Solidarity is Action by Alexa Arnold

Growing up in a town with little racial or ethnic diversity, the Chinese restaurant where my family would dine on special occasions was likely the first place where I was introduced to a culture unlike my own. What I didn't know then, is that the story of Chinese cuisine in America is ultimately a story about immigration, cultural identity, entrepreneurship and perseverance against racism. Chinese Americans were once told they did not belong in the US, but as immigration policy shifted and Chinese food was adapted to American palates, they went on to create one of our country's most beloved cuisines. There are now over 45,000 Chinese restaurants across the country – this number is greater than all the McDonald’s, KFCs, Pizza Huts, Taco Bells and Wendy’s combined. We are a county of immigrants, who love and rely on food grown, prepared and created by immigrants

As the Trump administration pursues extreme systemic aggression against immigrants, we have an opportunity to reflect on the roles immigrants have played in shaping our culture, the way past and current policies discriminate against them, and the ways we must continue to resist additional racism and xenophobia that further marginalizes them. Trump is making immigrants the enemy, and we must do everything in our power to fight back against deportations, walls, and bans. This is a moment for us to show up – for each other and for ourselves. 

In solidarity with the immigrants who feed us and who are being targeted by Trump's dangerous, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic policies and rhetoric, today I'm responding with the following #smallactsofresistance:

SUPPORT SANCTUARY RESTUARANTS 

The restaurant industry relies heavily on immigrant labor – of the 12 million employed in the restaurant industry, about 70% are foreign-born and 1.3M are undocumented immigrants. They are restaurant owners, dishwashers, line cooks, servers, bussers, chefs, bartenders, porters. Outside of the restaurants themselves, immigrants are farmers and truck drivers and field workers. For many chefs and restaurant owners, an attack on immigrants is an attack against their workforce and livelihood. As private entities, restaurants can't enforce or change federal laws, but they can become sanctuary restaurants. Sanctuary restaurants offer a place at the table for all and uphold a no-tolerance policy for racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

Let's put our money where our values are and patronize sanctuary restaurants. Here's how consumers can help:

  • Ask your favorite restaurants to join the movement – send them an informational card here.
  • If you witness or experience hate, harassment, or discriminations in a restaurant – text TABLE to 225568 to report injustice or tweet at @table4everyone.

GET INVOLVED WITH ORGANIZATIONS WORKING ON THE FRONT LINES

Grassroots organizations are often in the best position to understand and address the underlying issues affecting your community, yet these organizations often have little access to resources to sustain their important programming. Annual and, better yet, monthly donations can help them build sustainable solutions for the communities they directly represent. Right now more than ever, it's important for us to take stock of our privilege and be led by the people working on the front lines in our communities. Here's who I'm giving to today:

  • Make the Road New York – uses policy advocacy, organizing, education, and survival services (including workforce training and adult education) to improve the lives of immigrants in New York City. Donate here, and learn more ways to get involved here. Your can also sign up for action alerts by texting ROAD to 52886. 
  • The New York Immigration Coalition – promotes immigrants’ full civic participation, fosters their leadership, and provides a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities. Donate here, and sign up for updates here

CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT

The only way we will stop the most dangerous presidential agenda of our generation is if we continue to speak out. 

  • Call your elected representatives – Your elected officials work for you and want to hear from you – save their contact information in your phone and give them a ring every day to speak up about immigrants' rights and other issues affecting your community. Check out this google doc to learn about your Senators', Governor's, Attorney General's or Representatives' stance on immigration issues, then use the templates to give them a call today. 
  • Tweet, 'gram, share – While we all are suffering from information overload, social media is a place where we can use our own platforms to speak up about the issues we care about. For the future of our planet and our people, we must organize, educate and get involved. Think about the creative ways you share your stories with the world, and consider including a message about the issues you care about. #smallactsofresistence are contagious – how can your actions inspire others to join?

