On April 24 in the Wheatley Hall Snowden Auditorium, “Food Fest” fed bellies with fresh vegetarian food, shared information about genetically modified ingredients, and provided entertainment. Positivity was ubiquitous as students relaxed at this free-flowing event networked with regional food activism.
“Art continuously portrayed what we put in our mind, body, and souls,” said lead organizer Nick Guerrero.
The night was comprised of a speaker series, comedy act, spoken word performance, and music provided by Viva La Hop, a live hip-hop group. On the plateau behind the auditorium, fruits and veggies colored a line of trays. Varying reports estimate over 100 students and community members attended.
Alongside other students, Frantz Lexey, Rohan Nijhawan, Kacie King, and Corita Miles were particularly integral to the event’s operations, according to Guererro. Andrew Coke-Buntin and associate Duane Denny acted as combination MCs, stage managers, and comedy act.
Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupes, a rice dish, and other vegetarian foods were served, catered by City Feed and Supply, a grocery store in Jamaica Plain that sources from local farmers.
Activists stepped on stage to share information about their respective organizations. Martin Dagoberto and Michelle Lacuyer are prominent within the MA and NH chapters of Right to Know GMO, a national initiative pushing for all GMO ingredients to be labeled. Cassandra Seal is affiliated with urban composting organization City Soil.
“[Monsanto] has built a business model around people not knowing they are consuming [the company’s products],“ said Dagoberto, who studied genetic engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he experienced an “ethical explosion.”
Michelle Lacuyer attributes a past illness that stumped doctors to GMOs.
Research indicating a correlation between GMOs and autoimmune disorders exists and is growing, but is not unanimously accepted by the medical community.
“In Boston they just passed urban agriculture zoning, which allows the keeping of bees, chickens, and farming in the city,” said Seal, a landscape architect and sustainable farmer.
Comedic duo Coke-Buntin and Denny riffed off the panel’s topics during their improv-heavy hosting, which often satirically placed them in the position of people “ignorant to GMO labeling.”
“I wanted to be supportive, so I formed my jokes around closing the gap between people that know about GMO labeling and those that don’t,” said Coke-Buntin, a social psychology major. He has been performing comedy in the Boston area for four years, first meeting fellow comic Denny at Massasoit Community College as his radio production professor.
The 10-piece band Viva La Hop closed out the night with a rousing mix of live hip-hop, funk, and jazz, fronted by two rappers, Baylen Hernandez and Philip Galeota. Their set traversed originals like “Fantasize” and “Time” and covers such as “PSA” by Jay-Z and “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The group is based out of Boston.
Student Michael Arneaud performed poetry under the moniker "Pure Cuisine Poetry," engaging social issues over a hip-hop influenced delivery.
Attendee Michael Cole said “The food was good and it was served well. I learned a lot about advocacy against GMOs.”
Helper Modeline Badio said, “It made me happy seeing people happy eating organic food.” She was inspired to participate in Food Fest by her environmental studies course.
Organizer Rohan Nijhawan said he got involved with the Food Fest team because, “We eat food everyday, and yet we don't fully know what goes in our food. Monsanto and all these other corporations think they rule the world, but we, as students and activist, need to show them that they don't."
The University of Massachusetts Boston chapter of Net Impact backed the event. Net Impact, a non-profit with sustainability goals, involves 60,000 student and professional leaders from over 300 volunteer-led chapters across the world, as described on its website.
Guerrero, a management major with a concentration in marketing, says he hopes to change the dining services on campus.
“As we learn about the power of students, it will happen.”
Guerrero said he shares goals with Real Food Challenge, a national effort that aims to by 2020 “shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food and towards local/community-based, fair [trade], humane food sources," according to its website. As part of the offshoot Real Food Commitment, UMass Amherst has dedicated 20 percent of its budget to this shift.