Despite the rain and blasting winds, several students and professors trekked to the Boyden Gallery on Thursday, Nov. 12 to listen to tips from Food & Water Watch for organizing grassroots campaigns. The session was part of a food-themed night, followed by the Writer’s Harvest.
Food & Water Watch (F&WW) is a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C. that works to ensure clean water and safe food both nationally and internationally.
The organization works on both grassroots and policy-making levels to achieve its goals, and Erica Schuetz ’07, a communications assistant for F&WW, came to campus to provide information about grassroots organizing.
Schuetz focused on Take Back the Tap, the national campaign to remove bottled water, in which many college students, including St. Mary’s students, are active. But, she also discussed a campaign urging Congress to enable public schools to opt to buy milk without artificial hormones.
Schuetz described a “power map” as one possible tool for grassroots organizing here at the College.
Power maps look at the main figures who are able to implement change but who are generally directly unapproachable due to the level of the office they hold, for example, the president of a college.
The maps then visually represent which people can influence the main figure, which people can influence the people who can influence the main figure, and so on.
The map allows an organization to focus its resources instead of simply casting a wide net of influence and hoping to create change. “You have to be realistic,” Schuetz said, “but also really ambitious.”
Schuetz also outlined the nature of internships at F&WW. While experience with food and water issues “is a plus,” Schuetz said that experience with organizing for other causes also helps.
Sophomore Johanna Galat, also the treasurer for the Student Enviromental Action Coalition (SEAC), found the information useful in terms of grassroots organizing, and said that the idea of using power maps for future SEAC campaigns intrigued her. She found the overall topic especially interesting as well.
“I just think food justice is really interesting and deeply connected to me in what I eat as well as being connected to the world,” she said.
Professor Jennifer Cognard-Black, who organized the session as well as the Writer’s Harvest, was happy with the turnout.
“I’m pleased that the people who came to the Food & Water Watch session were willing to brace the rain to discuss such vital issues as clean water and healthy, renewable food sources,” she said.
“It seems as though there are a number of students on campus who want to fight against the detrimental environmental impact of bottled water and who wish to work on issues of finding more sustainable ways to produce and disseminate food—and that’s wonderful.”
The Food & Water Watch session was followed by The Writer’s Harvest in Daugherty Palmer Commons. The Writer’s Harvest consisted of several students reading their food-related work and serving home cooked dishes.
Cognard-Black began the event by discussing her trip to India, where what she noticed most about food “was its simultaneous abundance and scarcity.” She was struck by being in “that poisoned position of being one of the haves in a world of have-nots.”
Cognard-Black was followed by her daughter, Katharine Cognard-Black, who read a story of her own. Hollin Roberts, Rose Akca, Kristen Marshall, Amelia Adams, Jess O’Rear, Swati Samak, Anna van Gohren, Katie Mazzocco, Susan Signorelli all read stories centered around food. Megan Kile, the last reader of the night, shared a poem that had everyone in the audience laughing.
“I wrote it in response to the idea that food is this very, very cultured thing,” said Kile. “Food snobbery was frustrating me at that point.”
The theme of the Writer’s Harvest seemed to be the relationship between memories, feelings and food.
Some of the stories were sad, such as Jess O’Rear’s story about chicken cutlets, which told about the loss of her grandmother and how food and memories are deeply intertwined.
“My grandma was my best friend growing up,” O’Rear said. “Food was something that almost defined her. Everything I know about food comes from her, and all of my best memories of food involve my grandma.”
Others, like Amelia Adams’ story, were humorous. Adams set her story at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.“I’ve been going all of my life and I worked there,” Adams said. “It’s always been a part of my life. ”