Labor Day Potlucks-- With a Purpose

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Photo by Amber McKee


On Labor Day, people in nearly 300 cities and towns across America will gather in public places, sit down, and share a meal together. We will do it for two reasons: one personal, one political. The personal reason is that we love to cook and share food. Nourishing people, making them smile and momentarily making life good is something that we find deeply satisfying--and at potlucks, we share this feeling en masse.

The political reason to organize potlucks is actually the same motive. Potlucks bring people together. And people who come together in the spirit of goodwill and for the joy of sharing food are more likely to stand together when political push comes to shove. If you're an organizer, potlucks can be one of your best agents of change: rather than goad people to name enemies and point fingers, you can gather them for something that they enjoy doing and that replenishes their will to fight. Potlucks are a ripe opportunity for inviting people who may not have sat at the same table together in the past and then celebrating what we all have in common: the need to eat and the need for support.

Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel calls these Eat-Ins "a virtual march on Washington" because they mark a turning point in the food movement.

On Labor Day, the tens of thousands of us who will sit down together in public parks, on school grounds, at churches, and in front of City Halls will do it for an overtly political purpose: to tell Congress to stop giving our children food that hurts them. We're calling these events "Eat-Ins," because they're part potluck, part sit-in. They are a launching-point of the Time for Lunch campaign, the goals of which are to give schools the ability to serve real food at lunch and to link local schools to local farms. The Eat-Ins that take place on Labor Day will rally support for the cause by organizing communities, getting some media attention and thereby sending a clear message to Congress: It's time to provide America's children with food that benefits their health, not food that makes them sick.

My colleagues and I organized the first Eat-In a year ago in San Francisco. The event brought together more than 250 young people, most of them fresh out of college. The day before, we had formed teams and piled into apartment kitchens across the city to cook up our favorite dishes. On Labor Day, the final day of the Slow Food Nation extravaganza, we showed up at Dolores Park armed with our dishes. We sat down on a grassy hill and we took turns rousing nearby sunbathers with rallying cries about our intention to take back the American food system in the name of everyday people. And then we sat down to eat.

A year later, the concept of an Eat-In has caught on--on Labor Day, they're taking place in all 50 states. The organizers are concerned parents, farmers, teachers, church leaders, college students, and especially Slow Food USA members. For some of the Eat-Ins, people who are leaders in their communities reached out to families, teachers, local non-profits, and school nutrition directors and invited them to form an organizing team. Those people then reached out to their own networks, and together they decided how many people they could muster, what sort of location they could secure and what should take place at their event.

In Los Angeles, the Slow Food chapter has worked with youth from the Homegirl Café (a non-profit that fights gang violence by creating jobs in food service) to set up booths at farmers' markets and go door-to-door in their neighborhood inviting people to get involved. In Milwaukee, organizers have found enough manpower to host a total of eleven Eat-Ins at schools and parks across the city. In Atlanta, hundreds of people are planning to gather with homemade signs for a big picnic and rally in Piedmont Park. In Marksville, LA, volunteers are planting a school garden before they sit down to eat; in Charlotte, NC, they're cooking up BBQ; and in Phoenix, AZ they're getting kids and parents to each write their own letters to Congress.

Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel calls these Eat-Ins "a virtual march on Washington" because they mark a turning point in the food movement. Everyday people in every corner of this country are organizing to change the food system. Organizations that have never worked together are partnering to plan events, and people who have never considered themselves activists are painting signs and gathering for demonstrations. That's big time. This is a moment you don't want to miss.

So attend an Eat-In in your area on Labor Day--or if there isn't one, sign up to organize your own. Labor Day's just around the corner, so you don't have to organize anything huge, but you can still gather with friends and family for the Labor Day potluck you were thinking of having and then take a photo to show your support. We'll put your potluck on the map, and people everywhere will see that your city or town has joined the movement. We're not asking for much--just that you cook something delicious and share it with your neighbors. In a country that's lost control of its food system, something as simple as a potluck can make all the difference.

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Presented by

Gordon Jenkins

Gordon Jenkins is advocacy campaign coordinator for Slow Food USA, an organization that is working to create a world in which people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who produce it, and good for the planet. He also manages Eat-Ins.org, a Web site that organizes and facilitates eat-ins.
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