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Why Labor Needs to Be Part of Sustainability

Thought leaders convened at Eating City in France for a discussion of the future of labor

Ashley Kosiak

August 23, 2018

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Eating City Summer Campus 2018
Photo: Ashley Kosiak

Earlier this month, our Impact Programs associate Ashley Kosiak hopped across the pond to France to present at this year's summer campus convening of Eating City, a multi-year initiative focused on tackling global urban sustainability for today and the future. Below, Kosiak shares her impressions of the event, from the complex presentations and discussions to the quintessentially French teambuilding exercises of bread baking and cheese production.

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This August I represented the James Beard Foundation at the Eating City Summer Campus at La Bergerie de Villarceaux, about an hour outside of Paris. Now in its sixth year, the event convenes students and professionals from across the globe “to build understanding and trust around complex and challenging issues related to city food systems among young generations.”

Spearheaded by economist and food service consultant Maurizio Mariani, each Summer Campus focuses on a specific theme. This year, the conversations and presentations delved into the topic of “Youths and Labor.”

The participants met from July 31 to August 8 for a deep discussion of the global food system. They listened to international experts present on topics such as feeding cities and urban-rural relations, discovered the art of French breadmaking and cheese production, and took part in focused, issue-oriented conversations facilitated by past Eating City attendees. Each night, speakers and participants alike gathered for a convivial outdoor dinner prepared by a rotating subgroup of those in attendance. Cooking for, and with, each other was just as important as the conversation over the table.

What struck me at the outset was the breadth of the participants’ backgrounds and expertise. The various women representing the United States had experiences ranging from jobs with the USDA, to school food advocacy, to work around food access and equity. They were joined by a top chef from the Philippines, a farmer from Spain, and academics from Italy—just to name a few.

Ashley Kosiak presenting at Eating City Summer Campus 2018
Photo: Ashley Kosiak

I spoke with the attendees about the work the James Beard Foundation is doing with chefs around sustainability and advocacy, and the Foundation’s belief in the power of chefs to create change. While only two or three of the participants were working chefs, I believe the information rang true for all of them. We all eat, we all have a stake in this shared table, and we can work together to achieve the progress we want for the food system. With their various, and often quite different backgrounds, the attendees brought unique perspectives to the issue of labor and worked together to deliver ideals around real social change.

At the start of Eating City, the attendees were tasked with crafting a declaration around the year’s theme, guided by expert insights from the event’s presenters, and meant to ultimately convey their position within within the larger food system.

After a week of discussion, discovery, and exploration, the final declaration presented by the Eating City participants centers on the concept of “mobility.” It seeks to change the current food system which favors “convenience over health and profit over people” by offering a new paradigm “where all generations and sectors can engage with and influence the food system.” The notions of flexibility, dynamism, and adaptability were emphasized as the foundations of this new approach. Given the current political climate and the issues around immigration and labor, at least in the U.S. food system, it couldn’t feel more relevant. The participants emphasized that all stakeholders, from the field to the fork, must be involved to achieve long-term sustainability—not just for the environment, but also for those living and working in that environment. This means supporting and promoting opportunity, innovation, and equity—grounded in mobility—so we can redefine the global market to measure success based on the health of both the planet and its people.  

Read the full Eating City: Youths and Labor declaration.

Learn more about Eating City.

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Ashley Kosiak is Impact Programs manager at JBF. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.