Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Decolonizing University Food Courts: Towards Another Way of Learning

As a university student I took up arms against capitalism on my campus (Cal Poly Pomona). My preferred choice of weapon--my word. The battleground: “Pizza with the Presidents”, a quarterly facade designed to make students think our voices are being heard. I fired the first shot aimed at the university administration, “how is it that our campus sits on very fertile land, agricultural space, yet there are no organic/healthy food alternatives available to us? How can I as a student have access to work this land and grow natural vegetables and fruits that can be prepared and served on campus and made available to the surrounding community?” The university president, Dr. Ortiz, and his administrators could not provide me with an answer. So I began networking with other students who were asking the same questions. This is when I realized that my activism was to be dedicated to defending the land- finding land, and planting seeds.

If we take a look at university food courts we can see the local impact of the globalization of food, taste and disease. Mega food corporations contribute to global capitalism by spreading culinary imperialism on our campuses across the United States. What is culinary imperialism? It is the imposition of European food ways, heavily meat based, processed, and high in sodium and sugar—Mother Earth destroying food ways.

Modern-colonial structures and institutions like the university food court and hospitality-culinary programs (like the Collins College of Hospitality Management where I received my B.S.) are not only the testing grounds for culinary imperialists but also the hosting sites of the research and development of the commodities, services and experiences that colonize and capitalize on our taste buds, appetites and knowledge. The “Freshman Fifteen” is not a phenomena but rather a modern-colonial dis-ease spread by the daily consumption of Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, Panda Express, Subway, Pepsi, Roundtable Pizza and a 24hour Denny's. All of these mega food corporations are fiscally, ecologically and socially non-sustainable investors in Cal Poly Pomona’s operating budget. These corporate concessions are the product of neoliberal government and CSU Board of Trustees policies and plans that are rapidly privatizing our education system. Other implications the neo-colonization of our education experience include is a university mandate that forces student organizations and academic programming to only contract Cal Poly Pomona’s catering services. This supposedly to keep capital flowing within the university as apposed to supporting other off-campus local and healthy restaurants. Clearly this is a top-down, narrow minded, short-term managerial and capitalist response to address the perpetual ‘Budget Cuts’ to our public education system.
This is why the fight against the privatization of our education system must also be rooted in an anti-capitalist pro humanity and pro ecological Indigenous perspective that seeks to create Another University (a Zapatista inspired university) or as the rebel folks at UC Berkeley dubbed it, a “Third World College”.


This is also why on May 1, 2006 I Cal Poly Pomona students in an act of rebellion decided to temporarily shut down the Marketplace (one of Cal Poly Pomona’s colonial food hubs that hosts Taco Bell, Panda Express and Carl’s Jr.) in protest against the Wars, HR 4437, and the privatization of our education. We were successful in this by inviting professors to host their classes in the Marketplace and asking students to not purchase anything from there.
We gathered food donations and provided free roasted corn and (not the ideal choice but)...carne asada too :-(. The main lesson here though was showing the university that we can 1) Feed ourselves and 2) Educate ourselves, which in addition to economically attacking the corporate food industry, bridging the issues and making our voices heard. It was a beautiful day to be a student in rebellion and the first organized manifestation I actively participated in. Since those days in 2006 our campus has evolved and the topic of sustainability is now a growing discussion that many can bear witness to: Pomona Organics Student Enterprise, Poly Fresh, the Climate Commitment Task Force and the Collins College farm to restaurant student led project. 
In shifting this discussion towards a transnational perspective, I would like to share how university students in Mexico City are responding to the globalization of food, taste, and dis-ease.
During the First World Festival of Dignified Rage in Mexico City the Zapatistas and The Other Campaign hosted a weeklong gathering in the barrios and communities of Iztapalapa, Mexico City; Caracol Oventic, Chiapas; and San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico in the winter of 2008-2009. As a participant observer and coordinator of a trans-university student delegation from California, Oregon and Wisconsin I engaged in talking circles, panel presentations and a wide range of counter-cultural production spaces created in these rebel territories. As a decolonial epicurean I focused my senses on how food was being expressed as a form of dignified rage and rebellion. My site, ears and nose gravitated me towards a cheetah printed school bus with funky looking bicycles staged in front and on top of it- the “Che-bus.”
There was also a fire pit surrounded by a wide array of frutas, vegetales, zines and stencils displayed by an equally colorful community of young urban rebels. From the fire pit I could smell the scent of roasted corn and burning copal. This calpulli de estudiantes were from Latin America's most prestigious institution of higher education, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM), who came to the Digna Rabia festival to share their story in creating an autonomous university kitchen place as space of resistance. The bikes were functional works of art designed to operate modern kitchen tools like the blender and ice crusher powered by peddling and not electricity. The “Che-bus” is ran on bio-diesel made by recycling kitchen grease. The food was gathered by dumpster diving and donations.
In 1999 the student strikes at UNAM cultivated new opportunities for autonomous decolonial projects including a third world food project, Comedor Popular Vegetariano Auditorio Che Gueverra (CPVACG). Students at a grassroots level occupied a university food court and auditorium to demand healthier foods, which honor plants, animals, people and Mother Earth as sacred. In creating a third world college, CPVACG, a grassroots student food project is now a space within the colonial or modern university where relational accountability, mutual aid and healing is cultivated by serving plant-based foods and a space for counter-cultural production aka La Otra Cultura. It is also worth mentioning that since the 1999 student strikes UNAM charges less than five U.S. dollars per quarter/semester!
In creating spaces of decoloniality it is critical to not overlook the industrialized university kitchen place for it too as the university classroom must be decolonized and recreated as a space of decolonial food production, liberating the minds, bodies and spirits of the colonized university community. Another University is possible by decolonizing the classroom and food courts. 

