When junior Rachel Atkinson first learned about the problems in the American food industry, she said she wanted to run away and become a farmer.
But she said Fair, Local, Organic Food, a student organization focused on improving the sustainability of food, showed her there is hope.
FLO held a public forum Tuesday night at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe to discuss issues of sustainability and equality in the food industry.
Vimala Rajendran, owner of the restaurant, said she was glad to help the group bring awareness to the issue.
“It makes me feel proud that I can tell the community exactly what is in the food,” Rajendran said. “I wouldn’t feed my guests what I wouldn’t feed my kids.”
Tom Philpott, food and agriculture correspondent for Mother Jones, co-founder of North Carolina’s Maverick Farms and a speaker at the event, said the sustainability movement is in danger.
“The problem with social movements in the U.S. is that they are impatient,” Philpott said.
Steve Wing, a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said consumers and farmers need to beat the system.
“We need to get away from the monopoly so we can get away from the poisons that affect the environment, the consumers and the workers,” Wing said.
Philpott said large agrbusinesses leave no room for small farmers and consumers to negotiate prices or quality.
“There is this whole political economy for food,” Philpott said. “Who gets access to it and why.”
Philpott said he’s shocked the workers in the food industry are valued so little in American society.
“The people who slaughter and collect the food are among the lowest paid workers in the economy,” Philpott said.
Panelist Eliza MacLean, a farmer at Cane Creek Farm in Snow Camp, said even though local food is more expensive to produce, it’s worth it for her to do it.
“I don’t like the way most meat is produced, so I became the change I wanted to see,” MacLean said. “I’ve shown a loss in income, but I live a rich life.”
Rajendran, who gets the pork for her restaurant from Cane Creek Farm, said she hopes events like the forum will help her better understand why people love her food.
“I want to know what really makes people feel soulful about the food.”
Sophomore Marisa Scavo said events like these allow FLO to build stronger relationships with community members.
“The idea of connection and establishing this vibrant community based on local food is just one of the core themes of FLO,” Scavo said.
Atkinson said FLO allowed her to get through to people and help them understand the issues surrounding industrialized food.
“I don’t want to run anymore,” she said. “I just want to grow my own food and support my local farms.”
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