 

Resource Guide: Fight for a Safe, Just, Fair Food System For All by Alexa Arnold

As individuals, we have the opportunity to make personal choices that make a difference in our own lives and in the food system. We can shop at farmers markets, grow a garden, get educated about nutrition, or learn about different food cultures. But if we want our food system to be fair, inclusive and just for all, we need to look beyond our own plates and identify ways we can make a difference at the local, state, federal and even international level. If you're looking to get involved, I've put together a resource guide, which is by no means complete, but hopefully can point you in some exciting directions.

Get involved locally

We've all heard the phrase, "think globally, act locally", and while it's a little well-worn, there's a lot of truth behind it. Local issues and politics affect all of our lives, and decisions made by local governments often set the precedent for what happens at the district, state or even federal level. When it comes to issues impacting the food system, here are a few ways to get involved locally:

  • Get to know the decision makers – As it goes with any issue you care about, if you want to change the food system it's important to talk to the people who have the authority to make decisions. At the local level, this might be your city council member, school board official, or even your member of congress. Give these people a ring, write them a letter, pay them a visit – they want to hear from you. 
  • Demonstrate how food connects to issues your decision makers care about – While many policy makers might not be up to speed about sustainable food systems, they likely care about issues affecting job creation and the economy, the environment, social justice, public health, education, or agriculture. Remember, it's all connected. If you're able to demonstrate how food connects to the issues your elected representatives care about, you'll have a better chance at getting their buy-in. 
  • Buy local food – When you buy from local, independent farmers and businesses, you continue to strengthen the economic base of your community. Local food tastes better because crops are picked at their peak, and it's better for you because the fewer miles food has to travel between field to plate means it will lose fewer nutrients. Buying locally supports small scale family farming, which preserves farmland and the genetic diversity of crops and livestock. And at a time when everything feels uncertain, buying local is a way to invest in the future and ensure that there will be farms and food for your community for years to come. Find a farmers market or CSA or food coop near you.
  • Support grassroots organizations – You have an opportunity to make a huge difference in your community by supporting organizations that are working on the front lines of food system reform. Grassroots organizations often are in the best position to understand and address the underlying issues affecting your community, yet these organizations often have less access to resources to sustain their important programming. Annual and, better yet, monthly donations can help them build sustainable solutions for the communities they directly represent. 
  • Advocate for healthy food in your local schools – 32 million kids rely on schools for most of their daily calories. If we want to raise a generation of productive, healthy kids, schools are the places where we can help them build healthy eating habits. Get involved in a local organization working on school food or farm to school issues, like FoodCorps or their local partners or the National Farm to School Network. Your local extension office will be full of local resources and directions to point you in, too. 
  • Join or start a community garden – Community gardens are a single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. These gardens provide the opportunity to connect with youth, immigrants, community leaders, health and food production experts about food and gardening issues affecting your community. They're also a great way to try your hand at growing your own food. Here's a national list of registered gardens, though there are likely local, more specific registries available in your community. 
  • Join a local food policy council – The ways our federal, state and local governments make decisions affecting our food system is disjointed – health departments cover nutrition and food safety; transportation and planning departments cover land use and food access issues; agriculture departments cover farming and farm to school. Food policy councils emerged as a solution to link these issues together at the local and state level. FPCs are generally made up of members that represent the full spectrum of the food system: farmers, chefs, food processors, farm and food advocates, consumers, public health experts, food justice advocates and local government reps. While not every city has one (or necessarily needs one), FPCs are a great resource for those wishing to make recommendations for food policy change. See if your city has one here
  • Learn from others about how to get started – Talk to a farmer, restaurant owner or worker, farmers' market manager, school garden coordinator, local extension worker, and others to find the best ways to get involved with food issues in your community. 

Get involved nationally

There are so many amazing people and organizations working to change our food system, and thus advocating for the rights of our country's most marginalized people. Whether you care about hunger issues, school food, farm to school, farmers markets, food access and security, food worker's rights, food justice, food policy, food waste, urban gardening or farming, small farmer issues, or food culture – there are organizations armed with the platform and smart, talented individuals who share your values. Consider the following list a starter guide. In the wake of the election, many of these organizations are using their email lists and social media accounts to share action alerts – I'd recommend signing up for communications and making donations to organizations fighting for issues you care about most. 

