The George Washington University (GW) launched the Food Institute Student Fellowship to encourage GW students to research new aspects of the sustainable food movement and participate in local food work in Washington, D.C. Sustainability Collaborative Student Fellows conduct research on food justice and local agricultural systems, farm at the GroW Community Garden, and help plan GW’s Local Foods Impact Conference and Urban Agriculture Symposium.
In the first interview of Food Tank’s three-part series, GW sophomore Isabelle Moody discusses her future food security research and how the Food Institute Fellowship has led her to meet social justice leaders working to improve the food accessibility in communities of color.
Food Tank (FT): In what ways does the Food Institute Student Fellowship further the goals of The George Washington University Food Institute and the GW Sustainability Collaborative?
Isabelle Moody (IM): As a fellow, I worked to support the GW Food Institute’s efforts to cultivate dialogue about food on our campus. To create a space for conversation among faculty members involved in food-related research, the Food Institute brings together its Faculty Affiliates over lunch each month. I supported this community by conducting interviews with Food Institute Faculty Affiliates, which I then shared on our website to highlight their work. Another part of the Food Institute’s mission is to serve as a resource for students interested in pursuing food studies, which they do in part through the Sustainability Collaborative’s monthly lunches for students. Each lunch features a guest speaker, who often has some tie to food. Promoting this event among GW’s sustainability courses as well as the student organizations I am a part of created opportunity for different spheres of sustainability interests to come together over food and good conversation.
FT: As a Food Institute Fellow, what did you glean from GW’s Local Foods Impact Conference and Urban Agriculture Symposium?
IM: As a native Vermonter, learning about the thriving urban agriculture scene in cities across the United States redefined my understanding of farming. Through the symposium I learned of the unique challenges urban farmers face, including zoning regulations as obstacles to acquiring land: something that I had never considered. Perhaps most importantly, I had the privilege of hearing from leaders who employ urban farming as a tool for social justice. Malik Yakini, co-founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, described how the structural racism and white supremacy that persists in our country today must be used as a lens when determining how to create an equitable food system. His definition of land procurement and food production as crucial means to social and economic empowerment reshaped my conception of how agriculture can and must be used to create large-scale change. Farmers must be activists.
FT: Describe the mission of the GroW Community Garden and its influence on students and the local community.
IM: The GroW Community Garden supports the work of Miriam’s Kitchen and serves as an educational space for GW students and members of the Foggy Bottom community. First, all of the produce harvested in the garden is donated to Miriam’s Kitchen: an organization located a block away from the GroW Garden that aims to alleviate hunger and end chronic homelessness in the District. Miriam’s incorporates the vegetables we donate into the nutritious, healthy meals they serve Monday through Friday every week.
The garden also functions as a place where GW students can learn about how food is grown. Every Sunday of the growing season, our GroW team hosts volunteer hours that anyone can attend. Some students come for a session or two to fulfill volunteer requirements for their greek organization or service learning course; others come every week to chat with friends over weeding or planting. At the end of each gardening session we host a potluck where gardeners can bring their own plate, fork, and dish to share. Our menus have ranged from bizarre combinations of scallion popcorn, apples and hummus to gourmet salads with fresh bread and cheese. Sharing food after working together truly cements the garden as a place where community flourishes.
My sense of community at GW derives from my experience as a member and leader of the GroW Garden.
FT: In your opinion, what is currently the most pressing food system issue and why? How will your future work address this problem?
IM: While every food issue is pressing because every issue is so related, wasted food is an incredibly damaging problem that is also fixable. Wasting food not only wastes the resources used during its production, including energy, water, land, and labor, but it is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This problem must be addressed through changing the laws that prevent the reduction of wasted food in this country; for instance, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s efforts to amend the arbitrary “best by” and “use by” labels will systematically reduce the amount of food consumers throw away.
Wasted food is also a food justice issue, as the produce that is landfill bound could also be used to combat food insecurity. Thus, policy changes that address wasted food must be mindful of redistribution as well as reduction: like mandating that grocery stores donate food that is safe to consume instead of throwing it away.
Vermont’s Act 148 will render it illegal to throw away food scraps by July 1, 2020; in my post-grad career, I would love to expand these standards nationally.
FT: What are your plans for after graduation? In what ways do you hope your work will benefit the future of food?
IM: I am not graduating for another couple of years, but I am excited to continue learning about food and ag during my undergraduate studies. This fall I’ll be traveling to Malawi, India, and Italy with the School for International Training’s Rethinking Food Security program; I am eager to compare the strengths and weaknesses of different food systems, and learn from these countries’ farms and farmers. Expanding my knowledge of food and ag beyond the United States will surely challenge and grow my understanding of what sustainable, equitable food systems look like.