Food, (In)Justice and the Reality of the Haverbubble

This article is the third in a series of essays written by Katie Rowlett ‘16 and Adriana Cvitkovic ‘16, members of this year’s Environmental Studies Senior Capstone. Each essay focuses on a different aspect of food sustainability. Read the first essay on the paradox of local foods here, and the second about the complexity of food labeling and certifications here.

Though “Haverbubble” is one of the first terms students learn during Customs Week, few individuals truly understand the power of this term before their third or fourth semester at Haverford. It is not until then that they realize students not only live on campus, but that they spend most of their time studying for classes, devoting what is left to extracurriculars such as athletics and clubs. Many of us do not make time to think about things going on outside of Haverford, much less actually put in the effort to get off campus for either social or academic reasons.

Recently, my understanding of the Haverbubble’s impact has deepened in one particular dimension: food. Almost everything we eat is provided by the college, and my experience this semester in the Environmental Studies Senior Capstone has encouraged me to think about the food systems that exist on campus. Specifically, I have begun to think about how those on campus systems relate to broader issues like food justice, which I will discuss more later in this essay.

In the Capstone, our class of 13 students has been working on self-designed projects related to making these food systems more sustainable. Our class initially struggled with the reality of the Haverbubble as we determined our projects’ main focus. Powerful ideas like pushing for gardens in inner-city schools and working directly with local communities on issues of environmental injustice were discussed and analyzed. However, we eventually decided that working on issues that directly affect Haverford would be more likely to produce tangible results while still providing us an opportunity to engage with pressing environmental issues.

What we have found, however, is that when you are dealing with on campus food systems, it becomes impossible to confine yourself solely to what occurs on campus. To unearth the environmental impacts of our food, we cannot ignore the farmers who produce the vegetables, the bakers who provide the bread, or the butchers who process the meat.

We also cannot ignore the fact that there are people just outside the college’s gates who do not have enough food on a regular basis. At Haverford, the requirement that first-years and those living up-campus be on the meal plan effectively masks most issues of food access, and the problems related to food access both on- and off-campus are not commonly discussed. But I believe they should be.

There are some groups on campus that do an excellent job of not only starting these discussions, but acting on them, too. Street Outreach and MAST, for example, are programs based on connecting Haverford students with people from the outside community and sharing our valuable resources with them. At first, it may not seem obvious how a group like Street Outreach, which focuses on inner-city food access, would have much to do with issues of food sustainability. However, a truly sustainable food system involves social sustainability as well as environmental sustainability. Any initiatives addressing sustainable food, like our Capstone class project, need to make sure they are addressing social issues as well.

Food justice – a term that has gained a lot of traction recently in the food and environmental movements – is a helpful way to summarize this viewpoint. In their book Food Justice, Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi define food justice as “ensuring that the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown and produced, transported and distributed, and accessed and eaten are shared fairly.”

In order to incorporate some of these ideas into our Capstone class – and encourage all students to think about issues of justice outside of the Haverbubble – Adriana Cvitkovic, Andrew Dalke and I have been working to coordinate a panel discussion about food justice that will be taking place this Friday, December 4.

Our group of panelists is truly inspiring. They include: Esteban Kelly, founder of the AORTA Cooperative, mayoral appointee to the Philadelphia Food Policy Advisory Council, and Co-Executive Director for the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives; Meghan Hurley, Communications Coordinator for CATA – The Farmworker Support Committee, a nonprofit that works with the Latino migrant population around issues of immigration, workers’ rights, and food justice; George Reistad, who as Assistant Policy Director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute also co-chairs the Diversity Committee of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; and Adrian Galbraith-Paul, farm manager at Heritage Farm and consultant for the Haverfarm.

The discussions that these panelists will have on Friday are only the beginning. It is our hope that the important ideas they raise around food justice will help to spark similar discussions across campus, encouraging us to break out of the Haverbubble and get to know the world around us.

The panel and discussion will take place at 4:30 PM this Friday in Sharpless Auditorium.

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