California Higher Education Food Summit: Nikki Silvestri

California Higher Education Food Summit: Nikki Silvestri

December 15, 2019 1 By Ronny Jaskolski


[ Music ]>>How’s everyone this morning? [ Cheering ] Oh guys. How are
you this morning? [ Cheering ] There you go. That’s what I’d like to hear. So, I’m really, really
happy to be here. This– It feels like coming
home and I was going to wait to shed my tears about
how much I love Tim until the middle of my talk. But I’m going to start now, because we all have
Tim in our mind. But I got into this whole
thing because of Tim. I was a college student
who was really interested in climate change, because
that was the issue that I felt like was the issue of our times. And in a way I still do, but I hadn’t ask the question
what actually lights me up and what gets my heart going. And in conversations,
Tim really saw that food was what lit me up. And so he said, “Hey,
there’s this food conference, called Food and Community. You should come. Just check it out. It’ll be fine. I know your climate change. It’s just four days.” And now 10 years later,
it’s been my whole career. And one of the reasons why
I wanted to say that is because it takes a deeply
spiritual level of humility to be that person that sticks
with a community and an issue for decades, and supports the
shiny objects that America likes to grab on to like me, people
of color who are articulate, who are charismatic,
who like the stage. But the people who support
us, who get us started, who were the ones pushing us
every time we need pushing, are people like Tim. So for me, he is
one of my teachers. And I just wanted to have make
sure that we were all clear, I know whose shoulders I stand
on and I’m very, very grateful to Tim and I’m grateful to
Katy Menard [assumed spelling] because both of them were
the ones that helped push me into where I am right now. So, moving on from there, I
wanted to help set some context because this conference
is beautiful. It’s an inaugural conference,
we’re coming together for the first time and I
wasn’t meant to come up here and do the death and doom story. I meant to come up here
and be a storyteller. I’m meant to come up here
and make sure that we’re all in the same page when it
comes to the complexity and the significance
of food justice. So when thinking about that, what is food insecurity
looks like worldwide? How many people in the
world are food insecure? 805 million people are
food insecure in the world. And that’s about one
in nine people, right? And then you bring that
back to the United States, one in six people in the United
States are food insecure. And the most food
insecure household in the United States,
are black women. Black single mothers
specifically, which tells you a
little something about the factors contributing
to food insecurity other than just lack of
access to food. And finally, one of the
most important things about being food insecure is that diet-related disease
tends to take you out. So 13.2% of African-Americans
have diabetes. And African-Americans are
nearly two times is likely to have diabetes than
average white American. And I’m going to get in to
storytelling in a little bit when it comes to
my personal story but these statistics translate
into people’s cousins, their parents, their aunts,
their uncles, it’s a real thing. Diet-related disease in my
family has been a real thing. So, what does this look
when it comes to families? The beginning of my personal
story starts with my father. My father grew up on
welfare in Los Angeles in the late 1950s
or early 1960s. And one the things that I
always notice about my dad when I was growing up, is the fact that he always
had food going, right? Wake up on Saturday
morning, he’s cooking. Come home after school,
there’s food. Food, food, food, food, food,
food was a thing for him. And it was only when I
got older that I realized that the other people
that I knew that treated food the way my
dad did were a lot of my friends who were from Central America. My Guatemalan friends,
my Mexican friends, my El Salvadorian friends,
some of my Vietnamese friends, some of my Afghani friends,
and I was trying to figure out what was this thread,
what was this thing that I felt was in common? And I started talking
to them about it. And one thing that came up
was that all of these friends that I mentioned, their
parents were immigrants, and all of their parents fled
situations in their countries, and all of their parents
had to do with being hungry. So feeding people for them was
not just you need to have food. Feeding people for them was this
is a basic, basic valuable thing and I am nourishing you, nourishing your body,
nourishing your soul. Ethnic people have a very
deep relationship with food, which is something
I’m going to get into. But I want you to think about
what the implications are when you can’t be nourished, when you have trouble
nourishing yourself, when you have trouble
nourishing your children, when you have trouble nourishing
your spouse and your parents, if you’re an adult breadwinner. I used the word nourish because
food insecurity doesn’t quite do it. The word nourishment
actually gets to the multi-dimensional
way that food feeds us. And it feeds much more
than just our bodies. So to demonstrate this, I wanted
to share a bit of my food story. What was the first
food that I ate? It was the in utero
nutrients that I was sucking through the umbilical
cord from my mom. And to be clear about how
hardcore my mother is, before she got pregnant she put
my father on a diet in addition to herself because she wanted
the moment of conception to be as healthy and as pure and
as rich as humanly possible. She said “Oh no, our baby need
to start right” to be clear, this is what she eating
because we’re going to start getting
pregnant in about a week. And then as she was pregnant
she ate really healthy food. She functionally ate a
microbiotic diet, right. That’s what I grew up eating. There was a grain, there was a
vegetable, there was a protein, in different parts of the