  • Coalition of Immokalee Workers – CIW is a worker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, human trafficking, and gender-based violence at work. CIW's Fair Food Program is ensures humane wages and working conditions for the workers who pick fruits and vegetables on participating farms. It harnesses the power of consumer demand to give farmworkers a voice in the decisions that affect their lives, and to eliminate the longstanding abuses that have plagued agriculture for generations.
  • Farmworker Justice – Farmworker Justice seeks to empower migrant and seasonal farmworkers to improve their living and working conditions, immigration status, health, occupational safety, and access to justice.
  • Fight for $15 – Fight for $15 international movement in over 300 cities on six continents of fast-food workers, home health aides, child care teachers, airport workers, adjunct professors, retail employees, and underpaid workers everywhere – striking for $15 an hour and union rights.
  • FoodCorps – FoodCorps connects kids to healthy food in school. Their AmeriCorps leaders deliver their program in high-need schools, focusing on hands-on lessons, healthy school meals and cultivating a schoolwide culture of health. Building on this foundation of direct impact, FoodCorps pursues systemic strategies that will benefit all of our nation’s 100,000 schools.
  • Food Research and Action Center – FRAC is a research and advocacy organization that focuses on community, state and national level solutions to eliminate hunger and undernutrition across the US. 
  • Food and Water Watch – F&WW champions healthy food and clean water for all, stands up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocates for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment.
  • National Family Farm Coalition – NFFC represents family farmers and rural communities in the face of economic pressures and inequities. 
  • National Farm to School Network – National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems and early care and education settings.
  • National Young Farmers Coalition – NYFC supports policies and practices that ensure that the next generation of farmers can grow food on ecologically vibrant, affordable land. 
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – NSAC is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.
  • Real Food Challenge – The Real Food Challenge leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and green food system. Their primary campaign is to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources—what they call “real food”—by 2020.
  • Restaurant Opportunities Centers United – ROC-United is a labor advocacy organization that focuses specifically on the American restaurant workforce. Founded by restaurant workers who survived the 9/11 attacks to help other displaced workers, ROC-United primarily advocates for better wages and working conditions, seeking to act as a champion for members of an industry that is less than one percent unionized.
  • Slow Food USA – Slow Food USA inspires individuals and communities to change the world through food that is good, clean and fair for all. In the US, there are more than 150 local chapters and 6,000 members. 
  • Southern Foodways Alliance – Southern Foodways Alliance is an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, dedicated to the documentation, study and exploration of the foodways of the American South.

Donate 

A wonderful way to get involved in any of the issues you care about is by donating. As someone who works in nonprofit development, I'm here to tell you: donating time and resources can be helpful, but the thing nonprofits always need are funds to run their programs. It might not feel as glamorous as volunteering, but by making even a small donation (or even better, a small monthly donation), organizations can make investments in infrastructure (like staff, office space, software, trainings) so they can focus on doing important programming. Plus, not all organizations have the capacity to take on volunteers – organizing volunteers can be time consuming for staff, and if an organization's program works in a particularly vulnerable place (like a school or a clinic where program constituents' identities might need to be kept private), it can be tricky for them to manage a consistent flow of new volunteers. By making a financial donation, you're giving much more than money – you're building a relationship with an organization whose mission you care about, you're directly contributing to their impact, and you now have some skin in the game in regards to their success. Donating is leadership. 

  • Make it monthly – Monthly donations allows nonprofits to build sustainable programs. By giving monthly, you allow organizations to plan for their budgets and say 'yes' to innovation, which they might not have been able to do without knowing they were in a secure financial standing. Consider monthly giving like your Netflix subscription – you can give a small amount that barely makes a dent in your monthly budget, but adds up over time to have a big impact. 
  • If you don't have the capacity to give money, give time, service, connections, resources, or your voice – Have a background in graphic design or writing? Some organizations might be looking for people who can help with their website design, grant writing, or research. Nonprofits have contact pages on their websites where you can reach out and offer your expertise. Likewise, making programmatic or funder connections for nonprofits is a great way to support a mission you care about. And in this age of social media, speaking up about how you've just given to an organization and encouraging your followers to do the same is an incredible service. This helps nonprofits welcome new donors and followers to their world that might end up sticking around for years to come. 
  • Still feel like you need more information before making a gift? See other great recommendations on my friend Erin's charitable giving primer.

