Notes and Reflections from Humanizing the Food Systems Conference, Baltimore, MD November 9-11, 2017

picture taken at Lord Baltimore Hotel, MD, USA 2017

What makes food good in addition to affordability, ingredients, flavors, tastes, freshness,
locality and labor, is the trusting relationship, which including the process of ‘knowing’ ourselves and how we relate to others towards the common good and shared goals.

I was intrigued by the theme of this year with an emphasis on “Humanizing,” what that
means by definition is to make a place or system more pleasant or more suitable for people. With that being said, to betterment the food system is to betterment the quality of lives through elevating engaged humanities.

I started off the conference by joining the Food Frontiers film screening during pre-conference evening. The session was led by Leo Horrigan, Food System Correspondent from Center for Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University. Followed by his thirty-five minute documentary were discussions among participants and guest speaker Rodney Taylor, who is the Director of Nutrition Services based at Riverside Unified School District. The film featured Farm to School movement, as Rodney mentioned twenty years ago only three school districts in entire nation initiated linking local farms to school districts, which compare to nowadays thousands of schools have participated in this pioneer farm-to-school movement. Rodney also addressed his visions and experiments of turning school salad bars to the first model towards creating access and healthy meals for low-income families’ children. Under his revolutionary leadership, school food services programs across the country began the revolutions of supporting locally-grown produce as well as partnerships-building with local farmers.

On the first day of the conference, I participated in opening plenary when the theme of Humanizing the Food System was unfolded by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) board members, reverend Dr. Heber Brown III, and Dr. Samina Raja from University of Buffalo. They indicated the importance of imagination and creative collaborations. I felt deeply resonated with the reference they derived from Wendell Berry, “Generalizations alone, without the particularizing power of imagination, is dehumanizing and destructive.” By realizing individuals are part of the problems as well as solutions, it is necessary to shift perspectives from blaming others (or demanding the counterparts to make changes) towards healing. In other words, what and how we could do or perceive things differently. Michael Rozyne, who is the Board Chair and Red Tomato facilitated small group conversations about “How Wide Your Circle?” which encouraged participants to recall a time of how ‘assumption machinery’ prevented them from engaging with someone outside their
normal crowds, or otherwise how and what happened when they challenged their
assumptions. Through this in-depth self-examination and engaged dialogue, I understood that assumptions and flawed perceptions are the ultimate enemies, which limit our own capacities to initiate collaborations. In respond to the ongoing presence of differences, it critical for us to take a humanizing approach from bridging the “perceiving differences” to meaningful and productive engagement.

The word of ‘humanity’ itself is a manifestation of being true to who we are. This directly results on how we treat other people with dignity and respect aside from pre-established beliefs or assumptions. Speaking on the interconnectivity between food and humanity,
what I learned from the circumstances at this conference is the meaning of real
fulfillment. What does not make people feel satisfied from food or eating, is the perception (or perspectives) we hold onto to at the moment. One of the unspoken challenges around food systems is truthful human connectivity regardless of social constructionism. In order to make sense of the complexity of human living experiences and social circumstances, it is easy to organize the system based on simplified interpretation or social constructs. However, the downside of piecing together “likeness,” “familiarities,” or even so-called “relevancy,” (for
the sake of protection and being in comfort,) is an ignorance of co-existence. What makes food good in addition to affordability, ingredients, flavors, tastes, freshness, locality and labor, is the trusting relationship, which including the process of ‘knowing’ ourselves and how we relate to others towards the common good and shared goals.

At the end of the conference, participants came together and sat as circle at ballroom where the opening plenary took place. Beyond gratitude and reflectivity, it was a soothing yet promising moment of truth. All attendees shared equal opportunities to speak out and
exchange their thoughts with other participants in the room. Cohesively and despite centralized commanding, a microphone was being passed on smoothly from one participant to another who wanted to voice themselves through sharing. With the notes of singing-along “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” It takes A Region Conference bade farewell to the gathering in Baltimore, yet unbounded with determination and rising momentum to the year of 2018, where will be reunited again in the nation of civil rights engine, Philadelphia.  

In a nutshell, my biggest take away from the conference is the essence of humanizing the food systems is to humanize mankind. We eat to connect who we are in relation to others. With the aim of cultivating shared understanding and collective wisdom, the increasing needs of adaptability, authenticity and resiliency are await to grow and co-evolve unconditionally.

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