plate and not really mixing. And then occasionally, we
would have enchiladas, right? But my mom was really simple
in the way that she cooked. And she was very, very healthy. So, when I was breastfeeding,
I was getting only the best. When I started eating solid
food, she was the type that would blend her own
baby food in the blender. Only the best, right? And when we grow up, there
was this message about sugar. You are never to eat it,
it is terrible for you. But if you’re really good,
you can have a treat. And to us, a treat
was the raisin bran with the sugar crystals on the
raisins, you know what I mean? That was a treat to us instead
of the regular raisin bran that kind of tasted
like cardboard. But we got the message pretty
early, that there are good foods and there are bad foods. Now, when I got a little
older, I tried to figure out where did that come from? You know, I set my mom down and
I said what was this obsession that you had with sugar
and with eating healthy and with making sure
that we eat healthy? Some thing must have
influenced you, yeah? And she said, “Yeah. Yeah, it did.” The thing that influenced her
was watching her family members fall apart. It was watching her aunt
and uncles become amputees, have diabetes, have
diet-related disease, have congestive heart
failure, all of these things. And I didn’t really– I
didn’t put it together because I thought
what do you mean? I was asking this when I
was I think a young teenager so I didn’t really
understand the concept of diet-related disease. I knew what diabetes was and I
knew that it had something to do with sugar, but I didn’t quiet
understand the correlation when it came to food. And she said, “Well, you know
Pappy,” who was my grandfather. “You know how his legs are
wrapped and he can’t walk?” And I said, “Yeah.” And she said that’s
because of diabetes. And I said, “Oh, he– really?” And she said, “Yeah. And you know Aunt Mildred?” my great aunt, her aunt. “You know how she had a
leg amputated last year?” And I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “Well,
that’s because of diabetes.” And she started going
down the list. “You know uncle Bate? You know how Aunty
Deb has diabetes? You know all of these, right,
one right after the other. And I’m even getting
emotional talking about it like it was my entire
family, my entire family. Our immediate family was
some of the only people that hadn’t been
touched by this. And so for her, food was a
way of saving her children. It was a way of making sure
that when we had grandchildren, when our children
were teenagers, they wouldn’t lose us. So for her, it was justice. It was very serious. And then I started thinking
about my grandmother, and the way that mother
must have grown up. When I would go over
my grandmother’s house when I was little, Nana overcooked most
vegetables, right? We ate canned beets. We ate Kraft mac and cheese. One of our snacks, were
those cheese slices, plastic. And I thought about how
my mom must have grown up eating those 1960s housewife
recipes that were jello was used in everything including
meat, kind of disgustingly, and the way that she must
have put those dots together. And then I started thinking
about the stories I was going to tell my children, about
the way that I grew up and the food that I ate. And it gave me a whole other
level of respect for my family, because– to add complexity
to my food story and the way that I grew up, yes, she fed
us macrobiotic food and yes, we ate really, really healthy. And I didn’t know what kale was
until I was 23 years old, right? I joined an intentional
community because I’m one of those. I’m hippy hardcore. We had our own chickens. We had our garden in the back. We had our food cooperative. It’s in Los Angeles, the
Los Angeles Eco-Village. It’s 50% people of color. It’s basically like the most
badass intentional community in the country. But we would– started
getting CSA boxes. And I had to learn what
these other vegetables were, and had to knock on people’s
doors every other day. What is this? How do you cook it? And I realized how
much I didn’t know. As healthy as I thought I was, I
realized how much I didn’t know. I didn’t know beyond
a chain store. I didn’t know beyond a Ralph’s
or Von’s or anything like that. And then I was the black chick in the intentional community
talking about how, you know, I eat real good but I don’t
know how many varieties of apples there are. I know delicious red. I know that when we had
something to celebrate, we went to Sizzler; and
when we really had something to celebrate because stuff
that was really good, we got to go to Red Lobster. That was what I knew. And so I had to reconcile the
fact that there were many, many, many people like me, who
were on the edge of healthy, who ate healthy within
the mainstream context, but there was a whole
other layer of healthy that I knew nothing about,
that I came to as an adult. And it was a very
humbling experience for me, because when I thought
about why, I had to go back to the context in
which I grew up. What I said in the beginning about how nonfood factors
usually influence food and security, I was an
African-American woman who was a child in
the lat 1980s, early 1990s in Los Angeles,
California context, right? Our first home was on
Wilton Place in 48th. And if you know anything
about LA, you know that that is smacked
out in the middle of the hood. And I remember playing
that game, the get down on the ground
game, when you get pops, and I didn’t know that it
wasn’t a game when I was little. I just knew that my parents
tried to make something like a drive-by shooting,
not be terrifying for me. I remember the LA riots. I remember crashes and things
burning, and not outside of our door but I
remember my friend coming over with lots of stuff, right? Where’d you get all that stuff? We got it from stores and
if there was something going on that I didn’t know about, something outside,
something on the TV. There was a reason why my mom
was crying, I didn’t know why. If any of you– the
