Reflections: Food Inequity, Insecurity, and Justice Seminar

Overview (Greeting) | Resources |

Faculty Reflections

Dominique Zino, English, reflects on teaching the concept of hunger.

In my food-themed Writing through Literature course, we discuss food as a tie between an individual and their family, their community, and their culture(s). We also discuss the concept of “hunger” and what we hunger for (not only nourishment but love, acceptance, a sense of belonging). To begin the semester, students select pieces from an archive of poems about food. Then we read a novel by Chicana writer Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus. After that, we turn to writing about drama and read a play about a son who is attempting to cook a last meal for his dying father: “Aubergine” by Julia Cho. I would like to develop a deeper understanding of food systems and food insecurity to offer students another lens through which to view these texts, and possibly address more issues related to food inequity when I teach the course again next semester.

Watch Professor Zino’s video reflection.

Patricia Sokolski, Humanities

During the Food Insecurity, Inequity, and Justice Seminar, I realized I was not doing enough about these issues.

My individual actions have limited impact compared to giving students the opportunity to share their knowledge, voice the inequities they experience, and reflect on their actions as consumers. The informative speech, required in the Public Speaking course, offers an adequate platform to explore food access in New York City neighborhoods.

In addition, the similarities between an essay and an informative speech organization usually help students with organizing the content, which leaves more time to focus on audience. To prepare students for this semester’s remote interviews and meetings, the informative speech was designed as a video presentation to be shared with French students. Not only did students have to consider the audience (language difference and perceptions), they also had to think about the relationship between images and text. The only requirement was to be visually present and to pause the recording only when necessary.

The videos reveal that students addressed the issue of food accessibility, mostly in relation to food affordability, although only a few indicate audience awareness in the choice of location and images. On the other hand, students deliver their message with more ease, fluency, and engagement than in person or on zoom. Unfortunately, we didn’t debrief the assignment, nor did I require a reflection. However, the topics for the following persuasive speech reflect students’ interest. They want to know why food is so expensive, why produce goes bad quickly, and why supermarkets are far from their homes. In the Fall, I will extend the theme to all the speeches. Students will first record a short descriptive video to identify issues with food access in their neighborhood that they will develop in a longer inquiry project for the informative and persuasive speeches.

Professor Sokolski’s video reflection and Assignment Plan: “Neighborhood Food Access”

Chris McHale, Library, reflects on High on the Hog, communal rituals, and offers recommendations for classroom resources.

I’ve really enjoyed the historical and sociological aspects in High on the Hog, which was just spectacular. The series has made me more aware of the African roots behind some foods I grew up eating in the South. I was always aware that most of the comfort foods we ate‑“we” in this case being white folk in the South‑ came from Black culture, but it has been especially enlightening to learn how directly connected the migrations of enslaved Africans are to bringing these foods to the American cuisine. I am curious if meat played such a prominent role in the traditional diet. I feel like that is a more modern convention. I may be biased, though, because I do not like meat and I am always disappointed in food programming when it glosses over all the wonderful side dishes to showcase a giant slab of meat

I also enjoyed seeing the communal rituals portrayed in the film. The scene of the family and friends’ dinner party was especially poignant for me. It suddenly made sense why our so-called founding fathers replaced Locke’s “property” with the “pursuit of happiness.” After generations of struggle to acquire and steward their land, the government can just take it away, send a family off to pursue happiness elsewhere, and destroy a fertile piece of property for a highway: Less food sovereignty and sustainable practice, and more cars… progress!

The readings have connected well with my interests in agriculture. I especially enjoy those that share alternative approaches. I was reminded of this wonderful webinar from a Bronx native who  moved upstate to start their own farm. It really highlights some of the sustainable farming practices that have been lost in industrialized monocultures, in addition to the disappearance of Black farmers and community in the food system.

