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Inaugural Food Week brings food justice to community

Students, faculty and other members of the St. Kate's community present their own definition of food justice on Nov. 4, 2011, in celebration of Food Week.
Students, faculty and other members of the St. Kate's community present their own definition of food justice on Nov. 4, 2011, in celebration of Food Week.
Photo by Kristine Lee '13.

A few students with a vision—and a multitude of followers who have picked up their cause—are encouraging the St. Kate's community to look “Beyond Your Plate” during an inaugural Food Week at the University.

“Food Week is part of a larger food justice campaign centered on sustainability, affordability and racial equity,” says Liesl Wolf ’13.

Wolf is one of the students, along with Cirien Saadeh ’12, who planted the first seeds for Food Week, which started as an idea to host a Food Day on campus and grew into a much larger affair. Food Day was held Oct. 24 across the U.S., but due to midterm exams, St. Kate’s organizers decided to target their food justice awareness event for the following week.

Now, what began as an idea for Food Day has grown into a full week jam-packed with events on both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses of St. Catherine University.

Nearly 30 events to highlight food justice

As soon as Wolf and Saadeh spread the word about Food Week, requests and offers to host events started pouring in. And more than a dozen members on their Food Justice Steering Commission set to work.

As a result, nearly 30 events will be held at St. Kate’s the week of Oct. 31- Nov. 4, 2011, and include opening and closing ceremonies, a food justice panel and a visit by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie— in a public presentation on 'Future Harvests: The Economic and Social Impacts of Food and Farming’ at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Recital Hall in the Music Building on the St. Paul campus.

“It’s been a lightning bolt of food justice activity,” says Saadeh. “I mean, people who are not in any way related to the campaign — and there’s very few of those people now — have been coming up to us asking to get involved.”

During the opening ceremony launching Food Week, the community is invited to paint food items on a huge wooden board to represent a community garden that will be staked on the campus grounds.

“That’s going to be there throughout the week for us to reflect on and start incorporating that into our vision of what food could be like at St. Kate’s and then that’s where the rally on Friday will be,” says Wolf.

Members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet will preside over opening and closing prayers and also host events on campus throughout the week.

Surveys will also be distributed during the week, asking the community about food justice values and the meaning of the term “food justice” itself.

“We’re looking for a St Kate’s specific definition of food justice,” says Saadeh. “Not only will there be the engagement of the conversation, but we will really be considering what our food values are at St. Kate’s and how we need to put those into play, and then making sure that our values and our mission and our food all match.”

Even the staff at Sodexo, the University’s food service provider are on board for Food Week. In fact, leaders at Sodexo were the first to suggest that Food Week become an annual event at St. Kate’s — and that is the intention of the organizers.

“We were able to make it work with our dining services. With all of the many disparities of food on our campuses, we made it work for us, and you can make it work for other people,” says Saadeh. “So, St. Kate’s is stepping up as a leader for a lot of other schools.”

Inspiration for organizing

Food Week is growing to such success at St. Kate’s, in part, because of the talents of its organizers. Both Wolf and Saadeh hold a passion for organizing and spreading awareness to their communities about a host of issues.

The students were motivated to action by Ned Moore, who works as the social justice and outreach coordinator at St. Kate’s.

Saadeh was inspired by Moore’s experience with the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, an organization that conducts policy research and strategic work and trains community organizers around the state. The knowledge Moore brought back from the endeavor motivated Saadeh to follow in his footsteps. She signed on with the Organizing Apprenticeship Project and graduated from the program in 2010.

Wolf also drew inspiration from Moore. She serves as the coordinator for Volunteers in Action, often taking justice immersion trips through St. Kate’s Campus Ministry. She has also chosen to take her required Global Search of Justice course in India, where she will study Women and Work in January.

The values of Food Week spring from the personal ideals of Wolf and Saadeh, but the pair also want to leave something to future Katies that can be applied to exact change.

“I think part of our work is providing that organizing base for future campaigns that happen on campus regarding issues besides food,” says Wolf.

A lasting impact

As organizers for Food Week, the students established a steering commission and asked students, faculty and community members to step into leadership roles in the process. They are documenting their work, in order to leave a valuable resource to the St. Kate’s community.

“We’re the organizers and they’re the leaders, and they are having to put this stuff into play, whereas we’re just directing the troops,” says Saadeh.

They also hope to establish a permanent body to promote food justice in the future.

“That was one of our goals—that a food justice commission be a permanent body at St. Kate’s—not funded by the college, but made up of campus community members who can work within an organizing model that comes from where we’ve been trained to do that kind of work,” said Saadeh.

With so many events slated for Food Week, Wolf and Saadeh are already anticipating the impact the week will have on the community.

“Sometimes people don’t want to engage in the conversation about food justice because they don’t understand it or its scary, honestly, so just getting them to engage in the conversation is the first step,” says Saadeh.

For more on Food Week at St. Kate's, visit the student-run Facebook page.

Below, Karmann Peters of Campus Ministry joins organizers Liesl Wolf ’13 and Cirien Saadeh ’12 in rallying for food justice on Nov. 4, 2011. Photo by Kristine Lee '13.

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Oct. 28, 2011 by Melissa Kaelin

See also: Catholic Identity, Leadership, Social Justice, Students