Posted on Fri, June 17, 2011 by Slow Food USA
1 Comments | Categories: Food Justice, School Food, Youth Food Movement,
by Hnin Hnin and Kyle Schafer
When Slow Food on Campus and UNITE HERE’s Stir It Up Campaign celebrated National Food Month together with Eat-Ins—part potluck, part protest—across the country, it signaled a small but inspiring convergence of two worlds: sustainable food & sustainable jobs.
Over 300 people participated in 6 Eat-Ins hosted by students and local union members at Northwestern, Wesleyan, and Harvard and Yale (jointly) and by SFOC chapters at Hamilton, Vassar, and Clemson. While each Eat-In was unique, they all shared the goal of building community to create change for good food and food workers—including everyone from the farmers and farmworkers who produce the food to the campus dining workers who serve it up.
It’s not a new idea, but it is just now starting to grab the attention of the on-campus food movement: the fight for sustainable food is tied to the struggle for sustainable jobs. Processed food requires less skill to prepare. Lower skills requirements means lower wages for food workers. So when food preparation consists of switching knives for scissors to open bags of processed food, we have to ask ourselves: what’s the difference between skimping on fair wages and benefits and skimping on fresh, healthy food? By sharing stories over a meal, students and dining workers get a chance to hear how the same broken food system impacts one another on both sides of the counter. They get inspired to change campus food together.
Reflecting on the roadblocks her group faces in trying to sit down with dining administrators, Melissa Macher, one of the leaders of Slow Food Clemson University, said, “We want to merge ideas of Slow Food into our dining services—not only concerning food, but also workers rights…[We need to] lift the veil around our campus. The most surprising thing was that none of us know what the conditions are like for the food service workers. We don’t know if they’re happy or unhappy with their jobs, wages, and benefits. We discussed that and how its yet another way that we’re disconnected from dining services.”
Dining workers and student food activists aren’t the only ones collaborating for better food and working conditions. They’re building a movement based on inclusion and solidarity—engaging the rest of their campuses as well as their local community:
Connecting over a meal is a great first step to cultivating a shared vision around sustainable jobs in a sustainable food system, but there’s plenty more work to be done after the plates have been cleared. As the conversations and relationships built through these 6 unique but unified Eat-Ins take shape, will they sprout into one of the many roots of a food movement united?
How are young people and food workers coming together for sustainable jobs and sustainable food in your community? Tell us in the comments.
Read another version of this blog on UNITE HERE’s website. Photo credit: Eunice Choi. Slow Food Hamilton Eat-In, April 2011.