Talking Tiny, but Thinking Big

This past Saturday, April 2nd was Rooting For Change: Student Food Summit, the second annual culminating event of the U-M Sustainable Food Program’s (UMSFP) work towards a more just and sustainable food system on campus. One element of Rooting For Change that sets it apart is that community ownership is at the core of the day’s activities. Student-led learnshops are an opportunity to unpack unique expertises on food justice subjects, this year’s list traversed homemade yogurt, building furniture from invasive species, cultural organizing, and turning your fridge into an agent of food waste reduction, to name a few. But the event that reverberated the power of personal history and impact storytelling throughout and beyond Palmer Commons were the Student Tiny Talks for Food Justice.

The members of the UMSFP Leadership Team felt that their biggest event of the year had to revolve around the student community that populates, empowers, and inspires its yearly projects. We felt that the keynote platform belonged to these students, rather than following our previous trend of bringing in an external speaker. There is so much untapped intellectual and emotional power in our own community, and it is often hidden beneath busy to-do lists and selective opportunities to reach an audience. As a team, we marketed the opportunity broadly across campus to break the sustainability silo. What we found (or rather what found us) was a group of students from different backgrounds, disciplines, and interests united in a cause for community-building around food.

During the Tiny Talks, students bared their hearts and minds to the audience through personal narrative and spoken word. In one hour, audience members were transported through the sights and sounds of the farm and garden, met intimately the community of life through the connective power of personally-sourced meat, and felt the strength of a mother’s love that will cross emotionally repressive cultural norms and trauma over a culinary bridge. The auditorium was awash with stories of resilience, growth, and courage as each student took the podium to share a flavor of what food justice means to them.

It is so easy to fall into a spiral beneath the colliding environmental and social crises of today. As I sat in the crowd and soaked up the connective power of food, I thought of how amazing it is that I came to this space on this day to hear these stories. How empowering it is to have the privilege to work alongside these speakers towards a future more hospitable to unfolding new stories. It is events like these, with individuals that bravely take the stage to share a personal sense of where they’ve come from, that we co-develop an idea of where we are going.

The Tiny Talks:

Dear the Seven Year Old Failing out of Second Grade. Eva Goren is a freshman studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. A Chicago native, she plans to pursue emergency medicine after graduation.

The Farm is Wise: Listen. Andrew Caroen is a senior studying English and Program in the Environment with a specialization in sustainable food systems.

Replacing Aggressive Veganism with Compassion. Talya Soytas is a third year Environment & Economics student and a fifth year vegan, who is very passionate about how global diets impact our environment.

A Collection of Ecuadorian Fishers’ Perspectives on Ocean Conservation. María Dabrowski is a Master’s student studying environmental psychology, science communication, and conservation ecology. Her research focuses on lowering incidental bycatch of marine megafauna in coastal Ecuador by understanding the conservation and livelihood priorities of artisanal fishermen.

Home for Dinner. Indeya Lawrence is a senior studying Biology, Health, and Society.

Foraged Feast: Restoring Traditional Food Knowledge. Kitty Oppliger is a Master’s student studying public health in the nutritional sciences. After gardening for many years, she sought to expand her plant palate by foraging for wild foods.

Resilience and Cucumbers. Katja Foreman-Braunschweig is a writer, gardener, and martial artist from Detroit. She is a freshman interested in communications and environmental science.

The Way She Loves Me. Amanda Nguyen is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is interested in food as a cultural gateway through emotional expression and as a language of love.

Forgetting the Story of Production: Bringing Harmony Back to Meat. Jillayne Wheeler is a senior studying Biology, Health, and Society. Becoming aware of the value food connection holds for the Earth and for her body, she now only eats meat sourced directly from what her brother raises or what wild game she hunts and processes herself.

CW // the content of these talks may be emotionally and intellectually challenging, including references to eating disorders, death, blood, and colonialism.