context in the early ’90s that most people
have for that is that is Menace II
Society, Boyz on the Hood. Statistically, the gang
wars in Los Angeles during that period are one of the most
vicious civil wars America has had, 15,000 young men and
women were killed within a four to five year period
in that time, 15,000. And I have brothers. I have older foster brothers. I have younger blood brothers. So for my parents raising
black children in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, early
’90s was no fucking joke. For us to be healthy, for us to
be safe, they had to do a lot. They had to shield
us from a lot. They had to figure out what
they were going to do for work. What we were going to do for
play that was going to make sure that we didn’t grow up thinking that the only thing our people
could is kill each other. And food was one of the
ways that they kept us safe. So it’s so much more
important to me than just my mom
wanted to eat healthy. And when we think about
that on a larger scale, there was a study done
called “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?” And this was a study that
was turned into a movie. You can look at out there
clips of it on YouTube about the social
determinance of health. Food is just one of them. But one of the things, there
were startling statistics that they did these
vignettes on. And one of the one that stood out to me always was the
infant mortality section. Because statistically,
a white woman in America with a high school diploma has
a lower infant mortality rate than an African-American
woman with a PhD today. That was startling to me. And the reason why is
very uncomfortable, because when you look at it
historically, African-Americans in America, middle class and
upper class African-Americans, very, very, very
small percentage of African-American
had grandparents that were brain surgeons,
and things like that. Usually, you become middle class
through hard work yourself, and that you get a good job and you become middle
class when you’re an adult. But during your formative
years from 0 to 5 and 5 to 10, you’re still breathing
the same air that working class people are. Your system is still getting
triggered, constantly triggered by the unknown, by
survival mode, by violence. And this is when your
reproductive system is forming. And it never goes away. It’s cumulative. The effects of poverty
are cumulative. And that was one of the
most important things that this study emphasized. You can’t get out because
if you were there at all, it stays in your body. I will have a lower infant
mortality rate because of some of the things I went through as
a young child and someone else who didn’t grow up like me,
no matter where I end up. And that’s really humbling. So when we talk about justice,
we are actually talking about everyone, from
beginning to end. And there’s always food deserts
to go along with these things. That’s just infant
mortality when it comes to the stress hormone
running through our bodies, when it comes to air and water. But any community dealing
with the social determinance of health, where
there is poverty, there are also liquor stores. And this is a really good
time to share some hope because there’s a lot of tension
around this kind of thing. And one of things that was
really hopeful to me is that people with color
and those most impacted by an issue, are brilliant. In terms of mother being the– need being the source of
all invention, we will come up with things and we
will figure it out. I was the executive director
of People’s Grocery in Oakland, California for many years,
and one of the main programs that we had was the
Growing Justice Institute. Now, one of the impetuous for the Growing Justice
Institute was we wanted young people to be able get
jobs, to get good training, to go out there and really
do their thing, right? But then when we had discussions
at the office, we thought, “Well, do we want to just train
them to get low-paying jobs because 7 of the 10
lowest paying jobs in the country are food jobs?” So that’s probably
not going to work. We don’t want to train them
into $2.15 minimum wage as a server somewhere. So, we thought this needs to
be an entrepreneurship program. And let’s start with adults
because once we have adults who were going to the program,
well, we can transition this to really being a functional
healthy youth program. And when we got this
group of people, it was nine African-American
adults from West Oakland. And we said, “What solutions do
you have for the problem of food in security in West Oakland?” The stuff they come up with
was freaking brilliant, absolutely brilliant, right? We had a partnership
with Highland Hospital which was the public
hospital in Oakland. And we were doing a childhood
obesity case study, right? So there was the
pediatric obesity clinic, and all these two and
three-year-olds who had diabetes and diet-related
disease and were obese, because now two-year-olds
can be obese. And so, they partnered
with us to give each of these families a community
supported agriculture box and cooking lessons and recipes,
and have a support group, around incorporating
healthy food into their diet. And actually, a quick
vignette about this program because this is also
the ingenuity of people. This is a primarily Latino group
and so we had a translator. And one of the beautiful
things that happened with it, we tried to do the regular
cooking class recipes, what do you eat at
home conversation. And then just said, let’s just
get these people in a circle and have them talk
to each other. And the stuff that
happened was incredible. There were conversations
about, hey, you can put these
things in tamales. I tried it last night,
it worked, right? And this is how I got
my kids to eat it. Hey, I’d chop this up and put
the spice on it and put it in a tostada, they didn’t
know the difference. And they were just–
it was just hilarious about all these parents
who are fooling their kids in eating these different foods
and it was actually working. It was actually working. And so, one note that I just
