by Lucia Austria
On October 22, Oxfam America hosted “Plenty for the Planet: Sustainable Food and a Well-Fed World.” Co-hosted by Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and Small Planet Institute, the focus of the night was to illuminate the injustices present in our global food system and to discuss possible strategies to create a better one for a growing planet.
Talk about heavy. I knew that as a Gastronomy student, three hours in a classroom is barely enough time to discuss such broad-scoped issues, so I was interested to see how the two-hour event would pan out. About 150 attendees gathered together at the City Year headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay to listen to presentations and discussions by sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, manager of Oxfam America’s Strategic Alliance work Liz Carty, and campaign director of CAI Sara Deon. Oxfam America’s Campaign Director, Judy Beals, moderated the talk, and audience members listened while enjoying a vegetarian spread of appetizers sourced from local farms and vendors.
The presentations focused on what the panelists considered the biggest “food myth” about our global food system—big business agriculture as the only way to feed a growing global population. Anna presented studies from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that supported global organic agriculture, and played a video titled Food MythBusters that exposes the detriments of industrial agriculture. Frances echoed her daughter’s arguments and expressed the community benefits of organic agriculture by describing her most recent visit to an Indian village that was positively transformed by adopting sustainable agricultural practices.
I’m not a skeptic, just a critical graduate student, and though I whole-heartedly support Anna and Frances’ call-to-arms against big agriculture, I was looking for more. The Food MythBusters video is a great way to bring a once solely academic issue to the minds of all consumers, but the real question that begs to be addressed is not “Is the system broken?” because that’s quite clear, but “How can we fix it?” More specifically, how can we as every day consumers who understand these issues take actionable steps that allow us to be active agents of the food system, to be food citizens?
It was Liz Carty who addressed my questions. She explained Oxfam’s new campaign “GROW” that guides everyday people to contribute to the building of a more sustainable food system. The campaign’s slogan “Fight world hunger starting at your kitchen table,” may sound idealistic, but the explanation of “The Grow Method” combines tangible steps that a consumer can take to hopefully yield realistic outcomes. Reduce waste, support socially conscious companies, conserve energy, buy seasonal produce, eat less meat—I appreciate that these familiar ideas are grouped together in order to empower the individual or household.
CAI’s Sara Deon put into simple terms what I thought was the event’s true takeaway, “talk about food every day.” Chances are, the questions you might have about the food you eat are being asked by hundreds of other eaters, and have come together to discuss and find answers. From activist organizations focused on fair labor, to conferences and symposiums on culture and nutrition, to academic programs that take on the whole gamut—if you have a question about your food, rest assured, there’s a food movement for you to join.
Lucia Austria is a current Gastronomy graduate student at BU. Her research focuses include learning culture in restaurant and food manufacturing industries and ethnic foodways in the United States.