Have additional resources to add to the lists above? Mention them in the comments.
 

Food is Political by Alexa Arnold

Food and politics are inextricably intertwined. As food leaders Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, Mark Bittman and Oliver De Schutter wrote in a recent article on Civil Eats, the role for those of us working for progressive issues in general right now should be to join together to actively resist efforts to roll back the public protections we've gained, in favor of the social justice issues we must continue to fight for. Meaning, for food activists, now is not the time to stay in our silos, but rather a time to draw deeper connections between between the policies put forth by the Trump administration and the issues affecting the food system. Quite understandably, the news and activists' focus has swayed from the fights we've been battling for years – fighting for GMO labeling, improved national nutrition standards, reduced exploitation in the food supply chain – towards much more time sensitive and threatening issues impacting the civil rights of so many people in this country. Though while food and agriculture might not be top of mind for Trump and his administration right now, we'll still feel the impacts on our food system by the policies that are.

Our country's food system runs on marginalized immigrant labor, and the policies and people making decisions about immigrant rights will impact their ability to keep food on our tables. Policies like the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act will be up for renewal during the next four years, which could impact farmers and eaters alike, especially the kids and low-income consumers who rely on nutrition assistance programs like SNAP or WIC. International trade laws mandate what foods we can and can't import. Rollbacks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act could put the 32 million kids who eat school lunch and breakfast every day, especially the ones who rely on school food for most of their daily calories, at even further risk of developing childhood diabetes or other diet-related diseases. Executive orders that limit communications with the press for agencies like the EPA, the USDA, and the Department of Health and Human Services put our food supply and safety at risk, like what pesticides are allowed on the food we consume. With big corporations' interests guiding the new administration, there could be rollbacks on regulations for large scale farming operations, which are some of our country's biggest contributors to climate change. The politicization of our female, male, LGBTQ, black, brown, large and thin bodies affects the choices we make about what we should (or shouldn't) be eating. Repealing the Affordable Care Act could mean people with pre-existing conditions, like those struggling with chronic illness, diet-related disease, or mental health issues like eating disorders, might not have the opportunity or access to the help and medication they need to recover or live. Hell, our country was colonized because British explorers were in search of faster spice trade routes to India – food has always been political. 

As Pollan, Salvador, Bittman and De Schutter put it, "You can’t fix agriculture without addressing immigration and labor or without rethinking energy policies; you can’t improve diets without reducing income inequality, which in turn requires unqualified equal rights for women and minorities; you can’t encourage people to cook more at home without questioning gender roles or the double or triple shifts that poor parents often must accept to make ends meet; you can’t fully change the role of women without tackling the future of work, childcare, and education; you can’t address climate change without challenging the power of corporations and their control over the state—and, not so incidentally, without challenging Big Food. The fight for healthy diets is part and parcel of these other struggles, and it will be won or lost alongside them. It’s all connected; the common threads are justice, fairness, and respect. “Sustainable” is a word that we must now apply to democracy itself: a nation built on perpetuating injustice and the exploitation of people and nature doesn’t qualify. And a “sustainable food system” cannot exist inside an unsustainable political and economic system."

So as I write about food justice, body positivity, the end to gender-based violence, reproductive rights and women's health, LGBTQ rights, worker's rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious freedom, education reform, and environmental justice, I do not see this as much of a divergence from what I've been writing about here all along. I see my #smallactsofresistance as a way to continue fighting for a fair, just food system for all. It's all connected. 

Onward!

