Are you addressing issues of race/class around food systems in your community

(A Central Appalachian Foodshed Conference Session Topic)

Session Hosts: Laura Cheatham (Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council, WNC-AFP) and John Eshleman (Appalachian Foodshed Project)

In opening the discussion, participants talked about the tensions between alternative and emergency food systems and tensions of culture, class and race within alternative food systems. Participants discussed the need to bridge the gaps between the market economy and the charitable economy and suggestion the creation of charitable markets or market charities, as well as the creation of an alternative form of commodity subsidies that meet this need. They also discussed and questioned the assumptions that poor people don’t have money to participate in the local food economy and that charities don’t have money to participate or to put toward bridging these gaps. Participants also discussed the argument that charity is not a good model for creating long-term systemic change.

Participants shared that race and class issues are being reproduced in food systems work and asked who is present at the conference, and conversely, who conspicuously absent from the conference? Relatedly, they considered whose voices are systematically left out of community food work? The systemic and entrenched nature of exclusionary practices in community food work was central to this discussion. One participant noted that in the dominant culture in the United States promotes racist ideologies and a racial hierarchy. Another added that within this system, the people who have been excluded from these conversations may continue to feel like outsiders when they are included, and that privileged people need to enter into places and conversations where they are outsiders to listen, build relationships and trust, and to think critically about these issues and the systems and actions that create them. Other participants added that people with privilege need to be invited into these places and conversations where they are outsiders, rather than insert themselves. Another added that ‘there are places where people with power (i.e. white and middle class) should not be’ and that it is important to ‘let those systems that exist without the help of the people with power exist on their own’. Other participants added that we need to create spaces where we can openly discuss these issues and hear people’s anger. Another rebuked the practice of inviting people of color to a discussion only to move forward with a pre-established agenda and meet marks for inclusion of diverse individuals.

Participants discussed the success of one organization, Community Food Initiatives (CFI) in Athens, Ohio. CFI, in this discussion, was held as an example of an organization that has worked to ‘turn should into can’; rather than sending the message that people ‘should’ change their behavior, they work with communities to make the behavior change possible so they ‘can’. CFI links fresh food from the farmers’ market and a produce auction with food pantries. According to session participants, CFI makes accessing fresh food fun and organizes educational opportunities on cooking with and using fresh produce that are do not reflect the common conception that events like these are ‘preachy’. The group also discussed they ways that CFI engages in network weaving, policy coalition groups, and with farmers and consumers who use SNAP and welfare benefits.

Notes from the session