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Boston, college, other cities

February 25-26: Northeastern Food & Justice Summit Part 1

Before I dive into this Boston post, I just want to explain that I’ll be dividing up last weekend into a few different posts. This one will be focused solely on the conference, and I’ll have another one just for the stuff I did with my friend outside the summit. Coolio? Awesome :)

So, last weekend, a group of about 10 Hamilton students (including myself) drove from central NY to Boston, Massachusetts. We braved a blizzard, navigated our way around Boston (GPS-less!), finally managing to arrive at Northeastern University.

What were we there for, you ask?

3 days, over 600 high school and college students, one cause: also known as the Northeastern Food & Justice Summit!

Organized by food organizations across the nation, the Northeastern Food and Justice Summit sought to:

  • Unite a diverse coalition of young leaders across lines of age, race, class and geography
  • Ignite food justice organizing and activism throughout the Northeast with new ideas, tactics and opportunities.
  • Shine a light on this diverse, youth-driven movement.

Needless to say, I was pretty pumped for this conference; it looked like it would be an awesome 3 days, exploring new ideas and meeting similarly food-minded people. So although my group arrived a little late, we made it right on time for the opening session.

The conference kicked off with people (from food activists to immigrant workers to students) talking and explaining what “real food” meant to them. Being able to hear from a variety of people on what they had done, what they were doing, and what they planned to do about our food system really set the tone for what the next 2 days were going to be like.

a tomato worker from Florida explains the situation he and his colleagues are in

There was also poetry and ice breakers. just getting everyone up and out of their seats to know each other.

Anim teaching everyone how to step

followin' along

After the main session was over, everyone in my group headed over to get registered, grabbed dinner, then split up to our housing. Most of the Hamilton group stayed at a hostel, but an AWESOME friend of mine from BU told me I could stay in her dorm for the weekend, so that’s where I headed.


Yeah, that was kind of stupid.

However, I DID take the T the next morning. The snow had stopped, the sun was out, and it promised to be a BEEYOOTIFUL day.

crisp, clear mornings are the best

Saturday’s conference tecnically started at 8:00 AM, but people were free to come in as they pleased until 9; that’s when things would officially start. Until then, the Summit had organized an amazing breakfast spread for all attendees.

I won’t lie; when I first read what we were going to eat for breakfast, I was just the eentsiest bit disappointed.

The schedule read: “Breakfasts both mornings will include fruit, yogurt, breads and spreads, pastries, coffee, and tea.” You know, not that there’s anything wrong with any of the aforementioned breakfast items, it’s just that they bring to mind stale breads and tasteless, ditch water coffee. You know, the kind you get at so many hotels.

BUT NOT SO HERE! Because we were at a FOOD conference, people!

There wasn’t just regular coffee; it was fair-trade coffee. .

And it was pretty darn good too.

They didn’t just serve any plain ol’ yogurt; it was Stonyfield’s Oiskos GREEK yogurt.

yummy protein in my tummy

There were also awesome bagels and spreads (various cream cheeses, peanut butters, jams, etc.), breads, muffins…

And clementines.

vitamin c fix

So pretty much everything listed on the schedule, but a bajillion times better than what I had expected.

And they had a gluten-free station there too, for all the celiacs at the conference.

wheat-free cereal, sun butter, bread, & soymilk

People started trickling in, and one by one,  they grabbed a plate, plopped on some food, and breakfasted away.

While mingling of course.

After everyone was done eating, a couple of the leaders took the stage, explaining what the agenda was today. And pumping everyone up while they were at it.

They somehow got everyone (as in all 600 of us) to get up and play more ice breakers, just encouraging everyone to very open with each other and reach out to people we otherwise would have never met before.

With everyone’s blood flowing and all the attendees semi-acquainted with each other, everyone broke up to go their workshops.

Throughout Saturday, there were 3 workshop slots, but over 60 workshops to choose from. There were cooking workshops, gardening workshops, workshops on food policies, cultural food… It was so overwhelming because there was so much to choose from; I agonized over that little pamphlet for hours, trying decide which one I should go to.

After much deliberation, the first workshop I chose was “Mapping Individual and Group Foodways,” led by 2 professors from Boston University’s gastronomy program.

one of the professors leading the workshop

my fellow food mappers

What exactly are “foodways?” Well, that’s what we set about discussing. Each one of us were given a sheet of paper (large or small) and told to draw a map of how we thought food got from its source to our plate.

