In an era of global media coverage it can feel like you are being constantly bombarded with humanitarian and environmental crises from all sides. The rate at which we intake this type of information can sometimes lead to feelings of discouragement and even hopelessness. In this weeks blog post, summer intern Anneke Craig, reflects on a meeting on hosted by State Rep Denise Garlick that convened leaders in the food systems movement to discuss how we can enact change at a local level and ultimately inform broader global shifts.
-In order to function, our food systems require creativity, attention, and enthusiastic representation on local, state, and national platforms. The state of Massachusetts affirmed this in 2015, establishing a plan that celebrated the opportunities and successes of Massachusetts food systems, but also addressed the challenges and problems those same systems must overcome.
The main problem? 11.9% of our population is food insecure, yet 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten. Through the MA Local Food Action Plan, four major goals were identified for a safe, healthy, and efficient future:
Similar goals are being addressed internationally. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, and Health is an international organization that works to transform food systems, with the ultimate goal of ensuring “planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050” (EAT-Lancet, 6).
To achieve this, EAT-Lancet recommends changes in three major areas: waste, diet, and production. We must cut waste in half, adopt flexitarian diets of many fruits and vegetables, and change our food production practices for the sake of our planet’s health and sustainability.
As Boston Area Gleaners’ new summer intern, I had the privilege of attending a talk given by EAT-Lancet Report author Dr. Walter C. Willett alongside our operations manager, Charlotte Border. The event bridged global and local perspectives--with framework from an international commission being hosted by state representative Denise Garlick, and discussed by local food justice groups in Needham and other communities.
Even Dr. Willett acknowledged the power of local action, citing the example of smoking bans that started as small town debates. The talk was followed by group discussions between attendees on five different topics--BAG, of course, discussed food rescue.
Though local to the Boston area, BAG is invested in the goals of EAT-Lancet and the MA Local Food Action Plan because we are invested in the success of our local farmers and health of our community.
In his presentation, Dr. Willett warned us: “in almost everything we are doing, we could do better,” and I realized, nervously, that we have our work cut out for us. Yet, the energetic and upbeat spirit in the room was infectious. BAG, together with representatives from food banks, research teams, schools and local farms, identified two major themes that can lead us to achieve the goals of the EAT-Lancet Commission and the MA Local Food Action Plan: supporting legislative and educational initiatives, and encouraging more collaboration to present a united front for food equity.
When our small discussion groups reconvened, it became clear that each one placed value on the power of legislation and education in food justice. EAT-Lancet agrees: one of its main strategies for achieving a planetary health diet is to “seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets” though policy, sustainability education, and public health initiatives (EAT-Lancet, 21).
Legislative changes could be brought about by strengthening existing policy and passing new ones. In our group alone, we suggested more committed enforcement of state waste bans for businesses, promotion of good samaritan policies that protect food donors, and creation of standardized food labeling laws and school nutrition curricula. Keeping the lived experiences of those who are affected by legislative and educational actions in mind, supporters--like BAG--hope that structural actions will influence a long-term cultural change in our relationship to food.
The MA Local Food Action Plan identifies collaboration as “the key to success--” and given the scale of the problem, this is absolutely true (MA Local Food, 2). In line with EAT-Lancet and the MA Local Food Action Plan, our discussions also prioritized collaboration. Specific proposals included data-sharing between non-profit agencies in order to improve produce transportation and donation logistics, the formation of a Food Rescue Coalition, and recognizing that “food equity” should always have an intersectional definition. Collaborative effort is vital to long-term food equity, because it is impossible to solve such a multifaceted problem with a lone perspective.
The emphasis on collaboration at the talk helped me to understand how I fit into this movement, and this community. Boston Area Gleaners collaborate with many different entities to rescue produce across the state--local farmers, individual volunteers, and partner agencies included--to achieve our mission.
The very space in which we operate is also collaborative. I am drafting this blog post from my desk at the Waltham Field Station, the facility which Boston Area Gleaners call home. Here, eight different non-profit groups, all committed to food justice and environmental advocacy, work alongside each other in the station’s offices, greenhouses, fields, and labs.
Immersed in collaboration which only sharpens our creativity and sense of justice, I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of our food systems. When one representative stood up to discuss strategies for fighting food waste, a voice shouted from the crowd: “You should look into is the Gleaners!” Charlotte and I turned and smiled: “That’s us!” -
By Anneke Craig
Boston Area Gleaners
91 Martin Street
Acton, MA 01720