Web Exclusive #1: “COVID-19 Inspires a Cooperative CSA”

*For our recently published special issue, “Food in the Time of COVID-19”, we received more submissions than we could accommodate in the print version of the issue, so the following article forms part of a series of submissions which will be published as Web Exclusives which speak to the theme of Gastronomica 20.3.

By Angela Babb and Megan Betz

April 25, 2020: Bloomington, Indiana

In January 2020, the People’s Cooperative Market (PCM) formed in response to a crisis of white supremacy in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana. In 2019, vendors at the city-run farmers’ market were identified as recruiters for a white nationalist hate group, resulting in rising tension between anti-racist activists, far-right extremists, and the city government, who supported the vendor’s right to free speech and access to the market. The city sought a resolution to keep these vendors in the market, adding barricades and increased police presence. The result was a heightened sense of threatened safety, making explicit the long-standing sense of othering experienced by marginalized populations attending the market (Wu 2019). When the city voted in January to continue running the market, and again included these self-described Identitarians as vendors, a group of 15 women, approximately half of whom were Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), convened to develop a safe and inclusive alternative market.

Five farmers, four activists, three food business owners, and three scholars came together to form what is now called the People’s Cooperative Market. Organized around the need for a safe and inclusive market for local food, we started a cooperative and gathered weekly to develop our vision, mission, and goals. We articulated values to define our cooperative market, centering on equitable access to locally grown food, restorative justice and anti-racist practice, collective values shared by our vendors and partners, and meaningful collaboration (People’s Cooperative Market 2020).

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Resistance Is Fertile! | Anne Meneley

from Gastronomica 14:4

The practices of everyday commensality—producing, provisioning, and consuming food and drink in the West Bank of Palestine—are radically affected by the Israeli occupation. I discuss two very different Palestinian initiatives that envision production and consumption of food and drink as a nonviolent means of resisting the occupation: a craft beer called Taybeh brewed in the predominantly Christian Taybeh village close to Ramallah, and a local agriculture movement based in the Ramallah district known as Sharaka (“partnership” in Arabic). Theories of resistance in anthropology, from James Scott’s (1985) conception of resistance tactics as “weapons of the weak” to Lila Abu-Lughod’s (1990) idea of resistance as a “diagnostic of power,” still resonate in Palestine as the Palestinians are so clearly in a position of gross inequality in relation to their Israeli occupiers, whose power is hardly disguised enough to need a diagnostic. I have found Julia Elyachar’s discussion of how agency is embedded in infrastructure and infrastructure is implicated in resistance activities insightful. This is particularly salient given the peculiar status of infrastructure in the West Bank where, instead of facilitating connectivity, infrastructure is designed to impede and exclude flows—in this case, commodities of sustenance (Elyachar 2014: 460). I am primarily concerned with both Christian and Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank; while I did not have the opportunity to travel to Gaza, conditions in Gaza, including the shocking 2014 Israeli military offensive, affect political sentiments and actions in the West Bank, including resistance practices involving food, a topic I will return to briefly in the postscript of this article.

Local food and drink production and consumption have become sites of “agro-resistance.” Vivien Sansour, a journalist and activist, describes 78-year-old Abu Adnan as one of Palestine’s farmer revolutionaries, who “understand on an experiential level that healing for us as a community suffering from oppression and occupation requires the restoration of our sense of self—a self that is defiant but not defined by its oppressor” (Sansour 2010: 2). Dinaa Hadid cites a Palestinian farmer who, like Abu Adnan, envisions agricultural practice itself as a fertile resistance: “‘I don’t throw rocks,’ says farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. ‘I use them to build our future’” (Hadid 2012: 3). I borrow my title from that of a recent article published in Al-Jazeera, “Resistance Is Fertile: Palestine’s Eco-War” (Brownsell 2011), itself a spinoff from the classic line by the Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Resistance is futile.” Describing Palestinian “guerilla gardeners of the occupied West Bank,” the author quotes Baha Hilo, then of the Joint Advocacy Initiative, responsible for planting olive trees on land that is in danger of being confiscated: “We’re not a militia, our weapons are our pickaxes and shovels, our hands and our olive trees” (ibid.: 3). Baha Hilo was my guide during my five years as an intermittent “guerilla gardener” myself, as we picked olives on Palestinian land threatened by Israeli military or settlers. Here, I examine how guerrilla gardeners are part of contemporary Palestine agricultural movements and, moreover, are deployed as a new form of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation.