The readings and films (Gather and High on the Hog) were excellent in connecting food to culture and history. I learned so much about how foods and recipes have migrated and evolved over time. It was both fascinating and heartbreaking at times, given the terrible history that was the impetus for these migrations. They reinforced that we are losing much of our plant and food diversity as we continue to rely on large, monocultures, and that while the consequences of these practices have the most impact on the poor and disenfranchised, it is also resulting in lower quality food and an unhealthy environment for all. Finally, the readings have been very helpful in framing the key issues and language. I have found these semantic nuances especially interesting, like the multiple definitions of food insecurity and our own group discussions around words like sovereignty.

I learned more about food insecurity and the policies/social conditions which contribute to it. I look forward to seeing what my colleagues are doing in the classroom, on campus, and in their communities that connect to the issues being discussed.

 I’ll be thinking about ways to bring this topic to some of the co-curricular programs in the Library Department: workshops and exhibits. I also hope to use recommendations from this seminar to inform collection development on the topic.

Although the topics in our seminar fall outside of my recognized areas of expertise at LaGuardia, I can definitely lend expertise as a research librarian to help colleagues identify or acquire relevant media. That said, I have personal interests and experience in urban agriculture, sustainable farming, DIY movements, freeganism, alternative communities, food/land sovereignty, and the intersections of all these topics with art, science, and activism. To learn more, view Ecopolis.

Professor McHale’s recommendations on local agrarian/permaculture projects and activists are on the FIIJ Seminar Resources page .

Judith Nell Foster, English, reflects on FIIJ readings, love, and “food as a focus” in English Composition.

For most of my twenty years of teaching English composition at LaGuardia, I have used the subject of food as a focus that, until this year, wrapped up with each class publishing its own book of memoirs with recipes. Along with writing the memoir, we discussed and wrote about topics related to impacts of industrial agriculture and the future of food. I am hoping to find new material to share with students.

I am particularly interested in the approaches of non-western technology and science to food production, as well as perspectives on the future of food that remove the profit motive and any need for charity, and argue instead for food security as a genuine universal human right. As a result of this seminar, I already have one good example: “Understanding Coastal Afro-Puerto Rican Ecological Knowledge.” I hope everyone can see the CUNY presentation moderated by our co-facilitator, Ryan Mann-Hamilton; I know I would like to share it with my students. I would also like to work on a research assignment for students on community farming which could result in proposals for a farm at the college, maybe on a roof or in one of the Atrium gardens.

In closing, I return to the final words of Holt-Gimenez’s address, “Capitalism, food and social movements,” which are from one of our first seminar readings: “We need to love to transform the food system.” James Baldwin’s definition of love adds potent energy to that call: “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

Watch Professor Foster’s video reflection.

Nathan Hosannah, Math, Engineering, and Computer Science, reflects on FIIJ’s exploration of culture, food sovereignty, and the environment.

The first time I watched the documentary High on the Hog, my perspective was all about connection, not only to the types of vegetables, fruits, and meat depicted, but also to their combinations and presentations on the plate. These images connected me to thoughts of my favorite dishes, and the foods that my parents and extended family make. As my parents are from Guyana, our foods are connected to several individual cultures, from the indigenous tribes along the Essequibo River to those called Africans, Caribs, and Arawaks, and East Indians; we all share an appreciation for rice, peas, and beans that connects back to Benin.

The second time I watched the documentary, I experienced a connection to the land and water, to the environment. Ganvie, the lake village in Benin, is a by-product of folklore, religion, adaptation, and strength. I find myself unable to present everything that I felt about watching the people of Ganvie thrive in an environment that many others could not.

I think that since I always consider the capability of different peoples to produce and attain the foods they desire, our conversations surrounding food sovereignty vs white supremacy in the food system were necessary, particularly as regards grocery stores, food pantries, and community gardens (within NYC, but also globally). Thus, the Duke study, “Identifying and Countering White Supremacy Culture in Food Systems,”  is an article that comes to mind. In other words, securing a variety of culturally appropriate “good food” is essential to our health and personal wellbeing.

