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By Natalie Morris, Member, SW Mountain Ark of Taste Committee; founder of Good Food Finder; and professor Sustainable Food Systems Program, Mesa Community College

{{ image(2701, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”250″, “height”:”250″, “method”: “img”}) }}I remember the moment I became fully aware of the pervasiveness of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant Senate Bill 1070. I was in Parma, Italy sitting on the steps of the bar below the apartment I was living in at the time. With a Corona in my hand, the bar-owner, a middle-aged single mother – who some how was able to simultaneously manage her struggling business and support her daughter, while also serving as a nurturing pillar of her community – shook the latest La Repubblica newspaper edition at me. “Arizona!, “she exclaimed. She knew as much English as I knew Italian and couldn’t wait to connect me with the news from one of Italy’s most trusted news source about the passing of the controversial legislation. It was all I could do to groan beneath my breath and cover my face with both hands. I knew what she was about to read and, as we were about to share a pizza together, I began to think about what that story would mean to her.

And now, here I am just a little over three years later, where the Arizona dust of 1070 still has yet to settle and another divisive piece of legislation, SB 1062, has stolen the headlines. Many feared the anti-gay bill would effectively legalize discrimination of same-sex couples.

Frustrated over Arizona politics, questions continue to run through my head: Who are we to judge? Who is anyone to say how someone else perceives individual feelings of identity or deny someone’s basic needs of comfort, satiation and happiness? These same questions at times leave me to doubt my current career choice as a good food advocate. But it was the inspirational words of fellow advocate Will Allen, whom I recently heard say in the 2009 documentary Fresh that connected all the dots. Allen said, “Food is at the foundation, but it’s really about life.”

It was then I decided maybe Arizona’s frustrating and divisive politics could serve a positive purpose. I was teaching a Sustainable Cooking class when Allen’s words caught my attention. Instead of our normal lecture/lab format, I invited Pamela Hamilton, SW Regional Governor of Slow Food USA and Editor/Publisher of Edible Phoenix to speak to the students, after they watched another film.

As week 8 of 16 in our semester, the midpoint seemed monumental. The questions my students asked of Pamela—about this “slow food” concept, the upcoming Salone del Gusto, what “biodiversity” was and how Slow Food’s Ark of Taste was a resource for them, how they could apply for Terra Madre delegation—were coupled with the silencing impact that the film had made on them.

It may have been the week’s rollercoaster of statewide events around SB1062 or it may have just been the day’s unexpected perfect lineup of moments, but I felt extremely motivated after class that day. My home state—the one I actively fight for the people of—had yet again put itself on the map for something so very hateful, so very discriminating, and it seemed as though without a blink of an eye. And yet, I was somehow grateful. I saw past our state’s governance and saw community leaders like Pamela Hamilton, Will Allen and my own college director, Maureen Zimmerman, who believed in something so much that she campaigned for a program like ours to host classes such as this. I looked forward and saw 20 students of all ages, who felt newly inspired and as though they had found a purpose for at least this moment, all because food had brought them together and had been a catalyst for relative discussion.

Two hours after the class ended that day, I received word that, unlike SB1070, the governor vetoed SB1062. Throughout that previous week, there had been picketing, online community forums, circulating petitions and other political pressures that could have influenced the decision. While I’m hesitant to believe that policymaking based on basic human need is anywhere near being prevalent in the USA today, it is reassuring to have a contributing community that wields both ballot and fork with a strong conscience.

More about Natalie Morris: In addition to serving on Slow Food USA’s SW/Mountain Ark of Taste Committee, Natalie is the Founder of the non-profit family farm and food artisan directory and resource guide Good Food Finder and is a professor in the Sustainable Food Systems program at Mesa Community College.