Immigrants Feed Us by Alexa Arnold

If you happen to be thinking that Trump's proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border or to eradicate immigrants from our country won't have much of an impact on your life, I'm here to remind you that immigrants feed you. 78% of farm workers in the US are foreign-born and over half are undocumented – chances are, the food you ate today was grown, harvested and packaged by farm workers born in Mexico or central America. The farm workers responsible for putting food on grocery store shelves, in restaurants and on dinner tables across the country are exposed to poor working conditions, paid unfair and barely livable wages, are victims of sexual violence in the workplace, and live in fear of losing their job, home or being deported. Anti-immigrant policies at the state level, like HB 56 in Alabama, further marginalize immigrant workers, and Trump's working to ensure HB 56-style tactics are represented at the federal level through his nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. If we build a wall, elect a Labor Secretary who's against labor rights, or elect an Attorney General who's opposed every immigration bill brought to the Senate for the past two decades, we'll quite literally cut off the hand that feeds us. Immigrants are a vital part of the American story of agriculture and instead of trying to find a way without them, it's time our country prioritized their basic rights, paid them a fair and living wage, and reformed our immigration and food systems so that they're based on justice, respect and dignity.

Here are a few #smallactsofresistance you can do today to speak out against the exploitation of farmworkers in our food and immigration systems.

Oppose the nomination of andy puzder for labor secretary

Trump's cabinet is filled with nominees who are working for the interests of big business over the interests of working people – including Andy Puzder, Trump's pick for Labor Secretary. Hundreds of food and farm organizations have signed onto oppose Puzder's nomination, and today I'm joining them by calling senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and urging them to vote no. Puzder's the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which operates Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s; he believes that workers should be replaced by machines (so much for the Trump administration's focus on job creation) and that fast food companies shouldn't be held accountable for unlawful behaviors like sexual harassment or other mistreatments of workers. His confirmation would ensure that the interests of the fast food industry would prevail over the needs of hard-working people in the food system who face some of the highest rates of food insecurity due to low wages and poor working conditions.

Find Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee members, and links to their contact information, here. You can give the Committee office a ring directly: 202-224-5375. 

JOIN THE COALITION OF IMMOKALEE WORKERS' NATIONAL CALL-IN DAY

Today I'm participating in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' National Call-In Day to urge Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor to end exploitation in their supply chain by joining CIW's Fair Food Program, which aims to give farmworkers a voice in the issues that affect their lives and ensures humane wages and working conditions for workers who pick vegetables and fruit on participating farms. Major produce buyers like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Chipotle and McDonald’s have agreed to purchase Florida tomatoes only from growers in good standing with the Fair Food Program, but Wendy's has yet to sign on. This is about more than just immigrant rights – it's about laborer's rights to a fair wage and a clean working and living environment, including those who are non-immigrants but are equally exploited and abused on farms; it's about women's rights, especially the vegetable and fruit laborers that experience sexual violence in the fields; and it's about consumer rights, because all of us who consume food deserve the right to demand that large food companies no longer turn a blind eye to the exploitation happening in their supply chains. 

Join me, and farm worker rights advocates across the country, by calling Wendy's CEO Todd Penegor and asking him to end exploitation in their supply chain by joining the internationally-recognized Fair Food Program. Here's a link to Penegor's phone number, a call script, and a form to fill out after your call to let CIW know how it went.

Oppose the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General

When it comes to immigration law, the Attorney General is the most powerful player in our country. Trump's pick for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions, has held a Senate seat in Alabama for over 20 years, and has spent his entire political career criminalizing people of color, associating with a known hate group, and attacking hard-working immigrants. If confirmed, Sessions, who has a track record of opposing nearly every immigration bill that's come before the Senate in the past two decades, will be empowered to roll back policies like the DREAM Act, and will be responsible for creating new immigration regulations, requiring particular forms of documentation, and a host of other duties that could impact the lives of our country's immigrants. 

Senator Sessions, a known propagandist, nationalist and white supremacist, will be voted on by the full Senate any day now. His confirmation is almost assured – Sessions, who is well liked by his GOP colleagues, appears to have the 50 votes he needs to get confirmed with Republicans holding a 52-seat majority. Many GOP members have not voiced any opposition to Sessions and he has the vote of at least one Democrat — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Join me by resisting Session's nomination by calling and tweeting at your Republican Senators, and at moderate Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine (202-224-2523) and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (202-224-6665) today. Here are a few a sample tweets:

To Senator Lisa Murkowski@lisamurkowski vote no on @SenatorSessions - his xenophobic views are a threat to civil rights, women's health and immigrants #StopSessions

To Senator Susan Collins: @SenatorCollins vote no on @SenatorSessions - his xenophobic views are a threat to civil rights, women's health and immigrants #StopSessions

Onward, friends. How are you speaking up about immigrant rights, laborer rights, women's rights and human rights today?

