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At the Table

As a young professional coming into the food justice movement, my intention for attending last year’s New England Food Summit was to seize an opportunity that, if not working for my former employer, I would have never had. You see, my background in this work is beginning to develop, but my life has always revolved around the impacts of systems that have (and still do) affect me, my family, and my community.

By the time I attended the 2014 summit, I was a youth program manager for FRESH New London in Connecticut, working with youth to help build an analysis of the food system and oppression in the world around them, and strengthen the skills needed to be a strong voice and presence in the community and in the food justice movement. Through the program, youth not only learn information, but they experience it through various workshops, farming, and community involvement. The timing of the summit was perfect for where I was at in my life and work. As the summit came closer, I had begun to question if what FRESH New London was doing was connected (strategically) to the larger movement and I had never really been able to connect with others (outside of my direct area) to analyze that. Then, as I sat in this awesome space filled with people from all over New England looking to push food justice work forward, I was amazed. How did I get here and did I belong here? While I sat in a room full of people that had more professional experience than I did and didn’t necessarily look like me, I found that I was intimidated. And yet, people left the space open for my participation to happen and encouraged me to speak up- speak out. As I sat around all these welcoming people, and heard the presentation of A New England Food Vision and a breakdown of how racial justice was a piece of this overall change that needed to happen, I felt welcome.

Finally, we were able to talk about something that people always dance around. Through the short time I had been involved in food justice work, I had observed that so many people in this field aren’t scared to call out “racism,” but never really have the courage to dive into it. In some ways I understood this would mean opening up a box that many weren’t ready to open, but in my mind I have always thought, how is it that we are to create change when we never directly target the actual cause of these larger systemic outcomes? During the summit, I’m sure many people found themselves fighting with their own positions (whether on the topic of race, its importance in the conversation, or the barriers of their job or focus area), but still they pushed to enter this topic and find various ways to contribute to solutions. It was powerful and motivational.

I walked out with a feeling of inclusion because I finally sat at a table that people like me don’t get the chance to be at. I learned things I hadn’t known, met people I would have never met, and saw the many areas of focus that contribute to this larger movement. I was finally able to begin to pull the pieces together. The 2014 New England Food Summit was an amazing opportunity that I was blessed to be a part of. This experience has, in my mind, shown how important it is that New England gain collective understanding of racial barriers in the food system and form a collective strategy to really push food justice into reality. At least to understand what areas are doing what, what is working and what isn’t, and what initiatives to tap into, team up with, or support.

 

Maegan Parrott is a student at Three Rivers Community College attaining her AS in Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is a mother of 2 children (ages 7 and 3); her youngest has lead poisoning so health and nutrition is a significant focus that is constantly at the forefront. Maegan is currently unemployed but is beginning to develop a business with another woman of color looking to repurpose a property in North Stonington as a retreat space and small-scale farm that is inclusive for food justice, social justice, healing, and community building. She hopes to become a facilitator for the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond and to bring Undoing Racism Trainings to her area. Maegan attended the 2014 New England Food Summit as part of the Emerging Leaders Delegation. She’ll be attending the 2015 New England Food Summit as part of the Connecticut State Delegation.  

Featured image of UMass Amherst Dining courtesy of the Kendall Foundation.