Slow Food and Policy
by Reana Kovalcik
This panel featured moderator Caity Moseman Wadler, Raquel Lane-Arellano, Margaret Read, and Kevin Scribner.
When most people think of “good food,” they think of the delicious dishes that they grew up with, the foods and seasonal ingredients served up with care. But there’s another important element to good food, one many of us probably never think of – policy. Policies govern every part of our food system, from the farm to the fork, and policy advocacy is an essential of building a Good, Clean, and Fair food system for all.
At the “Slow Food and Policy” panel, policy experts from across the food system offered insights into the major policy issues of the day and advice on how to get engaged. Caity Moseman Wadler, Executive Director of Heritage Radio Network (HRN), opened the session with a question that cut straight to the heart of the matter, “How do we as individuals engage in policy advocacy?”
As it turns out, there’s more than one answer to that question. Panelists Raquel Lane-Arellano (Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition), Margaret Read (Rhode Island Food Policy Council), and Kevin Scribner (Slow Fish and Kooskooskie Fish LLC) each walked attendees through best practices from their respective policy corners of the universe. The panelists covered a diverse array of issues, including immigration and farm workers’ rights, child nutrition and school gardens, and sustainable seafood.
Immigrant rights advocate Lane-Arellano underscored that any discussion of food or farm policy should also include a conversation about (and with) the people who provide the labor that makes that food and farming possible. She also gave some important advice to attendees on engaging in grassroots policy advocacy: “Don’t tell someone else’s story. Empower them to tell it themselves and focus on your own story, your legislators want to hear from you.”
By empowering immigrant farmworkers and farmers to tell their own stories and leveraging even the most unlikely alliances, Lane-Arellano and Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition have helped their communities to make major policy advances. For example, the Coalition had worked for nearly 10 years to pass a bill that would allow immigrants to receive drivers’ licenses. By aligning with dairy farmers who rely on immigrant labor and bringing their own advocates’ stories to light, this year they were finally able to turn the tide and get the votes needed to pass the bill.
Read and Scribner, both members of the Slow Food USA Food and Farm Steering Committee, each spoke about their work and imparted targeted advocacy advice to the attendees. For her part, Read hoped that attendees would come away with an understanding of just how many people and programs are affected by the Child Nutrition Act (“CNR”), which is currently in the reauthorization process, and that they would be inspired to get involved in advocacy.
“My objective in this panel was to help folks realize how many programs are part of CNR and what a deep history it has,” said Read. “I hope folks realize that every reauthorization is an opportunity, and that there are so many ways to get involved.”
Scribner, who spoke in detail about sustainable seafood policy and advocacy, helped attendees understand how each of the seemingly disparate policy areas overlapped by using the example of “working waterfronts”.
“To have a working waterfront, we need a number of factors to be in place and functioning in harmony. It’s the same thing with food, farm, and fisheries policy.”
For example, fishermen have a lot in common with family farmers and face many of the same struggles – such as consolidation and challenges from climate change and extreme weather. They could also be allies to healthy school food advocates, because seafood is an excellent source of vitamins (especially for children), and institutional markets can provide critical economic opportunities for fishermen.
“There’s commonalities throughout all of this work,” said Scribner, “areas where we can work together and support one another so that together we can create a stronger, more sustainable food system.”
Reana Kovalcik is a member of Slow Food DC and Slow Food USA.