Tomorrow I eat my words… and nothing else.

“What can we do to help?”

This was the question one of my classmates asked Gerardo Reyes Chávez, a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Gerardo was being televised into our class that day from New York where he was preparing for a week-long boycott of Wendy’s starting tomorrow, March 12. The CIW is an incredible organization founded in 1993 by laborers working in the tomato fields of Florida. It began with a small group of people who came together in desperation to discuss what they could do to improve the poverty wages and abuses they were experiencing in the fields. As word about this organization grew within the community, more and more people started coming to the meetings, sharing their stories of abuse, harassment and exploitation.  In 1998, CIW organized a work boycott in three different tomato-farming communities and a month-long hunger strike camped across the lawn from a Publix Grocery store to demand a 1 cent raise for each pound of tomatoes they picked. 1 cent. This raise would still not bring their wages up to poverty levels, but it would translate to relatively better financial security for the farmworkers. Publix refused to even listen to CIW’s requests. Nevertheless, CIW persevered, shinning the spotlight on other food retailers and restaurants who make profits from the exploitation of their labor. Through tireless efforts and unshakeable determination over the years, CIW has succeeded in enlisting food chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Whole Foods, Subway, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle in their Fair Food Program, a model they established based on worker-driven social responsibility.

Now, CIW is looking at Wendy’s, and their message is particularly salient. In honor of International Women’s day (March 8), the #MeToo movement and the countless women working in the fields and food industry, CIW and nearly 100 farmworkers are setting up camp outside the hedge fund offices of Wendy’s Board Chair Nelson Peltz on Park Avenue in the heart of Manhattan.  For five days they will go without food as part of the  “Freedom Fast” to protest Wendy’s unconscionable failure to join the rest of the fast-food industry in fighting sexual violence against women in its tomato supply chain. Sexual assault towards migrant workers in the agriculture sector is disgustingly common. Given that many of these women are in position of very little power, with fear of deportation, being separated from their families or retaliation from their abuser if they speak up, much of the assault goes without consequence. 

So my classmate’s question, what can we do to help, was one many of us in the room had upon learning of these horrendous truths about our food system. And Gerardo’s answer cut straight to the core:

Participate, he said.

But don’t do it out of pity for us.

Don’t do it because you feel sorry.

Do it because… you owe us.

You see, Gerardo has been working in the fields since he was 11. He’s worked on large agricultural operations in Florida picking oranges, tomatoes, and watermelons. He joined CIW in 2000 when his roommates, who had previously escaped a violent slavery operation hidden in the swamp south of Immokalee, Florida, invited him to come to the CIW’s community meetings. Yes, you read that right: slavery.

Here’s the sad truth: We are taught that the 13th amendment abolished slavery in 1865 and we talk about slavery today as if it were a blemish in our country’s history. The reality, however, is that modern-day slavery in the United States still exists. There are people, right now, who are picking the food that you may eat later this week who have been forced into involuntary servitude. (If you don’t believe me, watch this.) Even those workers who are receiving what some may call “income”, are getting less than poverty level wages. This is not enough to support oneself, let alone provide for a family. In 2001, the Department of Labor even issued a report to Congress, stating: “Production of fruits and vegetables has increased and global demand for American produce continues to grow, but agricultural worker earnings and working conditions are either stagnant or in decline.” “Farm workers not only lost ground relative to other workers in the private sector, they lost ground absolutely.”

And yet, these are the people who are feeding us. These farmworkers are responsible for the food in our grocery stores, the cans of peaches that are in your cabinet, the peanut butter you put on your kid’s sandwich, the Thanksgiving turkey you share with your family, the tomato on your restaurant burger. These are the people on whom our food supply depend!

So yes, you’re damn right, Gerardo, we owe you.