It was cool just seeing the differences between how everyone drew their food maps; some people were really artistic, others really minimal. Some were drawn in a linear fashion, others in a networky, web format. Of course, mine was unnecessarily complicated and loose-ended. Go figure.

After we had finished mapping, we got together as a group to discuss what the important “nodes” were in our maps – places of the greatest importance and/or potential for change, discussing how we could bring revolutionize the food system in those spots. It seems like a basic enough activity, but it really helped me focus on where I could bring attention to food in my life.

My workshop group got so wrapped-up in our discussion, that we ended a little late! I had to rush to my next workshop, which I had decided would be “Foods from Your Roots.” I came in late, so I took pictures of everyone as they were introducing themselves and learning each others names via more ice-breakers.

catch the ball, thank the person who threw it to you!

The workshop was led by a group of foreign students, and we began by going around saying our names, our hometown/school, favorite junk food, and favorite food from our roots. Then we broke off into smaller groups to compose… poems. About either vegetables or junk food. Say what?

engrossed in poetry composition

Um, yeah.. I didn’t really get the point of this part. I thought we would be discussing why our culture was important to us, and how our heritage is expressed in the type of food we eat. But we didn’t, writing lines of poetry instead. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun, but I felt it just wasn’t educational or productive, and it made me feel like I was back in elementary school. To be honest, I kind of regretted choosing this workshop :/

After everyone shared their poems, the workshop leaders shared the dishes they had prepared for the group. Most of the student leaders were from Africa, so a lot of the food was traditional African food. Personally, I’ve never had any experience with any kind of African cuisine, so this was pretty interesting; but that also means that I don’t remember any of the names. Oops, sorry.

explaining the okra dish

a cornbread-ish kind of bread

fried, triangular pockets o' veggies and meat

a flatbread of some sort

more flatbread!

a stew. it's got veggies in it. and meats.


I didn’t stick around long enough to try any of the food though, because I wanted to go check out the vendor fair:

During our lunch break, people from all over the country came to set up stands, explaining what group they were involved in, what it did, what products they sold, how people could get involved… It was pretty much a room filled with people eager to both share and learn, and an awesome opportunity for budding food activists to network with national food movements and companies.

Some products sold by the vendors included:

vegan cheese pizza

vegan pepperoni pizza

both delivered in eco-friendly pizza boxes that you can turn into serving plates - SO CLEVER :O

vegan snickerdoodle cupcakes and cookies

fair-trade coffee specifically targeting school campuses

and fair-trade chocolates, teas, & (more) coffee

There were also representatives from various vegetarian organizations, farms, co-ops, colleges… All eager to explain to us what exactly they did and how they wanted youth like us to get involved in it. It was pretty awesome.

Since this was lunchtime, we were also served… well, lunch. Clover actually sent 2 food trucks to cater to all our hungry stomachs (separate post dedicated to Clover here).

Once all the mingling and lunching was done, everyone headed to their 3rd and last workshop. I chose one called “Re-Defining the Food Studies Vocabulary.”

This workshop was led by graduate students currently enrolled in the gastronomy programs at Chatham University and Boston University (piqued my interest for sure). Like in the previous workshop, we also broke into smaller groups, with each group assigned a different “food” word. We took words like “local,” “hidden costs,” “sustainable,” you know, words that get thrown around a lot in the food world these days. But do we know what they really mean? Or how to make them more approachable for people who aren’t so food-minded? That’s what we set out to do, re-defining what these words meant and talking about how we would explain them in an everyday context. I think this was the best workshop that I went to; it made me realize how inept I was when it came to defining these words (even though I essentially knew what they meant), and gave me terms and vocabulary to use. ‘Twas awesome :)

Even though there was a dinner and an open-mic session scheduled for after the last workshop, I left early because I wanted to spend some time with my friend. But since this post is already getting ridiculously long, I’ll end Saturday’s events here, and continue with what happened on Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Saturday’s lunch in other posts!

waiting for the T back to BU

So… much.. stuff.. to cover…

And you know, it’s not like it’s midterms week or anything. <— sarcasm

But I”ll try my best! Until then… PEACE (-_-)V




  1. Pingback: Boston, February 26: Clover Food Trucks! « you eatin' nice - March 8, 2011

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