Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Emily Guzman Features Editor
As a Latina, I have my assumptions about why students of color aren’t very involved in the local food movement on campus, in the Kalamazoo community, and in the cities and towns they come from. As far as my Mexican family is concerned, a hamburger is a hamburger whether the cow that produced the patty spent its life grazing freely in the pasture, or standing like a soldier at arms next to hundreds of other corn-fed cows at a concentrated animal feeding operation. Farmers markets and co-ops don’t exist in their communities.
They can’t give you even a working definition of food security or sustainable agriculture. They know their diets could be better, but eating healthy really isn’t a priority and they wouldn’t know where to start anyway; they don’t understand that their inability to afford healthy food corresponds with a political movement for equal access to good food across racial and class lines.
When I go to events like the Food Cook-off, Harvest Fest, Joel Salatin and the Arcus Center-sponsored food justice salons, I’m given new reasons for why not to buy that boneless chicken from Meijer and to buy local instead. People tell me it’s really not more expensive when you consider the larger implications of industrialized foods.
So I choose to shop at co-ops and farmer’s markets and to educate myself about food security and sustainable agriculture. Every purchase solidifies my claim to these new values, but they are values that I can’t share with my family. I’m afraid they’ll call me a snob or an elitist because that’s the reputation this movement has been unfairly forced to take on.
When the topic of race in the food system came up at the food justice salon during fifth week, I expected to hear that students of color aren’t involved in this local food phenomenon because they weren’t exposed to those things growing up. What took me by surprise, though, was the statement that students of color don’t want to work with the local and food justice movements on K’s campus because they’re not welcoming and don’t address the topics that concern them—things like workers’ rights and immigration.
This whole time I was wrongly assuming that its predominantly white leaders—both students and faculty—were not focusing their efforts in all the right places; I didn’t think seriously about the possibility that students of color simply don’t want to participate.
But they need to participate, even if the movement doesn’t align with their specific interests just yet and even if their understanding of food is different than the understanding of those raised valuing local, sustainable, healthy foods. If what Salatin said on Saturday night is true—that our nation is so ignorant and our food system so inverted and segregated that a return to the local is inevitable and necessary for survival—then I don’t want my family left behind because they don’t have the knowledge or the access. So let’s talk about race and let’s get more students of color into the heart of the movement so we can bridge the gap on campus. If you’re looking for ways to get involved, come find me because I am too.