When we think about care in our communities, it always comes back to gathering together over good food with good people. To celebrate API Heritage Month, we collaborated with artist Gica Tam on a limited-edition toteand designer Jennet Liaw on a limited-edition tee designed with this theme in mind.
And to keep the care going, 10% of revenue of sales will go towards sustaining the work of our friends FIG, a New York City based multi-racial grassroots coalition working to transform the food system.
FIG is currently working on two initiatives:
the FIG Food Security Program, an emergency food relief initiative with the goal of building long-term, neighborhood based food security hubs in partnerships with community organizations, local businesses, and coalition members;
and FIG Education-For-Action – an all-online (for now) initiative that blends the collective’s history of peer-to-peer teaching, mentorship, and co-learning into an education program featuring bi-monthly gatherings, workshops, guest speakers, and more.
To learn more about this work, we sat with collective member Kimberly Chou Tsun An, and talked honestly about what it means to hold heartbreak, joy, and each other, all at once.
What is FIG, and what kind of work do you do?
FIG is a multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-many things. A collective of folks doing grassroots organizing — all food workers, all along the food chain. We're farmers, producers, chefs, educators, beverage folks, interpreters, media-makers, facilitators all doing work in and around our food system in New York City, the Hudson Valley and beyond — all with a shared commitment of completely transforming the food system.
We do our work through two main avenues: political education, and action.
"We're farmers, producers, chefs, educators, beverage folks, interpreters, media-makers, facilitators all doing work with a shared commitment of completely transforming the food system."
FIG launched as a study group for restaurant industry folks, organized by folks who wanted to transform themselves, their businesses, and the whole system. Since 2015, we've hosted regular gatherings featuring facilitated discussions; workshops; film screenings; guest speakers; and more. We pivoted online in the last year — like everyone else — and we're recommitting to online gatherings with a monthly "summer school" series, exploring themes of cooperation and new ways of doing business within a pandemic, under and against capitalism.
Over time, our dedication to learning, growing, being in relationship with each other — and lovingly encouraging each other to make the practical radical in our food work — created a foundation from which we could mobilize to support bigger actions comrades, collaborators, and fellow travelers were organizing throughout our network, such as the I-Collective's pop-up dinner interventions against Thanksgiving and an open letter campaign prompting chefs to pull out of an Israeli-state-funded culinary festival.
The biggest thing that we have done to date? From March 2020 through the end of the year, we ran an emergency food relief effort in partnership with a number of community-based organizations that are serving and led by folks on the front lines of fighting food apartheid in New York City. We're relaunching next month as a real deal, incorporated business, still grounded in horizontal partnership: Our FIG Food Security Program.
After reading your guiding principles, I really appreciated how much they emphasized building relationships and caring for one another.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that we as a group and as individuals do to check in with each other and show care for each other when fucked up shit happens to our people. But not only that: All the things that we do around the rest of the year, the rest of the time, to show up for each other, so that we're not just checking in on each other when heartbreak happens.
We also spend time showing care in other ways and creating life affirming joy, and celebration, and celebrating each other, so that there is some real warmth to always return to.
We just wrapped this incredible fundraising event series featuring dinners, barbecues, block parties, menu specials — the works! — in partnership with another food security organization, Sky High Farm, and more than a dozen chefs and restaurant partners who threw down with us to host and cook with Sky High's pastured meat over these two weeks of events. It was so energizing to see our industry friends excited to participate in the conversation around good food access and self-determination in our region. And it was a lot of fun for a bunch of us to gather around a table again, something we love to do with and for each other and haven't, in so long. Goddess bless warm weather; goddess bless vaccination.
At each event that FIG fam came to — and many of us were involved behind the scenes, from cooking to meat delivery logistics to communications (raised hand emoji) — there were a lot of toasts. Like, "Cheers to this person!" And "Cheers to this person!" And "You're crushing it! This is amazing." And "Thank you — you organized this; you contributed in this way; you showed up for this." I don't care if I sound like a gratitude practice broken record. I really fucking mean this shit. And I love celebrating my people and having my people celebrate me. And I am so grateful these are the people with whom I am actively trying to burn down the current world, and upon those ashes build the new one.
I love that, and definitely resonate with what you’re saying. I feel like what makes these kinds of relationships so powerful to me is that feeling of “I love you as a friend, and as a person, and also as someone that I’m conspiring with to build something new.
Yeah, totally. And also too, I know your collaborators and your comrades, your co-conspirators, don’t always have to be your best friends, you know? So, how especially lucky to also have your comrades be people you really want to see?
I’m really proud of what we’ve built. And we have all these relationships as a collective and also individually with each other. It’s special.
In your words, what kind of world is FIG dreaming of and working towards? What does that food system look like?
I think for FIG — and the work that we’re doing in New York and beyond — we want to continue to create space for people to learn with each other, teach each other, and step into individual and collective power. We want to continue to create spaces for folks to gain knowledge, space for political education.
I know that we want to see deep trust and consistency in our Food Security Program as we build it hub by hub, in partnership with one organization and then another. We want it to be sustainable; it's time to go beyond "emergency food relief." We want to make sure that how we start, we’re going a mile deep and an inch wide, so that our efforts and our energy are super focused and impactful, and continue to center relationships and care.
"We want it to be sustainable; it's time to go beyond 'emergency food relief.'"
I have been really inspired by the work we've done and what other folks have been doing in regards to mutual aid, small to medium scale community-based work — I've been struck by how personal it feels, how deep it feels.
So even if you are not feeding people on a massive scale — if you're reaching one person, five people, 10 people, one hundred families a week — you are committed to impact that is consistent, long-term mined, and built with care.
"Mutual aid is mutual. It's reciprocal. Truly collective, truly solidarity based and without the more conventional, charitable system, language of 'giving back.'"
It's also about building it in a way where we understand that it's not about people "giving the food" and people "receiving the food" — everyone who participates, we're all getting something out of it. We're all benefiting. Mutual aid is mutual. It's reciprocal. Truly collective, truly solidarity based and without the more conventional, charitable system, language of "giving back."
I do believe people with resources and access can give up, though — be it wealth, or land. (Which, that all came from somewhere to begin with, so it is a giving back!)
Truly it is possible in our lifetime to do impactful work. Even under climate catastrophe, even living within capitalism, there are things that we can do. We believe that all human beings deserve fresh, healthy food. They should be able to access it. It should be culturally relevant. They should be able to grow it, cook it, produce it, sell it, feed their families, themselves, nourish other people, however they want. In self-determining ways in ways that are good for the environment. We believe that, and we're going to guide our work by that here in New York City. That's where we are based — but we believe in everybody's right to that, from here, on Turtle Island, to Puerto Rico, to Palestine.
To go deep we gotta be local, but our view has to be global because it's all interconnected and we can never lose sight of that. ∎