With that, to show my solidarity with our farmworkers and participate in the demand to end sexual abuse in agriculture, end exploitation of farmworkers, end slavery, I am joining CIW in their first day of fasting. Starting 7pm tonight through 7pm tomorrow I will go without food in support of the Freedom Fast. I will call Nelson Peltz Monday morning to tell him that he has an incredible opportunity to join other leaders in our food system in a movement towards equality and justice – this is the future, Mr. Peltz, and you have the chance to lead the way.

And you, dear reader, I want you to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I want you to think deeply about your role as a consumer – we all play a part in this. I also want to invite you to participate as well. CIW offers many ways to show your support on their website. But even just sharing this information is a start. We need to wake up to these unacceptable realities in our food system. We need to make decisions (with our dollars and our votes) and make demands (with our voices and our actions) to end this human rights crisis in our country.

Here’s your chance. Here’s how you can help:

1) If you’re in NY, join thousands of Fair Food activists for the Time’s Up Wendy’s March on March 15! 

2) Call Wendy’s Board Chairman Nelson Peltz on Monday, March 12  between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at 212- 451-3000. (Here’s a sample call-in script!)

3) Organize a solidarity action at your local Wendy’s from March 11-15!

Plan your own creative action at a Wendy’s restaurant near you to coincide with the Freedom Fast.  Whether you organize a picket, march, letter delivery or vigil, your action will help speed the day when we can end sexual harassment and assault in the fields!  Please see our Creative Actions Guide for ideas and inspiration. Contact Julian at to let us know that you’ll be planning your own Wendy’s action. 

4) Send in a statement of solidarity for the Freedom Fasters! 

Write a few words of support to share with farmworker and ally fasters during the “solidarity hour” at the Freedom Fast site outside of the offices of Wendy’s Board Chair.​  Local groups or individuals are invited to share their statement in person.  If you aren’t able to join us in New York City, we will read your statement out loud during one of the days of the fast, to give a fresh wave of strength to those fasting.  Please send your statements and any questions to Patricia at by Sunday, March 11.

5) Donate to support the Freedom Fast and Time’s Up Wendy’s March! 

Make a contribution to advance the swiftly growing movement to end sexual violence against farmworker women!  Every donation goes a long way to strengthen the growing Wendy’s Boycott to bring the world’s third-largest hamburger chain into the Fair Food Program – and to realize farmworkers’ vision for dignity and respect in the U.S. agricultural industry and beyond. Donate today! 

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Join thousands of farmworkers, students and consumers of conscience in refusing to patronize Wendy’s until the world’s third largest hamburger chain joins the Fair Food Program!


That’s a Wrap: Assignment Reflections

If you can recall, a month ago I wrote a post called The Blog Assignment. In that post, I explained the impetus for starting this blog was a very cool mid-term assignment for a very cool class I’m taking this semester called the Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-food Systems. The directions were to visit two farmers markets, two urban gardens/farms, two grocery stores and one food pantry in the Bay Area and create a blog about my experience. I wasn’t sure when I sat down to bring this site to life which farms or which markets I would visit. I wasn’t sure how I would structure each post, or what angle I would take. And I definitely wasn’t planning on publicizing my site, nor expecting the incredible feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I guess that’s all part of the adventure, and if you know me, you know I love a good adventure. Yo ho!

It’s been exactly one month to the date from when I started Beyond the Plate and I’ve somehow managed to visit all seven places! (Whew!) My first stop on this local food system adventure led me to a very unique farmers market as well as a sweet community garden tucked away in a quiet corner of the bustling Mission District of San Francisco. My visit to the Free Farm Stand and All in Common Community Garden revealed the organizing power of a few committed individuals who’ve prioritized feeding their community with healthy, locally grown produce. While it takes an incredible amount of work to gather and grow all the food that is offered at the stand, as well as a tremendous effort to coordinate all of the volunteers and supplies needed for a weekly market as well as garden maintenance, everyone I met at these two locations were laughing, smiling and clearly enjoying taking part in meaningful work. img_4138.jpgThe same could be said about my visit to the Gill Tract Farm near Berkeley, a 10 acre plot owned by the University of California with a history of resistance and fierce perseverance to maintain the land in order to grow food for the community. Dirtying your hands with the soil from which food will grow that will feed the people in your community is powerful, honorable work. I am deeply grateful to these people for giving so much of their time and energy to nourish their community and for sharing their story with me.


