Political Dissent with Burritos

by Mike Zastoupil

While thousands of Americans have taken to the streets to protest the Trump administration, these two guys have taken to…their kitchen. Learn how Feed the People is fueling the resistance in Boston with delicious burritos.

It was a bitterly cold day to be standing outside the bandstand at the Boston Common, but that didn’t stop a few hundred people from showing up to express their support for Planned Parenthood. There were women wearing handknit pink hats and an assortment of protest signs clutched between frozen mittens and gloves. Everyone was listening to the speeches from community advocates and Massachusetts congressmen pledging their commitment to fight for women’s health clinics in the face of impending federal budget cuts.

Many people would have left the protest feeling physically and emotionally drained, had they not encountered two young men giving away burritos. “Would you like a burrito? They have black beans and sweet potatoes. They’re free. Thanks for coming out and protesting today.” An older woman took one and said “Oh, you’re serious? Thank you!” while three teenagers said, “This is amazing! You totally made my day!” and ran away munching their burritos. One man stuffed three or four into his pockets, after timidly asking if he could do so. They all walked away with warm, full bellies and a feeling that the world isn’t so bad after all.

Meet Sean Pulsfort and Gideon Burdick, the two young men behind the not-for-profit burrito operation that they call Feed the People. Their motto is “Feed the People, Fuel the Resistance,” and making burritos is their way of expressing their political dissent with the Trump administration. Like many great ideas, they came up with Feed the People late one night over a couple of beers and lively conversation. The conversation had been about ways to meaningfully engage in politics and keep people’s spirits up after what many considered a disheartening presidential election. Sean said, “We can make burritos…maybe it will make people happy.”

Sean is a trained chef and works for a food service hiring company while Gideon works for a produce distributor, so they naturally turned to food as a way to connect with their community. They made a website and Facebook page, researched the laws around giving away free food and crowdsourcing money, and quickly raised a few hundred dollars from family and friends. The burritos are all made at their apartment in Jamaica Plain, where you can find them waking up as early as 5:00 AM to make the burritos from scratch. So far they have made a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, black beans, roasted potatoes and roasted poblano sauce, and a vegetarian burrito with beans, cheese, sweet potatoes and tomatillo sauce. They purchase all of the ingredients in bulk from a restaurant supply wholesaler, which allows them to keep costs low. Once the burritos are made, usually about 125 in total, they’re wrapped in foil and transported to the protest rallies in insulated delivery bags and coolers to keep them hot and ready to eat.

Sean and Gideon said they learned a lot from Food Not Bombs, another organization that has been giving away food to activists since the 1980’s and got its start nearby in Cambridge, MA. “We had to research laws regarding giving away free food to people,” said Sean. “There have been city ordinances in Florida and other places that have banned giving free food to people for various reasons.” The burritos they make for Feed the People are always vegetarian, which keeps costs down and reduces food safety risks, but also appeals to a wider audience.

So far, Feed the People has nourished protestors with burritos at a data rescue gathering at MIT and the Planned Parenthood Rally in the Boston Common. They plan on attending the March for Science in Boston on April 22, and any other protests and rallies that may occur in the future. When asked what their needs are to make more burritos in the future, they ask only for funding. “It costs about $1 to make each burrito,” Gideon says, and at this point they don’t really need volunteers because they can rely on friends if they need to. They intend to keep the burrito operation small and “grassroots” for now, but Gideon said he would “take a food truck” if they could afford it.

If you would like to learn more about Feed the People, you can visit their Facebook page or their website. The next time that you feel tired or frustrated with the state of politics in the country, remember that there are people out there making tasty burritos to fuel your battle.

Mike Zastoupil is finishing his Master’s in Agriculture, Food and Environment. He is a proud roommate to Sean and Gideon, and a supporter of Feed the People.  

Exiting the Echo Chamber

by Kathleen Nay

Many of us were unexpectedly blindsided by the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, but maybe we shouldn’t have been. Four Friedman students saw a need for greater diversity in our political discourse, and decided to do something about it. They piloted Let’s Talk, a four-week program designed to help fellow students engage in more respectful, tolerant, and empathetic dialogue with people of diverse political perspectives.

