Over the course of three years at the Berkeley Student Collective, from storefront all the way to director, I’ve witness its growth and change in structure, operation, and membership. Initially, I wanted to investigate questions like what do customers look for in store, how does our product selection reflect that, and is there a discrepancy between who we think we’re serving and who we are actually serving? However, I quickly realized that there is no usable data that I could build my research on. Thus, my project changed from investigating the interaction between our customers and products to identifying who are the people who frequent BSFC.
It is with great sadness and the inexplicable feeling of losing a limb (in a way), that I write this farewell blog post about the Food Collective. The Food Collective, my home for three years, my first venture into campus life, the first time I was given real responsibility for a legitimate business, the first time I met people who cared about the environmental and social consequences of our food system, all are coming to an end. However, it is with great excitement, that I make my next move in the world of food with all of the knowledge I have acquired in the hallowed (and sticker-coated walls) of the Food Collective.
You can simply stop participating in a system that abuses animals or poisons the water or squanders jet fuel flying asparagus around the world. You can vote with your fork, in other words, and you can do it three times a day.
– Michael Pollan
This ideal of consumerism that Michael Pollan espouses in his New York Times article “Voting with Your Fork” and in pretty much all of his writings, is probably not new to most people reading this blog post. It is the basis of the current mainstream food movement. The burden is placed on individuals to change their purchasing habits or else they are voting for exploitation and pollution three times a day. These ideas have manifested in the popularity of the organic, cage-free, humane, local, etc. labels that crowd supermarket shelves, and the success of restaurants like Chez Panisse.
The Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC) is a student- and volunteer-run grocery store on Bancroft, across the street from Eshleman Hall. It’s been criticized for being so white that it excludes people of color. Since its mission claims it’s equitable and since it’s incorporated as an educational non-profit, by not providing education about its role in exclusion, it is failing its mission and perpetuating inequities. Grace Lihn, a UC Berkeley undergarduate, puts it best in her SERC blog post, An Open Letter to the Food Collective, “…[the BSFC’s] complacency and inaction reinforce existing privilege and oppression.” As a participant in the Food Systems minor and the corresponding community engagement class, my project was to use my privilege as the Anti-Oppression committee (AOcomm) coordinator for the BSFC to make the space inclusive; however, I’ve only begun to understand how.