My next stop landed me in the middle of San Francisco’s largest farmers market located at the famous Ferry Building, talking food justice and farmworker’s rights with the Farm Manager of Swanton Berry Farms. While the push for using organic farming practices and fair methods for international trade of our fruits and vegetables has been popularized, the important conversation missing from the food justice movement is the treatment of the workers who are doing the back breaking work of planting, harvesting and tending to the food that sustains us all. With my visit to the Ferry Building Farmers Market, I became aware of the Agricultural Justice Project and the Food Justice Certificate program that has put forth standards of fair and humane treatment for farmworkers. I encourage everyone to familiarize yourself with this and start asking your grocer, restaurant manager or market vendor if their produce is Food Justice Certified.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 6.44.09 PMMy next two destinations were quite a different experience from my previous stops on the food system track, but likely the places we are all more familiar with: Whole Foods and Safeway. Large corporate grocers feed the majority of the US population and employ all sorts of marketing messages to vie for your food dollars. With Whole Foods being known to sell unblemished local and organic produce but at a high premium, I wanted to test if the “Whole Paychecks” reputation was actually true. Interestingly, you all were curious as well because my post on the investigation results had over 100 views! While I don’t claim the produce at Whole Foods is anything remotely close to “cheap”, I think we were all surprised to learn that the selection and price for some of the most common organic staple items were actually less expensive at Whole Foods than at Safeway.

My final stop for the food system adventure assignment was an interesting example of the intersection of some of the places I had previously visited. At the Berkeley Food Pantry, you can find boxes and cans of food from Whole Foods as well as fresh picked produce from the Gill Tract Farm. As a means to provide food to Berkeley residents who are in need of extra support to feed themselves and their families, the Berkeley Food Pantry is also keeping perfectly good food from going to waste since oftentimes grocery stores and markets have to throw away items that are near expiration or aren’t selling quick enough. The Berkeley Food Pantry is run almost entirely by volunteers and helps to put food on the plates of nearly 2000 Berkeley and Albany residents each month. ‘Thank you’ just doesn’t feel sufficient.

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As this blog assignment project comes to a close, I wanted share my sincere thanks to everyone who gave me their time and shared their stories with me. It has been an incredible privilege to be entrusted with people’s stories and to share what I have learned. I am also deeply grateful to everyone who has read my postings, left comments and participated in the conversations on social media. Thank you for the support and encouragement.

So… that’s a wrap folks!


Just kidding! 🙂

I’m having too much fun with this. Plus, it seems you all are interested in learning more about our food system (my people!) and I am eager to share what I am learning throughout my scholastic journey. So I’ll continue to update you with riveting news (and of course my completely unbiased opinions… ha!) pertaining to your food and how it winds up on your plate. I invite and encourage you to leave comments, agree or disagree, tell me what you know, and share! share! share! the information as these topics impact ALL of us!

And if you’ve made it this far down the post (gold star!), I’ll leave you with a fun treat: my favorite vegetable joke!

Here it goes:

Why do peppers make bad friends?




Because they get jalapeño business!


Tee hee,


A peek inside the pantry

Tucked away on the bottom level of the Berkeley Friends Quaker Church, is a small sunny room containing shelves and fridges stocked with food. The walls are painted a warm yellow, and a few of the branches from the passion fruit vine outside have snuck their way in through the window slats, creating a feeling as though you’ve just stepped into a tiny slice of Eden. While in reality this isn’t the promised land, it is however, the source of hope and nourishment for many folks living in Berkeley who find themselves in a tough situation without enough food to eat. The Berkeley Food Pantry may seem small on the outside, but its impact is huge.

