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On the road to Syracuse… and a National Convening on the Right to Food

1st in a series of pre-conference posts 


Syracuse Planning Committee Meets to Discuss Theme of Conference


By Trinity Benton, Food Studies Graduate Student at Syracuse University/ Full-Time Kitchen Technician within the University


On June 4-5, 2024, the National Right to Food Community of Practice (NRtF CoP) will be hosting its second annual national convening in Syracuse, NY.  (Read here to learn more about the first annual convening in Miami!). The theme of this year’s June convening is: Right to Food, Economic Apartheid and Corporate Capture of the Food System. Details for how to register will be available soon. Meanwhile, please save the date!


As a part of the convening, a Syracuse-based local planning committee is preparing to host a  People’s Tribunal to highlight right to food violations in Syracuse and New York State. This is the first in a series of blog posts leading up to the conference to introduce readers and hopeful conference participants to the landscape of food, farming and poverty as it is experienced in Syracuse through the lens of local organizers and advocates. 


Welcome to Syracuse! 


Syracuse, NY is a city known as home of excellent academic institutions, including Syracuse University (SU), the State University of New York- Environmental Sciences and Forestry (ESF), and LeMoyne College. From the hill top and adjacent lying SU and ESF campuses, the land spreads down the city from east to south, abruptly cutting off at Interstate 81. The highway is where the reality of cultural juxtaposition of the wealthy elite and the impoverished meet. In 2017, Syracuse, NY was ranked number nine of the top ten cities with highest poverty rates in the United States, according to data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau (Breidenbach, 2018). 


The construction of Interstate 81 dismantled a community called the 15th Ward in the 1960’s which consisted of mainly African Americans. Although many in the neighborhood lived in poverty, the community began building itself up with an array of small businesses which included community centers, barbershops, a health center, grocery stores and entertainment venues. After the decision was made to move forward with the Interstate 81 project, all the residents were displaced, and businesses were knocked down to create room for the elevated highway. The families were left to find new homes and new job opportunities. This was made difficult by the history of segregation and racism within the city that created the 15th Ward in the first place. Once African American families moved into new neighborhoods, white elite families moved out. And with them, the businesses in the neighborhoods, including grocery stores and food markets, leading to the present-day situation of food apartheid. 


In 2022 Syracuse ranked number 1 in the nation for the city with the highest child poverty rate. The city continues to suffer from severe food apartheid within the highly concentrated black and brown communities. Food is essential to the growth and development of children into adulthood. Food insecurity is one of the main drivers for behavioral issues in children at school. These behavioral patterns place children into the school-to-prison pipeline, which is the implementation of practices and policies within schools that put our most at-risk children out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, prioritizing incarceration over education. Once children are put into this system in school, it is hard to escape from, much like the prison system. Issues of food accessibility and quality are further heightened while incarcerated. Incarceration causes a loss of agency, which leads to extreme hunger and starvation even after prison. 


One of the main goals of this upcoming national convening on the right to food in the U.S. will be to amplify the systems and institutions that perpetuate food insecurity in high-poverty neighborhoods, as well as the solutions implemented by community organizers and residents working on the frontlines to break the cycle of children entering the school-to-prison pipeline. 


Stay tuned to learn more and hear directly from community organizers, urban growers, and food justice advocates working on the frontlines in Syracuse.



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