St James's addresses food justice with Life Together Fellow, Meredith Wade

A TASTE OF JUSTICE WITH FOOD JUSTICE FELLOW MEREDITH WADE: FINAL UPDATE 6-17-18

“For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for so many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger.” - James Baldwin, “My Dungeon Shook - Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” 1963 (excerpted from “What I Mean,” by Kate Schatz)

To the community of St. James’s,

You all brought me here in August to discern the direction of your food ministry, whether it should continue as a once-a-month, volunteer-driven, direct service food pantry. I realized very early on that I cannot tell you the answer to this. I have studied food systems and movements, but I go home every day to a plentiful kitchen. I have never had to worry about food security in a meaningful way. The real experts on our food pantry are those who cross its threshold each month: pulling carts, shepherding small children, hanging bags of beans and bell peppers from their wheelchairs.

So I have spent my first ten months with you all raising up leaders in our congregation who are dedicated to seeking out and supporting pantry guests’ own wisdom. Kendall Gedeon, Allen Perez, John Bell, Jenny Grassl, and Jenny Wolahan have all stepped forward with their own unique motivations around this work. They have been generous with their time, love, and talents at the pantry, in meetings with the Fresh Pond Building Management, and through vestry presentations.

Together, we have implemented concrete practices at the pantry to make it a more relational space: we now serve coffee each morning as guests wait in line (a guest’s own idea!) and spend time learning about who we are connected to through this thread of ministry. We are working to establish a community potluck, so that members of our congregation can break bread with our guests in a more relaxed atmosphere. Several guests have recently become involved behind the scenes - helping us with distribution or providing feedback to our team.

We are also seeking out partners in this work. I recently spoke with members of a Food and Faith group at Grace Church New Bedford, who are considering similar changes in their food ministry. Sitting with six women I’d never met before, all from different generations than my own, we slowly unearthed shared questions about what Christian service really means. For many, myself included, it no longer feels like enough to simply “help those in need.” We must seek out and support the incredible human potential of those who utilize our food pantry.

And when we come to the table from a place of privilege, we must look deeper to our own stake in the work. I’m learning to tune into that split-second of anxiety that pops up during conversations with pantry guests, and recognize what it tells me about my spiritual pain. The guilt and emptiness of having resources I haven’t earned, the isolation of living in a world that teaches me I can’t or shouldn’t connect to those who are different. My work here has led me to honor that discomfort. Instead of suppressing or silencing it, I am learning to follow it.

As the rhythms of life slow down and shift into the summer, I urge you to reflect on what brings you to our work. What is at the heart of your “service”? What pain can you face in order to open yourself up to deeper compassion and more equitable love? What need leads you to ministry, the way our guests’ need leads them to us?

When we come to the table to share a meal (and isn’t that simply Eucharist?), it is powerful because you and I are both hungry. I have been blessed to share part of a journey into that vulnerability with you. Let your spirit hunger, and through that hunger let it be transformed.

Peace,

Meredith

A TASTE OF JUSTICE WITH FOOD JUSTICE FELLOW MEREDITH WADE: WEEKLY UPDATE 6-3-18

Welcome to a new weekly offering from Life Together Food Justice Fellow Meredith Wade! Each week, Meredith will share what she is reading and a reflection about food justice in the world.

Hey y’all! This week’s Taste of Justice is a little different: instead of sharing what I’m reading, I wanted to share a little about the Food Project, where I will be working over the summer before returning to St. James’s Food Justice Ministries in the fall.

William Pynchon founded the city of Roxbury in 1630, and abandoned it six years later. The original treasurer of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Pynchon held high hopes for the new town’s agricultural future. But the area’s notoriously rocky soil - its name originally recorded as “Rocksberry” - proved resistant. Last year, local high school students employed at the Food Project harvested more than 11,000 pounds of organic produce from 2 acres of land just off West Roxbury’s bustling Dudley Street. These fertile urban farm plots were two out of more than 1,000 vacant lots in the Dudley neighborhood, most of which had been heavily contaminated with lead and other toxins during industrialization. The Food Project brought youth from all over the Boston area to transform Dudley's abandoned city lots from dumping grounds to thriving community gardens. The Food Project is a powerful example of food justice, returning autonomy over the land and local food system to some of Boston’s most marginalized residents. This summer, I will join them on their Lincoln farm to mentor young people from all backgrounds in deep, hands-on learning about food, identity, and harnessing their own power in the world. Read more about the Food Project here: http://thefoodproject.org/

A Taste of Justice with Food Justice Fellow Meredith Wade: Weekly Update 5-27-18

Welcome to a new weekly offering from Life Together Food Justice Fellow Meredith Wade! Each week, Meredith will share what she is reading and a reflection about food justice in the world. 

