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placeholder March 9, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO.5   •   Oakland, CA

Attendees wrapped up their day by attending community organizing workshops.

Food justice: Mindful eaters must
think generations ahead

That justice can be measured by what's on the shelf at your neighborhood grocery store was considered by more than 200 people at the fifth annual Social Justice Forum at Holy Names University in Oakland on Feb. 21.

This year's theme — food justice — brought a lively debate that spreads from commercial kitchens that employ and train youth, activists who create community gardens in Oakland's undernourished flatlands, to young poets and videographers whose health-oriented messages pack a powerful punch.

Among the attendees were dozens of students from both Bay Area colleges and high schools. Mills College was represented by a group of students who said a two-acre farm on the campus will grow food that can be made available to its Oakland neighbors.

Mayra Acosta, a junior at Holy Names University, said she was "interested in learning how food is equally distributed, and how, in some cases, it's not."

Her classmate, Ashley Jerez, said she was interested in the correlation between the distribution of food and poverty globally.

Javier De Paz, assistant director of the university's Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement, said, "Since social justice is one of our core values, we learn and take action."

The day's events included a keynote address by food activist Bryant Terry, workshops with representatives of groups involved in issues including access to nutritious food for children and the greening of neighborhood grocery stores in traditionally underserved areas.

In welcoming the attendees, University President William J. Hynes said, "Social justice is not just a belief but action."

Keynote speaker Terry offered much for the participants to consider. He began by talking about his grandmother's pantry, filled with preserved fruits and vegetables she grew in her garden.

"I start with this memory," he said. "The work I do as a food justice advocate I do standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, blood and spiritual.

"The work I do is about helping people piece back together the connections we've lost," he said, noting connections to the land and to making food from scratch. The work is also driven by history, he said.

It's necessary, he said, to move away from the notion of the home garden as an affluent, suburban practice.

"These are the practices of indigenous people and people of color," he said. "They are part of our history and our legacy."

He started work as an activist working in New York City "to create a more healthy, just, sustainable food system."

He said in addition to being concerned about the health of people, concerns about health include that of "this Earth we live on."

"This is not just about our story," he said. "We need to be thinking seven generations ahead."

One focus of his work is on advocating for more plant-centered diets. "We can't talk about environmental issues without talking about the food we're consuming," he said.

"Vegan is in the title of my last three books," he said. ("Afro Vegan" is his latest book.)
The primary focus of his work, however, is on justice, he said. Mindful eaters, he said, are aware of the way animals are treated in the food system. Other justice issues include small farmers and the laborers in the fields.

But the bottom line, he said, is that "Many human beings have very little access to healthy, fresh, affordable, safe, culturally appropriate food and the impact that has on the minds, bodies and spirits of people living in communities across this country."

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