FIG is a multi-racial, multi-gender grassroots collective of food and hospitality workers that hopes to transform the food system through knowledge sharing and mutual aid. Based in New York City/Lenapehoking and founded with a vision of global solidarity, they focus on developing strategies that address environmental sustainability, food sovereignty, racial equity, and economic justice.
“The whole ethos and purpose of FIG is making the radical practical,” Ora Wise, Co-Founder of FIG and Director of Organizational Development and Partnerships tells Food Tank.
Wise co-founded FIG after working in media and arts-based education. She aimed to build connections between the movement for self-determination and land protection in Palestine and the fight against the criminalization, displacement, and disenfranchisement of Black, Indigenous, and migrant communities in the United States.
Wise explains that her Jewish heritage helped her “understand food as a central tool for community building.” This, combined with her work with marginalized communities’ movements for sovereignty, influenced her decision to organize an anti-colonial, pro-sovereignty collective with a food systems lens.
“Food has been, both here in Turtle Island and in Palestine, a central tool of the colonizing system in suppressing, displacing, and destroying the bodies, communities, cultures, and lives of the original peoples,” Wise tells Food Tank. But according to Wise, food can also be “an incredible, powerful, beautiful tool of resistance.” Communities around the world are using it “despite and in opposition to corporate capitalism, extractive agriculture, and extremely brutal colonial systems,” she says.
To cultivate food sovereignty in communities in New York, FIG organizes through a collaborative, partnership-based model. Its Food Security Program exemplifies the collective’s dedication to co-creating ideas and partnering with the people facing food insecurity and those working in food production and distribution.
Working with Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, a trans-Latinx-led organization, the collective delivers weekly groceries and prepared meals to support those in need. From March to December 2020, FIG delivered fresh produce and pantry staples to hundreds of households each week, distributing around 70,000 meals.
Based on feedback from TRANSgrediendo staff members, FIG and TRANSgrediendo also developed a food distribution program that supports people’s agency and dignity when accessing prepared meals. Together, the collectives created a drop-in café at the TRANSgrediendo office, a safe space where members can connect with one another while feeding themselves.
“We’re shifting the power. We’re figuring out how a community can articulate what they want and need and provide it for each other,” Wise tells Food Tank.
FIG also partners with Rock Steady Farm, a queer-owned and operated cooperative vegetable farm in New York, and Brooklyn Grange, an urban rooftop farm, to further cultivate food sovereignty. In 2021, FIG sourced 70 bags of fresh produce from Brooklyn Grange and Rock Steady Farm each week. For 21 consecutive weeks, FIG was able to deliver this produce to neighboring communities.
In the future, FIG hopes to leverage these partnerships for a new initiative. Under this vision, RANSgrediendo members and FIG’s partner chef can participate in immersive educational farming with queer and trans farmers at Rock Steady Farm.
Another goal of FIG’s, wise says, is to “cultivate a community of practice, experimentation and sharing.”
In the past, FIG organized a study which met regularly in person and explored topics of sustainable agriculture, cooperative economics, language justice in the food industry, and Indigenous food sovereignty.
Other education-focused programs includes their Education for All initiative, which hosted a cross-movement virtual teach-in to connect ongoing activism and community work in the food space with the Palestinian struggle. They also collaborated with I-Collective, a group of Indigenous chefs, growers, seed and knowledge keepers, and organizers to create a multimedia cookbook.
Now, FIG has plans to relaunch their former study group to provide space for people who want to operationalize the values and principles of cooperative economics.
“Food stands at the intersection of politics and culture, of spirituality and medicine, human science, and nature, and of individual and collective needs,” Wise tells Food Tank. “That makes it a very powerful tool for social change.”
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Photo courtesy of FIG