On November 9 of last year, I woke up reeling. I had truly not expected the results of the previous evening. In the days and weeks leading up to the election I had felt lighthearted. I was sure that someone as awful as Donald Trump couldn’t win the presidency. I felt optimistic that we’d soon have our first female president. I believed, generally, in the goodness of America.

So to wake up to a Trump presidency was, for me, devastating. I felt utterly blindsided. Looking around at the somber faces of my fellow Boston commuters that morning, I recognized that I wasn’t alone in my stupefaction.

It seems painfully, unnervingly obvious now, but at the time I wondered, how did we not see this coming? What did we miss? In the days and weeks immediately following the election, the answer surfaced in the form of two words: “echo chamber.” Apparently, these exist and we—or at least, I—live in one. Worse, it’s an echo chamber of my own making, thanks to my liberally curated social media feeds and preferred news outlets.

Shortly after Election Day I attended a presentation given by J.J. Bartlett, President of Fishing Partnership Support Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the health and wellbeing of fishermen and their families. In his talk, he said something that felt like a punch to the gut: “We ignore the primal scream of blue-collar workers at our own peril.” The words cut so deeply that I wrote them down. I knew that, as a student studying agriculture policy and hoping to someday work among and advocate for farmers and ranchers—the rural working class—I could no longer afford to ignore the primal scream that elected Donald J. Trump.

Fellow Friedman students Eva Greenthal, Kelly Kundratic, Hannah Kitchel, and Laura Barley had been awakened to the same realization—and decided to do something about it. “I did not personally know a single person who voted for Trump, and I really wanted to understand their motivations,” wrote Eva, in an email to me. “Frustrated by the lack of ‘opinion diversity’ at Friedman, I knew I would have to look beyond our university to gain this insight.” So she made a plan, joined forces with Kelly, Hannah, and Laura, and applied for funding from the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement to pilot Let’s Talk, a research study designed to help students of diverse political leanings “exit the echo chamber.”

They partnered with Kelly’s alma mater, the West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design. While several school names were tossed around, WVU’s Davis College was an ideal candidate because, similar to the Friedman School, they offer graduate degrees in both agriculture and human nutrition. The program would work like this: Participants at both schools would dedicate 90 minutes per week over four weeks to ‘meet’ virtually and discuss the future of food, nutrition and agriculture over the course of the new administration, with the intent to identify common goals across party lines. The organizers would administer pre- and post-surveys, to assess whether participants’ perspectives on political topics changed after hearing the perspectives, hopes, and fears of their peers. Key objectives of the program were to promote mutual respect, tolerance, and understanding, and to challenge political stereotypes. Eva connected with Ask Big Questions (ABQ), an organization that provides dialogue facilitation training, so that the team could learn to lead positive and productive conversations.

The ABQ format is simple. It’s predicated on the idea that “big questions” are those that matter to everyone, anyone can answer, and invite people to share from their own experiences. By contrast, “hard questions” are those that matter to some people and require a level of expertise to answer; they tend to close conversational spaces and lead to debates about who is right and wrong. (Political arguments are often framed by these types of questions, appealing to people’s certainties of “right” and “wrong,” “truth” and “alternative truth.”)

Big Questions vs. Hard Questions. AskBigQuestions.org

Big Questions vs. Hard Questions. AskBigQuestions.org

Using the ABQ model, the Let’s Talk team devised big questions that, while tied to political issues, they felt everyone could relate to. These included “How do we connect?,” “What do we assume?,” and “Who are we responsible for?” By design, these questions are broad and ambiguous. But Eva, Kelly, Hannah and Laura, along with the facilitators at WVU, coupled the questions with media clips—PSA videos, TED Talks, and news media addressing food-and-agriculture issues—to give them context and guide more in-depth conversation.

