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by Slow Food on Campus member Julia Yerkovich

I have a confession to make: I am not an activist. I read my local Edible magazine and Michael Pollan’s books, and I shop at farmers markets. But I am not an activist. Because activists don’t buy, read, or eat their way out of their problems; activists, well, act.

This notion was probably the most important thing I realized this weekend at the “Strengthening the Roots” Convergence at UC Santa Cruz. At first I was content with my self-contained actions of buying and eating local, and being a self-proclaimed escapist with ideals of aiming to live a self-sustaining lifestyle on my family’s farm. I was satisfied with claiming the impossibility of toppling our capitalist government-run food system as a reasonable excuse for my refusal to act. I was frustrated with the isolated success of the food and health movement as being one that was possible only amongst those with the good fortune to have read the right books and buy the right foods.

Then I met someone who told me of a place called the People’s Grocery in Oakland whose goal is to make healthy clean food accessible to ALL people. And I met others who had organized against their campus food service providers, or had installed a campus garden, or student run food co-operative. All of a sudden my actions of buying and eating local and my goals of escaping seemed selfish. And I no longer saw the status quo as something discouraging, but as the exact reason for action.

And then I realized it is imperative to hear and tell success stories throughout this movement; without them we lose hope. We have to be reassured that our efforts can lead to change. It is so easy to be inspired, only to choose not to act because of all the “realistic” roadblocks that stand in our way. After hearing stories of students pairing up with farmworkers through the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, I was reminded that no one is ever too powerful, not even government or big business, to silence our attempts to improve our food system; because, after all, we are the ones who grant them their power, and without our support, they are nobody.

On that note, I would like to leave you with a quote I heard this weekend, originally spoken by Lila Watson, an Australian aboriginal woman. It’s a quote that truly illustrates the importance of community outreach in the success of the slow food movement: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together” What will move the sustainable food movement beyond being a trend is encompassing all classes.

Julia Yerkovich is a Nutrition Science Major, in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences at California State Polytechnic University, in San Luis Obispo California.