“Food should be a right, not a privilege” — Karen Washington, food activist speaking at the 2010 Foodfest.



The CUNY Foodfest 2010 was the source of a great aggregation of information disseminated to 150 students, faculty and other visitors about sustainable food consumption practices and strategies for them to become empowered to create grassroots food justice movements on their own campuses.

“Food is a pressing issue in modern day society, and a lot of people don’t know about food,” said Krishan Sharma, a 19-year-old sophomore who had volunteered to work on the day-long event at the Macaulay Honors College, 35 West 67th Street November 14. Sharma, a chemistry major who lives in Flushing, Queens, was in charge of coordinating the film screenings that took place later in the day.

Another volunteer, Lana Guardo, a 19-year-old sophomore at City College majoring in ethology and media communications, was there because she said she cared about local food consumption. For her, the Foodfest was a great “opportunity to taste local, heathy food and learn how to be a great New Yorker and help consume local food,” she said. The Foodfest organizers were also “trying to get the word out about sustainable food practice.”

The event was funded by a “Leadership-in-Action” grant from the Kenan Scholars Program at the Macaulay Honors College. primary organizers were Kenan Scholars—Dasi Fruchter of Queens College, Lakshman Kalasapudi and David Weinberger, both from Hunter and Lashika of Brooklyn College, according to CUNY newswire.

It opened with a puppet show by Yellow Sneakers Production. Based in Brooklyn, the company performed The Snacktivism Show, about a kangaroo that becomes a college freshman and joined a club that fought food injustice on its college campus, one snack at a time.

Through the kangaroo, the creators hoped to teach “good food is about so much more than good flavor,” according to information. “It also informed attendees about the ‘Snacktivist Checklist,” which told all those present to ask four questions about their food, such as: Who grew it? How was it grown? How did it get here? Can everybody bring it home?

The Right to Good Food

Panelists for 2010 Food Fest

“Food should be a right, not a privilege. Right now it’s not there,” said Bronx resident and urban food activist Karen Washington. “If the community is not part of the mechanism, it is going to fail.”

A panel discussion included Dr. Tom Angotti, a professor in the Department of Urban Affairs & Planning at Hunter; Kerry Birnbach, IVAH Policy/Advocacy Coordinator of the New York Coalition Against Hunger; Daniel Bowman Simon, founder of TheWhoFarm and the People’s Garden Initiative; and Karen Washington, a long-time Bronx resident, urban gardener and food activist.

During the panel, Karen Washington emphasized the need for people to look at class and race. “Food should be a right, not a privilege. Right now it’s not there,” she said. “If the community is not part of the mechanism, it is going to fail.” She also talked about growing grassroots movements in urban areas and colleges that have gotten people to think about where their food is coming from. “The system is too commercialized. We’re starting to see what’s happening and doing something about it,” she said.

Tom Angotti spoke about the need for a change in New York City’s use of land. “The way New York City handles land needs to be changed. Urban planning thinks supermarket. Everybody’s neighborhood needs to have a green market and access to healthy food. The government needs to do that,” she said.

Kerry Birnbach also talked about the need for government to step up. “Getting people jobs so they have the wages to buy good food. It comes down to government, it’s not just food and charity organization,” she said.

Daniel Bowman Simon encouraged students to look up farming efforts in the city. “We started out as an agricultural people. And it’s in our DNA and something that can be reactivated and re-awaken,” he said.

A Meet and Greet was organized after the panel. Brooklyn Food Coalition, CUNY’s The Institute for Sustainable Cities, Focus on The Food Chain, Food System Network, Good Food Jobs, Hunger Action Network of New York State, NY Faith and Justice, Slow Food USA, and Uri L’Tzedek set up tables to give information about their organizations.

Attendees were able to talk to representatives from each organization as well as pick up pamphlets that asked them to get involved with sustainable food practice in New York City. Visitors were also able to create puzzle pieces and make body scrub from natural ingredients.

Meeting and Greeting

Hnin Hnin, 22, represented Slow Food USA, which aims to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system by reconnecting American with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce American’s food. Hnin said it was important to come to events like Cuny Foodfest: “It’s a chance to see and meet the people who do things about food. It’s important to reach out to the people and school is an entry point,” she said.

Meghan Linick, 22, represented The Brooklyn Food Coalition, a resource for the food movement in Brooklyn. It works with neighborhoods in Brooklyn to build grassroots movements, advocate policy issues and change and increase awareness of food sources. “Reaching different young people have historically played an important role,” said Linick. “It’s important to learn about other groups and what they’re going.”

Also present at the Meet and Greet was Erik Baard, who represented Newtown Pippin Apples. An advocate for urban ecology, he is also the founder of the LIC Community Boathouse, which provides free kayaking and canoeing and helped to get the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to build the city’s first public orchard on Randall’s Island. Bard was researching and kayaking along the Newton Creek when he came across a green apple he had never seen before. He took the apple with him and was surprised to learn it was native to the region.

The Newtown Pippin Apple grew all over New York during the colonial era and was said to be the favorite apple of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But, the tree slowly disappeared as NYC grew and became industrialized, Bard said.

Currently, Baard is working to bring Newtown Pippins to all five boroughs and has gotten milliontreesnyc to include the apple tree as part of its ambition to plant one million trees. He is also trying to get the Newtown Pippin to be the official state apple.

After the Meet and Greet, an 11-minute documentary, Fly on the Wall by Jenny Montasir, focused on a grassroots effort by Marna Chester, a healthy eating advocate, to try and see why healthier food choices were not chosen and offered in lower socioeconomic areas such as East New York. Another, One Penny More, by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, was an account of labor injustices in supermarket labor practices.

Cooking lessons were organized after the film screenings. Attendees were able to learn how to cook simple, healthy, sustainable meals for their everyday lives. The food was prepared using seasonal, local ingredients. An alternative to the cooking lesson was gourmet sandwich making. Attendees were taught how to make homemade hummus as well as a variety of sandwiches ranging from peanut butter to tuna fish. Food was also prepared for the Midnight Run is a consortium of more than 150 churches, synagogues, and schools in the Metropolitan New York distributing clothing, blankets and personal care itemto the homeless.

The evening ended with visitors sitting together to enjoy the meal they had all helped create during their cooking lessons. Trina McMandless, 19, a sophomore majoring in Emergency Service for Underserved Populations, said she was working on a documentary about the event and that she was planning to “to take a cooking class next year.”

Christine Berrios can be reached at cberrios@hunter.cuny.edu