In recent years, the term “food desert” has gained traction to describe areas that lack supermarkets and other sources of affordable food, particularly fresh produce. But food justice veteran Karen Washington argues that the phrase is misleading. Instead, we should talk about “food apartheid,” which requires us to recognize the deep scars racism has left on our food system. An advocate not just for food justice but for food sovereignty - that is, for marginalized people’s right to autonomy - Washington urges privileged supporters to “sit down at the table with a family member...[and ask] what are they doing to invest in neighborhoods that are less fortunate?” Washington’s words are a call to confront our roles in the food system openly and bravely; read the full interview here

What is Food Justice? A Brief History

Hunger has been characterized a number of different ways by government institutions, social movements, and those who have experienced it. Among politicians, scholars, and activists, terms like “food security,” and “food justice” capture critically unique aspects of hunger. These differences are not merely semantic: the language we use to describe hunger reflects our underlying assumptions about how it works, and how we should address it.

A food security framework, popular among food banks and other direct-service programs, is built on the notion of “undernourishment,” or the lack of sufficient food. When this terminology emerged in post-World War II America, “nourishment” was measured in terms of emergent nutritional science that assumed a monolithic population with static nutritional needs. Government programs and humanitarian efforts in the Cold War era compiled survey data on malnutrition, characterizing hunger as a national epidemic. A 1968 Citizens’ Board of Inquiry produced a report called Hunger, U.S.A. that urged the federal government to expand federal food assistance programs and distribute food stamps to qualified individuals at no cost. Though they may not have used the phrase “food security,” the orchestrators behind Hunger, U.S.A. described hunger as a question of having “enough” food, and suggested that the solution was to make more food available to those who experienced undernourishment.

Though food security allowed researchers and politicians to conceptualize hunger as a national problem, this model did not press very far into malnourishment’s deeper systemic causes. As sociologist and food scholar Raj Patel notes, “if governments aim merely for food security as a policy goal, the politically difficult questions of inequality in power that produced food insecurity would be ignored.”

Where food security lets governments off the hook for addressing structural disempowerment, food justice is built on the idea that disenfranchisement and malnourishment are inextricable. The concept of food justice is an outgrowth of the environmental justice movement of the 1960s and 1970s, wherein sociologist Robert Bullard drew national attention to the disproportionate environmental burdens shouldered by people of color in the U.S. Bullard produced the first comprehensive documentation of environmental racism in 1979, when he published a study on municipal waste facilities in Houston neighborhoods. Bullard’s study found that dumps, incinerators, and landfills were overwhelmingly placed in predominantly black neighborhoods in Houston. Bullard went on to trace the secondary effects of environmental injustices across the American South, identifying unreasonably high cancer risks among the populations he studied. Bullard drew clear, data-driven links between exposure to environmental hazards, race, socioeconomic status, and bodily health.

Food justice advocates expanded Bullard’s environmental justice framework to address inequalities in access to food, as well as the consequent health risks. The food justice movement named lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores as a secondary impact of post-WWII housing and lending discrimination, also known as redlining. The pioneering voices of environmental justice argued that the white flight of the mid-20th century led to disinvestment from neighborhoods occupied primarily by people of color, and subsequently, a stark inequity in the distribution of environmental health risks. Food justice advocates applied this line of thinking specifically to food and nutrition, arguing that the absence of a variety of affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food choices in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods led to significantly higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.

The first food justice activists explicitly grounded their movements in an understanding of inequity and uneven power relations across race, class, and gender. The food justice movement was the first to explicitly describe the global food system as a racial project, that enforces and constructs racial hierarchies. Food justice activists, then, seek to resist these inequalities from the root rather than just treating hunger as a symptom. Food justice movements in the United States existed even before they bore this particular name: the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children is often cited in food scholarship as an early example of food justice. The Black Panther Party, on the rise at a time when black children went hungry at three times the rate of white children, identified racialized hunger as an instance of state violence. In keeping with their core practice of self-defense, they introduced the Free Breakfast for Children, alongside other food distribution programs for adults, as a strategy of radical self-preservation. Because the Panthers centered an understanding of hunger as an outgrowth of institutionalized racism, their food access efforts embodied the core values of food justice.

Food justice takes hunger to be an outgrowth of inequality, and seeks to fill bellies by giving those who experience hunger more control over their diet while addressing the race, gender, and class injustice responsible for their lack of food. Recognizing the structural causes of hunger - rather than treating the symptom alone - is critical to living out God’s love in the world. Join us after church on November 12th and 19th to further explore the idea of food justice, and how Christ calls us to practice food ministry!

 

Sources:

Citizens’ Board of Inquiry into Hunger and Malnutrition in the United States. Hunger, U.S.A. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.

Julian Agyeman and Alison Hope Alkon, Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).

Julian Agyeman, Robert Doyle Bullard, and Bob Evans, Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003)

Raj Patel, “Food Sovereignty: Power, Gender, and the Right to Food,” PLOS Medicine 9, no. 6 (June 2012)

Robert Doyle Bullard, “Solid Waste Sites and the Black Houston Community,” Sociological Inquiry 53, no. 2 (April 1983).

 

FOOD MINISTRY AT ST. JAMES'S