A week before Passover started, I had the opportunity to join Pursue’s Food Justice Seder. I was asked to speak about liberation and food justice in the context of the work I do at West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which is one of New York City’s largest food pantries. We are set up and run like a supermarket co-op, so customers can pick out the foods that are right for their families, and they volunteer to keep the pantry running smoothly.
Luckily for me, I speak to groups about WSCAH’s work frequently, but never before in a specifically Jewish context. My Jewish life and my work life are generally separate, but with reflection it became clear how related the two really are. In what other room full of people drinking wine and eating delicious (and ethical!) food can I skip the “why-is-it-important-to-help-the-oppressed-in-our-world” part of my spiel? Feeding the hungry–and much more importantly, helping the hungry advocate for themselves–is a quintessentially Jewish activity. We must speak and act as if we have been in bondage ourselves, implies the Hagaddah’s answer to the wicked child. “I do this because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.” Read more →
Last week, I joined other AJWS food justice advocates at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s district office in Manhattan, where we discussed reforms to the Farm Bill, which is set for reauthorization this year. Senator Gillibrand currently serves on the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. At the meeting, we spoke with Senator Gillibrand’s Senior Advisor Patti Lubin about the bill’s impact on the hungry throughout the world and how we must do better. We were thrilled to get to speak with Senator Gillibrand’s staff, through whom she has the potential to influence others and introduce early amendments to this bill.
Since our meeting coincided with Passover, I couldn’t help but try to understand this issue in a Jewish context. How might Jewish teaching inform international food aid policy? Exploring the lessons of Passover, I tried to think of how my freedom and duty of responsibility are joined together. As many of us contemplate the history of our own slavery, I can’t help but feel free because I do not have to worry about hunger in my own life. Acknowledging my own sense of freedom, I am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “No one is free until everyone is free.” As a Jew, I have a responsibility to speak out and influence others to fight against injustice, wherever it exists. As the Passover Haggadah says, “This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need come share our Passover.” Read more →
What does food justice look like in a food bank, anyway?
Food justice is a two-sided term. On the one hand, burgeoning consumer demands for fair, local, and organic food, coupled with increasing attention on the 2012 Farm Bill and a trend of young people pursuing farming, represent the Zeitgeist of old food traditions stamped on a fresh-faced movement. College students organize campus food cooperatives, families crowd week-end farmers markets in search of happy organic produce, and certain resourceful individuals plant vegetables on rooftops, medians, and parking lots. On the flip side, on the slow road to food reform, emergency meal programs try to keep up with our economic hangover, as more people turn to under-resourced food programs to ease joblessness and benefit cuts.
One might presuppose that the former examples have little or no ripple effects in a place like a food bank, where “feeding people” is paramount. But to say that one reality has little to do with the other is to reduce the people turning to food assistance to mouths to feed, and ignores the deeply rooted social implications of our broken food system. As more and more of the privileged join the ranks of slow food and organic culture, low-income families (disproportionately people of color), become the unlucky benefactors of the food industry’s waste stream. For these families, who cannot simply “opt out” of the conventional food system that is making them sick, food justice looks more like economic and social justice. Read more →