Generation Y, and the Game Changers of the Food System
Happy National Food Day!
Over the past few weeks, I have had the incredible opportunity to help put together a panel on food issues at the seventh annual Power Shift conference, a gathering of young environmental activists, students, entrepreneurs and young professionals. This year over 7,500 attended Power Shift in Pittsburgh, sending a clear message that young people are energized and ready to play a strong role in mitigating climate change.
The panel I helped organize was called “Food and Communities: Studies in Local Empowerment,” which was moderated by NRDC attorney Johanna Dyer. The panel focused around the idea that, according to the USDA, more than 13.6 million Americans live in food deserts—communities that are both low-income and lacking in sufficient access to a supermarket. Our panelists came from four very diverse, fascinating, and unique backgrounds:
- The first was Tezozomoc, a California-based farmer at the South Central Health & Education Fund, and an NRDC Growing Green recipient. Tezozomoc’s work focuses around sustaining the nation’s largest community food garden in Los Angeles.
- Our second panelist was Ben Yoder, a farmer from rural Maryland who has created a successful farm co-op system with his local community.
- Third was Jeaninne Kayembe, a co-founder of a Philadelphia based non-profit called Philly Urban Creators. Jeaninne and her team aim to empower youth in the projects through teaching them about urban gardening, and providing as many people as possible with low-cost (often free) fruits and vegetables.
- And finally, we had Tanya Fields, founder of the BLK ProjeK in the South Bronx, which aims to address food justice through beautification of public spaces, urban gardening and community programming. Tanya is starting a “mobile food cart” out of an abandoned school bus, which will be the first of its kind.
(From left to right: Tanya Fields, Ben Yoder, Jeaninne Kayembe, Tezozomoc)
The panelists were phenomenal, and caused the room of over 300 young people, including myself and five other NRDC employees, to break into applause more than six times. The audience rushed up to the stage in an effort to continue the conversation with panelists.
They blew everyone away, left us inspired, fired up, and confident that small, local food movements are having a very real, very tangible impact on communities all over the country. They are living proof that there are solutions to the, at times, overwhelming intricacies and problems with the US food system.
Equally important, this panel and Power Shift overall clearly demonstrated the formidable impact that young people will and are having on the climate justice movement. It is a testament to Generation Y that we’ve taken one of the most difficult issues into our hands, and are prepared to create palpable and concrete change.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we currently have a food system that is deeply flawed. We have meat industries that pump out products at an alarmingly fast rate, in such inhumane and unclean facilities that we are currently facing one of the largest outbreaks of salmonella-contaminated chicken ever. Our factory-farming style of producing red meat has contributed more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than all other carbon emitting entities, and thus is a leading source of climate change. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Already, we can see an increasing wealth of evidence that the system is changing, and will continue to do so in the coming years.
Thus, today, on National Food Day, take a moment to consider your impact on the food system. Will you help change the game?