Food Day in DC: “I know what real food looks like. I’m more than just a cashier.”

Students show their support for DC food workers.

The struggles for real food and real jobs are one in the same, and we stand together in building a just, nourishing food system. This was the message championed by the more than 100 DC food service workers, students, and community allies who celebrated Food Day together on Wednesday. Gathering in American University’s Founders Room, attendees from American University, Howard University, Georgetown Law School, Gallaudet University, and Trinity Washington University enjoyed local food, told their stories, and shared their hopes for the future of food justice in DC.

Ms. Christine tells her story.

Christine Hamlett-Williams, who has worked in food service at American University for over 30 years and is currently an employee of Bon Appetit, delivered the event’s keynote address. Recollecting learning to plant, grow, and harvest food alongside her mother, Hamlett-Williams said, “I was born and raised in North Carolina. I worked as a sharecropper. So, trust me, I know what real food looks like. I’m more than just a cashier.” She said, “life is like a garden” and urged the event’s attendees to “plant seeds of kindness, respect, and peace” in their communities.

Tarshea Smith, who has worked in the cafeteria at Georgetown University for 19 years, echoed Hamlett-William’s sentiments and talked about her love of food and pride in her job. “Food service workers care about food,” said Smith, “We care about what we make and how it tastes…not only on campus but also in our communities.”

Workers and students sign a petition in support of Bon Appetit workers.

In addition to courageous worker leaders like Christine and Tarshea, community activists and campus allies also talked about what real food and real jobs mean to them and how they are advancing food justice efforts across the city. This wide-ranging group of speakers included Zachari Curtis from Healthy Affordable Food for All, Jon Berger from Real Food Challenge, Jeremy John from the Crabgrass Christians Initiative at the Quixote Center, Sophia Maravell from Brickyard Educational Farm, Mike Bader from the American University Sociology Department, and student leaders from several universities.

Stephen Fredericks, president of EcoSense, an American University student group, said, “Today’s event unites the labor movement and the sustainable food movement, which too often forgets those who produce and serve our food.”

DC worker leaders after their successful Food Day event.

DC food workers are not alone in their vision of a united movement for food justice and sustainability on campus and beyond. On the other side of the country, University of LaVerne food service workers have also come together to add their voices to the creation of a sustainable future. On Food Day, they called on their employer, Bon Appetit Management Company (which also runs dining services at American, Georgetown Law, and Gallaudet), to honor their right to form a union through a process of their choosing. These workers share their DC allies’ belief that true progress toward food system sustainability is only possible if food workers’ voices are included in the process.

Check out more photos from the event at the UNITE HERE Local 23 Facebook page, and stay tuned for updates from other Real Food Real Jobs Food Day events across the country.

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