want to throw in there is that creativity will find a way. It will find a way but you have
to give it space to breathe and leave it alone, so one of the Growing Justice
Institute people wanted to be a nutrition educator. And so, we sent her to
this hospital project as our representative to
do the nutrition classes. And it was one of
her first contracts. And now, she runs a very
successful nutrition consulting business. There was another woman who
did a partnership with a church where she put a garden at
the church so that the food that was being served on
Sundays could be sourced from the garden. And there are programs like this
that exist all over the country. But usually, when I
see programs like that, they’re run by a nonprofit
and funded by a foundation. They’re not run by the people
in the community who came up with the idea who
maybe got a microgrant and are doing an
independent of anybody else. There was a woman who lived in
a housing project who noticed that there were source–
there were resources for them to get healthy food but
people couldn’t get there. So she organized a
transportation service to specifically go to a farmer’s
market, go to the wick office, and go to different places where there were food
resources, a van service. And every single project
was just as applicable, every single project, brilliant. We actually didn’t
have to do that much. And so one thing I want to
emphasize when we’re talking about creating justice is that
there are real-time examples of what it means to
give people the space to develop their own ideas
and give them the support that it takes to make sure
that they can do it themselves. But then, this leads
us to attention. Because when we’re talking
about the bigger picture of food security, there
are a lot of complexities. One of the complexities
is the way that we talk about healthy food and
what is healthy in America. MyPlate, right? MyPlate. I still really can’t
deal with MyPlate because I grew up with a food pyramid
and that’s always going to be the image that is emblazed
in my head because Nana had that on the cabinet
next to the refrigerator but MyPlate is the same idea. And we used to have
food journals at People’s Grocery as well. And we had many different
types of people from many different cultures who are recording their
daily intake of food. And when we were trying to
encourage them to eat healthy and they wanted recommendations,
we would say, well, you can eat this, this,
this, this and that. And these foods are healthy. But something that is very
uncomfortable to talk about is that actually people with different ethnicities
do have some biological differences. We have different food
sensitivities depending on where we come from, right? Something that I can
eat might make you sick. And with there might be
some similarities in terms of your ethnic group and
your cultural background with the types of food
sensitivities you have. And we discovered this
pretty organically, right? There are certain people,
especially people that come from cultures that have been
in the same place for thousands of years and have an intermix. I’m a hodgepodge because
I’m a child of slavery. So I can– you know, I have a
little bit of food sensitivity to almost everything, but my body can also
process almost everything. Because I got the masses’ blood, I got the Cherokee
folks that own me. I got their blood, yeah,
all of that, that’s all me. So I feel pretty
lucky in the game. But there were a lot
of people who came through People’s
Grocery’s doors. Who kept saying, you know, I’m trying to eat what my
doctor is telling me to eat, and it’s making me sick. And so, we had to take them
to the process as saying, OK, what did your grandmother eat? Do you remember? Do you remember the recipes? Do you remember the
spices that they used? Most specifically, do you remember the food
combinations that they did? Because I will not tell you how
many times I have gone to one of these damn foodie restaurants that are mixing all
these different types of foods together and mashing
this up and using this spice. And then I have gas
and I’m sick afterward. And it’s like, yeah, these food
combinations have not existed for thousands of years, but there are food combinations
that really do work. So don’t just start
mixing things together, thinking that it’s
going to work. And 9 times out of 10, when these people started eating
what their grandmother’s ate, they got better. It didn’t always work
and it wasn’t that linear but there was a theme
there that we saw. And so, the implications for
trying to do food planning and food systems
development in America is that MyPlate is not going to
work for everyone, it’s not. And when we talk about places
that don’t have grocery stores, the only kind of grocery
stores that are funded by the $200 million fresh food
initiative and things like that, are mainstream grocery stores. They’re not ethnic
markets, typically. But we have got to start
grouping ethnic markets into the bigger picture when
we talk about groceries. Korean markets, African markets,
the Mexican markets that are in Southern California. The Guatemalan markets,
they’re in Southern California. All these different
types of markets that will sell foods
the different types of people can eat is a
very, very important factor. And we need to figure out,
how to have that conversation, which leads to a much deeper
issue and a much deeper tension when we’re talking about
food security which is– you know what, I can
see that the energy in the room has dampened. It’s hard to sit and
listen to someone for a long period
of time, I know. Everybody stand up. We’re going to do an energizer because our bodies
need [inaudible]. Everybody lift your hands up. Wiggle your fingers. Stretch it out a
little bit in this way. Keep wiggling. Keep wiggling. Bend over this way,
keep wiggling. Roll your shoulders
back a little bit. Wiggle your shoulder. Now bend over. [ Inaudible Remark ] Shake it out. Shake it out. All right, sit back down. Good job. So, now that we’re back. Another tension and we’re going to get a little bit
