Our food system is under heavy fire. Decades of scientific research and investigative journalism have come together in a wave of protest against the ways in which food is produced, distributed, and consumed in the United States. At the heart of this debate is the issue of food sovereignty, an umbrella term that seeks to answer a profoundly complicated and timely question: Who decides what we eat?
This question is the focus of Food Sovereignty Week, a series of public events organized by the Orfalea Foundation and Share Our Strength that will take place September 9-15 in Santa Barbara. Highlights include a free screening of the documentary A Place at the Table on Tuesday, September 10, followed by a discussion titled The Future of Hunger with celebrated author Jan Poppendieck on September 12. The events conclude with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s second annual Table of Life Gala on Sunday, September 15.
Although each event explores different issues through different perspectives, they share a common premise that public policies in the United States have failed to create an equitable food system that fosters both environmental and human health.
“Food Sovereignty Week is an opportunity for concerned people and organizations to come together and learn about progress in the areas of hunger alleviation, food literacy, and food system reform,” says Lois Mitchell, president of the Orfalea Foundation and one of the chief organizers of the events. “It’s all connected. When people understand how food affects their health, their communities, and their children’s ability to learn, they strive to make better choices.”
Mitchell says Food Sovereignty Week developed organically, starting with a desire to bring author and sociologist Jan Poppendieck to Santa Barbara. Poppendieck is also featured in A Place at the Table, so the Orfalea Foundation decided a screening of the film would be an engaging way to build momentum for her discussion. The timing of these two events coincided perfectly with the Foodbank’s annual Table of Life Gala, and suddenly Food Sovereignty Week was born.
“The screening of A Place at the Table provides some context for and promotes the work of Jan Poppendieck,” says Erin Weber, special events coordinator for the Orfalea Foundation. “Those two events are either low or no-cost events, and their purpose is to raise awareness for how we arrived at our current circumstances and what we can do to change them.”
The week will conclude with the Table of Life Gala, which provides fundraising avenues for donors to contribute to the issues addressed at the first two events. According to Mitchell, philanthropy performs a pivotal role in many cases like this, where social benefit programs have been veritably abandoned or avoided by the public sector. All proceeds from the Gala will support the Foodbank’s Feed the Future program to advance nutritional health and food literacy for children of all ages.
A Place At the Table screens for free September 10, 7 p.m., at Marjorie Luke Theatre. On September 12, The Future of Hunger: An Evening with Jan Poppendieck takes place at the same time and place (tickets are $5 online and $10 at the door). For info about both, visit foodsovweek.com. The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s Table of Life Gala is September 15 at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. For info, visit foodbanksbc.org/tableoflifegala.html.