From the honeyed sweets of Shatila, the Arab bakery I visited on my first day in Detroit, to the leafy greens from Detroit gardens, my taste buds were hard at work while I was at the U.S. Social Forum. My tongue detected the usual tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory while my mind filled with the social issues pertaining to food–labor rights, race in the food system, access to resources, and the communal experience of preparing, sharing, and blessing food. The best way, it turns out, to talk about what I learned at the Social Forum is to talk about some of the food there:
- Tomatoes: Tomato pickers in Immokalee Florida, the tomato capital of the U.S., earn an average of 45 cents per 32 pound bucket of tomatoes, a rate that has not risen significantly since 1978. Workers today have to pick twice as much as they did in 1980, which is over two and a half tons of tomatoes a day just to earn the equivalent of Florida minimum wage for a 10-hour workday. Want to know more? Check out the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, an amazing group that presented at the Social Forum, and take action on the Campaign for Fair Food, an effort to get the supermarket industry to follow the steps of the other corporations in agreeing to a code of conduct that guarantees fair wages and working conditions.
- Ice cream: During the Social Forum, volunteers in pink-and-white striped shirts with cafeteria-style white hats that read “Milk Not Jails” served lemon, moose tracks, mint chip, and strawberry flavored ice cream from Washtenaw Dairy at an ice cream social in Detroit’s Milliken Park. With the help of a Pop the Prison activity, fliers, and a theatrical presentation, they drew attention to loss of the small dairy farms and the growth of the prison industry in New York State. Check out Milk Not Jails here.
- Purslane: Have you ever tried this edible weed thriving in many gardens and farms? On the urban agriculture tour led by Eitan Sussman from Greening of Detroit we visited two community gardens (Gloryfield and Brightmoor Youth Garden) and one urban farm (D-Town) that showcased incredible bounty, youth involvement, community empowerment, and food sovereignty. Learn more about D-Town, the two acre farm of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network here.
- Red and green leaf lettuce, kale, beets, and other veggies: A young local urban farmer named Blair came to a radical Jewish Shabbat held on the bank of the Detroit River on Friday evening at the close of the Social Forum. She spoke to the group about the specialness of our convening in her city and brought a beautiful salad and a vegetable dish she made from her garden to share with our 30-plus group. She works in an community garden and brought other locals (including the garden tour guide) to share in the ritual of song, prayers, sentiments, and breaking pita together. Nearly a thousand community gardens and farms across the city like hers receive ongoing support from the Garden Resource Program.
- Salt: The People’s Movement Assembly, an organizing branch of the Social Forum, came up with a Food Sovereignty Resolution that referenced this seasoning. Here’s a taste of the resolution: “Over a half-century ago, Mahatma Gandhi led a multitude of Indians to the sea to make salt—in defiance of the British Empire’s monopoly on this resource critical to people’s diet. The action catalyzed the fragmented movement for Indian independence and was the beginning of the end for Britain’s rule over India. The act of ‘making salt’ has since been repeated many times in many forms by people’s movements seeking liberation, justice and sovereignty: Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Zapatistas are just a few of the most prominent examples. Our food movement— one that spans the globe—seeks food sovereignty from the monopolies that dominate our food systems with the complicity of our governments. We are powerful, creative, committed and diverse. It is our time to make salt.”
Photo of the New York City food justice delegation in Detroit by Rishauna Zumberg.