Food Tank and Mother Jones’s Food For Thought in Los Angeles pushed the public to think about their role—and responsibilities—in food equity, access, and affordability. Speakers including musician and activist Rocky Dawuni, Gustavo Arellano of the Los Angeles Times, Chris Sayer of Petty Ranch, Ron Finley of Urban Farmers, and actress and activist Fran Drescher urged the public to awaken themselves to their roles in issues from farmer welfare to nutrition. “It takes people who raise their consciousness to shift the paradigm,” in the food system, says Drescher.
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Dawuni notes that music can raise awareness and spur movements for social change. “We’re at a time when in the issue of food, and where it comes from, people are beginning to ask questions. And we’re at a time when we’re being met with climate change, environmental degradation, and all these pressing issues,” says Dawuni. “It requires inspiring people [to create] movements—music has been instrumental in galvanizing people toward movement.”
The Grammy-nominated music star—famous for his “Afro Roots” style—uses his music to lend a voice to causes and organizations like the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which named Dawuni a Champion for raising awareness worldwide about unsafe cooking. “In this day and age, art can be critical to expand the conversation in a bigger way,” says Dawuni.
For Drescher, each additional individual inspired to live differently adds power to movements. The actress and executive producer founded the Cancer Schmancer Movement to increase awareness about the benefits of cancer-preventative living, early cancer detection, and policy change in the food and health system. “If everyone that we know got everyone that we know to start buying better and healthier items and support local family farmers, companies would stop making [chemically produced foodstuffs]” that contribute to lifestyles linked to cancer, says Drescher.
Arellano hopes that people not only pay attention to the food they’re eating, but also pay respect to the people and traditions that developed favorite culinary styles. Reflecting on Chipotle’s role in misrepresenting Mexican food traditions, Arellano encourages eaters to support the chefs and communities keeping food traditions alive, but may not be getting the same recognition—and opportunity—in American culture. “I’m not just saying know the restaurateurs or the neighborhood you’re eating in, but really patronize these traditions: these wonderful foods that maybe are not getting the same sort of shine as whatever is food porn on Instagram.”
The speakers urged the public to hail the farmers growing food with sustainable and humane practices. Sayer, farmer and co-owner of Petty Ranch, uses cover crops, beneficial insects, and efficient irrigation techniques to produce avocados, lemons, and figs. Sayer notes that the public’s support can help farmers grow food sustainably as they encounter new challenges like climate change effects. “It’s challenging. The compensation, the closer you go to actual crop production is not very high relative to other fields. Understand that it is one of those places where people have to be really creative and really innovative,” to keep producing their community’s food, says Sayer.
Beyond altering lifestyle and eating choices, individuals must call out oppression by transforming the way they think and speak about food justice, notes Finley. “There is no food justice… it’s injustice. You work in food injustice. You work in social injustice. When you twist that and fix that, maybe then you can say you work to maintain a just system. But the system is not just. Call it what it is,” says Finley.
Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener,” is growing a movement that declares gardening both cool and transformative to food desert cities like his South Central Los Angeles. The food system “is a racist, oppressive system. And yeah, it’s still in place,” says Finley. But through the Ron Finley Project, Finley hopes to establish self-sufficient gardening ecosystems throughout food deserts that allow all community members to work, learn, and cook with fresh and healthy food.