4 comments:

  1. beautifully written! So glad to awaken to this today!

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  2. I want to start off by saying that I was very sad when I found out you had lead part of the Going green in a capitalist world? workshop for EWS 440. I am in the class but was unable to attend that workshop. I'm kicking myself in the butt bc I have been dying to try your soyviche but haven't been able to yet.

    So now to my main point. Last summer I was especially close to a great group of people who, though not a collective, had very similar thoughts when it came to decolonizing our food as well as ourselves. Through this group of people my eyes were opened to dumpster diving and more specifically the amount of good food that is thrown away on a daily basis by large grocery store chains. As if the waste of food, which was enough to spread amoung our many families, wasn't bad enough each time we went into these dumpsters we had to be aware that most likely the police would be called on us. We were technically stealing that which was being thrown away. It saddened me to see how these huge chains had the power to do so much to alleviate some of the hunger in their own communities and yet they would rather let the food rot away in a dumpster. Throughout the summer I felt an invigoration which pushed me to see how this is one of the consequences of colonization and capitalism. Instead of sharing and growing that which we can use corporations are exploiting the land for more then they will even be able to sell. This piece makes me realize how complaisent I have become over the years, evening giving in as much to begin eating things that are not plant-based because it was easier for others to deal with. Thank you for reminding me of why I felt I had to fight so hard and awakening that same fight in me again.

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  3. Hey Chris!

    Thank you so much for coming to the event! I really enjoyed your story about speaking out against the fact that we don't have any healthy options of what to eat here on campus. I'm glad that there is someone out there who is willing to speak when so many of us are discouraged because we see that nothing is being done. I am new to this whole concept of eco-feminism and going green. I never really understood it before, I guess, like most people, I would just tell myself it didn't affect me, but now that I know it does, I'm doing my best to learn all that I can. Thanks again for everything and God Bless
    ---Sam MV---

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  4. As a Cal Poly student I feel for the ideology of corporate funding food consumption. After reading the food for thought it definitely opened up my eyes to the fact that there is a real problem not just with the funding of our unhealthy food court but the fact that the real food that is healthy, or once was healthy is being polluted by toxic dumping. It saddens me that a once traditional dish cannot be made fresh due to the pollutants engulfing our waters. The issue is definitely bigger than not just being able to eat what we want but the fact that it is extremely dangerous and toxic to eat food coming from these toxic waters and lands. Thank you for opening up my eyes to even greater issues than I could have imagined, I am definitely aware that mine and other activism of this subject even in the smallest ways could contribute to eliminating the problem.

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