Resist Hate, Assist Love by Alexa Arnold

Photo taken and sign made by Anna Hewitt at the Women's March on NYC.

Photo taken and sign made by Anna Hewitt at the Women's March on NYC.

It's been a while since my last post, but I'm not here to apologize about that. It's been a tough couple of months for everyone. Every morning I wake up, check the news, and am overwhelmed with grief, anger and sadness. The first week of this new administration has shown us that our new president's campaign promises were much more than rhetoric – he's doing the exact things he said he would, from ordering walls at the Mexican border, to enacting policies that target the world's most vulnerable women, to putting our nation's access to affordable healthcare at risk, to banning immigrants (and even legal permanent residents!) from a number of Muslim countries from entering ours. I feel helpless, and even though there are times when I want to retreat from it all, I'm committed to fighting for a country and a world where everyone, especially those who are most hurt by the system, feels safe, heard, loved, and valued. I will not stop resisting, marching, reading, calling, writing and protesting. 

With the world feeling so heavy, I'm doing my best to keep other parts of my life as light as possible. I'm trying to go about the simple, yet not to simple, task feeding myself. There have been a lot of egg sandwiches and soups and smoothies, which I make without a recipe or much thought, because I know it isn't a meal that I need to fulfill me right now. I'm trying to fill the time that I used to spend over the stove with other acts of resistance. Though some days, I'm finding that choosing self care is among the most radical forms of rebellion I can muster, and that's okay, too.  

What has made me feel a little lighter these days, are all of the inspiring acts of protest and resistance that are emerging in response to this madness. I've been seeing people who normally stand on the sidelines speaking up and encouraging their networks to take action, too. I feel comforted knowing that I'm not alone in my outrage – that there are millions of people, on both sides of the aisle, who are marching, reading, calling, writing and protesting alongside me. I also feel an obligation to do my part, in hopes that it might inspire others to take action, too. So in an effort to stay outraged and engaged, I'm taking a page out of my friend Caitlin's book, and will be sharing the ways I'm resisting and responding to hate and bigotry more intentionally here on this site and on my Instagram page. I hope you'll join me and that you'll share the ways you're standing up for democracy and progress, back with me. We are stronger together, that much I'm sure of. 

I spent the weekend writing postcards to my senators and rallying to oppose Trump's immigration ban, and it's just now sinking in how big this fight is, and how much energy and consistent activism it's going to take to protect the vulnerable and preserve democracy. I'm following the suggestions for how combat resistance fatigue shared in this post, like taking breaks from social media, focusing my energy on just a few important issues at a time, and getting creative with activism. I'm also making a few commitments, mostly to myself, that I know I'll need to use as a guiding star when things feel too overwhelming to bear:

  • Continue to fight the small fight, while keeping my eyes on the big one. Resistance doesn't have to mean marching on the front lines every day of the week – it can be as simple as writing a letter to my representative, donating to an organization that's fighting for the issues I value, or building bridges with someone who doesn't share the same opinion as me. Remember that democracy needs us not only when there's an election, but every time there's something that needs fixing in our communities. 
  • Break out of my echo chamber. Unless I'm making a dedicated effort to listen and hear people and the media outside of my own bubble, I won't have the opportunity to challenge my own concepts or ideas. This is about the long game – it's about course correcting. The policies put forth by the Trump administration won't only betray the people he shamed and ostracized on the campaign trail; they'll also exploit many of the people who voted for him, too. Resisting has to be more than progressive versus conservative politics – we must figure out how to bridge what divides us. 
  • Organize. I cut my teeth in the food and farm movement as a community organizer, and now is the time to put those skills to good use. We have power in numbers and have so much to learn and share with one another. As much as possible, I'm committed to performing acts of resistance in the company of others. That might mean participating in marches alongside my community, setting up a postcard writing station at parties or gatherings, or sharing call scripts and phone numbers on social media. 
  • Find the bravery to voice my opinion, and the humility to know that my story isn't the only one that matters. While I hope speaking up might inspire others to stay politically active, I'm committed to using my platform (however small it might be!) to lift up the voices of those who are most impacted and targeted by bigotry, xenophobia, and hatred. 
  • Support organizations that are already doing great work. For all of the important issues I care about, there are organizations armed with smart, talented individuals who share my values. When my actions don't feel like enough, I'm committed to supporting organizations fighting for food justice, body positivity, the end to gender-based violence, reproductive rights and women's health, LGBTQ rights, worker's rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious freedom, education reform, and environmental justice.
  • Do the things I need to do to rejuvenate, fortify, and stay energized. Read hopeful and inspiring words, practice yoga, break bread with new and old friends, see the world, hug the people I love, stay open minded, practice forgiveness. 

