Mic Check: A Day In Zuccotti Park With #OccupyBigFood

By Erika Nicole Kendall, cross-posted from A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss

“Whose food?”

Our food.

Signs of “Turn the beet around!” (an obvious nod to the fact that most beets in the US, the source of a large percentage of our granulated sugar, are genetically modified), “Zucchini Park,” and “Take back our food!” filled Wall Street as the members and supporters of the #OccupyBigFood movement made their way into Zucotti Park, with myself and the toddler in tow, bringing up the rear.

I’d made the decision to go a long time ago, when one of the supporters left a link in my comments regarding the original affair. That scheduled Saturday was also the date of the first “Big Snow” of the pending 2011-2012 disgustingly-wet-and-blisteringly-cold season, so it was ill-attended (which meant that I wound up out there among the #OWS Tent City.)

The human mic system at Zuccotti Park blasted valuable message after valuable message, meaningful morsel of info after meaningful morsel:

“Corporate entities are ensuring big subsidies for themselves while convincing Congress to cut money from programs like SNAP…”

“The Union that makes up the people that SERVE that food stand in solidarity with the people who are treated inhumanely and are made to harvest that food for pennies,”

“We want a sustainable system that ensures and guarantees access for everyone,”

All things that we stand for here, though it may not be coming from the same angles as those at the #OccupyBigFood rally.

I attended the rally because, aside from the fact that I felt some kind of solidarity to a movement that supports living la vida locavore, but I felt like it needs to be clear that the people who complain about the current food climate are not merely wealthy and white. Persons of color, women, mothers, children… we are all affected by poor decision making, favoritism, nepotism and ass kissing that takes place in Congress, and it’s important for us to do what we can do to prevent people from dismissing valuable dialogue as “elitism,” which – as we all know – is code for “privileged white people talk.”

I stood as a part of the huge human mic system and helped convey the message that we are not powerless, we are not to be dismissed as merely “foodies” and we are not going anywhere. We – according to “you” – have money and will spend it locally and support our own system. We’ve decided yours isn’t working.

That’s what I left #OccupyBigFood with – a renewed sense in the fact that not only is the current system an utter failure, but it is up to us to change it for ourselves. If the government that we elect can justify cutting the program that funnels money into small businesses in underserved areas – because, let’s face it, that’s exactly what food stamps is and exactly what it does – thereby causing the businesses in the area to suffer as well as the people who use food stamps to buy their products, then you can rest assured that it’ll be a long damn time before they do anything to secure our food supply. They don’t care like we do, and that – at least, to me, is fine.

Why? Because if we are conscious enough to know that we should buy locally, we are also conscious enough to know that there are those of us who don’t have access, and need help getting there. If we can innovate enough to turn a backwards bathrobes (also known as a Snuggie) into a million-dollar invention, surely we can innovate to create small sub communities that can enjoy produce and meat without adulteration. We can continue to educate about healthy choices and assist, as well as support, our peers in making them.

There were a few speakers at the event – the leader of a food workers’ union, a gentleman who identified himself and his wife as “One of the 1%ers you complain about, but we stand in solidarity with you!” and a certain nutritionist you might’ve heard of, but at the end of it all, I wish I had grabbed the mic and had my OWN mic check:

“In a world where any human being with a heart believes it is acceptable to cut money intended to assist the poor in staying fed as well as funding the small businesses in the area who service those poor, it is unfathomable to me that people could turn their backs on the idea of genuinely helping and supporting one another. These companies, with their lies and disregard for their customers, they don’t give a damn about you and me… they only care about what’s in our wallets… well now, they’re not getting what’s in THERE either! I’m spending my money as far away from those corrupt big names as I possibly can, and maybe THEN the Krafts, General Mills’ and Kelloggs of the world will finally change their ways!”

Alas, I didn’t. I was too busy consoling the ornery kindergartner (!) standing on my leg. My overall point is that we don’t have enough time to wait for someone else to do this for us, and our best means of supporting the movement is by trying to funnel as much money as possible into its expansion. Multinationals started out as tiny operations once, too. Money helps any-and-everything grow. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. I think that message was conveyed well without me, anyway.

At any rate, the rally was successful. I’m interested in what coverage – if any – the rally may have received, and whether or not anyone was able to get my full ‘fro in a shot… er, I mean, whether the diverseness of the crowd was covered adequately. I also got to meet a certain awesome author and professor named Marion Nestle, and thank her for her book. If you didn’t notice, I’m a bit of a “follow the money” type, and talking to me in terms of logic and corrupt policy in regards to corporate decision making is a pretty good way to convince me that money, not health, was the reason behind so much of what we see in food today. You follow the money, you can find the reality behind anything. I wish more people thought that way.

Would I attend again? Of course. To help express the fact that there are people who live in food deserts who have no choice other than frito-lay products and lunchables; to remind us all that even in our quest for food sustainability, the issue of compromised health is plaguing those of us who either struggle with affording or struggle for access to fresh and local produce; and to help us realize that education and conscious consumerism are the best ways to affect change. No greater reminder of this exists, for me, than the fact that our community is so culturally and financially diverse. Some of us are in cow-pools; others have given up meat completely because they can’t afford the ethically grown stuff. Some of us are complete locavores; and some of us are strictly frozen-vegetarians. Some of us are wild pescetarians, and others are, well, budgetarians. We know Hippocrates was right – “let thy medicine be thy food, and let thy food be thy medicine” – and now it’s time the rest of the country learns that, as well.

PS: Okra pie, though?

Image credits: Erika Nicole Kendall


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  • Steve Murgaski

    “education and conscious consumerism are the best ways to affect change”
     
    Voting with your wallet is much better than nothing, if you’re in a position to do it.  I imagine that’s what made McDonalds quit using styrofoam containers, for example.  But I wouldn’t assume it’s the best approach for everything.  Sure corporations are image-conscious, but they also have a lot of money to spend on advertizing.  Flawed as government is, it’s at least in a position to regulate things that aren’t immediately obvious to consumers.  Since most of what happens to our food is invisible, I don’t think we can rely on consumer dicisions to control it at all.