During the last session of the Community Food Systems Conference hosted by New Entry in December, a crowd of passionate minds collected in front of four esteemed panelists: Allison Cohen, Senior Director of Programs at WhyHunger, Molly Anderson, Professor of Environmental Studies at Middlebury College; Smita Narula, Human Rights Scholar at Hunter College; and Niaz Dorry, Coordinating Director of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. All seats were full, and eager attendees started standing around the room to participate in a discussion on The Right to Food: Shifting Systems, Policies, and Narratives that Ignore the Root Causes of Hunger.
Participants were invited to engage with the core question of the panelists’ presentation: How do we redefine food policy and hunger relief? According to the panelists, the free market system creates challenges for both farmers and consumers. The existing food system relies on emergency food assistance and the private charitable sector, which are limited in how they can proactively prevent hunger. The workshop conversation highlighted that change will only come through redefining the root causes of hunger. However, redefining these central causes of hunger pose many barriers for policy advocates. As suggested by Smita Narula, this redefinition will occur by encouraging others to think about hunger differently. Only then will people begin acting on the injustices within our food system to bring about food sovereignty. This lead the room to the bold question, ‘How can we change the way people think about this dynamic issue?’
The panel went on to discuss the frustrations they experienced while striving for social justice in the food system.This powerful and emotional conversation brought the room of attendees to tears. Participants asked courageous questions about the next steps for those looking to join an influential movement in the current political climate. The panelists offered a variety of suggestions. Dr. Anderson rallied everyone to fight against block granting, or other reductions in funding, for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by calling their representatives. Niaz Dorry encouraged attendees to maintain a “reverence for food” and to share that reverence with friends and family. It was a session that left attendees inspired to move forward in the battle against hunger, and it provided a strong close to a great and memorable conference.