Martin Luther King Jr. day was established in 1986 to recognize and celebrate the legacy of Dr. King who led millions of people in the fight for social justice and racial equality. Through advocacy and non-violent demonstrations, Dr. King helped get landmark civil rights legislation like the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act passed through Congress.
Although major strides were made during the civil rights era, there is still work to be done to move toward greater racial equality, and social justice more generally, which is intrinsically tied to the food, water and energy issues we work on at GRACE. The food and agriculture policies currently in place unjustly affect lower income and minority populations in the US and have led to unequal access to healthy food, low wages for food workers, disparities in health outcomes and the disproportionate exposure to pollution in low-income areas. As a result, many of the problems we see in the food system today should be addressed as civil rights issues.
MLK day is often promoted as a national day of service and a great opportunity to start the year off on a positive foot by getting more involved in your community and social issues you care about. Passionate about sustainable food and agriculture? Here are some tips on how to become a sustainable food advocate. (These tips can also be adapted to advocacy in other arenas, too.)
7 Ways to Get Involved in Sustainable Food Advocacy
- Learn about the issues: The more that you can inform yourself about a particular issue the better you will be able to speak on behalf of that issue. Our SustainableTable.org is a great place to learn about a wide range of food issues.
- Stay informed: To be an effective advocate it's critical to stay on top of the latest news impacting the issues that you care about. Simply reading the newspaper or watching the news every day is a great way to stay informed. In addition, reading blogs like Ecocentric, Grist, Civil Eats and Think Forward can help keep you up-to-date about the latest developments in the sustainable food world.
- Get engaged with an advocacy organization: Join or support an organization that works toward creating a more sustainable food system. Here are some of our favorites: Environmental Working Group, National Black Farmers Association, Farmers Market Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, La Via Campesina, Farm Aid, Food & Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Wholesome Wave, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Food Corps.
- Get to know the decision makers: If you want to change the food system it's important to talk to the people who have some authority to make decisions. Depending on the circumstances and whether or not you are interested in a federal, state or city level issues, key people might include your members of congress (look them up here!), your city council member, school board officials and so on.
- Do your homework: Before meeting with an elected official, do a little research on them. What are the key issues that they work on? What's going on in their district? What committees do they sit on? Be aware that most policy makers you'll talk to won't be very familiar with sustainable food issues (Check out FoodPolicyAction.org. to see where they stand). However, the great thing about this topic is that it affects a lot of other policy areas that the legislator may be very passionate about like public health, economic development, the environment, labor and social justice issues. You'll get more buy-in for your issue if you can show the legislator how sustainable food links to their pet cause or a timely political opportunity. Ask your elected official to think broadly about food issues but to take a specific action to support the cause that you're working on. This really goes for everyone - whether you're meeting with your representative or your child's class, consider your audience and what will get them interested in your issue
- Remember: It takes a village: Being a good advocate doesn't mean that you have to do everything alone. Remember, there's power in numbers! Some good ways to get friends involved are to invite them to attend a meeting with you to support your cause or share petitions and other action opportunities on social media. When thinking about who to invite to a meeting, think about who's already at the table and try to invite people or other groups whose viewpoints may not yet be adequately represented at the organization you're working with. It's a great way to support similar work being done by others in the community and to raise up the voices of those who may be directly affected by the issues that you're working on but may not always be given a chance to speak up.
- Be the change: Make a new year's resolution to support a healthy and fair food system by buying sustainably produced food whenever possible, eating less meat or shopping at your local farmers' market.
- Vote!! It may seem basic, but to change the food system it's critical that you exercise your right to vote. When you help elect politicians who share your values, you're making a difference. Not registered to vote? Sign up today!