political right now. So come with me, it’s OK. But this whole thing about
patenting seeds, right? When you’re dealing with ethnic
cultures who have had thousands of years of food
traditions, doing something like commodifying the DNA
and the genetic profile of their seeds is
culture-destroying. And unfortunately, a lot
of economic development and culture destruction
go hand and hand. That’s just the way that globalization
imperialism has worked over the last few hundred years. But the implication for our
food system has gotten really, really intense especially
recently. Because one of the most–
going back to climate change, one of the first ways
that people in America and worldwide are going
to experience the effects of climate change is through
food, because minor fluctuations in temperature will
dramatically effect crops. And that will lead to spikes
in the price of grains which is a huge subsistence crop
for the majority of the world. And that leads to food rights,
as we’ve seen on and off over the last 10 years. But when you go a
step underneath that, what you’re looking
at is the way that when people have their food
traditions taken away from them, it’s a huge blow
to their culture. And when you commodify food, you’re destroying
a piece of people. So, how do you interact
with that? Not all commodification
of food is bad. There’s always been trade. There’s always been barter. There’s always been the
buying and selling of things. What I’m talking about is scale
of which this is happening, and the balance, and trying to
make sure that we do it in a way that preserves cultures
while still ensuring that there is enough
economic development so that everyone has
their basic needs met. The unfortunate thing about
this larger conversation is just that most of the time;
there isn’t a conversation about balance, because
culture is not preserved at the same rate as the
basic need is preserved. Or culture isn’t
preserved at the rate that economic development to meet everyone’s basic
needs is increasing. I’ll say that. But there is even
opportunity in that. Because the raw ingredients
for the food movement to become a force, to
become a real force; the way that other movements
are and happen, I don’t know that I’ve seen any better
raw ingredients especially when you look at
social movement theory. What I just said
about climate change in food is actually pretty
significant, because the amount of money right now that
is being rerouted to deal with the climate crisis
is enormous, enormous. The president’s resiliency task
force last year was 25 mayors from all across the country
that were coming together to support the president with
recommendations about how to make cities across the
country more climate resilient when there’s cases
of extreme weather. And these recommendations
are going to translate into every single department in
the United States government, rerouting a certain
part of their budget to climate resiliency. And if food is one of the first
ways that people are going to interact with climate change, that means that our
movement just got access to millions of dollars. But we’re not really talking
about it that way yet. Now, when it comes to a
national movement that’s founded in justice, the food
movement also has to leg up another movement. When you look at the
environmental movement, it was really– there’s
a funny conversation that I’ve been having with
the big green groups in DC because the environmental
movement has stopped being scary, and so it’s
losing a bit of steam. But, I mean, they were
kidnapping people in the 1970s. When I read about
what was happening to get the Clean Air Act
and Clean Water Act passed, they were– they were some–
they were [inaudible]. You know, they weren’t
the immediate we’re going to go become a party
establishment kind of folks, or at least they were
the establishment folks. They had their lawyers but
they also had the people that were willing to, you
know, burn things, splash paint on things and be really
scary; and those parts of the environmental movement
have all gradually been sucked into the bigger machine, and then we wonder why we can’t
pass the climate bill, right. Part of social movement
theory is that you have to have the people that are
super scary to make the people who were trying to
actually be balanced look at a lot more attractive
to the powers they’d be. The scary people have to exist. And in food, we actually
have a bunch of people who were in the middle. We have a lot of people
who were in the middle, who could pretty
easily come over and be in the establishment,
and who was, you know, one or two more years could be
over here just chaining herself to things everyday, right? And the opportunity
in that is enormous. Because when we sophisticate as
a movement, and we really start to talk strategy in a different
way, we’re going to be able to have the full spectrum of
pressure and the full spectrum of what it takes to build power. And we are naturally moving
forward in that momentum. And more importantly, the mainstream food movement
doesn’t exist the same way that the mainstream
environmental movement does. There aren’t huge cadres of
people of color trying to break into the mainstream
food movement, because food justice is
actually pretty mainstream which is pretty surprising but
not surprising when you think about the fact that the First
Lady is an African American woman, and the Let’s
Move campaign is one of the most mainstream
things you have. The understanding that children of color are the most food
insecure people in this country because they come from single
black mamas is a thing. It’s a thing in DC. It’s a thing in Hollywood. It’s a thing on the streets. There have been very
few movements that have had the potential
to be founded in justice. I just want that to
sit for a second. When we really start
to feel ourselves, and when we really see
ourselves as what we can be, there hasn’t really
been a movement like us, and it’s important for that