Dharma Galang, Berkeley Food Pantry
Dharma Galang, Director of Berkeley Food Pantry

As I mentioned in my post about the Gill Tract Community Farm, I heard about the Berkeley Food Pantry (BFP) when two folks showed up to the farm to pick  fresh produce for the Monday afternoon pantry offering. That evening I went home and emailed the pantry to see if I could pay them a visit. This week I had the privilege and pleasure of sitting across the tiny registration desk from the Director of the Berkeley Food Pantry (BFP), Dharma Galang. Dharma’s warm smile matched the brightness of the room.

Before we settled in, Dharma introduced me to a couple of the volunteers who were helping to set up for the afternoon pantry hours. There are only two paid employees at the BFP. All others work as volunteers, donating their time and resources to ensure the pantry stays up and running. Since 1969, the BFP has been providing emergency groceries to local community members during their time of need. It all started with just one woman from the Friends Church who began handing out cans of food from her home. The need quickly outgrew the capacity for this woman to manage out of her house, so the church opened up this space and BFP has been there ever since. Now the BFP serves packaged and fresh food 3 days a week to nearly 2,000 people a month.

Information for BFP guests to get CalFresh assistance.

While Berkeley is known as a rather affluent community, nearly 20% of the population live below the federal poverty level (that’s approximately $12,000/year for a single person, or $25,000/year for a family of 4). Many of these people are disabled, which makes accessing food all the more difficult. With California’s SNAP program, called CalFresh, low-income individuals can apply for EBT debit cards to buy food. But what happens if that money isn’t enough? The end of the month comes and you have nothing to put on your kids’ dinner plates? That’s why places like BFP are essential to the strength and wellbeing of our communities.

Sitting next to the cans of organic pinto beans and bags of rice, I asked Dharma where they get all of the food they hand out. She told me about a few sources, starting first with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. The Food Bank serves as the hub, receiving shipments of USDA supplied food. BFP, along with the other food pantries in the county, gets a portion of this supply and is allotted one free shipment from the Bank each month (although they have to pay a $100/month membership fee… the concept of “free” is so interesting in this country). On top of the USDA monthly shipment, BFP goes to the Food Bank’s grocery outlet and shops for supplies at highly subsidized prices. This isn’t your average grocery store, mind you. As Dharma explained, this grocery outlet is stocked with whatever surplus products the government has bought from large producers in order to keep the market stable (just you wait until I get to writing about our government’s subsidy and commodity programs! It’s a nightmare to say the least).  Apparently there’s been a boom in chicken processing of late because Dharma said there’s a ton of whole chickens available at a cheap price. Usually chicken is a high ticket item.

Food on the shelves at the Berkeley Food Pantry.

Outside of the Food Bank’s shipments and grocery store, BFP gets packaged food from the Grocery Rescue Program. This program partners with local retailers to offload excess food items or items that can no longer be put out on shelves. Instead of wasting perfectly good food, these items get sent to pantries around the county. She mentioned both Target and Whole Foods participate in this program.

And last but certainly not least, BFP receives donations of produce from our AMAZING local farmers and backyard gardeners. Oh how I love our farmers!! (fireworks, balloons, all the emojis!)

As for funding, BFP gets most of it’s financial support from individual donors and grants. (Donations can be made here. Nudge, nudge.) There have been times in the past where they have had to close there doors due to lack of funding, but thankfully some generous hearts in the community helped them to re-open. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again. (Just in case you didn’t click the first time, here‘s your chance again.) For all my Bay Area peeps, Triple Rock Brewery is hosting a fundraiser this month… you’ll be hearing from me with the details!

Towards the end of our interview, Dharma walked me around the pantry and into their back storage area which was stacked ten feet high with cans, boxes and all sorts of food items. Imagine all the hungry bellies this food will go to feed. Berkeley Food Pantry…. thank you!!

As I stepped out of the door shortly after 11am, there were already a couple of folks waiting outside for the pantry to open at 2pm. I offered a smile and a nod, receiving the same in return, and jumped on my bike to head to class.