Many of you may already know, two weeks ago the Convergence came into town. For those who do not know, the Convergence is a conference where past members of a social justice-focused study abroad program in Thailand come together somewhere in the U.S. to do work around a community issue. Previous years have included locations such as New Orleans and Kentucky and this year’s Convergence was hosted by KI and focused on food justice. Two parts reunion, one part conference, and one part service, the Convergence was not only a way to keep people engaged in social justice work after coming back from Thailand but also a way to connect issues happening in Thailand with those happening in the U.S., expanding a collective perspective on the reality that is the interconnectedness of the Global South.
As part of the plethora of workshops, conversations, and dialogue that took place during the Convergence, two other members of the KI team, Annie and Mat, and I planned a series of workshops around food justice. The key goal of the workshops were to paint a larger picture of what food justice looks like using personal narratives, stories, farm tours, and service work. According to Mat:
Annie and I had done some similar workshops about systematic issues and community work but we took a much more personal approach this time. Our intent was to not to have a broad philosophical or analytical discussion that was disconnected from emotion. Too often people put way too much emphasis on the jargon and not how they feel about it. Everyone has experience with these social constructs and we wanted to tap into that collective expertise.
The convergence was smaller than what we prepared for but the flow of the workshop was nice with an intimate group. Also everyone who participated knew each other so it was easy for the dialogue we started to carry beyond the workshop.
Personal experiences are often discredited as legitimate forms of knowledge, seen as biased or too subjective. Through these workshops, we hoped to reclaim the process of teaching through story. Narratives can also be seen as puzzle pieces and sharing narratives also allowed participants to fit their own narratives within the context of the struggles of other individuals and communities.
The first workshop of the series acted as an orientation and introduction to food justice. Annie and Mat focused on sharing food stories, particularly those about how we sourced the food we ate. With people coming from all over the nation and some just returning from Thailand, there was a wealth of experience, which shed light to the backgrounds and histories that led to our different understandings of the importance of food.
As a basic human need, food is also an important tool in exploring other social issues, such as discrimination and the intersection between how race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation with food security and accessibility. After this personal approach to food, I facilitated a discussion about the larger structures and systems underlying the continued oppression and marginalization of working class communities of color. We discussed the assumptions people might have when they enter a community they were new to and also the assumptions communities might have of them. Tying in the concept of cultural hegemony (for more information, take a look at my previous blog), we sought to find ways to carry out community-based work without perpetuating those same oppressive structures.
To give different perspectives on what the movement looks like outside of KI, the group also went on a farm tour of four urban farms around Indianapolis: Big City Farms, Fruit Loop Acres, the Paramount School of Excellence, and Felege Hiywot. As we visited each location, we spent time talking to farmers, learning about the history of each farm and their future directions. Each farmer had their own food story to tell, giving insight into how they became involved in urban agriculture and their place within the larger food justice movement.
The final workshop acted as a space for critical analysis and reflection of our experiences with food justice at KI and Indianapolis. Anthony Perry, a cook at the restaurant Duos, gave an account about his experience graduating from the Second Helpings Program (http://www.secondhelpings.org/), a food rescue program that also trains unemployed adults for careers in the culinary industry. While food justice is often seen as eating organic, building urban farms, or cooking slow food, his experience further reminded us of the role that employment and economics often play in impacting food accessibility and food security. In the discussion of the farm tour, we were able to deconstruct the purpose urban agriculture serves within the food justice movement and the impact it has on working class communities of color. Overall, the workshops were successful in demonstrating how the work at KI was grounded in the community we work with and painting a larger picture of the food justice movement and the role that KI plays within it.