Plenary I with Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson

“I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked:” Race, Food Shaming, and the Politics of Eating Right

The old adage says, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But they do hurt. In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to processes of food production, distribution, acquisition and consumption that tend to operate a part from but within conventional food systems. Many food advocates see the solution as tapping into alternative food networks—farmer’s markets, co-ops, community sponsored agriculture sites, and the like—where not only can fresh food be obtained but also a sense of connection, with the people, places and processes involved with growing and supplying their food, can be established and maintained. But in today’s economy where rapidly changing food options and movements are the order of the day it seems imperative that we not limit our thinking of “alternatives” simply to choosing between organic or conventional options. It seems necessary that we consider the roles played by value stores, bodegas, social and religious networks, as well as ethnic markets; entities that are often involved in feeding communities and therefore challenging how we define “healthy eating.”  Note: This talk will be drawn from Dr. Williams-Forson’s new book in progress tentatively titled, Don’t Yuck M Yum: Food policing, Cultural Sustainability, and African American Food Dilemmas.

Psyche Williams-Forson is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland College Park and an affiliate faculty member of the Women’s Studies and African American Studies departments and the Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity. She is an Associate Editor of Food and Foodways journal, co-editor (with Carole Counihan) of Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World (Routledge 2011) and author of the award-winning Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power (2006). Her new research focuses on food shaming and policing of communities of color. Dr. Williams-Forson is also the recipient of numerous fellowships including a Smithsonian Museum Senior Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Diversity Fellowship, and a Winterthur Museum and Library Fellowship.

Plenary II with Dr. Alene Avakian

What’s That Women’s Studies Professor Doing In The Kitchen? Women, Gender, And Food Practices

Nineteenth and twentieth century representations of the gender division of labor in industrialized societies consistently present men bringing home the bacon for women to cook and serve despite the steadily growing percentage of women working for wages outside the home. Even today, when women comprise 47% of the work force, women still do most of the housework and daily cooking continues to be identified with women.  After eschewing examination of cooking for decades, feminist scholars have recently began to use food practices to analyze gender and women’s lives.

Preverbal and bodily, both personal and collective, cooking and eating carry culture, yet neither the food we eat and the meaning it conveys, nor the identities food practices help to construct are fixed, but change over time and space.  As such, food practices provide an excellent vehicle to contextualize women’s lives in an intersectional frame, both embedding gender within other social formations as well as exploring the interactions among them.   This talk will address some of what can learn about women and gender by looking at what we eat, who cooks for whom and under what conditions.

Arlene Avakian is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.  She is author of  Lion Woman’s Legacy: An Armenian American Memoir (1992); editor of Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meaning of Food and Cooking (1997); co-editor of From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food (2005); co-editor of African American Women and the Vote 1837-1965 (1997); and numerous articles. She has also been involved in social justice activism on and off campus for most of her adult life. And she loves to cook.


Plenary III with Cynthia Hayes

Taking The Journey with Women of Color in Food And Agriculture

For women of color in food and agriculture , faith has always provided support, solace and comfort on a journey that can be as challenging as it is joyful and fulfilling. This gathering will introduce you to women that have taken this journey and how faith has played a role. It will allow for participants to join in a discussion on how they see their roles in the food movement and how they see faith will serve as an integral part of their food journey.

Cynthia Hayes, founder and current Executive Director of SAAFON (Southeastern African American Farmers Organic Network), has worked as a program development consultant for community based organizations for over 30 years. Her work has taken her through out the United States, Caribbean and Central and South America. SAAFON is a good, clean and fair food advocacy organization that works to educate farmers and their communities on how sustainable agriculture can serve as a vehicle to assist the farmers in safeguarding their environment and preserving their land.  Her work has been primarily with small family farms, local community agricultural organizations, and small community farmer groups. Ms. Hayes, through SAAFON, provides rural farmers with information and education on the best practices and technical resources to grow organically. Her organization ensures farmers in the Network have access to available programs and information to create a collaborative for the purpose of marketing their organically grown products locally, regionally, and internationally. Ms. Hayes convened the first Women of Color in Food and Agriculture Summit. She has a BS in Psychology and is a 2013 recipient of both the John Edgerton Award and the James Beard Foundation Award for SAAFON’s work with underserved farmer communities.


