We Feed DC, We Are DC: Workers March to Celebrate Progress on Real Food and Real Jobs

“I love my job,” says Jacqueline Stills, a food service worker at Howard University. “It’s like leaving home in the morning to come to another place called home. I tell students here, ‘I look at you all as my children.’ I see them every day and feed them breakfast and lunch.” Stills joined hundreds of food service workers from UNITE HERE Local 23 and anti-hunger and food sustainability activists who are demanding real food and real food jobs for DC area residents. “We really do feed DC. And we deserve to be respected for all we do,” said American University food service worker Anthony Randolph, “We feed DC. We ARE DC.”

Holding “We Feed DC, We Are DC” signs, rally-goers called on unionized food providers at DC universities to follow the lead of Bon Appétit Management Company at American University by providing sustainable food jobs to DC workers and serving real food in DC cafeterias.  Rally-goers received breaking news that dining workers at Howard University, with the support of community activists, had just reached a tentative agreement with Sodexo that moves the Real Food Real Jobs program forward on that campus as well. “Students here are like our family,” said Christine Hamlett-Williams, a cashier with Bon Appétit at American University. “We want to use our experience, use our skills and give them great food, and this agreement lets us do that.

Alphonso Carmack, an employee of Sodexo at Howard University, said that food companies need to respect the experience and passion that workers bring to their jobs. “I grew up on a farm, and I have been cooking farm fresh food since I was six years old, stirring pots for my grandmother. Howard students are like my nieces and nephews, and they need that kind of food too—we all need food that is good for us. That’s not something that should just be for the wealthy in this city.”

Carmack and his co-workers have the backing of DC food movement leaders like Jeremy John of the Quixote Center and Christian Crabgrass Initiative, an organization that helps establish sliding scale CSAs with churches. John says that, “Unsustainable wages limit access to the real foods that are the bedrock of good health. There is no sustainable future if sustainable, healthy foods are only accessible by people with disposable income. Wages aren’t just a worker’s problem.”

With this first round of impressive victories under their belts, DC food workers and their food movement allies will continue fighting for improvements in job and food quality throughout the district and across the country.

For more photos of the rally, check out UNITE HERE Local 23 on Facebook.

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