By Michaela Johnke and Ceidy Irias
On Wednesday, April 29th, the School of Human Ecology had the pleasure of hosting Seitu Jones, a local artist from Minneapolis. While Seitu shared the inspirations and aspirations behind his recent work, CREATE, a community meal that spanned the length of 250 tables, we partook in a meal prepared by Jen Gaddis and her class on Food and Sustainability from the Civil Society and Community Studies Department. The food was locally sourced, organic, and definitely delicious. Each attendee ate on placemats that Marianne Fairbanks’ and Mary Hark’s classes in the Design Department made from reused textile waste. This event was made possible by an anonymous contribution to the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies and matching funds from the Department of Design Studies.
The presentation and meal provoked thought on what sustainability means for a community. Carolina Sarmiento, also an assistant professor in the Civil Society and Community Studies department remarked, “Sustainability goes beyond environmental issues towards strengthening communities and reaching the goals and dreams of those communities”. Within the context of the presentation, Seitu Jones explained how his neighbors inspired him to put together the community meal, CREATE (containing acronyms of art, eat, and act). He would watch people walk by his shop window carrying bags from the convenience store containing a lot of prepackaged food. His personal experience with the lack of nutritious food within the neighborhood coupled with Minnesota’s stark racial disparities largely influenced his desire to host his community and share with them how to make healthy choices about food. Mary Hark referred to his event as “an intersection of art, community, and food”. Students from different departments came to share a meal together. Penny Peng, a retail student, commented, “The presentation was inspiring. I have never heard of a community meal before – what a great and unique way to unite a community”. Some students connected the event to developing closer relationships within the school, but also looking critically at where their food comes from. Ally Reeves, a personal finance student stated that, “This event focused on the power around building community and friendship and reminded me of the importance of cooking my own food and thinking critically about the food system.” For some students it meant connecting school with their personal values. Hannah Bennett, a graduate student in Design Studies stated “I have worked in the food industry most of my life. However, I recently moved from the Twin Cities to go to grad school. This event pulls together my personal experiences and issues that are really important to me”
Seitu, diving further into themes around sustainability of communities, proposed that the underlying layers are love and power. Seitu created the live art event as a forum about the love we should have for each other and the ability to make change. We all closed the event by saying together with Seitu Jones, “We wish never to forget the healing power of food, community, and love; we go in peace”. Mary Hark later wrote about the event, “Like the CREATE meal in St. Paul, we all left the moment touched by community and beauty.”
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Michaela Johnke and Ceidy Irias are both undergraduate students in the Community and Nonprofit Leadership Major