Onward, friends. How are you resisting today?

Owning It by Alexa Arnold

Last spring, I spent a couple of weeks traveling alongside a group of friends. We spent most of our time together in the car, our conversation winding at an easy, tender pace, eventually landing on the topic of what school lunch was like in our high schools. We took turns describing the layout of our cafeterias, the kinds of foods available, and whether or not we bought lunch at school or packed.

My stomach flip-flopped when it was my turn to speak.

I felt my pulse quicken. I was frozen, but surrounded by people I trusted and admired I felt like I could be honest. Somehow I coughed up the words, “I didn’t eat school lunch at all because I struggled with an eating disorder.” The car was quiet for a moment and I filled with regret. And then, instead of opposition or misunderstanding, two others volunteered stories from their own disordered journeys with food.

For me, restricting began as a simple way to cope with anxiety I struggled with on a daily basis, but it eventually turned into a full-blown obsession. Food consumed me. It was all I could think about, yet I was barely eating any at all. I viewed food only for its caloric value, as a toxic thing, and depriving myself of it soothed and comforted me. I also felt some kind of misguided pride in my ability to control it all. The calories I consumed, slowly moving the number on the scale lower and lower, and maintaining the pretense that there wasn’t a problem at all – anorexia was a way to bring a sense of order to the things that felt chaotic in my life. I was so tightly wound around the idea that if I could just control this one thing – food – then I’d be the kind of person I wanted to be. Yet despite feeling like I was in the driver’s seat, my illness had spiraled into something I could no longer control. I was completely and utterly disconnected from myself, from my body, and from others.  

I’ve been thinking about how to share this story for years. I spend a lot of time around people who are constantly talking about what's influenced their relationships with food, but anytime it's been my turn to share, I’ve skipped ahead from the messy, disordered parts and delivered a well-rehearsed speech about the stuff I’ve assumed people wanted to hear – the farmers markets, the community organizing, the passion for cooking. It wasn’t for the sake of privacy, but because I felt ashamed and embarrassed by how much I’d struggled to love myself and to have a normal, healthy relationship with food. I felt like stories about anorexia weren’t relevant when there are people all across the country who don’t have the opportunity to eat healthy food at all. When there are things like childhood obesity, food insecurity, the unfair treatment of farmworkers, and so many other problems with our food system at stake, why should my story of disordered eating have a place at the table? But overcoming and understanding my eating disorder, and finding love and joy and passion for food, has inspired my career, shaped my values, and pushed me to find balance in all parts of my life.

For so long, I've been running from this experience, but maybe I actually need to be running towards it. Instead of tucking it away in a neat little box in my life's attic, maybe I need to unpack it, and set it out on the table. 

