A (un)Just Food Conference

The highlights of my weekend:

-Taking an awesome road trip with a good fellow farm gal
-Great road trip soundtrack (think Amy Grant, The Duhks, Celine, Fiona and DC talk)
-Visiting a wonderful friend in Portland over pots of steaming chai tea
-Being able to check off Oregon as one of the states I’ve visited
-Getting incredibly inspired by our Eugene hosts’ home garden (complete with backyard chickens, a worm composting bin, high tunnels on over-wintered beds, some of the fattest turnips I’ve EVER seen and a greenhouse made completely out of recycled materials.


Not-so-high lights of my weekend:

-Being disappointed in a Food Justice conference that skirted around anything practical we could do as communities to get real, fresh, whole food to those without
-Being disappointed that far-removed government policy-driven mindsets were the bulk of what said conference had to offer
-Being especially disappointed that said Food Justice conference – where the buzzwords of the weekend included equity, availability and access – would choose to throw a fabulous dinner party complete with a host of organic and sustainably raised produce and meats and local beer and wine, and offer it as ‘invite only’; excluding many attenders in the process

And so this past weekend, with most people having that extra day off of work, the University of Oregon in Eugene held their Food Justice Conference complete with art displays from numerous artists, 3 days of speaking sessions and workshops, open visits to the Urban Farm operation and Vandana Shiva as keynote speaker.  What was set up in my mind to be an outstanding conference, paled in comparison in reality.

As speaker after speaker gave their talks, it became more and more apparent that problems were the focus of the discussion and no one had any real solutions to present.  Most speakers hinted at policy reform and government legislature, and sat behind shiny place-tags with their names and credentials in bold print, emphasizing their expertise and specialization.  But after speeches incorporating such large words as to lose much attention from the willing audience and to be more fitting for a Masters thesis than an honest look at how to get true food from point A to point B, I was already beginning to feel the first heaves of disappointment.  And these were only encouraged as religious and political jabs were made multiple times when agriculture and farming practices were    the topics of focus and politically-correct semantics were courted time and again (it’s not “global warming,” it’s “climate change.” No wait, it’s “climate instability”).  And an entire speech centered on ‘the deliciousness of food’ (which skipped from the definition of ‘delicious’ to the fact that many people are ‘super tasters’ and some are ‘non tasters’ to the fact that organic strawberries taste better than their chemically farmed counterparts to what does our sense of taste say about the nutrition of a certain food) wound up only confusing the majority of listeners and causing our graduate-degreed speaker to admit she needed to do more research in certain areas (especially when a front row-seated Shiva corrected her on what the flavors of foods mean in traditional Ayurvedic philosophy.)

Overall, I was struck by the realization that academia (and politics) have very little to do with sustainability, agriculture and truly living out justice in our very un-just world.  Being so far removed from the reality of growing food, planting seasons, garden work parties, human needs and rumbling bellies, higher education can philosophize til it’s blue in the face, but until anyone in higher positions will decide to move into the projects or trailer parks and start a community garden, give up a meal for someone in need who is hungry, or become a better neighbor to the underprivileged by spending time and effort on their well-being (not just on charitable donations, food bank giving or policy-reform jargon) they will be stuck arguing about politically correct terms with which to categorize said neighbors and their socio-economic potential towards nutrient-deprivation and ignorant cave-ins to mega-corporations’ unethical advertising schemes.

If being a Christian has taught me anything, it’s that we need to walk the talk.  We can’t set out with agendas to convert as many people as we can to our way of thinking or believing, even if we honestly believe it would be the very best thing for them.  The best way to love someone and show care for their well-being is through forming a relationship with them.  Non-Christians don’t want evangelical nuts all up in their face anymore than fast- and processed-food eaters want organic health nuts up in theirs.  And the ‘underprivileged’ and ‘undernourished’ that speakers at the conference had in mind, just might care more about being invited over to supper or given a chance to harvest from a neighbor’s garden, than being presented with a graph recording their chances of contracting a diet-related disease if they don’t get enough of A, B or C in their diets.

But where does the line between being a ranting action-less philosopher and a radical health-Nazi fall?  Perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of caring neighbors and real relationships.  A person’s health is much more than what calories they consume, just as a person’s spiritual life is much more than whether they sit in a pew once every 7 days.

Are we willing to live out our beliefs by example and relationship?



2 responses to “A (un)Just Food Conference

  1. Cody:

    Great piece. When I was in college I read a great deal of Jim Wallis and Sojourner magazine. The phrase back then was “doing theology”. It still rings true. Humans love to trumpet their expertise, knowledge, compassion or whatever other virtue de jour. Quietly and persistently pursuing your passion is what makes a person virtuous. Not talking about it.


  2. Preach, Girl! You just nailed politicians and academia on every issue they approach. Talk, talk, talk, research, research, research, publish, publish, publish, accomplish nothing.
    Keep holding our feet to the fire.
    I love you,

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