by Deborah Nam-Krane
~ In 2017, I heard LaDonna Redmond, founder of the Campaign for Food Justice Now, speak at the Annual Gardener’s Gathering in Boston. An organizer working at the crossroads of food justice and racial equality, she laid out a familiar story: her child was allergic and/or sensitive to many foods, but to provide him with the food he needed, Redmond had to step out of her neighborhood because fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t available there. She started a community garden and cooperative, and each step in helping her family and community be healthier brought her up against the weight of the food system we all exist – and eat – in.
It was a relief to hear someone say that solving the built-in inequities of our food system wasn’t as simple as some food writers would have us believe. We are told by those trying to solve a problem in a short book or even shorter column that if we cooked from scratch, or followed the example of our great-grandparents (but I think they mean great-grandmothers), that we would all be so much healthier and happier. The relief was hearing another woman of color ask whose great-grandparents were really being held up as an example, and asking what other people in that generation were doing. Before we hearken back to this idyllic time, we need to ask whether we want to hold up as a model a system that required so many poor, usually non-white laborers to engage in low wage, back-breaking labor so other people could eat well, and while we’re grappling with that question, we need to step back and ask how we feel about the land this system was built on when we know that it was taken from other people.
There is no food justice to go back to, Redmond told her audience. We have to build it, and from the soil up.
I do not share this story to argue that “return” is irrelevant. On the contrary, I think it is necessary: We must return to the roots of our unjust food system so we can ask what it is we need to change. Who is it we want to feed? What is it we want to feed them? Who is it that will provide the work? How will we treat the land?
Ultimately, what we need to return to are our values. L’ovda ul’Shomra is our reminder that we not only need to “till” the land we work, but “tend” to each other as well as the crops we bring forth. We need to honor these values as we create our new food system, and we need to return to it every season, at every meal, and every time we vote.
Deb Nam-Krane is a writer, homeschooler, and master urban gardener in Boston-proper. A longtime member of Temple Sinai of Brookline, she has also worked with Beantown Jewish Gardens and the Jewish Climate Action Network planning teams.