"To the American Food Justice Movements": A Critique that is also an Offering

Transcript

1 Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online www.AgDevJournal.com To the American food justice movements: COMMENTARY ON RACE AND A critique that is also an offering ETHNICITY IN FOOD SYSTEMS Marcelo Felipe Garzo Montalvo * Oakland, California Submitted June 16, 2015 / Published online August 30, 2015 Citation: Garzo Montalvo, M. F. (2015). To the American food justice movements: Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community A critique that is also an offering. Development, 5 (4), 125–129. http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2015.054.017 Copyright © 2015 by New Leaf Associates, Inc. Abstract protect our dear Mother Earth. Thank you for a love letter, defending our seeds, for growing dark and healthy that is also a Dear John letter soil, for fighting to defend our waters, for working an invitation, in the interest of Life and all our relations. Thank that is also a plea you for caring about the young people in our a vision, communities, providing meaningful jobs, ways to that is also a grievance find training and work (paid or not) that support that is also a call to action the health and wellness of our communities. Thank you for honoring our elders, for respecting our Keywords ancestors’ wisdom and ways of knowing across cultural work, critique, food justice, movement generations. Thank you for farmers’ markets, com- strategy, movement building, organizational munity gardens, healthier corner stores, educational development, personal reflection, la cultura cura, kitchens, grassroots restaurants, and food trucks. visionary activism, transformative justice Thank you for seed banks and seed bombs, time banks and radical skill shares. For worker-owned o the American Food Justice Movements: cooperatives, land trusts, and community sup- T ported food systems. Thank you for the songs, Thank you for your work. Thank you for the poems, performances, books, novels, and docu- time, energy, and love you are all offering to mentary films. Thank you for permaculture, agroecology, and for supporting the struggles of * Marcelo Felipe Garzo Montalvo, Oakland, California USA; food and farm workers. Thank you for cultivating, [email protected] nurturing, planting, watering, waiting, protecting, Volume 5, Issue 4 / Summer 2015 125

2 Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online www.AgDevJournal.com pruning, thinning, harvesting, cooking, eating, CRT_FOOD, URBANAG, etc.), I immediately composting, and turning under. Thank you for opened a word .doc and began writing. At first all tending to these cycles of life and death that make that came out were my grievances, which I will also our existence possible. Thank you for your share here, but after careful reflection, I could not thoughts, your energy, for walking these prayers. offer my grievances without rooting them in my Thank you for caring about the suffering of hopes, my visions, as well as my gratitude. I honor others. Thank you for taking care of yourself. Grace Lee Boggs here for this reminder, for her Thank you for wanting to do something to teachings and guidance on how this work takes respond to the injustices you see in our food time, effort, and the energy to honor and witness system. our reactionary energy, as it slowly transforms into My gratitude for you all is overflowing, not just visionary and (r)evolutionary critique (Boggs, for how much I have personally benefited from 2011). being a part of this movement, but also for how As I kept writing, my grievances were many, much “impact” I have already seen us have. Our but as I sat and observed them over time my movements have already begun to transform our visions and hopes showed through, and became food systems. I give thanks for how this work has more abundant—not only more numerous, but supported my own family, my relatives, my com- sitting with and writing also more powerful. In peers, students, co- munities, the children, my down my woundings, I opened to vulnerability, workers, etc. making possible the spirit of connection, as I pray Rooted in this love and gratitude, I want to for the possibility of healing. offer a space to “check-in”—an invitation to slow The heart of my grievances, and also my down and consider some wa ys that I have also felt visions, is our collective mis/understandings of upset by this movement. Nobody is forcing you to “power, privilege, and oppression,” and therefore read this, but I am asking, for a bit of time and how we strategize their undoing and/or trans- space and energy, for my feelings to be heard and formation through food systems work. I have y/our community, y/our considered as a part of stuck when it comes to often felt frustrated and struggle. how we understand and define the “political,” and Why should you care? what that means for food justice movements. I have felt limited, even blocked, by bourgeois Because I am no better, nor worse, than any understandings of “politics,” asking me to operate of you, than any of us. within the narrow and limited confines of “policy strategies for change: work” and other top-down And who am I to offer these comments? organizing campaigns, appeals to elected officials, ballot measures, and/or nonprofit bureaucracy. I am a “person of color” who has been There is often an unspoken, or sometimes explic- “food systems work” directly involved in itly stated, preference for this type of work, a since 2007. I am someone who felt moved privileging of the most concrete and tangible to respond to this call for commentaries... “victories” for us to celebrate. Organizational and and I fit the description. Also, I am your community capacities are focused on strategizing, brother, your relative. measuring, and evaluating our “impact” through this discourse, this lens. Speaking, and thinking from my own personal Power, privilege, and oppression are “struc- realities, my lived experiences and shifting identi- tural,” in the sociological/anthropological sense of for us to consider, in a ties, I offer these thoughts, the term, and also in the ways that countless anti- conversation on “race and ethnicity in food oppression and antiracist trainings make clear. systems work.” However, what can be lost or overshadowed in a When I received this call for commentaries perspective, and “training, ” that is solely focused through various listservs (food_justice [GFJI], on structural change and “policy work” (or on Volume 5, Issue 4 / Summer 2015 126

