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'Real Meals, Not Dirty Deals': Regenerative Studies Student Leaders Attend Food Justice Summit

Editor's Note: The article below was submitted by Malik Rivers ('19, master's in regenerative studies), president of the Lyle Center Sustainability Student Association (LCSSA). Over Labor Day weekend, Rivers and LCSSA vice president fellow graduate student Clement Tsang traveled to Bellingham, Wash. to attend the National Action Food Summit hosted by Western Washington University.

Regenerative Studies graduate students Malik Rivers and Clement Tsang joined more student leaders at Western Washington University for the National Food Action Summit, was organized by student leaders at Western Washington University; community partners; and the Real Food Challenge, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower students and create food systems change on their campuses and communities. Rivers and Tsang shared ideas and worked alongside more than 50 leaders from around the nation on strategies to initiate conversations about food justice in university food systems.

In a socially conscious, intellectually activated setting, the goal was to bring back to Cal Poly Pomona ideas of responsible community practices around food, human, and environmental justice. This leadership toolkit for food justice action would enable us to carry the torch for student-led organizing and research about our local food system.

During the long weekend, student leaders brainstormed from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to develop content to bring back to their respective campuses to be effective student food justice leaders. Day-long workshops at Western Washington University covered a wide range of topics varying from food supply chains, agricultural knowledge, social justice, and human rights. The group placed a strong emphasis on the importance of the human stories behind the food we eat and the land of where it was grown. For historical context, they reviewed the roots of the banana republic trade system and acted out contemporary scenarios applying modern food justice principles. Lastly, groups separated into culturally based caucuses to discuss the intersections of their identities with their food justice work, and then came together to discuss the issues as a whole.

The most important aspect of the summit was the conversations with all the students:

We were able to speak with students from Norman University in Oklahoma and hear about their own food action efforts and vision; and, UC Berkeley students who work in dining provided insight to the university food system; and, University of Washington students shared similar struggles and observations of their campus; and, all the students, including those from Boston, Texas, and Colorado came to Bellingham, Washington to organize people power to dream of a nation-wide University food system providing Real Food— food that is ethically, locally, and regeneratively sourced from student, historically disenfranchised, and small family-run food systems.

Being able to know that there were other students working on similar issues and how many valuable and different yet unified perspectives there were in the room was empowering. Just like the interdisciplinary team that created the Center for Regenerative Studies with John T. Lyle and imagined an integrated facility among the environmental disciplines, the National Food Action Summit gathered teams of student human rights advocates and organizers, farmers, fishers, native nations, historians, lawyers, ethnobotanists, and chefs to build a better food system across the nation’s universities.