“I like that this format for conversation allows me to speak from my experiences to explain why I feel the way I do about difficult topics,” writes Kelly. “Too often we see others engaging in conversation that can be either very defensive or offensive, and no one leaves…feeling accomplished. When you learn to speak with your experiences, it’s easier to see others as culminations of experience, and have a better understanding of the topic and the speakers.”

Laura added that keeping communication lines open with certain family members that voted for Trump has, for her, been of utmost importance in preserving those relationships since the election. She wanted to help facilitate that for others through Let’s Talk. To ensure respectful dialogue throughout the course of the project, participants brainstormed an “Agreement of Mutual Responsibility” designed to hold one another accountable. Among the things participants were mutually responsible for were directives to use “I” statements, to speak from personal experience as often as possible, and to listen with intent to understand.

Let's Talk Project Goals and Agreement of Mutual Understanding. Photos: Kathleen Nay

Let’s Talk Project Goals and Agreement of Mutual Responsibility. Photos: Kathleen Nay

When asked why they feel Let’s Talk is an important endeavor for the Friedman School to take on, all four organizers agreed that while interdisciplinary work is a cornerstone of the Friedman agenda, there’s a level of political diversity missing from our education. “We need more interdisciplinary work that also crosses state lines and regions,” says Hannah. Laura adds that Let’s Talk “feels like a much-needed expansion of our essential coursework, and delivers us from circulating the same policy discussions that we have in class.” They hope that Let’s Talk can serve as a replicable model that other schools might use to facilitate dialogue among students of varying political persuasions.

As a Let’s Talk participant, I was eager to engage in political discourse with the students at WVU, but I frequently felt frustrated when our 90-minute sessions ended just as the conversation was getting deep. Eva acknowledges that time has been a challenge from the beginning—the time needed to adequately develop the project since the idea formed in November, the time that each organizer was able to commit to planning and preparation, and the amount of time they felt they could fairly ask participants to dedicate each week. But the fact that so many students signed up to participate, despite adding an extra 90 minutes per week to everyone’s already-busy schedules, speaks volumes: Friedman students value opportunities for cross-political dialogue.

Although I’ve been disappointed that the time constraints have capped the length and depth of our Let’s Talk sessions, I’m encouraged. I’m encouraged by the initiative of my Friedman colleagues and inspired by their clear-eyed vision for political discourse that is respectful, tolerant, and empathetic. I’m hopeful, too, that although Let’s Talk has now ended, our conversations won’t; one component of the program has been to match participants with email “pen pals” at the partner school for future correspondence.

While I was disappointed that our discussions didn’t go deeper, I feel that even after only four weeks, I am better equipped to confront my own assumptions and to listen to why, not just what, people believe. Let’s Talk introduced me to a toolbox of conversation techniques that will make me more receptive to diversified political dialogue. It’s an important first step toward shattering our personally- and artificially-crafted echo chambers. The Friedman School has work to do. And I do, too.

Kathleen Nay is an AFE/UEP student in her second year. Eva Greenthal is a first year FPAN MS/MPH student. Kelly Kundratic, Hannah Kitchel and Laura Barley are first year AFE students. Let’s Talk was funded by the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement, the Friedman School, Friedman Student Council, and three generous individual donors.

 

My(Policy)Plate: What Presidential Candidates Bring to the Table on Ag and Nutrition Issues

by Katie Moses

Election Day is just a few days away. What do our presidential candidates have to say about food and agriculture? Katie Moses takes a look at the issues.

Food: 0

Nutrition: 0

Agriculture: 1

This is the number of times the major party candidates stated these words in the three 2016 presidential debates. Even though the cultural conversation around food and agriculture seems to grow louder every day, the only reference in the debates was by Hillary Clinton when discussing the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti. Why? Not one of the 70 unique questions asked in the three 2016 presidential debates were about nutrition or agricultural policy.

This doesn’t mean the presidential candidates and their parties have been completely silent on nutrition and agriculture issues. Other sources such as campaign websites, representatives and whom they seek council from can fill in some of the blanks regarding where the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates stand on issues that relate to the future of food and nutrition. Continue reading to learn where they land on the issues you care about.