3 Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online www.AgDevJournal.com nonprofit organizations driving and defining com- Before this understanding of cultural work munity change) is the opportunity to transform our becomes too abstract, let us situate it within the everyday shared practices that re-perform and context of this conversation on the culture of food reproduce these structures of power. It is this space justice movements, and our related organizational of the everyday that I would like to refer to as practices. Already I need to point out how much of “culture,” and its accompanying activism: “cultural our movement culture is based on being affiliated work.” To be sure, here my critique is not of with an organization (nonprofit, nongovernmental “policy work” itself, because it is obviously and organization [NGO], for-profit, limited liability urgently important work to be done. Instead, what corporation [LLC], etc.), and how this itself is a I am asking for is a shift, an expansion, an integra- cultural move. Normalizin g this approach—that is, tion of our understandings of power itself, and —ends up making this professionalizing activism therefore a turn in some of our activist energy as work inaccessible to many people in our commu- we also consider another point of focus—that is, rather than exclu- nities. (I prefer to discuss access This is not to suggest that food justice cultural. the sion/inclusion.) Building a movement that is based any workers are not already doing cultural work; in on having the privileges that are necessary to access fact, much of my own understandings of cultural nonprofit organizations and/or NGOs is precari- work that I am sharing he re have been developed ous and not sustainable in that it creates a culture many food within through my own experiences in our movement that doesn’t recognize that social justice organizations. But what I’d like to reflect social. movements must be, first and foremost, In on, and bring into question, are my repeated other movements and parts of the world (outside experiences over time and place of fellow food the United States in particular) activists including justice organizers and workers marginalizing, those in the food movement understand them- postponing, silencing, ignoring, or not knowing being to NGOs, but not as selves in relation NGOs how to practice and engage cultural work. themselves. In fact, many social movements that Cultural work does not refer only to the prac- are rooted in the Global South (Via Campesina in tice of art-making—poetry, music, film, photog- particular) are deeply critical of how NGOs raphy, murals, etc.—though this work is necessary become proxies for multinational corporations and to any sustainable social movement. Instead, my other imperial projects. This then becomes a site of theorizing of cultural work asks us to focus on our cultural work. How are we going to do the “work” everyday shared practices , on our collective actions, our of undoing the nonprofit industrial complex and its In vida cotidiana. common doings, or in Spanish, our influence on our social movement (INCITE! this way the everyday is a space, a location from Women of Color Against Violence, 2007)? It is the which we can “strategize, measure, and evaluate” role of cultural work itse lf that would allow us to our work. By everyday shared practice I refer to the have this conversation and take the time and This means language, clothing, every day. , things we do energy needed to look at how middle-class, bour- shelter, transportation, ethics, mathematics, and geois, corporate culture is being re-articulated and where and how we consume food and water (of re-inscribed in many of our food justice projects course, we’re food activists!), just to name a few precisely because we are looking elsewhere for the examples. In verbs it means: eating, sleeping, going “work to be done.” to the bathroom, walking, driving, sitting, breath- It is in the context of these movement spaces ing, talking, listening, cooking, sharing, caring, that I have been asked, or called in as a “consul- calling, working, thinking, storytelling, planning, tant,” to discuss “anti-oppression,” “anti-racism,” drawing, singing, etc. designing, reading, writing, or other ways to engage the perennial (and very ng) question of “why are there no people culture, and thus cultural work These are sites of frustrati of color here?” Or more often than not, “why is refers to the forms of activism that seek to in our organization?” or there a lack of diversity transform these spaces that are numerous, vast, “how can we be more inclusive ?” It must be noted and yet intimate. Cultural work is, in short, a lot of that “lack of diversity” and “inclusive” are often work! 127 Volume 5, Issue 4 / Summer 2015