to just be internalized. So what can you do? So a lot of information and
I’ve been talking quite a bit. How does this get personalized? One thing that’s really
important to remember is to locate yourself in
the fight for justice. Who are you? Who are your people
and what is your fight? And allow yourself to be
surprised by the answer. One secret that I have
kind of carried for a lot of my life is the fact that
when I think about food, what gets me emotional
in terms of the people that don’t have anyone
to speak for them, are white Midwesterners who
have nothing but strip malls and are morbidly obese, who
are on the political scale, much close to Sarah
Palin than Obama. It surprises the hell out of me. I’ll tell you that much. I didn’t grow up with
these people, right? Working class white people in Los Angeles actually
don’t exist. They get pushed out
to the suburbs. But now, my husband
is a white man and I have an uncle in Texas. And there has been this, there
has been this realization and this understanding
in me that the part of me that felt compassion and
that felt drawn to fight for that community was the
part of me that recognizes that people that are supposed
to fight for everyone, liberals, progressives, democrats,
make fun of them. We can be really
mean, progressives. We can alienate. We can ridicule. We can mock. And yeah, a lot of those
people are fighting for things that we don’t believe in, but most working
class white Americans in this country are just
being manipulated by news, by the actual 1% that
doesn’t want things to change. There are actually
plenty of people in the 1% who do want things to change. But there’s a whole machine
that pits us against each other, that has for a very long time. And some part of me
saw through that. So when I say locate yourself in
the fight for justice, I mean, who are your people for real? I also want to note
that we need to be clear when it comes to ideology. That’s also something
that we can do. One of the most horrifying
things that I encountered this
year was coal piling. Do people know what
coal piling is? Getting a lot– OK,
so coal piling is when you have a big ass
truck, gas dazzling truck, and you put a smoke stack
type thing on the back of it to deliberately blow black smoke
when you’re driving in front of a Prius just to say FU in
your environmentalism, right? So this is a thing. This exists. And it was heartbreaking
when I first saw it. But then when I’m talking
about getting underneath that, what could possibly
drive someone to do something like
that, right? What could possibly–
I don’t know. I’m going to choose to
believe that there’s no one who doesn’t want to
breathe clean air. No one wants to stand behind;
even the person driving that truck doesn’t want to stand
behind their truck breathing in the black smoke as
it’s flying in their face. They don’t want that. What they’re raging against is
this mockery and this ridicule that I just described. It’s those of us on
the coast looking at good old American values and
saying you’re not good enough. You are old school. You just need to change. You just need to
be more like us. But when I really get down to it
and I talk to my uncle in Texas, I actually kind of got the
way that he saw us, right? I can’t chop wood. Like if I was stuck somewhere,
out in the middle of the woods, I would be freaked out. I’d be trying to call people from my cellphone
with no reception. I wouldn’t know what
tree this is. I wouldn’t know what
moss that is. I wouldn’t know how
to find water. I’m basically an
animal in a habitat that has no skills whatsoever. And for people that grew up with
good old traditional American values, that looks
pretty stupid, and I can actually
understand that. And so finding the
common ground and finding where our ideologies are
different, was really important to me because then
it helped me find out where our ideologies
were the same, where there were some things
we actually agreed on, because there were no
amount of statistics. And this is something that’s
really, really, really important for movement-based
people to understand. Depending on who you’re
talking to, there area no amount of statistics that are going to convince someone
of anything, right? Cold hard facts don’t do
nothing when you’re dealing with an ideological difference. So start there. Figure out if there’s just basic
values that you disagree on. And then figure out what
that person is protecting by keeping those values. What is it that they love? What is it that’s important
to them about their identity, that their ideology
helps them to protect? And then help them to
protect their identity. Help them to understand
that this cold hard facts that I’m giving you is
not me saying that the way that your parents raised
you, this thing that has been in your families
for generations, this thing that inspires
the same love in you, the justice inspires
in me is not wrong. You are not wrong. As a human being, it’s so
important for us to reach out and share this with each other. Nothing about who you are is
wrong, but there are things that you might believe in
that could be killing me. So where do we meet
in the middle on this? Learn the other side is
the next thing you can do. When I am in Santa
Barbara speaking at a higher education
food conference that has the word justice
in it, I dress like this. I wear my hair like this. I may drop and F-bomb
in my talk. When I’m in DC, I
don’t dress like this. I don’t wear my hair like this,
and I don’t drop the F-bombs when I’m in the White House. And what that does is that helps
me to understand the other side. So Monsanto for real, like
for real, what are you doing? What are you doing? Why? Why are you doing this? What is it that you think
you’re helping with this? And, you know, there are
actually some really answers to these questions. There is no fantasy in
which we can get rid of all modern conveniences
and go backwards 50 years. It isn’t going to work. There are hell of
people on this planet. There will be at some point 12
