Thank you so much to everyone who attended the Activists at the Table conference last weekend, and to our wonderful volunteers and speakers who made the conference happen! In case you weren’t able to attend, here’s a recap:
Most of the discussion surrounding organic produce (grown without pesticides) centers on consumers’ health. But as Devika and Emily drew attention to, the 2-3 million farmworkers in the U.S. are on the frontline of pesticide exposure. Many farmworker communities experience increased cancer, birth defect, and miscarriage rates as a result of this exposure.
Devika also spoke about pesticides’ role as the lynchpin of modern industrial agriculture. Today a majority of crops grown in the US are on giant, monoculture farms that only grow one or two crops – usually corn or soy to feed to animals on factory farms. Monoculture farming makes crops more vulnerable to disease and insects, leading to higher pesticide use. GMO crops are also modified to be dependent on pesticides; since GMO crops were introduced in 1996, pesticide use has increased by 404 million pounds, according to Reuters.
Devika and Emily ended on a heartening note by sharing the power of stories, of listening to people’s lived experiences as a way to draw attention to human rights. You can learn about people’s stories and join the dialogue at www.panna.org.
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Next FFAC’s Executive Director, Katie Cantrell, spoke about how factory farming rests at a unique intersection of many critical issues – social justice, the environment, animal welfare, and public health.
The devastation caused by factory farming is widespread – from deforestation and climate change to undocumented workers suffering debilitating injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, as Katie drew attention to at the end of her talk, there is a silver lining. Since we eat three times a day, we have tremendous power. There is no other action we take on a daily basis that has such a wide-reaching impact. Boycotting animal products is one of the most effective ways that individuals can stand up for animals, workers, communities, and the earth.
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After lunch, Food Empowerment Project founder and director Lauren Ornelas spoke about many overlooked issues connected to our food system, such as agricultural and chocolate workers, and food insecurity in low-income communities.
The information on workers in the chocolate industry came as a shock to many audience members. Chocolate produced in West Africa is often harvested by children, many of whom are kidnapped from their families and forced into slavery.
In order to empower consumers to stop supporting slave labor when buying chocolate, the Food Empowerment Project has a chocolate list of companies that use ethical labor practices. They also have a petition to urge Clif Bar to be transparent about where it sources its chocolate.
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Our final speaker was Dr. Amie Breeze Harper of the Sistah Vegan Project. Through critical race and black feminist academic perspectives, Dr. Harper spoke about how veganism can be used as a platform to talk about the intersections of structural oppression (i.e. racism, speciesism, normative whiteness, ableism). She used both her own powerful personal history as well as an excerpt from her upcoming fictional book Scars to explain the ways that structural oppression influences food choices and food availability, and the power of reclaiming our food choices as a way to decolonize our bodies.
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Thank you so much to all of the sponsors who made this powerful, thought-provoking, empowering conference possible:
A Well-Fed World is a hunger relief and animal protection organization working with grassroots groups in the U.S. and internationally on feeding and food production programs.
Republic of V is a brick and mortar vegan boutique and specialty food shop, located at 1624 University Ave. in Berkeley.
The Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy is UC Berkeley’s only social justice group dedicated to raising awareness about issues of animal oppression. Our mission is to educate UC Berkeley students and the greater community on animal rights issues and promote a cruelty-free, vegan lifestyle.
The Berkeley Student Food Collective is dedicated to providing fresh, local, healthy, environmentally sustainable, and ethically produced food at affordable prices to the Berkeley campus and greater community. Through inclusive, democratic decision-making, we operate a cooperative grocery market that promotes community-building and environmental stewardship. Located at 2440 Bancroft Way in Berkeley.