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Don’t Mono-crop the Movement: Toward a Cultural Ecology of Local Food | B.R. Cohen

from Gastronomica 14:1

What matters for the future of healthy food is not just farmers’ markets, CSAs, urban farms, food hubs, and the like—the particular individual innovations of the foodsheds—but the ways they interact and overlap. 

The former director of the Community Food Security Coalition, Andy Fisher, recently pondered what, if anything, holds the local food movement together. The CFSC is a coalition of several hundred food security organizations across North America; Fisher’s prior experience at its helm offered a vantage point to ask about cohesion and common purpose. It was an echo of the point Michael Pollan made about the 2012 election, when President Obama had asked if there really was a movement to be tapped—for him, a voting bloc—or just a collection of disparate pieces. And it is an important question for advocates and activists to ask, but not because there actually is one thing holding the movement together, like a label, or an aphorism, or a fad diet, or an appeal to public health. Rather than an individual feature that can center various attempts to improve food and farming, what matters is the way the many activities of local food advocates overlap with one another in an interdependent, ecological whole.

This is a point about organizational identity and the political possibilities such an identity makes possible. It is grounded, though, in the ways advocates for food health, security, and sovereignty envision the spatial arrangements of food production, distribution, and consumption. In North America—and across the United States in particular—good food advocates over the past generation have defined that spatial arrangement almost entirely through the farm-to-fork trope. That trope provides a common framework to think about the various stages involved in food and farming. Consider its many examples. Farmers’ markets, food hubs, community supported agriculture (CSA), virtual marketplaces, organic grocery stores, rooftop, community, and schoolyard gardens, 100-Mile Diets, urban farms: the architecture of reform is endless, but every part seeks to reduce the distance between food producers (farms) and consumers (forks).

Some innovations, for example, pull consumers closer to producers by bringing them to the farm (CSAs); some redefine consumers as producers too (gardens and urban farms); some eliminate links in the long farm-to-fork chain by appealing to urban living patterns (virtual marketplaces, organic grocery stores, food trucks). These would seem to provide points for a food movement to rally around.

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Going to Extremes | Darra Goldstein

Many years ago, at the height of the Cold War, I landed a job with the United States Information Agency as a guide for exhibitions about American life that toured the Soviet Union. The great Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Krushchev took place at the first exhibition, “The American Home,” in 1959. The year I signed on, in 1978, the theme was “Agriculture USA.”

Our stateside training took us to Illinois, where we endured ten intensive days of lectures on topics from agricultural credit and finance in the U.S. to plant diseases and new methods of irrigation. We also visited several mega-farms that demonstrated the latest technology. There was no question: American productivity would leave the Soviet farmers in the mud. I remember my first sight of an industrial pig farm—the huge holding ponds for waste, the cold, metal-slatted floors where a desperate sow tried to nurse her piglets comfortably. From the heartland we headed to the usda Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland, to learn about plant genetics and germ plasm. Our training ended at Esskay, a Baltimore slaughterhouse and sausage factory, which makes the official hotdogs for the Orioles and the u.s. Naval Academy. I can still hear the screams of the pigs as they were shunted onto the disassembly line.

My job in the Soviet Union was to tout the glories of efficient American agriculture to the poor, hungry Russians. And so, for a good year of my life I participated in—and to some degree believed in—our industrial food system. My thinking has changed drastically over the years (I think it began at that Baltimore slaughterhouse), but even though my politics and eating practices are aligned—we make sure that our meat is local and humanely killed—I’ve lately been troubled by how polarized the discourse about food has become. Either American food production is big and bad (“corporate farming,” “the agroindustrial complex,” or simply “Big Ag,” the abuses of which I’ve seen firsthand), or it is small and heartwarming—the farmers’ markets, the csas, greenhorns choosing the life of the soil over the corporate rat race. Our national conversation has descended into argument: Either you are on the side of might (the existing American food system), or on the side of right (the locavores or, as my husband the organic vegetable gardener calls them, the locabores). Both sides are blindered. Industrial is pitted against local; growers are either laboratory dependent or committed to “natural” practices. Such extremes lead to cynical decisions, like the waving of green and sustainable flags by corporations that are anything but environmentally concerned.

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