Eat-In At The FDA!

Occupy the FDA – April 8, 2013

Our “day” started off at midnight as we boarded a bus in Hartford, CT joining up with riders who arrived from Northampton, MA. It was interesting that when I arrived at the bus station I met several people with whom I’d only had email or Facebook contact and yet our shared cause made it feel like I was meeting old friends. The sense of community was almost instantaneous. I can’t say the bus ride was either comfortable or restful but I kept reminding myself of the importance of our trip. Confronting the FDA on its own turf was too good an opportunity to pass up for the sake of a good night’s sleep.

We were due to arrive at the FDA in College Park, MD around 8:00 am. Getting in earlier than expected, Marty, our coordinator extraordinaire, called ahead to a diner to see if they were open for breakfast so we could at least fuel up on coffee before starting our day. The Silver Diner opens at 7:00 am but agreed to open at 6:30 to accommodate us. Good people! An even better surprise awaited us once we got to our tables and saw the menu: “Farm to Table”! While we had no thoughts that the menu was GMO free, we appreciated the steps the diner was taking toward a healthy, local and community sustaining menu. What were the chances that this is the place that would open early to help out a band of food activists?

Sitting across the table from me was James, a dedicated and excited member of our group. What made his presence special for me is the fact that he’s eight years old and had requested to join his mother on the trip. It is heartening to see that moms like his are educating their children not only about the health issue surrounding GMOs but also about the importance of publicly speaking out. It was an honor to share my day with James and his mother.

Arriving at the site of our picnic lunch and demonstration, the crowd seemed small but it grew throughout the day. Estimates range between 250 and 350 in total. Everyone had brought a contribution to the Stone Soup we would be sharing later in the day and many brought GMO free or organic seeds to share at the seed swap table. Many of us took the opportunity to take the mic and share our reasons for having made the trip. Reasons included wanting labels on all GMO foods, calling for the ousting of Michael Taylor from the FDA, boycotting anything containing GMO ingredients to send an economic message to Monsanto that we won’t buy what they are peddling and finally an end to GMO foods all together. There were other, less expressed reasons for some us to be there. Sharing solidarity, community and ideas for the future was motivating, empowering and validating. Sometimes when the struggle seems overwhelming, those things can keep me going with a renewed sense of determination.

In late morning, the fire was lit under a 50 gallon pot into which we put a stone to get us started followed by the wonderful ingredients brought by the crowd. By the time it was finished we had a wonderful meal – delicious in spirit as well as taste.

Homeland Security had quite a presence at our event in the form of no less than a dozen vehicles and many uniformed officers. Alas, they spent a very dull day patrolling an event that gave no cause for them to take any action. Quite the contrary, some of us shared food with them and my own conversation with three of them after lunch was very pleasant. The “enemy” isn’t always an enemy.

After lunch people took to the mic once again to express their personal visions for our food future and then informal sessions were held to talk about a variety of related subjects. A picnic lunch followed by discussion groups on the sidewalk and lawn of the FDA… quite a site.

As the sessions wound down, those of us who had traveled a fair distance got ready for the return trip. Once on the bus I began to go over the day’s events and evaluate our effectiveness for having been there. The local news station showed up and broadcast a segment which made its way to Facebook (of course!), pictures and stories were shared by all of us through social media and email which got the message out to many beyond those of us who were there and we all had a chance to meet up with people from other states to share ideas for actions and support. My final evaluation… it was a great day! It was a day worthy of an almost 15 hour round trip bus ride and being totally useless the following day from lack of sleep.

Would I do again? Certainly. Will you join me? I hope so!

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