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Food after Covid-19: Opportunities for Equity, Inclusion and Justice 

(Scroll down to watch the recorded conversation.)

On May 21, Chanowk Yisrael and Jim Embry joined Charity Kenyon, co-chair of Slow Food’s Equity, Inclusion and Justice Working Group, to discuss ways the COVID pandemic has changed our food system and how we can move forward to create a more equitable, inclusive, and just food system.

Yisrael and Embry both have histories working with Slow Food and helping to improve the food system. Embry has been involved with food justice since 1968 when he attended the Poor People’s Campaign in D.C. and has been involved with social justice, environmental justice and food justice movements and initiatives for the past 60 years. Yisrael got involved in food justice after he started planting in his own backyard and has helped effect policy change in the food system while working as the Slow Food California Project Developer.

Both agree that although the COVID pandemic has exposed faults, inequalities and vulnerabilities within our food system, it has also given us a new opportunity to transform the food system moving forward to help fix these problems and make our food system more just, and resilience is the necessary element to make this transformation possible.

Embry emphasizes three levels of a resilient response that we should use to create a plan for our future system. In a collective collaborative approach, he believes we need to resist the current system and actions that have created the unjust food system we have, work together to create structural changes and alternatives, and develop a vision of a concept for a working, just future food system. To create food justice, he says, we must create justice for other people in our environment.

The food and agriculture system has been hijacked by systems that work against equality, systems that are out of the majority’s control. Although there is policy change and structural change to be made, there’s change we can make in our communities, like buying and producing locally. Yisreal talks about how growing our own food is the most natural, basic thing we can do to get involved in our food system and be resilient.

“There’s a personal transformation taking place within the minds and hearts and souls of people which stays after you harvest that first tomato. I can actually powerfully connect with this entity called nature and then be able to do something with it, so I’m not as powerless as I thought I was,” Yisreal says.

Though the COVID pandemic has exposed a lot of problems in our food system, one of the ideas of resilience in this situation is understanding that there will be more pandemics and problems like this and knowing that we have to start building local networks to respond.

Though resilience can take shape in many ways in responding to the problems within our food system, Embry and Yisreal believe there’s a place for us all. Know your farmers. Know your restaurant owners. Save seeds to stop the monopoly on seeds. Find ways to affect policies. Do rituals. Talk to your elders. Learn about the history of how we’ve gotten to where we are now. Respect traditional and indigenous wisdom. “We need a Great Remembering that humans have been farming forever,” Embry says. “We’re all indigenous people. We are all indigenous to this earth.” And resilience is key in our response to changing and bettering the food system to reflect that.

Written by Vivian Whitney, Slow Food USA Communications Intern

We want to share some resources mentioned by the panel…

…as well as organizations represented by our participants!

  • Farm Aid works to build a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities.

  •  Alternative Minds Foundation in Oakland, CA amplifies artistic projects that address issues of access and inclusion through art and education especially for vulnerable and disenfranchised communities.

  • Book and Plow Farm in Amherst, MA is part of the Office of Environmental Sustainability at Amherst College and believes strongly in long-term sustainability of the land and farm.

  • El Centro in Santa Barbara, CA is an activist-led grassroots community space… that centers people working towards the liberation and uplifting of people of color including but not limited to womxn, youth, indigenous, black, latinx, economically underserved, and LGBTQIA+ communities.

  • Young Agrarians in British Columbia is a farmer to farmer resource network for new and young ecological, organic and regenerative farmers.

  • WoodGrain Farm in British Columbia offers an online farmstand and CSA.

  • Hawthorne Youth and Community Center in Roxbury, MA is a grassroots, non-profit that has provided quality education, cultural and recreational programming for youth and adults as well as a forum where residents come together to improve the quality of neighborhood life.

  • Thornton Street Urban Farm in Roxbury, MA grows nutritious, fresh, colorful produce for their bakery and hosts youth and family programs changing the food landscape in Roxbury and beyond.

  • Re:Vision Co-op in Denver, CO cultivates thriving, resilient communities by developing local leaders, growing community food systems, and building a locally-owned economy.

  • Urban Farm and Garden Alliance in St. Paul, MN is a collaboration of community gardens and a group of backyard box gardeners that promotes reconciliation, healing, peace, social and environmental justice through the cultivation and sharing of food.