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By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator

Slow Food thrives because of our local chapters. Our chapters span our entire nation and represent our localized food economies. Over the past year and a half, chapter leaders have held difficult conversations as we faced a global pandemic, social justice movements, and worsening climate conditions — all of which have had drastic effects on our foodways. While most of these issues are not new, they provided fuel for our Slow Food community to rebuild the table together, as we connect joy and justice. 

In unity with this momentum, we had a conversation with social justice leader Nathan Lou, Food Justice Co-Chair for Slow Food Urban San Diego, to discuss what we are building.

Photo of Nathan Lou provided by himself

Tell us your chapter’s EIJ story.

Nathan: I joined the SFUSD team as the Food Justice co-chair in 2018, alongside Dan Mueller. Initially, our focus was on supporting the diversification of representation on our executive board, while also increasing community voices in projects and events. Most of our food justice and inclusion work has been centered around the Kumeyaay community, the First Nations people of the greater San Diego region. 

One of the highlights that our work supported was the organization of a discussion panel of Kumeyaay elders and community leaders at our 2018 Good Food Community Fair. They shared about the role of traditional foods and land practices as well as how we could be better advocates for our First Nations communities. This resulted in SFUSD adopting language within our administrative documents that includes recognition of First Nations communities through land acknowledgement, while also highly encouraging their inclusion and representation within our events and programming. 

In January 2020, we partnered with the Centro Cultural de la Raza, a nonprofit community center for Chican@ and Indigenous people to share art and culture, to host a film screening of the documentary Gather as part of the Enero Zapatista celebration in Balboa Park. This film gave an “intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political, and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.” We were thrilled to have a post film discussion with chef Nephi Craig from the White Mountain Apache Nation in Arizona. We spoke about the amazing work he is doing within his community, including some of the challenges and opportunities to share Indigenous practices, and the impact he is having through opening his Indigenous food centered restaurant, Café Gozhóó. 

Most recently, we have been working with the Centro Cultural de la Raza to create a community seed library that we are intending to have the grand opening for during Spring 2022.

Slow Food Urban San Diego is dedicated to community justice. What does that mean to you?

In my perspective, community justice starts with representation. In our food centered space, we like to describe this as “a seat at the table.” In order for community concerns to be heard and acknowledged, there needs to be an opportunity for sharing and exchanging of information. Like nature striving for biological diversity, we are doing our best to support diverse cultural and social representation within our community engagements. Especially in a space that has historically been dominated by wealthy white cishet men, creating space for representation from the rest of our beautifully diverse community is critical for environmental and social justice to occur. By working together, we will be able to support more inclusive participation in the development of systemic processes that decentralize authority and create community-based mechanisms of accountability.

From your perspective, why is EIJ important within the context of good, clean and fair food for all?

Good, clean, and fair food for all only exists if we have environmental and social justice. The history of mass abuse that has occurred to people, land, water, and food makes the need for representation critical to community wellbeing. In the last 50 years, we have seen huge progress in environmental protections and steps in the right direction to create more inclusive social programs. Yet, we still face an uphill battle in a system that has been built on the backs of communities of color through abuse, colonization, and genocide. In the last decade we have seen much more acknowledgement of the racial and social injustices that have occurred and we are beginning to see mechanisms of reparation and restorative justice unfolding. In the context of food, with the human health, labor, and environmental atrocities that our communities have experienced and continue to fight against, it is imperative that we show up physically, emotionally, and politically to support and empower holistic wellness practices and mutually inclusive policies.

What challenges/barriers are most present in your chapter or community as it relates to EIJ? What have your biggest learning moments been?

I feel like the most challenging aspect of supporting environmental justice is also the heart of the solution — representation. How we amplify the communities that have historically been underrepresented is through direct support and active engagement. All too often I see members of these communities being asked to participate without adequate arrangements of support or compensation for their time and contributions. Reaching out to individuals and community-based organizations that represent, are composed of, and work directly with communities of color, is critical, but must include hiring them to lead or participate in programs and events. Without this appropriate mechanism of valuation, how can the work we do be considered fair and equitable? 

In the short time that I have actively participated in environmental justice, I find that the diverse communities I engage with show up beyond my hope of presence, contributing robustly and authentically in many ways that I could not have anticipated. I am grateful for these moments of learning and growth, for they are expressions of love and support that will nurture many hearts and empower us for generations.

Learn more about Slow Food Urban San Diego and become a member of their chapter today!

Learn more about Slow Food USA’s focus on equity, inclusion and justice here.

Photo by Aubrey Odom via Unsplash.