Farm Bill and Snap Benefits

Programs in the farm bill protect farmers, ranchers, and consumers by helping American farms keep growing, ensuring a robust and affordable food supply, and providing food assistance for insecure populations. Where do candidates stand on protecting these programs?

hillary

 

Clinton: The 2016 DNC platform states that “proven programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—our nation’s most important anti-hunger program—help struggling families put food on the table.” At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Kathleen Merrigan, acting as a surrogate for the Clinton campaign, confirmed that Clinton aligned with the DNC on the importance of agriculture and nutrition programs remaining under the umbrella of the farm bill. Additionally, Clinton’s “Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” advocates for expanding “SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food” as a part of building strong local and regional food systems.

trump

 

Trump: In Donald J. Trump’s vision for the US economy, the increase in SNAP participation during the Obama administration is listed as a key issue, but his vision for the economy does not making recommendations to change the SNAP program. At the October 19th Farm Foundation Forum, Sam Clovis, Trump’s lead adviser on agriculture policy, provided clarity on Trumps stance on SNAP benefits advocating that the way to reduce nutrition spending is to promote economic growth that will put more people to work, rather than cutting the budgets of these programs. Clovis stated that Trump would not advocate for the removal of nutrition programs from the Farm Bill. Trump campaign representative’s statement clashes with the Republican Party Platform 2016 that recommended separating SNAP from the Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bill.

Local and Regional Food Systems

Will local and regional food systems thrive or waiver in these candidates administration?

hillary

 

Clinton: As a New York Senator, Clinton partnered with Foodlink and others for a Farm to Fork initiative that helps distribute locally grown produce in rural counties to the state’s regional centers. “Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America” fact sheet breaks down four key focus areas for strengthening rural America. Under “raising agricultural production and profitability for family farms,” Hillary lays out a plan for building a strong local and regional food system as a continuation of her Farm to Fork initiative as a Senator. She proposes “doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets, SNAP recipients’ access to fresh food, and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”

trump

 

Trump: On the campaign trail in Iowa, the Associated Press reports that  Donald Trump called family farms the “backbone” of America and promised to cut taxes on these smaller farms. His platform does not address regional and local food systems directly. While Trump shines a spotlight on small farms on the campaign trail, his recently announced agricultural advisory committee is composed of big players and advocates for the industrial agriculture. Whether local and regional food systems will thrive in a Trump administration is not foreseen, but his advisory committee illustrates that big ag will always have a seat at his table.

Agricultural Animal Rights

After selecting their choice for the next president, Massachusetts voters will be asked where they stand on the new proposed standards for farm animal confinement. Supporters of question three on the Massachusetts ballot argue that the proposed guidelines for raising animals should be the minimal ethical standard in food production and will help promote similar legislation in other states. Opponents argue that question three would raise the cost of eggs and pork, negatively affecting taxpayer-funded assistance programs and low-income individuals and families. While neither candidate is a registered Massachusetts voter, this is what they’ve said about the underlying issue.

hillary

 

Clinton has an entire section of her platform devoted to protecting animals and wildlife: “As president, Hillary will… protect farm animals from inhumane treatment by encouraging farms to raise animals humanely.” While she hasn’t made a statement on the risk of increased food prices, the former Secretary of State takes a clear aspirational stand on improving conditions for farm animals.

trump

 

Trump: The republican presidential candidate does not address farm animals in his political platform. With the announcement of his agricultural advisory committee and candidates for Secretary of the Interior, many have analyzed what his approach to farm policy would be and have concluded that legislation like the proposed measure in Massachusetts to improve farm animal welfare would not be approved on his desk.

For more on the candidates’ stances on the concerns of farmers and ranchers, see this post from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Katie Moses is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist born and bred in the heart of Cajun country. With Sicilian, Syrian, and Cajun-French grandparents, she’s had a unique culinary upbringing, and finds ways to adapt traditional dishes to fit current nutrition recommendations. Outside of the teaching kitchen, Katie is a first year Nutrition Intervention, Communication, and Behavior Change student and a passionate advocate for expanding access to dietitians’ nutrition counseling services.