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Justice Communicator Column “Let the healing begin” Re-imagining food, health and resistance

Published in the Michigan Citizen
• Sun, Nov 06, 2011

By Gregg Newsom
This is the second in the series of columns on the justice principle of community health by the Justice Communicators.

While reflecting on the principal of community health and its relationship to food for this column, I was fortunate enough to attend the Re-Imagining Work Conference held Oct. 28-30 at Focus: HOPE. The conference opened Saturday morning with Mama Sandra Simmons’ words, “Let the healing begin,” which were called back by all who were gathered. The words resonated deep within me and reflected a recent but long-coming shift in my understanding of what many activists refer to as direct action.

I’ve identified with and promoted many reasons for the dismantling of the current global, national and regional food systems, but Re-Imagining Work re-imagined my awareness of the energetic, soulful and healing aspects of food, and how feeding each other and holding space for healing in our communities directly connects us to often unrecognized power.

The food we eat influences not only our bodies, but also our minds. The connections between food and behavior in our schools and in our prison system has been well-documented, but often I forget to follow that awareness through to its conclusion in my own diet and its effect on my own perception and behavior and how it must influence us all. I think this notion, that food influences our perception of the world around us and our ability to participate in it, is of value in the struggle against the dominant systems that perpetuate inequality and oppression around the globe and right here in Detroit.

The existing global national and regional food systems, these top-down structures, like the corporate banking system, are a seat of white supremacy. The products on our shelves, in both privileged and oppressed neighborhoods are expressions of this supremacy. While some argue that with political change or even a more abstract shift, these systems could support and feed everyone, I agree that, yes, they could, but they will not because, at their root, this is not what they are designed to do.

The current systems are designed to separate people from the earth, from each other and subject us to and implicate us in systems that are based solely on profit. While I am often accused of being an obstructionist to realistic change by those who for many reasons cling to the status quo, I believe we should be vigilant in the awareness that to change, influence or alter the existing systems rather than dismantle them is to carry forward the supremacy and oppression inherent in their design.

I’m not suggesting we gather up pitchforks and occupy the food terminal and eastern market — yet. I prefer not to use the word alternative because alternatives are often restricted by norms and provide opportunity for corporations to brand and market them, but this grassroots or ground-up effort, while being hard to define and emergent, is very real and lends itself to community health and healing in the face of the very systems that strive to disconnect us from the natural world.

Bringing this down to the natural world, these grassroots systems that stand upon the principals of justice we have been exploring in this column, hold space for us to reconnect to our humanity and to each other. While often dismissed as idealistic, the radical notion of feeding each other, caring for each other and actively engaging in healing dialog and action offer us two important results. They give us working models of what could be. Grassroots networks, unlike top-down systems, appear to be inherently regenerative. They also serve as something like an antidote to the top-down systems and, while not directly confronting these systems, offer us an opportunity to dismantle them from our hearts outward.

Take, for example, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the recent governmental efforts in many predominantly Black and people of color geographies, like Oakland and Atlanta, to shut them down. I suggest we not look past the fact that the Occupy Oakland encampment was a space that was emerging with a focus on radical inclusion, community healing and was feeding over 1,000 people a day. While I don’t want to create a false sense of perfection and cannot know the struggles and factors that fostered the creation of this space in Oakland, the ability to feed and care for one another is a manifestation of non-hierarchical, community-driven power that historically has been shut down, typically with force and violence.

Connecting to history, even the deceptive textbooks I read in suburban high schools suggested through a footnote that it was the Black Panther’s ability to feed their communities that was the greatest threat to the systems they were struggling against. At this weekend’s conference I had a brief moment to ask local author and activist Yusef Shakur if, based on a recent trip out west, he had a gauge on the involvement and support of Occupy Oakland among the local community. He shared that many Panthers expressed support just days before the early morning raid by Oakland police. I think there is a great deal revealed in this series of events.

While making these connections and thinking critically across history, I recommend that we mindfully consider them cautionary examples and recognize and lift them up as moments when power manifest became visible. With Mama Sandra Simmons’ words “Let the healing begin” still reverberating in me and the regenerative power of such work confirmed and validated by current and historical events, I can’t help but expand my concept of direct action to include feeding others and working to create opportunities for the healing at all levels.

Gregg Newsom is the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force. Visit www.detroitfood-justice.org for more information.

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