As part of the University Community MLK Celebration, U.Va. Lifetime Learning partnered with Morven Farm to present an online panel entitled Food and Justice in Virginia. This event aims to make listeners active participants in the local food system by engaging in dialogue around the relationship between food and racial justice.
The panel, which will take place Wednesday, features Christianne Queiroz, director of the Virginia Agricultural Workers program; Dr. Basil Gooden, former Secretary of Virginia Agriculture and Forestry; Tanya Denckla Cobb, director of the Institute for Engagement and Negotiation; and Shantell Bingham, program director of the Charlottesville Food Justice Network.
Paul Freedman, political professor and forthcoming panel moderator, sits on the Board of Directors for Cultivate Charlottesville, a Charlottesville based organization which “aims to empower individuals to create a healthy and fair food system”.
Freedman also teaches a subject entitled Politics of Food which highlights inequality in the modern food system, from slave laborers peeling shrimp in Thailand to desert food in the United States. The course also introduces students to local initiatives that are at the forefront of reforms in Charlottesville.
“Ultimately, food justice refers to how we treat people in the food system, and that includes people who are eaters as well as people who are producers.” Freedman said.
For Freedman, the Charlottesville food system presents a striking dichotomy. On the one hand, the city offers views of thriving restaurateurs and wineries. However, the Charlottesville community is also grappling with increasing food insecurity – while Virginia’s food insecurity rate is estimated to be around 11.9 percent, faces Charlottesville the 17.5 percent rate. In addition, food insecurity is a direct consequence of poverty, a reality experienced by marginalized groups more likely to experience.
“The bounty we enjoy is uneven and evenly distributed,” said Freedman. “Racial and ethnic minorities are much more likely to live in poverty, live in conditions of food insecurity, especially in poverty [single] households headed by women with children. “
Freedman explained that food justice cannot be separated from racial justice. Slavery and the history of racial inequality in the United States are linked to its agricultural history.
Historically, land has existed stolen of Black and Indigenous peasants, and workers in the fields and meat-packing factories are disproportionately more than 56 percent of “slaughter and animal processing workers” in the US is Black or Latinx.
To address this inequality, Freedman suggests that consumers ask questions about the source of their food, such as “where does my food come from?” and “how are the workers who produce this food treated?” In essence, Freedman argues, these questions are political.
“Most of us are involved with the food system, several times a day,” Freedman said. “We make choices that reflect this [political] question. Every bite of every burger, every burrito, every bagel… in some small way a political act. ”
Like Freedman, Gooden is aware of the disadvantages that marginalized groups face in terms of food security.
“The minority earns less money, which reduces the availability of good healthy food… [and] health is directly affected by a good nutritious diet, ”said Gooden. “When you are no longer in a leadership role to really point out some of the differences in these food systems or health systems, often these issues are not resolved.”
Gooden points out that fortunately in Virginia, several women and minorities hold strong positions in agriculture, including Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Secretary of Commonwealth Agriculture. However, as a whole our nation lacks diversity in the agricultural industry.
“We are not here to blame, but there is a problem with a lack of representation among women and minorities,” Gooden said. “The government has a role to play in diversifying, ensuring that you get a good mix of leadership in a sector that touches agriculture.”
Working with Bingham Develop the Charlottesville Food Justice Network closer to racial equality in local food systems. He entered the food justice scene while still a student after he received a grant to establish Growing for Change, a program that collaborates with poor neighborhoods to build community gardens.
Bingham points out that there are various ways that a person can become involved in the food justice movement in local communities. He recommends engaging with this issue by educating oneself about the various perspectives involved, particularly from minorities.
“To understand [food justice] from the perspective of a Black leader or a Brown leader, and people who have carried this torch for a very long time, I always recommend reading ‘Freedom Farmers’ by Monica White, and ‘Farming While Black’ by Leah Penniman, ”said Bingham.
Bingham also advocates volunteering for weeding and helping grow food in community gardens. He believes that parks have the power to transform underserved communities by changing the way they perceive these neighborhoods.
“The beauty of just growing a garden is first of all… people are actively seeing the vitality of a place,” says Bingham. “When you start growing in the community, people start to see them very differently.”
Panelists will discuss these three issues – equitable access to food, history of harm to farmers from marginalized communities and protecting the health of food service workers – at 2pm on Wednesday.
To register for the panel, visit Eventbrite list.
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