Contrary to popular imagination, college is "the real world," and students have a right to real food sovereignty.
In 2015, colleges spent over $16 billion on food. Most of that real money went into the pockets of real global mega-corporations that exploit real workers, communities, and living ecosystems. The Big Three - Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo - which dominate and control 90 percent of dining services at colleges and universities, pulled in a total of $3.74 billion in profits. Meanwhile, an estimated 1 in 5 students experienced food insecurity. When colleges uphold the consolidation of corporate power in a food system that institutionalizes race, class and gender-based gaps in both food worker wages and ownership of food-producing, wealth-creating assets such as land, they only serve to perpetuate the social injustices in society at large.
The reality is that today's college students are not who you might think they are, and they're facing issues far more serious than homework. Of the 17.3 million students enrolled in college in 2014, nearly 36 percent were students of color. Moreover, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 percent of students nationwide have household incomes below $20,000, 79 percent work full or part-time in addition to taking classes, and 35 percent are parents or have dependents (17 percent are single parents). A full 13 percent experience a form of homelessness, presenting yet another barrier to closing the growing gaps in 4-year college completion rates between the top income quartile (99%) and bottom income quartile (21%) and between white (43%) or Asian (63%) students and Black (21%), Hispanic (16%), or Native (15%) students. These disparities in college completion rates have long lasting impacts on earning potential and thus individual as well as community wealth accumulation, or lack thereof. And with a collective debt of $1.35 trillion, where is all the money that could've and should've gone to community-owned food, housing and education solutions?
We are talking about an entire generation of young people struggling to take back control of their food, their lives, and their futures -- and indeed the future of the world. Unprotected by the myth of a college "bubble", working-class students and students of color are impacted first and worst by the economic and ecological crises created by a food system and society fundamentally rooted in a racist logic of capitalism and colonialism; that's where CoFED comes in. CoFED is a national alliance and training program for campus-based food cooperatives and we are providing students with the tools to self-organize for food sovereignty, economic democracy, and collective liberation.
CoFED's work builds community and supports a new generation of food sovereignty leaders, especially young folx from the frontlines and the margins, to take back the power and wealth corporations have stolen from communities everywhere.
We measure our success by how many campus food co-ops we help to launch (7 since 2011!) and also how deeply we practice love and an understanding that community-owned food solutions, like worker-owned restaurants and cooperative grocery stores, offer the most transformative possibilities when they directly address the roots causes of inequality: white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and so on. We are learning, unlearning and evolving every day, following the leadership of groups like the Renaissance Community Co-op (Greensboro, NC), NuWater Co-op (Houston, TX), and Mandela Foods Cooperative (Oakland, CA).
Want to help CoFED continue to dig up root causes and plant more seeds for food sovereignty, sustainability and social justice? Support our work here.
Below are the top highlights from our work in 2016:
Above: The lovely Summer Co-op Academy 2016 Cohort
If you'd like to help CoFED continue this work into 2017, make a contribution here. Now more than ever, we need your support. Please consider joining our community of monthly donors. As a monthly donor, you help CoFED throughout the entire year, building the resilience of our grassroots community to support student food co-ops.
With your generous support each year, we're able to regenerate the soil and plant new seeds for a fuller harvest. What seeds have been planted for next year? In 2017, your donations will help launch these new CoFED programs:
Thank you for taking some time to learn about what CoFED has been up to and considering making a contribution! All donations made by the end of December will be matched by the Germanacos Foundation.