4 Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online www.AgDevJournal.com neoliberal code words for a space being already This critical cultural work can and will make us white-dominated. When I see a call for papers uncomfortable. It forces us to “grow our souls” asking for a list of “how tos” for working with (Boggs, 2011, p. 28), to engage in “spiritual acti- people and communities of color in food vism” (Anzaldúa & Keating, 2009, pp. 292, 323). systems, I am reminded of the dozens of times I This all sounds grandiose, but it is actually very have been asked these sorts of questions, and the humbling and unglamorous work to do. When I dozens of times I have been unable to offer the am asked how to engage in dismantling racism with prescriptive answers these folks may be seeking. an organization, I often suggest organizing an all- ese code words, I fear Many times when I hear th staff and community meeting where we project it is already too late. A space and culture has everyone’s salary on the wa ll and see what happens. already been created and established that is so No place that I have worked has taken me up on thoroughly white (corporate [we don’t need to be this idea (yet!). Doing th is will make them uncom- a corporation to be corporate] and hetero- fortable. It will make me uncomfortable. But not patriarchal [dominated by the norms of knowing each other’s salary, and it being taboo to heterosexual males]), that it contains within it one even ask or share this information, is part and of the hallmarks of whiteness itself: white guilt parcel of neoliberal capitalist culture. Normalizing and its accompanying savior complex. these sorts of silences is precisely how they are Looking through the lens of culture, the perpetuated and made invisible. American food justice mo vement often resembles When we commit ourselves to moving a performance of middle-class, corporate cultural together and collectively through the discomfort of norms themselves. Part of this culture has also breaking these silences and seeing where it takes us, been a confusing overemphasis on race and anti- that is cultural work. This is the inner, personal, racism and an almost complete erasure of other and interpersonal growth and working through fear at make white supremacy systems of domination th (and other feelings we don’t like) that is necessary even more durable, not the least of which are to shifting culture. Building relationships and trust analyses of class (neoliberal capitalism) and gender is not only a part of cultural work, it is cultural (heteropatriarchy), and how deeply these systems work itself. affect our cultural practices as movement organ- In Spanish there is a cross-cultural dicho izers. I share this as a middle-class, raised upper- la cultura cura, that translates to English as (saying), middle class man of color who is the son of two “culture cures” or “culture is healing.” Here la physicians. In other words, I have felt comfortable is referring explicitly to our indigenous- cultura participating (or even have been able to partici- centered and ancestrally oriented ways of knowing pate) in the food justice movement precisely that have helped us surviv e, and continue to thrive, because of my class and educational privilege, and in a dominant culture that is based on our erasure, I am taken more seriously with fewer qualifica- a culture that normalizes violence and genocide, a tions because of male privilege and (at times) culture that silences its survivors (MarTínez, 2013). . How are we ever going straight-passing privilege Survival is an everyday shared practice in many ce, whose very roots are to dismantle food injusti communities of color. In this way, cultural work, situated in neoliberal capitalism and hetero- process rather than an like healing work, emphasizes patriarchy (in other words, the dominant culture) end product, making it much more difficult to if we are re-performing these systems in our measure and apply for grants to fund. But imagine everyday shared practices? Many of my visions for how deeply we could transform our food systems our movement include strategies that challenge if we committed to ending a culture of genocide, the cultural practices that have been borrowed slavery, sexual violence, and the like. What would from the academic, nonprofit, and other industrial our work look like if we shifted from asking how r ability to collectively complexes that disrupt ou to “attract diversity” to our organizations, and transform ourselves and the food system, and that instead asked how to dismantle the cultures that instead re-embed us in the status quo. oppress communities of color on a daily basis? 128 Volume 5, Issue 4 / Summer 2015

5 Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development ISSN: 2152-0801 online www.AgDevJournal.com Everyone can and needs to participate in this level References Anzaldúa, G. (Author), & Ke The d.). (2009). ating, A. (E of cultural work, of transformation, if we wish to . Durham, North Carolina: Gloria Anzaldúa reader overcome age-old tropes like tokenizing (turning Duke University Press. people of color into a gimmick to sell our work) or The next American revolution: Boggs, G. L. (2011). other forms of retraumatizing and rewounding. Sustainable activism for the twenty-first century . Berkeley: With this I will end as I began, with a prayer of University of California Press. gratitude. To all my relations, for everyone who is INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. (2007). present in this piece and in our work, whether I unded: Beyond the non-profit The revolution will not be f know your name or not, I honor you. My visions, industrial complex . Cambridge, Massachusetts: South my grievances, I present to you as an offering, an End Press,. invitation, to be in movement together, to honor MarTínez, S. (2013). AmeriCaCa: Don’t step in it! Don’t our “precious knowledge,” shedding the autumn unds of silenced survivors: bring it in the house!: The so leaves of a dying neoliberalism, to feed the roots of Breaking the silence. Bloomington, Indiana: our Mother Earth, the land, that is our home in the AuthorHouse. cosmos, that is our source. 129 Volume 5, Issue 4 / Summer 2015

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