Food brings people together, especially free food, and especially when it’s served in the middle of a college campus. That’s exactly where UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) held its very first “eat-in,” a form of demonstration where people publicly meet, eat, and discuss current issues in the food industry.
“Occupy the food supply!” resounded repeatedly on Thursday, April 26, in the Davidson Library Plaza as students and professors got a taste of food justice. At this protest a la potluck in celebration of Earth Week, members of the EAB brought a variety of food for guests to eat as they listened to individuals speak over a microphone about the importance of consuming locally grown and organic goods.
“Hey everybody, are you enjoying your food?” one speaker inquired as banquet tables began filling up. All of the food provided was sustainable, of course, literally serving the student group’s cause on biodegradable plates. (Utensils, on the other hand, had to be obtained from the nearby Arbor — they were plastic.) Items on the eat-in menu included couscous, mashed sweet potatoes, and tofu stir-fry with millet, among many other farmer-friendly dishes.
“We deserve healthy, local, sustainable food!” another student announced. Throughout the event, speakers took turns educating attendees about some of the problems within the food system. They described the millions of people going hungry in the United States, the amount of waste that U.S. consumers produce, the plight of the local farmer, and the unsound practices of major food companies.
Kelsey Tayne, a senior and active member of the EAB, said she hoped the event would help students realize their impact as consumers and make more informed decisions when purchasing food. “We just want people to be aware of some of the issues in the food system,” she said. “We want people to take away that there are some things you can do like buying local and organic that really make a difference.”
Eat-in attendees could even participate in a blind taste test of locally grown, organic strawberries and store-bought strawberries. Sasza Lohrey, also a senior, was keeping tally of which strawberries people preferred. Midway through the event, the organic strawberries boasted 46 tally marks, and the non-organic berries had a measly three. “I think a lot of people don’t understand the difference between local, organic food and non-local, non-organic food,” she said. “And if you’re not gonna know, you’re not gonna care.”
Lohrey believed the taste test was a great way to expose people to that difference. “And who’s gonna say no to fresh strawberries?” she added.
Saying no to free food didn’t happen much that afternoon. Though the eat-in was supposed to last from noon until 2 p.m., the food supply was occupied — and mostly exhausted — within the first hour. “This is the best way to promote a cause — ever,” said one guest as she served herself some couscous.
In between bites, many students could be heard engaging in conversations about food policy, like Aljosha Novakovic, a senior at UCSB. He listened attentively to the speakers as he sampled the tofu stir-fry. “People are better persuaded when they’re eating,” he said.
Correy Koshnick, a senior and treasurer for the EAB, seemed pleased with the event’s turnout. “Our biggest thing was to raise awareness,” he said. “I think it’s good that we got a lot of people that aren’t already plugged into the Environmental Affairs Board.”
Tayne also expressed pride in the EAB’s ability to gather people together at the eat-in. “We really value the power of collective thinking,” she said. That, and the power of food.