Early in college, during some of my most vulnerable moments, I used to wander through the market. I felt really lost at first; I had no idea what to do with the majority of the vegetables I saw, but felt a surge of energy just walking through the aisles. It’s hard to let sadness win at a farmers market – buying your food directly from the hands of the person who grew it is the exact opposite of anorexia. It’s connection. It’s purpose. And I found it freeing and empowering. Farmers were readily willing to offer me advice about how to cook what was on their tables, so I bought vegetables I’d never seen before and just experimented in the kitchen, free of recipes or restrictions. I felt like I had unleashed a creative side of myself that I hadn’t ever known. Like a new perspective had been shaken loose. Very quickly, cooking became a creative outlet for me and the market was an endless source of inspiration. I found myself waking up with the sun to beat the crowds and score the first strawberries of the season. I started spending weekends canning 40 pounds of tomatoes, just so I could savor their flavor a little longer. And I found that the closer I got to my food, the more easily I was able to see it as something that nourished both my body and my mind.

I also tried my hand at growing my own food. I bought tomato seedlings and planted them in big five-gallon buckets that I lined across my back porch. The smell of their vines stuck to my hands and churned up memories of the summer my parents grew them in the raised bed in our backyard. I planted lettuce and radishes and herb seeds in a long wooden planter and watched their tiny sprouts shoot out of the soil. My little garden helped me remember that I, too, need lots of water, food, sunlight and love to be a happy, healthy person. When I pulled a radish out of the dirt for the first time, I felt with stunning clarity that food had something to teach me, and I was finally ready to listen.

Over the years, I've also worked hard to overcome the feelings of guilt and shame I’d grown to associate with food, and have tried to apply the same mindfulness that I discovered through cooking and gardening to my attitude. It hasn't been easy. It has taken many years and many baby steps to reframe my vision of a healthy, balanced life. And truthfully, I am still working on this every single day. I gave my eating disorder so much room in my head to thrive on my vulnerabilities. There have been days where it felt nearly impossible to pull myself out of a spiral of self deprecation, days where I felt like crying because, God forbid, I ate a bowl of ice cream without guilt. But there came a point where I felt so exhausted with secretly living in the shadows of my self-consciousness and inadequacies. It didn’t happen like the flip of a switch – you don't just wake up one day and think, "great, things are gonna be different from now on". It took one day at a time and a whole lot of intention. Because that's what recovery is. Recovery is not a destination. Recovery is looking yourself in the mirror every day and saying, "you are not allowed to think anything negative about your body, your weight, or your looks anymore. If you think any of those things, push them out of your mind". And I have tried so, so hard to do this. It doesn't mean I'm always successful and I always feel great about myself, but it means I've decided not to give those negative feelings any more of my energy.

When I started digging deeper into why and how I’d turned so far against myself, I realized that I was depriving myself of nourishment and pleasure, all in the name of striving towards a level of perfection that, it turns out, doesn't even exist. It became increasingly clear that as soon as I stopped trying to obey a set of self-imposed rules, I felt better. The more I was able to understand myself and stop masking my emotions in a layer of perfectionism, the easier it became to step off the tightrope. The more room I gave myself to experiment in the kitchen and build relationships with a community of radical women, inspiring farmers and food advocates, the more connected I felt to myself, my body, and the world.

And so my point of sharing all of this now is: I’ve been silencing the part of my story that’s given me strength and purpose because it feels scary to talk about it. And that's not something I feel okay with. I am not okay with the thought of someone dropping by this blog and thinking my relationship with food has always been farmers markets and perfectly-styled bowls of soup on marble tables. We are all searching for connection and authenticity, and what we believe will repel people might actually do the exact opposite. We all have the right to tell the truth about our lives, and I've known for a while now that it’s important to me to start owning my narrative. It’s also not just about my story – I haven't met a woman who doesn't struggle with feeling okay about her body and her beauty and her size and all of that. Whether those feelings have escalated into a full-blown eating disorder, a reverence for thinness and an obsession with correcting our physical inadequacies is a part of our country’s food culture, and I very much want to change that.

Changing my own relationship with food ultimately boiled down to relearning to love myself and rekindling my connection with people and the earth. And spending time in the kitchen and in the garden helped me remember that food is so much more than its caloric value – food is joy, and power, and it is a teacher that will always be with me. Eating disorders aren't uncommon at all, but talking about them still is. But we can’t change this part of our food culture, unless we’re courageous enough to speak up. It might be a life long struggle, but I'm going to do my best to speak my truths, in the face of so much pressure to be otherwise.