On Saturday, May 2, the Brooklyn Food Conference will bring together farming activists, policy makers, chefs, and anyone else who cares about what goes on their plate (really, anyone can come) to chat all day at John Jay High School and PS 321. And a great perk—the wisdom exchange is free.
Leading the herd of passionate food advocates, Nancy Roomer, a Brooklynite for a total of 51 years, chatted with us about her favorite workshops on the schedule (OK, she doesn't want to play favorites) and why she's kicking it off with a New Orleans-style puppet parade.
Name: Nancy Romer
Occupation: Psychology professor at Brooklyn College, and community organizer
How long has the Brooklyn Food Conference been a dream of yours? About a year and half ago, after reading voraciously and having traveled in Latin America, interviewing union and neighborhood activists, students, and indigenous farmers, I began to understand the global ramifications of a progressively international food system that was poorly, perhaps dangerously organized.
People go hungry all over the world, including Brooklyn, while the poorest people in the richest countries suffer from obesity and diabetes at unprecedented rates. Local farm cultures are wiped out from New York state to the Altiplano in Bolivia. The American people want to eat healthier, pay decent wages to the workers who grow, process, deliver, and serve the food, and make sure everyone gets the healthy food we need without harming the planet.
Many of us feel that our tax subsidies to agribusiness need revision so that our government supports smaller scale farming and local agricultural systems that are environmentally sound. We'd like to see food as a human right and not a privilege. How else can we expect to give every child a chance at a decent life?
The Brooklyn Food Conference aims to get all the people who care about these issues together in one place—issues related to growing healthy food, access to healthy food, environmental sustainability, economic development, social policy, and culture—and see how we can learn from each other and join together to change the food system so it serves the people who grow it, eat it, and need it. I've been dreaming about uniting all these important forces and ideas and being part of the growing Food Democracy movement—healthy and sustainable food for all. That's what the Brooklyn Food Conference is all about.
Really, it's free? In this economy was that tough to do? Yes. There is no registration fee. We want everyone who wants to come to feel completely welcome. For those of us who are fortunate and have jobs and reasonable incomes, we hope that they will feel moved to pitch in with donations so that everyone who wishes, especially in our beloved Brooklyn, can come together.
That said, we need money!! We have gotten very generous contributions from many individuals and community organizations. We've successfully garnered small grants that we really appreciate (Jesse Smith Noyes, Independence Community, Small Planet, Ben & Jerry's, Draper) and we've done some good fundraising events. But anyone who wants to donate can go here and be a hero. We do need some help to meet our budget for the event.
What workshop are you most excited about? I know that's like picking your favorite child. That's an unfair question. There are too many (over 60) to choose one. Gee, let's see, maybe I'd pick “Good Food Now: Getting Healthy Food into Underserved Communities” with Sarita Daftary from East New York Farms, Mo Kinberg from United Commercial and Food Workers local 1500, Theo Moore from FUREE, Yonette Fleming from Hattie Carthan Community Garden.
Or maybe “School Food Activism: Making School Food Better” with the executive chef of the New York City Public Schools, Jorge Collazzo, Kristin Mancinelli from City Harvest, Amie Hamlin of NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, Roxanne Henry of the Food Bank for NYC, sociologist and author on school food and hunger Jan Poppendieck, and Mark Hellerman of the Art Institute.
If you had one bit of wisdom to Brooklynites who want to take a more active role in the food movement, what would it be? Pick an aspect of the food movement, find an organization to connect you to that area of work, and put in as much time as you can to learn about the food system and participate while doing so. We are in a special moment of possible social change; it is our job to make it happen. Food connects us all so let's go, Brooklyn, make it happen!
I have to ask about the New Orleans-style parade kicking off the conference. Massive puppets? Zoiks (in a good way)! How did that come to be? We started out wanting a full-scale parade to announce the conference but logistically it was too complicated. So we decided to transform the announcement into a funkier, quirkier, and dramatic display. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, which plays great, spirited music for progressive movement events, will be our marching band (get up early, Rudes) and students from the youth program at the Brooklyn College Community Partnership will carry enormous puppets in a procession weaving around the conference sites at John Jay High School (adults and teens) and PS 321 (kids festival) and then go up to Prospect Park and the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza.
You've been a member of the Park Slope Coop for many years. How has it changed the way you eat? It's hard not to be a bit of a foodie if you are a Coop member. The food is fantastic and relatively cheap. I love shopping there (and bumping into old and new friends) and feel confident that I'm making the healthiest and most sustainable food choices that I can—despite the fact that my coffee from there travels thousands of miles.
And some non-conference questions. Favorite Park Slope eatery? Rosewater
Best pizza in the city? I don't eat pizza, sorry.
Favorite burger? Ditto for burgers.
Favorite bagel? La Bagel Delight (and the people are wonderful).
Best late-night eats? Pure, high quality chocolate.
Undiscovered gem? Chili lime mango (dried).
Guilty pleasures? Just eating too much—especially almonds
Food you won't eat? Anything greasy or with beef
Most memorable New York City meal? Monkeytown last week.
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