While working in the City Blossoms garden as a part of our community learning activity on Friday, we picked tomatoes amongst other tasks. The garden was meticulously kept, with a whimsical vibe– an environment that was enjoyable to spend the morning in (pictured at bottom). The tasks were not very laborious, but it was nice to see the collaboration and mutual care that went on in the garden.
Now, while at Eastern Market this morning, I came across these extremely photogenic tomatoes that loosely reminded me of our work in the garden. I think that by performing the task of picking vegetables and witnessing a part of the cycle of plant growth, I was able to be more appreciative of these tomatoes. I think that in an urban environment, it is very easy to lose sight of the connection between the garden and the produce, and even though these tomatoes did not come directly from City Blossoms, it was refreshing to see the fresh produce from a plant that I was just recently exposed to.
Yesterday, I visited the Jacob Riis exhibition at the Library of Congress entitled “How the Other Half Lives.” The exhibit documented the photo journalist’s work on exposing the impoverished and hidden lives of immigrants in New York in hopes for social reform. While the era that Riis was documenting was clearly different than that of today, the exhibit made me think about my time thus far in DC and my work at the Rural Coalition. The Rural Coalition strives to bring a voice to migrant, immigrant, indigenous and socially disadvantaged farmworkers throughout the country– people who do not have the means or resources to be adequately heard in politics. Although we are not using photo journalism to have their stories and situations shared for awareness, we try to highlight their personal narratives in hopes to instill social change and a more equitable environment. I think that rural poverty is often overlooked in comparison to that in an urban setting, and it is a challenge to bring light and awareness to “how the other half lives” in an environment completely different to that of my own.
Realizing I took no photos at the International Society for Ecological Economics, I figured a screenshot of my ticket would do the job. This past week I attended this conference full of international academics, leaders of progressive organizations, and research panels– the environment was humbling to say the least. While the panels that I attended were mostly focused on climate change, the overall tone of the conference was focused on sustainability, which I thought tied in nicely with the core of food systems.
Through the presentations it was clear that these individuals and organizations were at the forefront of ecological and economic change through their long and intricate research and developed methods, and while they all centered their work on these problems, there were few mentioned solutions. I guess in oder to develop a solution, the problem needs to be confronted, but while the tone of the conference was inspiring, I left with little hope. Maybe it was just the nature of the conference and the time crunches that each presentation had to meet, but what is the good of all of this collected research without collaboration and a plan? And even if they all had separate agendas on how they planned on incorporating their findings into policy, I feel like that would be ineffective in confronting any grave concern.
My knowledge on food systems is limited; however, since my work began at the Rural Coalition earlier this month, I have been exposed to the policy side of food systems– a part that I had previously overlooked. At the Rural Coalition, we are constantly in communication with our member farmers and organizations, trying to understand and advocate for them on behalf of policy. When people think about the food system, I think they associate policy with disconnectedness–that is not the case. Obviously, I have only been truly exposed to one organization, an organization that has been nicknamed “the grassiest of grassroots,” yet our members are on the ground, listening to the member group’s needs and suggestions equally as often as they are drafting policy memos. It takes fervor and patience to be so intricately involved in a frustrating process with often minuscule results, yet to me, it is arguably the most integral part of the food system.
Here is a picture (not mine) of members at the Rural Coalition meeting with one of their member groups in Lancaster, MA. I think it shows the need for constant communication and collaboration between DC and rural farmers in order to instill effective, sustainable policy.
I was surrounded by good, wholesome, fresh food as a child— a privilege many do not have. My father was an undergrad nutrition major who focused on preparing and serving healthy and balanced meals for our family. Everyday after work, he came home to cook a homemade meal, and while some days they were rather bland, the effort and commitment he put into feeding us was always evident. My mother immigrated from Mexico, and although my plate was not always flooded with authentic Mexican cuisine, the freshness and simplicity of the food she bought and prepared for us was clear. I think that as a child, my reaction to this type of food was predictable; I hated it. I longed for Lunchables and fruit roll ups in exchange for my thermos full of a strange smelling lentil soup. As someone who grew up in a completely different environment, both financially and socially, my mother was confused as to why I so desperately wanted to give up my homemade nutritious food for something cheap and fattening. Yet, as a child raised in suburbia, I wanted to be like everyone else and eating alike was no exception.
The shift in my mentality surrounding food occurred somewhere in the beginning of high school— a time of arbitrary calorie counting and the realization that eating anything in sight may have consequences. Suddenly it not only became accepted to eat clean food but it became a goal of many. The food that was placed on my table every night was coveted, as I put little effort into changing my already enforced eating habits. The food that I was once embarrassed about eating in public for the sake of the “what is that?” comment became the newest fad. From avocados that were shipped across country to produce from the local farmer’s markets, the eating habits that my parents so desperately tried to instill in me and the habits I was reluctant to adapt became the so called “right way.” I came to understand that the health conscious mentality that I was brought up with was a luxury, and I am fortunate enough to be rooted in the belief that staying healthy involves a wholesome balance.
Without my conformed platter as a child and my bitterness towards the food that I was provided, I do not think that I would be in a comfortable position with food today. While my food story isn’t full of family recipes, traditions or many quirks, I think that that almost speaks for itself and the environment in which I was raised. Although my family may be racially multicultural, the town of Slingerlands is anything but that, and through meshing into a very consistent lifestyle, many of my family’s differences have been diluted over time. However, I think that the type of food that I was surrounded by is reflective of my family and how I was raised. It is reflective of the “new” culture that I was brought up in and the need for my mother to assimilate into the homogenous Upstate New York. It is reflective of my mother so desperately trying to cling to her childhood eating habits in a country where her “American” children so desperately wanted to be like everyone else.