SFJFS Session 7 Insights

Come to the Table’s School for Food Justice, Faith, and Storytelling (SFJFS) held its seventh session on April 13, featuring an interview with one of the authors and researchers behind Pressure Cooker, Dr. Sarah Bowen of North Carolina State University. This session also included a presentation on five unique ways churches can work with community members to start, join, or support a community-oriented food project.

While this cohort of SFJFS is not open for new members, we thought it would be helpful to share five insights from each session with our network. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on the latest information from the Come to the Table team.

Five Insights from Session 7

“Working to bring about true food justice starts by trying to understand people and communities and building on their ideas” (Sarah Bowen, Pressure Cooker, 226).

Many community programs work off the “Field of Dreams” assumption that “if you build it, they will come.” Dr. Sarah Bowen challenged participants to start by assessing their community’s needs, strengths, and dreams before creating a program without their input. Bowen elaborated on this topic to participants: “food justice advocates often implement solutions without considering the needs and values of the people they are trying to help.” Working to ensure that you have the involvement or input from those you are serving is a great first step for a new ministry or initiative. 

Ministries are most successful when they are not focused on the project; but on shared goals, human flourishing, and investing in authentic relationships for as long as it takes.

Building off of the last insight, Bowen continued to emphasize the importance of a group’s priorities when creating a food program. Are you focused on what you think is a good idea or pre-occupied by reaching a certain number of people? Instead, it’s critical to center your ministry on relationships and let shared goals and language flow forth.

Many faith communities have resources and assets at their disposal that often go unnoticed and untapped.

With these community-oriented goals in mind, CTTT Project Manager David Allen led a practical showcase at the end of the session that featured several ways faith communities can create, join, or alter a food ministry. Participants were encouraged to think of outside-the-box ways their faith community can leverage overlooked assets and resources. Does your church have a kitchen that local chefs can use? Refrigerator or freezer space that a local farmer could utilize? Unused land that a new or beginning farmer could lease or purchase? There are several ways that faith communities can tap into their pre-existing resources to make a difference in the food system.

The Covid-19 pandemic laid bare many of the injustices in our food system and showed us solutions are possible.

While the COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges, Bowen was pleasantly surprised at the bipartisan efforts made to get money to people experiencing food insecurity during the height of the crisis. Bowen pointed to the expanded safety net and supplemental SNAP benefits as two tools that made a dent in food insecurity. Unfortunately, emergency allotments for SNAP recipients were discontinued as of February of 2023. Bowen challenged participants to continue advocating for policies that provide additional income and support to the most vulnerable among us. 

“We need to reframe the way we think of food: not as a privilege to be dispensed by charities to people who deserve it, but as a fundamental human right, for everyone” (Bowen, Pressure Cooker, 227).

Bowen left participants with a thought about the emerging movement around food being a fundamental right. While the right to food was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the United Nations), the United States has no such formal policy in place. Maine and West Virginia have succeeded in codifying the right to food in their state’s constitutions, but much research and advocacy is still needed to see an idea like this get implemented at the federal level. Bowen concludes in Pressure Cooker: “Recognizing food as a human right would mean evaluating policies based on the degree to which they successfully reduce food insecurity. The United States has measured the prevalence of food insecurity in the nation since 1995. In more than twenty years, there has been no measurable improvement.”

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