billion people on this planet. How are we going
to feed everybody? How are we going
to house everybody? The climate has changed. It is changing. There is no going
back from that. How are going to keep everybody
safe in the middle of storms? We are animals in a habitat and that we have terraformed
our habitat to the point where we might not survive it. There are very real
considerations and there’s very real ways
that we need to use technology. So when I say learn
the other side, I mean that we actually have to
be incredibly sophisticated now. The time for rage
against the machine like that civil disobedience
stuff that I’m talking about, it can’t just be with this
amorphous we know things will be better. So to our people, make
them better in a way that I will agree with. Now is the time how much
money are we talking about? How many people on the
planet are we talking about? How many calories do
these people need? How do we get these calories in a way we maybe don’t
have to patent seeds? How much yield are we going to
get from these particular crops? How does that fit
into the politics of this country considering
the fact that they have a loan from the IMF considering
the fact that this particular
dictator has guerilla warriors in all these different cities? I mean the level of
complexity of global trade and global food is
it’s mind-boggling. And so these companies, the
level that they’re playing at when it comes to
the number of factors that they are considering,
is really intense. And we have got to be able to
participate in that conversation in a way that’s very
sophisticated and very real and very concrete,
because when we talk about solutions we really have to know what we’re
talking about. So know the other
side also known as know what you’re talking
about and get specific. And what I’m going to end
with is that I’m talking less about social change and I’m more
talking about transformation and what transformation takes. Transformation takes [inaudible] because locating
yourself helps you to identify your own
identity, your own ideologies that you’re not willing to
budge on, which then allows you to reach out the
hand of relationship to someone else who’s
very different than you, and understand what drives them
and what drives their identity in their ideology,
which then allows you to talk concrete numbers,
concrete solutions with timelines and
real money attached because that’s what it
takes to shift policy and that’s what it takes
to shift global systems. That’s what transformation
looks like. And you got to go
hard, will you, exactly who you are and do you. Because I fully acknowledge and
I completely validate the side of me that has an
eco-spiritualist [inaudible] that does Native
American ceremony and goes to sweat lodges and wakes
up at 2:00 in the morning to go do ocean ceremonies on
the full moon, that’s totally who I am, to be clear. That’s how I rule. Fully validating and immersing
myself in that part of myself, allows me to go to DC to a
meeting in the White House on food insecurity and
talk in an educated way to the Monsanto representative
about the number of people that are going to
be on the planet and how we can functionally
figure out what the solution
to that is. I’m extreme because
that’s how I rule. My question to you
is how do you rule? There is no wrong answer. We’re all links in the chain
to get everything done. And when you do you are
linking the chain really well and inspires and
encourages other people to do their link really well. So that is my challenge to you. And it’s whether
you’re a student, it’s whether you’re
an administrator, it’s whether you’re community
member, a parent, anything, take that with you, do you. Thank you. [ Applause ] I’m going to do some
question and answer. So, yeah. So Tim has a
microphone and he’s going to around in case
anybody has any questions, thoughts, comments. There is one back there.>>There we go. All right.>>I love your description of
understanding where, you know, your father-in-law
is coming from, you know, white Texas culture. Could you apply that Monsanto? Where are they coming from?>>Monsanto, without judging
their intentions, right? Monsanto’s intention
is to make sure that economic development
doesn’t slow down while they are
feeding people and it’s economic
development for everyone for their bottom line of
their CEOs for the countries that they’re working with
and for the countries– for the institutions that are
loaning this country’s money to become more autonomous
and secure. They also have an interest in
protecting the political lines. They keep the world going. What’s going on in the
Middle East right now? They’re interested
in protecting oil. They’re interested in
protecting our ability that can continue
running on fossil fuels. Functionally, Monsanto doesn’t
want the world to collapse. And at this point, the way the
globalization works is anyone thing falls down,
there’s a huge risk or at least that’s what
they want us to believe. And so, when I’m in
conversation with Monsanto and I’m really trying to figure
out what our common ideology is and where we diverge, we
probably agree on 10% of things that are very big picture. And our ideological
differences are in this 90%, because fundamentally
we don’t agree on the way the people
should be paid. We don’t agree on how bottom
lines should just continue to go up and up and up. We don’t agree on preserving
culture in the same way. So, I think you didn’t
quite ask this question but I’m going to
go there anyway. When it comes to helping
Monsanto shift, what I talked about in terms of building
power on the spectrum from civil disobedience to the
folks that can actually argue, we need our $1,400-an-hour
lawyers that can speak our language
who believe in our values. That’s really what we need, so
that they can be talking to them over here while we are chaining
ourselves to their office. And we just haven’t had both
at the same time quite yet. We’ve had our chaining
ourselves to their office and we’ve had the $1,400-an-hour
lawyers who kind of believed in our values when they were in