Looking ahead to future themes to engage, I’d like to think about the roles of engineering and science in relation to food security. For example, how may systems and processes, structures, and energy used in food production be better used (or not used)? I’d also like to hear from students—perhaps a panel of students from different neighborhoods and experiences who are willing to share what they see and deal with, i.e., food availability, variety, pricing, etc. Finally, Malcolm Gladwell’s piece could be good: The Trouble with Fries | The New Yorker .

Watch Professor Hosannah’s video reflection.

M’Shell Patterson, Adult and Continuing Education, reflects on food insecurity and academic success.

I am a visual learner, so the documentary films Gather and High on the Hog appealed to me, and I watched both several times. However, for me the most valuable reading was “The State of Food Security at CUNY in 2020.” As a member of both faculty and staff at a CUNY community college, I am a little more sensitive to the many reasons why students fail to thrive academically. The article succinctly amplifies the “significance of food insecurity as a contributing factor to failing academic success.” As the Program Manager for the Mental Health Peer Specialist program, I am able to connect several dots, and I understand that food insecurity exacerbates physical and mental health problems. I am close to the evidence: I see students struggle to thrive every day. As educators on a community college campus serving mostly Black and Brown students, we are all close to the problem.

The CUNY report describes why so many students are food insecure, as well as the impact on CUNY of resources like Single Stops, Health and Wellness Services, and Mental Health Counseling Services. Now available on campuses, these resources are a game changer for students of color and for faculty and staff who support their learning. It gives me joy to refer students to campus resources. Even more rewarding is knowing that students who are enrolled in ACE programs have access to the same amenities as degree seeking students, a possibility that, while extremely vital to students, is especially important to faculty and staff who work every day to help students experience a sense of belonging on campus. The accessibility of resources also helps to remove the stigma associated with being food insecure.

In sum, themes to explore in future FIIJ seminars are food insecurity and mental health; reclaiming the right to real food; and understanding our role in the fight against organized hunger. I’d also like to suggest inviting individuals who have an impact on food accessibility and influence change in local communities. One possibility to consider is Dr. Melony Samuels, founder and executive director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH), which serves over 30,000 individuals per month.  That’s impactful! We might also consider reading the NPR Special Report, “The New Faces of Pandemic Food Insecurity: Hungry, Worried…Yet Generous.”

Tuli Chatterji, English reflects on the similarities between African and Indian cuisine.

I’m very grateful to be part of this seminar; everything that I’ve learned and read is new to me. For example, the two key terms that stood out in the CUNY report and the NYT article are “affordability” and “accessibility.” But the documentary High on the Hog specifically spoke to me. Though I focus on colonial and postcolonial discourses in my classes, this was the first time I saw how food could become a form of resistance.

More importantly, I was struck by the similarities of African and Indian cuisine, especially my regional cuisine. I am a Bengali: I grew up eating rice, fish, and okra (bhindi) as our staple food; the “husk” red rice was always considered more nutritious. Community eating was very common—my grandmother cooked on an open fire with coal (unon); I learnt from her that when tasting food while it’s being cooked, one should put a drop on the back of the hand. I could not agree more with what Jessica Harris mentions in the first episode of High on the Hog: food connects and reminds us that we are more alike than different.

I will design future courses in which students explore their identities through narratives of food and cuisine. In addition to my classroom focus, I will incorporate what I’ve learned in FIIJ to develop the LaGuardia Humanitarian Initiative’s (LHI) 2022–2023 project on “Zero Hunger,” which is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2. A collaborative platform of students, staff, and faculty, LHI helps students transform their classroom learning and lived experiences into advocacy for themselves and their communities. I look forward to extending this seminar’s discussion to help generate a wider conversation on affordable and accessible food for our students and our communities.

Watch Professor Chatterji’s video reflection.