Food Justice with Victoria Strang and Noelle Damico

Part I

Farms or Factories?
with Victoria Strang

Do we want our food to come from farms or factories? Should people of faith connect their beliefs with food choice? Join Victoria Strang of The Humane Society of the United States Faith Outreach program, and hear how The HSUS works with religious communities across the country to raise awareness on food, farming and faith issues. Learn about the connection between faith and compassion for animals,  and how to help animals through your faith community.

As the Strategic Initiatives Manager for the Faith Outreach program at The Humane Society of the United States, Victoria works with churches nationwide on establishing animal protection ministry programs and educating faith communities about the role of animals in the care of creation.Throughout her career, Victoria has presented at a number of conferences, local events, and churches around the nation on faith and animals. She established relationships with leaders in many different sectors of faith and taught them how to lead their congregations toward more humane food choices. Victoria has also worked on critical anti-cruelty legislation both in her home state of Massachusetts, and around the nation.

Victoria attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY where she received dual degrees in religious studies and government. Her studies took her to England where she focused on gender in the Middle East, Development Studies and Islamic law. Victoria has also spent time in Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa researching international and national health disparities. Victoria now resides in Washington, D.C. with her orange cat, Puck.

Part II

The Substance of Things Hoped For: Realizing Rights for Farmworkers
with Noelle Damico

Long ago, Paul of Tarsus famously wrote that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Twenty years ago women and men from Haiti, Guatemala and Mexico transcended divides of race, ethnicity, language and gender and gathered in Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church in Immokalee, Florida in order to discuss how they would collectively confront violence and poverty wages in the fields.  Calling themselves the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and bringing their analytical skills, their creativity and their courage to bear on what had been seemingly intractable problems, they stepped out in faith to create a future that had not yet been seen.  And in so doing, they ignited the consciences of millions across this nation. The CIW reached out to people of faith and students to build a movement that has brought about structural change within the tomato industry.

Today, the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a collaboration among farmworkers, corporate buyers and growers, has transformed Florida’s 650 million dollar tomato industry, winning increased wages, rights in the workplace and freedom from forced labor, sexual harassment and violence in the fields for tens of thousands of farmworkers.

This talk will highlight how building relationships of dignity and equality across supply chain divides brought about change and examine cases of sexual harassment and forced labor to illustrate how the Fair Food Program provides a paradigm not only for addressing abuses but for preventing them as well.


The Rev. Noelle Damico is a senior fellow at the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. For eleven years she served as national staff for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), coordinating its involvement in the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food.  A leader in developing a human rights-based approach to addressing human trafficking by the faith community, she has keynoted at the US Department of Justice’s National Human Trafficking Conference, universities, and church events.  A published author of biblical and liturgical resources, Noelle is ordained in the United Church of Christ.



Photograhpic Storytelling with Natasha Bowens

The Color of Food: Highlighting Women of Color in Agriculture

In this visual and audio presentation we hear from women of color growing food around the country. Their stories share with us agricultural family histories, personal triumphs and community struggles. These women and their stories highlight important issues tied to food such as culture, community, health, spirituality, land ownership, urban gardening, race and gender obstacles, immigrant farmer and farmworker challenges, food/farm entrepreneurship, resources for new farmers, food access in marginalized communities and women empowerment!

Natasha Bowens is the creator of the multi-media project The Color of Food which honors, preserves and amplifies the stories of Black, Native, Asian and Latina farmers and food activists through photography and oral history. The project was born out of her article series for Grist magazine and her blog Brown.Girl.Farming. where she writes about race and agriculture and highlights people of color revolutionizing the food system around the country. Natasha has been conducting the photo documentary project for the past three years, driving around the country interviewing and photographing farmers and gardeners. She raised part of the project’s funds on a community fundraising site where over $10,000 from small donors was raised in just 60 days. Her work has gained national media attention, such as CNN, The Atlantic, Colorlines and CSPAN. She is currently working to publish The Color of Food project as a book that will be out next year.


Closing Address with Sara Miles

Communion at the Corner Store: Eating in the City of God

Paradise is a garden…but heaven is a city. In this concluding keynote talk, Sara Miles will explore hunger, appetite and communion in an unsentimental exploration of what it really means to eat with strangers in the holy, dirty, transnational cities of God. A look at faith in the streets, and what is created through public devotion in mixed public spaces.

Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry, and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her books include Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead and Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. Forthcoming in March 2014 is her new book called City of God: Faith in the Streets. She speaks, preaches and leads workshops around the country, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, and on National Public Radio.