As students strapped with looming deadlines and deprived of sleep, we often stumble our way to Stack’s or the Caf to grab any type of sustenance that can keep us going. Rarely do we consider logistics regarding our fuel: the treatment of those who picked and prepared the ingredients, the way the earth is treated in the process, and that others in the community may not have the same access to the food systems we do.
“What is Food Justice?” took place last Wednesday as a panel discussion serving to encourage us to make more conscientious choices about what we eat. Presented by the Just Food Collective as a part of the Kalamazoo College Climate Action Network’s Winter Sustainability Series, the event featured six panelists from the K and local community who discussed questions pertaining to the issue of food justice.
Anika Sproull ‘17, a member of the Just Food Collective, presented the speakers and facilitated questions. One of the primary goals of the event was to “increase understanding of food justice as it relates both to greater society and to our campus community,” she said.
The first order of business was to define “food justice.” Anthropology and Sociology professor Aman Luthra began, explaining the term as “addressing the systemic inequalities in the food system,” whether economic, cultural, racial, or otherwise.
Phyllis Hepp of Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes agreed with this definition. “Working toward food security, where everyone has enough food for a happy, healthy life is also an important aspect of food justice,” said Hepp.
Writing Center Director, Amy Newday and co-owner of Harvest of Joy Farm, asserted that the current state of our food system is not sustainable. “Everyone should have the ability and resources to grow their own food,” said Newday.
She highlighted access to land, clean water, uncontaminated soil, and basic information as natural rights, which many people do not possess.
Sproull then asked panelists how the campus shares an inherent responsibility in this issue. Although K offers a range of courses and discussions pertaining to food justice and its individual indicators. JaRay Reese, a member of the People’s Food Co-op Anti-Racism Transformation Team said, “the challenge is not to isolate the information.” Reese explained that throughout his work in the community, he has encountered volunteers who do not have a true stake in the improvement of the area, helping only temporarily until graduating or moving on.
Mariah Hennan ‘15 and a community advocate for Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan agrees. “There are hundreds of farmworkers half a mile up the road,” said Hennan. She tied this to the notion that although the subject of food is personal, people also need to reach out to those who produce it. “Farmwork has value,” she added.
In terms of the role of K students, all of the speakers agreed that it is important to ask honest questions about the origins of our food, from farm to table. As for the event itself, Sproull gauged it as being a success for all everyone in the room.
“Food is so central to every being’s life, I believe that it is important for everyone to be able to engage in this conversation,” Sproull said.