Finding Community at the Brooklyn Food Conference

Activists, advocates, writers, students, and foodies all converged on Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn on Saturday for the Brooklyn Food Conference, a day dedicated to discussions of food justice, food policy, and the way that food unites us all.

As we filed into the main auditorium for the opening session, the sounds of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” filled the room. Folk music and food justice seem to go well together — folk music is the call to action, the elevation of the stories of the downtrodden to the level of poetry and song, making them beautiful in their potential for redemption. Food justice is the action taken in response. It is what happens the moment after the song ends, with our eyes and hearts now more open than before.

In the opening session, chef/activist/author Bryant Terry spoke of how he stands on the shoulders of others who worked for food justice from within the black community, such as the Black Panthers with their Free Breakfast for Schoolchildren Program in Oakland, CA. He talked about food justice as a movement that progresses from the visceral to the cerebral to the political. It has to start in every kitchen, in the pit of every stomach, and then it can move outwards. Its foundation is in emotion, in the ineffable sense we all have that healthy food is a human right. He stressed the fundamental fact of our interconnectedness — the connections between all people and between all living things. Food justice works to strengthen these connections.

With myriad workshops to choose from, I decided to learn how to forage in Fort Greene Park. We scaled the wall on Dekalb Ave and immediately found ourselves in a patch of edible weeds — plantain, dandelion, chickweed and many others. We learned about the revolutionary act of foraging, the way it can remove us from the marketplace of commodified food. When we eat chickweed in a park, we eat something before it has been turned into a product. It comes straight from the earth, not planted by our hands but instead by the living spirit of the land. It has no preconceived purpose, like a crop planted on a farm to produce a yield. It simply exists in the wild. We discussed the way in which foraging is a mechanism to explore where we are in the world, and when we forage, we shape the landscape and reinforce the idea that we are part of nature, not separate from it. This workshop was about more than simply identifying edible plants in a park; it was about reconfiguring out relationship to the world around us, to the land we find underneath our feet, and to our food system.

Ultimately, this conference helped demonstrate the strength of this food movement, and the momentum that it is gaining. The turnout was immense, and so was the amount of workshops offered throughout the day on a wide range of subjects. We all could move seamlessly from discussions about school food policy to discussions about chickweed in Fort Greene Park, to a workshop on how to write good folk songs. There was a palpable excitement moving through the hallways and classrooms, emanating outwards from the collectivity of energy present there: ideas, passions, dreams of a more just food system and of a community united in them.

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