By Jesús I’x Nazario, Dhruv Patel, and Irene Farah
Rich or poor, Black, brown, or white, we all need to eat to survive. But food’s enduring presence does not insulate it from the systemic biases that plague our society. Although the industrialization of agriculture has produced record-breaking national harvests, millions of people go hungry every day. Inequities are rampant not only in the hierarchical structures that produce our food, but also in which populations have access to nutritious fresh produce in the first place.
Through the Berkeley Food Institute Graduate Council’s (BFIGC) inaugural conference, “Biomigrations: Food Sovereignty, Security, and Justice,” we wanted to make space for Black, Indigenous, women, and queer leaders that are transforming our understanding of food. By bridging academics, community leaders, consumers, and other vital actors within our food system, we sought to reinforce the goal of the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI): to understand and transform food systems in a cross-disciplinary manner in order to build a more resilient and equitable future within and beyond academic institutions.
Biomigrations was the theme used to explore the ideas of food sovereignty, food security, and food justice. Each conference day began with a land acknowledgement, in honor of the living and ancestral Ohlone-speaking Indigenous peoples, whose land the University of California-Berkeley campus occupies. The term Biomigrations, introduced on Day 1, set the tone of the conference by offering a reconsideration between Life and Movement. While its definition was not fully elaborated, the question posed was: how has violence, refusal, and Indigenous rooting been a part of the actualization of one’s self and community?
Throughout the two-day conference, we had the honor of welcoming two wonderful keynote speakers Elizabeth Hoover and Elsadig Elsheikh, two scholars who discussed the importance of challenging contemporary global food systems paradigms. Dr. Hoover emphasized the value of Native seed sovereignties and Mr. Elsheikh elaborated on the intersectional opportunities for food movements in the context of corporate power and the climate crisis.
In addition, five panels with a mixture of academics and plant workers/farmers spoke from their own experiences and research sites. We also had the pleasure of hosting a book presentation on Teotihuacan Cuisine, a recipe book gathered from locals living in the Teotihuacan Valley in Mexico. The screening of the documentary Raspando Coco was another community-focused event that showcased the health impacts and cultural and culinary traditions surrounding the coconut among Afro-Ecuadorians in Esmeraldas, Ecuador.
Ultimately, this conference exemplified that food is more than what we eat. Food is who we are and what we can be. As laborers, artists, community members, scholars, and consumers, we all play a critical role in defining the priorities of our food system. The range of panels and events in the Biomigrations conference exhibited that biodiversity. While food is a lens through which we can understand the inequities embedded in the complex fabric of society, it also sheds light on what needs improving in our communities. As such, the conference became a sanctuary for all of those interested in these improvements, showing paths for more inclusive and transformative food systems. For that reason, we will continue promoting these spaces where we can integrate knowledge, bring in different communities, and plan for more equitable societies.
To end on a note of gratitude, we would like to acknowledge that the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI), through financial and organizational support they offered to the BFIGC, helped make the Biomigrations conference possible. In addition to BFI support, the Biomigrations conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American Studies, the Native American Studies Program, the Latinx Research Center, the Multicultural Community Center, the Graduate Assembly, and the Native American Student Education Enrichment Grant. Together, we pursued an interdisciplinary path with the goal of understanding transformative food systems in a holistic manner — something we at the BFIGC will continue to do to understand and improve food systems while widening the dialogue across disciplines and communities.
Jesús I’x Nazario (jehj/jehj’s) is a first-year PhD student in Ethnic Studies studying Indigenous (Nahua) food and political sovereignty in the United States and Mexico. Jesús has studied with small-holder Nahua maize farmers and is interested in linking seeds with people across settler-colonial borders.
Dhruv Patel (he/him) is a fifth-year PhD student in Plant and Microbial Biology studying the regulation of photosynthesis in algae and crop plants. He is interested in learning how we can use molecular biology to support the development of locally adapted and culturally relevant crop varieties. Dhruv was brought to BFIGC by his desire to ground scientific innovation in interdisciplinary conversation, working towards a more sustainable and equitable food system.
Irene Farah (she/her) is a second year PhD student in City & Regional Planning. She is currently studying the intersection of work opportunities and food justice. In particular, she studies street vendors in Mexico City, and how their physical and political positions impact their access to healthy food. She joined the BFIGC because she believes that multidisciplinary efforts are needed to ameliorate spatial and social inequities.