Food and Justice - Part One of Two

By Joe Romano, 

Marketing Manager

An inherently dubious notion, race ... is about the purity of lineage; the legitimacy of passage; and the drama of inheritance of bodies, property and stories ... race ... haunts us who call ourselves Americans.

— Donna Haraway

As members of the GreenStar community we have been following the progress of issues surrounding healthy food in our co-op, community, country, and culture. Some of us have been working over the span of a lifetime and it has been a slow, hard road to try to ensure that the future of our food is a healthy one. We have had to fight the power in government, in politics, and at the corporate level. As a grassroots organization, we have joined other grassroots organizations; we have spoken truth to power and, in many cases, taken control over the way our food is grown, harvested, packaged and sold. If we have not made the change we were seeking, we have at least made our influence felt.

Much of the attention we have given to issues like fair trade, farm workers' rights, livable wages, organic standards, and corporate ownership has resulted in a much more aware society at large — one that is ready, at least nominally, to take on these issues that affect more than just the quality of the food we eat, but the quality of the lives of the people who produce it. The work of progressive people everywhere caused these victories to take place, and co-ops have been right at the forefront, exerting their power as community organizations.

We at GreenStar keep striving, trying to do better business in tough economic times, while every day trying to improve our relationship with the natural environment that is the source of all our food, and the community from which we sprung.

And while it is clear that we continually make strides as regards the environment, like most co-ops, throughout our history we have been challenged by the question — do we serve everyone in our community? Well-intentioned as we are, we do not serve everyone. We notice, as others do, that while our first principle is voluntary and open membership, "open to all persons ... without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination," co-ops have historically been primarily white institutions, ones that cater to those who put a focus on and can afford "better" food. Co-ops do set out to remedy these injustices. At GreenStar, we have found the issue of access to healthy food, as it collides with race, class, and culture, simpler to identify than it is to address.

But to be clear about how to address any injustice, we must first name our role. When it comes to community food systems, we have power concentrated here at GreenStar. Fifteen million local dollars a year are spent here, paying a livable wage to almost one hundred and fifty employees, and offering advantageous pricing and placement to dozens of local farmers and producers while strengthening the local economy. Most years, we give back an amount that is about 25 percent of our profits to groups and organizations that are fighting the same fight we are.

While we have been comfortable as activists and as the little guy talking back to power, we have to realize that in our community food system, to a great extent, we are the power. If we don't adequately represent and honor everyone in our community, and include people of all ages, races, cultures, abilities, and gender or sexual identity, then we are not equally sharing that power. If our culture at GreenStar is principally the dominant culture, a white culture, then we participate in the privilege that whiteness confers in American culture and we passively enable racism. This is how structural racism works, as described by Rachel Slocum in her 2004 essay, "Dismantling Racism in Community Food Work:"

The force of white/male privilege is seen today in the numbers of whites in positions of power in the nonprofit and funding communities and in the halls of government ... Decision making structures, whether coalitions or committees, formal or informal, that do not have a process to truly represent the concerns of communities of color will result in democratically arrived at decisions that reflect the dominant society. The culture of white organizations must actively recognize racism within and without if they are to confront their internalized superiority and recognize the ways that superiority acts. Without such anti-racist practice, these organizations will not get or keep people of color as staff, have people of color in leadership, hear the voices of the marginalized, amplify those divergent voices or know different ways of working. They will be able to continue to claim, "we invited them, but they never came."

At GreenStar we have worked hard so that our staff and Council include diverse populations and people of color, and a broadly representative group of interested staff has joined our diversity efforts, helping to make decisions that reflect the needs of all of the members of our community. Indeed, we have begun to change our culture. We have enlisted the aid of outside organizations to help us reach those goals that are laid out in our cooperative principles. Essentially, GreenStar's goals have always been those of food justice, but what we did not recognize is that to achieve those goals we must first help to dismantle the pre-existing and racist food system. We can do a great deal of the work of building a new, inclusive one using our cooperative principles as our guide.

Next month, in part two of this article, we will look at how our cooperative principles make GreenStar a perfect community food system nexus for the food justice movement. GreenStar has had a role as a leader of social justice movements since our inception and the fight for food justice will be no exception.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, GreenStar Community Projects, in conjunction with GreenStar Cooperative Market and other campus and community partners will hold the Second Annual Food Justice Walk-a-thon and Street Fair. Proceeds will fund GSCP's efforts to ensure that all of our community members have equal access to healthy food, and will go in part to help support Congo Square Market's already successful Friday evening gathering of food, music, vendors and culture. GreenStar will be sending a postcard to our members with more details soon — please consider being a part of this important social justice movement.

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    All member-owners who are signed up to receive required mailings or announcements by email will receive a copy of the survey in that way. If you're signed up for emails and don't receive a survey link in your inbox by March 3, please che...



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