People and programs 02/17/2016

How do we as advocates in the food movement ladder up to larger transformational change? Who around the world is making it happen? 
Raj Patel — writer, activist, and academic — sat down with Nick Saul at our 
December 2015 webinar to take us on a fact-finding mission exploring the communities and activists showing a different kind of future for food sovereignty. Raj offered inspiring strategies to rethink and collaborate in our movement toward changing culture and changing systems. So what have we learned?

1. What does effective advocacy mean?
We know in the food movement that food is the flashpoint of inequality, of politics, of pleasure, and comfort. According to Raj, looking at inequality through a food lens shows exactly what needs changing in our society. The goal is for our communities to have conscious, equitable food in addition to healthy food.

For Raj Patel, activism involves grassroots organizing, decentralized learning, public engagement, and then action around a cause. Creating a peer-to-peer network where everyone teaches each other is a powerful tool for building community capacity and action. Every great example of social change is one that looks at power, the economy, and labour. Engagement with food issues can be messy and full of contradictions — however it's vital to keep an awareness of our individual roles within the larger structures and of the struggles within our own countries and around the globe.

2. If you treat food as part of a larger system, you'll have many more allies
The food movement needs to think seriously about linking to other movements that are alive and well, like the climate change and labour movements. Building allies is key to increasing our reach. Making partnerships and creating rigorous solidarities isn’t always easy, but these links can be incredibly fruitful. We can look to Black Lives Matter, the Coalition of Immokalee WorkersGeneration Food, the People’s Grocery, and more for new ways to think about equity and the food system.

3. Channel compassion through storytelling
The politics of fear works when small communities don’t engage with one another — people acting together makes change happen. Through engaging people on the front lines to empower themselves to tell their stories, we can imagine a much better world. For Raj, “It’s really important that we create spaces to make noise about food insecurity issues, linking these stories to public policy change.” People finding their voice gives them strength to mobilize — and then others benefit from their stories of success.

4.  The idea of “vote with your fork” works well until you’re full
Activism focusing on individual behaviours is important, but we have to balance a focus on healthy eating with a look at the larger justice issues in the food sector. Consumer-focused healthy eating messaging must not leave out all those who can’t afford it — it can be expensive to buy ethically. The idea of "vote with your fork" also converts food activism to a privileged hobby; you must have money to buy ethically. As Raj says, “Eat with your fork and vote with your vote!”

5. Things are impossible until they aren’t
Whether it’s the fight for a $15 minimum wage in the US, or the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) in Brazil, movements work tirelessly against large forces that seem immovable. In order to effect change, people and organizations first have to use our imagination and envision what we want to accomplish. That brings in a creative aspect to otherwise inaccessible topics like policy and legislation. Change begins with that creative spark!

Watch the full video from our Field Notes for Social Change webinar here!