Over the last three years Choi has been involved and worked in New York City Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, Farmers Markets, local food events, and managed a program building a CSA-style program in the South Bronx and Harlem. Choi currently works as the Marketing & Outreach Manager for a local farm with 18 farmers’ market locations in the city.
Choi Wah Wong May 19, 2011 Alliance and Relationship Building
1. What does it mean to you and your community to dismantle racism through the food system?
When I look at that question the first thing that comes to me is the need to define community and what that means. You can say community and that is very broad and for me it sort of breaks down into more categories beneath that. When I think about myself what comes out economics gender, geography, race, and education. When you talk about racism you also need to look at how do you define community within that. For me, right now, its not so much about, its very complex to say racism is just about race, does not really address the question. So in order to dismantle you need to identify, OK lets see for me where I am geographically I'm in Queens in New York. I'm feeling like my borough where I live is not being fully addressed in terms of racism in the food system. I don't even know whats out there in terms of food systems I know there are a lot of conversations between people in different communities. For me its not so much I know people talk a lot about access to food and that is how we are going to address racism in the food system. To me where we need to start is access to information. What I have been doing a lot of is talking to different individuals within the Queens community saying, "Hey what are you doing? Who else can you talk to within the food system." So I think that it starts with working with individuals, person to person, then talking about communities. How can you dismantle it without a plan? what does that plan look like? I think what happens very often in order to engage and within white lead movements they engage people of color hire them into the organization but what is not addressed are what are the subtle issues. What are the other components that you need to discuss and think about? Which is what I mentioned earlier economics gender, geography, race, and education those are only a few examples. For me in order to dismantle a lot needs to be addressed and identified. Personally, for me how I am dismantling is in my individual way is that presence equals participation. It's my choice to be part of the conversation of how are we going get to a more just food system. So visibility will be the starting point for me.
2. What would the world look like without an imbalance of power and privilege?
When you hear the words power and privilege what I think of is wealth so I think that if the world didn't have that imbalance of power and privilege you would see a redistribution of wealth. So starting at the beginning where the crops are being planted if you think of the food system from start to end in terms of production to consumption. From production the harvesting the distribution, the retail and the service as well as the consumption and then the post consumption. In terms of power and privilege there is a redistribution of goals. There is no longer the interest of the few to make the decisions, not only about food systems but a lot of systems that exist globally, instead what would be addressed would be common goals. Farming would be an example. A lot of farm land in countries are owned by a small percentage of the population so there would be a redistribution of wealth and land, and reconfiguring of resources. In order for power and privilege to be more balanced. Power is self defined. What would need to exist in order for people in different communities to feel empowered and to have that privilege where right now there is a huge imbalance By taking that out it places people at a table sitting together and saying "What are our group objectives?" instead of "How can I help myself?" That is what I think it would look like.
Theme: Alliance and relationship building
Description: Though everyone has a different approach to creating a more just world, it is important that we work together regardless of differences. Internal disputes can disrupt the momentum of a movement, ultimately limiting how effective it can be. However, without internal challenges, a movement becomes undemocratic and cannot learn from its mistakes.
1. What organizations and movements are your strategic allies? How do you maintain those relationships?
I have not found a lot of organizations or movements in order for me personally to feel that I can strategically align myself with them. Again, I'm living in Queens, New York, and I really see that as an identifier as a part of who I am, and the community I live in. For me what I am seeing a lot of movements happening through out the city, but not particularly where I am in Queens. So I'm feeling a little bit not sure about who I am going to align myself with and try to work with. I really can't maintain a relationship because I don't feel that I have developed those relationships yet. So what happens for me I go to a lot of events, and a lot of conferences and the discussions I have with people are happening offline. So while I'm not officially working with anybody what is happening is I'm saying "I saw you at this event and I want to have a discussion with you." So I exchange email with them or we talk on the phone and I sort of network to build a relationship so I can think about "OK when I know what I want to be doing then I can strategically work with you."
You know the one organization that I have been working closely with is "Just Food" based here in New York City. They have a whole host of great programs and the way that I maintain a relationship with them is with them is that I volunteer. I think that volunteering
is a way to really get a sense of what is happening, you can get newsletters, you go to events and hear speakers but really to programmatically be there, even if you are doing administrative work, its lets you know what is happening around you. That's sort of how I'm going to eventually get there.
There are a lot of great events and conferences out there that I would love to attend. But the reality is that in the food system I am very often working when these things are being held. It is a disadvantage, its great to be doing something but at the same time I am missing a lot of conversations.
2. As a person of color, how do you support yourself when working with white-led food justice organizations? - OR - As a white person, how do you remain accountable to people of color communities when doing your work?
Again for me to say that how am I going to support myself when working with with white-led food justice organizations. The word support, for me, means that I am maintaining my values. I'm not going to go against something but, by being present and active in something in the organization I'm really saying "listen I'm here and these are my values." So while its not so blatant that you know "I'm a person of color and you need to address my issues" its really because I am here you need to address it. Again I think the challenge is more and more people of color accessing information knowing that they can attend and they can be apart of these white led food justice organizations and create a voice, that voice only comes through visibility. I currently don't think that I have a very solid voice knowing exactly where I am, but I am having the discussions and I think that's important. For me its not only "How do I support myself" but "How do you bring other people of color in a way that makes sense" instead of sort of inserting them into the work that the organization does.
3. How do you foster collaboration with peers (individuals and organizations) rather than competition?
The best way to collaborate instead of compete is communication and discussion. I think that something that gets put aside, and I think people need to bring it to the forefront is communication. Its great that one person is doing one thing and another organization is doing something, but how can they communicate and how can they talk and that's really the way that you are going to find common goals. Think about how can we collaborate and how can we work together. Doing it alone you are not going to get where you need to go. Support is really the only way to move forward. You can have a really great idea, but like technical support, you still need that, its not something that you can be a one person show and run forward with that. you have to go "OK what are other people doing?" and maybe its not people that are doing the exactly same thing. What I'm working on is building open discussions with people in queens that are living working and participating in the food system. To me it doesn't necessarily mean that one person working in a community garden needs to be connected to another person in a community garden. That is only one level, that does need to happen, but what if an event planner needed to be connected to someone in a community garden how to you foster that how do you bring that together and create a discussions. Is it a listserv? Is it a monthly discussion series? Which is something that I have been thinking about. I think that your competition comes from not being exposed and not being aware of what other people are doing. Then the second thing to do is take a step back and say "Listen this is all the common good how can we get there together?" instead of "I can do this better than you" instead it should be "I have different skills than you have in regards to similar areas. How can we exist together and help the food system become a stronger more just system" other than self promotion. I think that its about where the focus is and open communication.
GFJI is Generously Sponsored By Growing Power Inc.
Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.