text by Erin Ross, photos by Annaliese DeNooyer
The Northeast Food and Justice Summit took place at Northeastern University over the last weekend in February. I helped organize a workshop for it with three Gastronomy students and three students from Chatham University’s Masters in Food Studies program. Running our workshop, which was called “Re-Defining Your Food Studies Vocabulary,” was rewarding and fun, but attending the other workshops and meeting people at the conference was also an important component of the overall experience.
Conferences are amazing, exciting, and draining. They’re so important as an opportunity to meet other people who are passionate about similar food issues, and they expose you to new ideas and causes at the same time. What was especially exciting about this particular conference was that a number of the attendees were high school students and college undergrads. It was so great to see how smart and educated these younger students were about the issues we so often debate in class.
The first night of the conference was an opening session with a variety of speakers—labor activists, youth workers for the Food Project, and even some poets. They helped to establish what they meant by food justice, and got everyone thinking about why we were all there. They also had us do a variety of get-to-know-you games, which allowed us the opportunity to find out who was attending the conference and why they were attending.
The next day had three workshop sessions. We were presenting in the last block, so I attended two earlier in the day. The sessions I went to were called “International Resistance: Food Sovereignty” and “A Conversation and Strategy Session Around the Industrialization of Black Food Culture.” The first workshop focused on the Via Campesina movement in Brazil, building a historical case for how the colonial food system developed and many ways still exists in the global south. The second session showed a clip from Byron Hurt’s yet-to-be-released film called “Soul Food Junkies.” We then broke into smaller groups to discuss how inequities in the food system are often drawn across racial lines, and took a look at how our own race factors into how we approach food access issues.
Our workshop went well, and was attended primarily by college students. We had an effective and dynamic conversation about the words we use in food studies, like culturally appropriate, hidden costs, and sustainability. I don’t think anyone came up with straightforward definitions, but it made everyone think about how hard it is to define the language we use.
I didn’t attend the closing session of the conference as I was beyond drained, and needed the opportunity to get some of my own work done. However, the conference gave me lots to think about, and I hope everyone considers taking time to attend similar weekends in the future!