Working people from the Midwest and beyond participated in a “Food Is a Right” People’s Assembly on Aug. 16 at Dominican University in Chicago. The assembly was a central feature of the 2014 Critical Dietetics Conference that included participants from Australia, Canada, London, Trinidad and the United States.
The People’s Assembly centered around four demands: Stop all cuts to government food stamps and food programs; healthy food affordable to all — end food deserts; economic justice for food, agricultural and all workers — including the right to unionize; and hold the food industry and agribusiness accountable for environmental and health impacts in the U.S. and around the world.
“The first of the eight millennium development goals set by the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 is to ‘eradicate extreme hunger and poverty,’ including reducing the proportion of people who experience hunger by 50 percent. Instead, what has occurred is an increase in malnutrition both in the U.S. and abroad, due to both undernutrition and overnutrition. The result is increasing nutrition related diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, due to poor food quality and disparity in food access. Half of the victims of food inequality are children,” said Dr. Jill White, professor of dietetics at Dominican and an organizer of the assembly.
White added, “We are at this assembly to empower those interested in ending hunger and fighting for food justice, workers’ rights and saving the environment to come together to plan united actions.”
Students from Dominican played a central role in organizing the assembly, as did activist academics and many community members. Attendees included members of the Chicago Food Depository, the Illinois Hunger Coalition, the Illinois Public Health Association and the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition.
Delegations came from the Southside, Humboldt Park and Little Village neighborhoods. Centro Sin Fronteras, led by Emma Lozano, brought buses of Black and Brown youth. The Moratorium Now! Coalition in Detroit, Rockford Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) and the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement all sent delegations.
Speakers addressed numerous issues related to the four central demands and all denounced the billions in food stamp cuts and U.S. violations of United Nations goals and charters. Strong support for the low-wage worker demand of “$15 and a union” was expressed throughout the assembly.
A major assembly focus was the myriad ways that food is related to the migrant crisis caused by banks and mostly U.S.-based agribusiness corporations.
Teresa Gutierrez of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights in New York brought solidarity greetings from her organization. She analyzed how capitalism is responsible for millions of migrants and refugees being forced out of their homelands into the U.S. just to feed the children they left behind. Once here, they are superexploited as workers by agribusiness and other industries. Gutierrez described the May 1st Coalition plans to organize a caravan to south Texas to support migrant refugees.
Mexican migrant Elvira Arellano was once deported from the U.S. after taking sanctuary for 12 months in 2007-2008 at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. Now a leader of La Familia Latina Unida — Sin Fronteras (Latina Family United — Without Borders), Arellano expressed the agony of millions of migrants when she said, “We had to leave our children in order to feed them.”
Participants at the assembly are moving forward to fight for their four main demands. For more information or to become involved: [email protected] and peoplespowerassemblies.org.
Jill White and Eric Struch contributed to this article.