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SFYN USA Launches Reading Club and Discusses Environmental Justice

Image courtesy of Amelia Keleher.

Written by the SFYN Communications Team (Amelia Keleher, Maddy Duval, and Sara Blomquist)

America was built on the preferential treatment of white people — 395 years of it. — Ta-Nehisi Coates

On Sunday, July 26, the SFYN USA Communications Team launched their Reading Club over Zoom with a discussion of environmental justice and its relationship to the Slow Food Movement. The vision for the Reading Club is to:

  1. Facilitate an interactive space for meaningful reflection, discussion, unlearning and relearning, and the exchange of ideas and resources. 
  2. Support and hold each other accountable as we commit to take action to build a more just food system and be accomplices to Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC).
  3. Learn from and challenge each other’s perspectives while centering SFYN USA’s commitment to standing with BIPOC. 

*These meetings are open to all global SFYN leaders and members, and anyone interested in the work of building a more just food system that guarantees good, clean, and fair food for all. 

**It is also our goal to ensure that each month’s readings are as accessible as possible. 

 

Reading Up on Environmental Justice

This month’s selected readings were sent out through social media and the SFYN USA newsletter: 

Two additional articles were also sent out to the SFYN community:  

This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused.Tre Johnson

Introductions

Participants began by introducing themselves with their name and pronouns, providing an Indigenous land acknowledgement, and sharing what brought them to the meeting as well as what they hoped to take away from it. 

Some of the questions that were discussed included:

  1. How do we bridge the gap between (often performative) activism in non-Black spaces and real activism for Black communities? 
  2. Is exploitation and degradation (both physical and psychological)  inherent to the capitalist system? 
  3. Should we try to preserve institutions that were arguably not designed for POC in the first place? If so, what are ways to make these spaces more inclusive and representative? 

How do we bridge the gap between (often performative) activism in non-Black spaces and real activism for Black communities? 

Participants had several responses to this question. One attendee emphasized the importance of changing our language from “donating” to organizations and individuals to “investing” in projects and people. Similarly, another participant argued that we need to “treat people like consultants” and pay them for their time and expertise. 

While SFYN USA does not currently have the funding to do this, all group members agreed that they can use their networks to uplift BIPOC voices and ensure that they have permission to repost knowledge and avoid a one-way extraction of knowledge. 

The organization should also ask those whose work and voices they want to feature whether that’s how they want to be helped. SFYN USA can also consider what they as a community have to offer.  

Why does environmental racism receive less media coverage than police violence?

In responding to this question, we discussed how what is considered a ‘crime’ impacts media coverage of social and environmental injustices. Being murdered by police is often a much clearer crime in the public eye than, say, toxins that are leaked into waterways, or the health effects of lead exposure. Another point that came up is that police violence tends to result in (more) immediate death, whereas environmental injustices unfold over time and are more difficult to tie to a specific event (or set of events). As one participant noted, “viewing police violence in a vacuum seems ‘easier’ than addressing environmental injustices.” Related to this, we also reflected on the question: “Who is news told for and by?” and agreed that what tends to capture the public’s attention is often tied to clear acts of violence, rather than the more nuanced, yet equally violent, injustices arising out of systematic oppression.   

The discussion of media coverage and environmental racism continued with the observation that, in educational and everyday discourse, issues such as climate change are often considered “great equalizers.” It is common to view environmental crises as universal experiences that don’t differ by neighborhood, zip code, race, or economic class. Because of this narrative, it is hard to recognize the racism and injustice that is foundational to environmental degradation, therefore leaving it to be understood only by those who experience it. However, we discussed the importance of reversing this narrative within our movement, and calling attention to environmental “sacrifice zones” that often leave BIPOC Americans to deal with severe economic and health ramifications. 

How can we effectively foster empathy for food communities? Are individual stories or is wider awareness more effective? 

Throughout the discussion, it became clear that there is a strong fixation on the “I” and the “individual body.” Too often, the people who produce the food we eat are left out of the picture. At the same time, individuals tend to get blamed for their own poverty and the systems that they have no control over. 

In thinking about the way that environmental racism operates, we found ourselves in a conversation about value; the value placed on certain communities, regions, and lives. 

As the discussion came to an end, a participating SFYN USA leader emphasized the need to create sustainable mechanisms that allow us to be conscious about how we navigate the capitalist system we live in. Participants also recognized the importance of linking the devastating realities that are happening all around the country — and world — together. And we also need to find ways to link these issues to joy and justice

Future Meetings

Going forward, we will use land acknowledgments as a launching point to discuss what it actually means to be living and farming on stolen land. We also want to center Indigenous movements and issues affecting Indigenous Peoples such as pipelines, land grabbing, and water rights. 

Our proposed topic for next month’s discussion is WATER. We also welcome you to send your ideas for topics, articles, and discussion questions to: youthnetwork@slowfoodusa.org

We hope you’ll join us for our next meeting!