well figuratively - on July 9 as Antonio Roman-Alcala helped us forage for new ways to produce food which aren't reliant on fossil fuels and which help strengthen communities. He told us how he was initially introduced to politics via anti's — anti-war, anti-poverty, etc. — but later decided to become involved in efforts to create a better world by creating better societal systems.
Food, as something basic to all people, seemed an obvious choice, and he became involved in urban gardening where unused lots are turned into gardens to provide people with food and teach them about nutrition and food production. Antonio said this lead him to look at the role of money, land and labour in food systems, which in turn brought about the realization that simply making different decisions about consumer choices — buying local, organic food — isn't enough by itself to significantly change food production; that involves structural and policy changes.
He provided tidbits of information on Cuba's rapid shift away from fossil fuel dependent agriculture after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He spoke of Brazil's peasant movement that has turned large tracts of unused land occupied to food production and also formed communities with social services and medical clinics. This has involved many marginalized people and is seen by them in terms of food sovereignty, the control of one's own food resources.
Antonio feels there are people within food systems who really care and would like to see things change but can't do much due to structural issues. He thinks that in addition to providing alternatives to existing systems, it's important to also try to get inside systems and change them, even if it's just to make them more sympathetic and open to newer progressive ideas.
An example of this is the SFUAA (San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance — Antonio's a co-founder), which has worked with the City and convinced them to incorporate urban agriculture into its zoning by laws making it easier to establish urban farms and for the produce to be distributed and sold.
In the lively discussions which followed, break-out groups looked at various food projects and experiments which had taken place in the Bay Area and talked about the pros and cons of each, focusing especially on politics and economics. The artisan food movement, community supported agriculture (veggie boxes delivered weekly directly from farms), membership food co-ops, and businesses like Rainbow, were all part of the discussion. Participants raised issues around the prices of local, organic food, and how important it may be to involve people in some aspect of their food's production, and to involve workers in decisions on that process.
It was a very engaging evening which left us hungry for more information, discussion and action on this fundamental human need.