law school but then they need to feed their kids too, and so
they do what they got to do, but we need to figure out how
to bring these halves together and have them talk each other
so that we’re building power in a more sophisticated way. Did that answer your question? OK. Other questions? Yeah? [ Inaudible Remark ] If you can wait a second,
Tim’s coming with a mic and they’re recording,
so I just want to make sure we get it down.>>I just wanted to say
that really hit home for me, talking about the morbidly
obese Midwesterners. There’s a lot of people
in my middle school who are over 300 pounds. And it’s also an area that’s
really split between back to the [inaudible] and
sustainable agriculture and then very, very
conventional. And when you talked about people
about economic development and the way that it
also goes hand in hand with the destruction of
culture, I’m wondering if you think that– because
a lot of those Midwesterners who were very stuck in
conventional agriculture, see this potential shift towards
a sustainable food system as an attack on their culture. And I’m wondering how we meet
halfway on that and, you know, preserve cultures
holistically and not– yeah.>>Yeah. There are two
questions in your question. One is in general when progress
makes a particular group of people feel like who they
are is being taken from them, how do you deal with that? And then the other question is
specifically with this example with sustainable agriculture
and conventional agriculture, how do you reconcile
that difference? So, over here in this camp
you have a group of people and what needs to happen
to make us all healthy and sustainable makes them
feel like their livelihood and their identity
is being taken away. Most of the time, when I’ve
encountered that dynamic, that group of people
has historically felt like their values and who
they are hasn’t been valued by the larger society. Nine times out of 10, they
feel marginalized and have for a very long time, and it felt like people
haven’t listened to them, and it felt like their
interest haven’t been protected. So getting to really
concrete conversations about what interest of yours
haven’t been protected, and the conventional
agriculture people, their interest haven’t
been protected. I mean, the other side of the
American farmland story is that you have a bunch of
Africans who got brought to this country to work the
land, because Native Americans, when they tried to enslave
them were just like FU. We know this landscape
way better than you. We don’t run, or we’ll die because that’s kind
of who we are. We will not be enslaved
in our own land. So African-Americans
were brought over. And white southern farmers– the history of a working class
white farmers in this country, is also a very sad one. Because when George
Washington became president of the United States, he was
one of the wealthiest people in this country, to be clear. There is no such thing
as this every man who was running the country,
Washington, Thomas Jefferson, all of those people,
hell of money. They were the 1%. And they structured the
beginnings of this country to even alienate
their own people, because things haven’t
actually changed that much. So Midwesterners, who have felt
like everything has been taken from them over and over
and over and over again, southerners who have felt
like everything has been taken from them over and over and over
again back to the civil war, in a way, they’re right. We have a very common struggle but people tend not
to see it that way. Usually those people don’t
expect me to come and say, “Actually, I feel you”,
because they’re pitting us against each other. So, conventional agriculture–
at least in the conversation that I’ve had– has been less
about conventional agriculture and more about this
is the way of living, that once again I’ve
managed to attach myself to, and once again not only are
you trying to take it way, you’re saying that
I’m hurting people. Just like you said when I
had to give up my slaves, you said that I was
hurting people so I did change my
whole lifestyle. And believe me, I’d taken a
lot of soul searching and a lot of emotional intelligence
training for me to get to the point where I can say
something like that identify with someone thinking that taking away their slaves
was actually destroying their whole lifestyle. But we have to get into really
concrete ways of allowing that group of people to
experience some safety so that they can choose
their own path forward, and unfortunately there’s no
simple or easy way to do that. It takes a really long time. The last thing I’ll
say about this is that the environmental
protection agency is trying to do that right now with
the clean power plan. They’re going to
allow every state. They set a series of criteria for what emissions targets
every state has to meet and these emissions target
for carbon are the same. But the way every state to gets to meet these emissions targets
is different because it depends on that state’s subsidies. It depends on that
state’s innovation pipeline for new technologies, et
cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And there are many states
that still fighting it but it’s much harder to fight
when there’s nothing they have to do except figure out their
own way to get to a certain set of criteria that is
very hard to argue with. And so there are people
that are coming and kind of flocking these different
states and holding them and saying, “Yo, we know
all your resources have been extracted and you haven’t
gotten very much for it. That’s probably why
you’re really angry.” Let’s just sit down
and talk about this. So it could take 25 to 50 years
by giving people enough safety so that they have the power to choose their own
path is the way to go. It’s just hard to figure
out how to do that. Did I answer your question? OK. So thank you
all very, very much. I’m going to be around
for a little bit. And so, I look forward
to meeting some of you. Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Music ]