By Alex Tone, Farm Fellow
In the winters when I was a teenager, I would dream of apricots. Slushing to the bus in the dark wet depths of February in my city, I’d imagine the wooden stands that would sprout in late May and spill the soft fruit that looked and tasted like a sunset. When the time came and the fruit floodgates opened, I would eat pints of apricots at a time, gently slicing them into fingers or gracelessly annihilating them whole. Eating a good apricot demands that you be present, that you relish each sensation it offers, and that you sink into the joy of being in a time and place where you can catch each drop of such sweetness.
I’m grateful to my family and community for showing me the joy and pleasure of food, but I was also raised in a world which taught me that this pleasure was not abundant. Loving food was something to be controlled and monitored, and not at the expense of a thin body. I learned to separate myself from my body, seeing it as an instrument that needed to be managed and disciplined. I would love each bite of an apricot, but not before recording it in a calorie journal, where my food was measured and calculated as inputs and outputs from a static system. More fundamentally, a part of me saw food not as a source of pleasure and nourishment, but as a point of weakness.
I know that I wasn’t unique in this relationship to food. While there’s been progress over my lifetime in how our society values bodies and food, loving food is often pitted as an adversary against fulfilling destructive ideas of beauty and personal value. Worldwide, 42% of adults are attempting to lose weight and 20.4% count calories, according to a 2017 Obesity Review article. In a 2008 UNC study, 75% of women between 25 and 45 reported disordered eating behaviors or “symptoms consistent with eating disorders." This is not an accident, as people make money off of relationships to food like mine: in 2019, the American weight loss industry alone was worth over $72 billion. Such ideas of beauty also perpetuate systemic racism, as mainstream health and diet culture is still centered around white femme bodies as a moral and physical standard for all bodies, and fitness and nutrition discourse is dominated by white voices. These systems of profit and power wanted people like me to believe that food saps rather than feeds my strength and happiness, and that loving food outside of strict boundaries is a moral failing.
Things started to change when I began learning how to see food for what it truly is: a lens through which I could understand the world and the people in it. Coming to AMI – where we seed, grow, harvest, cook, learn, talk, revere, defend, and dream food – has shown me that food, at its core, has meant power and liberation to a variety of movements and communities.
At AMI, we share books such as Monica White’s Freedom Farmers, in which she describes how Black communities have used food sovereignty and farming cooperatives as means of political resistance and self-determination, from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. We use Tuesday dinners as spaces to discuss issues of justice and equity, taking from the same toolbox as groups such as the People’s Kitchen Collective in Oakland and the End Mass Incarceration Dinners in Philadelphia. We sweat and ache to harvest produce in the morning work to be nourished and strengthened by it in the evening meal. We cook the food we’ve grown together for each other, sharing our cultures and experiences to form a stronger community. Food is central not only to the relationships we build here with each other and the wider Highland community, but also to the work we hope to do in helping create more just and equitable realities.
Through this lens of food as liberation and vital to justice work, I’m reshaping my understanding of food in wider systems and in my own life. In her book Pleasure Activism, one of adrienne maree brown’s  guiding principles for justice organizations is to “center pleasure as an organizing principle” (2017, p. 432). If pleasure – such as that from food – can tell us what we need to be truly satisfied and happy, then seeking, elevating, and empowering our own and others’ pleasure is crucial to imagining and creating more just realities. Among other lessons, my time at AMI has taught me that joy from eating good food is a form of power. It builds relationships, heals wounds, grows communities, gives power and autonomy, connects us with our environments, and shows love for our bodies. While I still have a lot of unlearning to do, I found myself eating a slice of the first melon of the season the same way I ate the apricots in my city: with attention, gratitude, love, and a return for seconds.
 Thanks and credit to Katerina for emphasizing this in discussions around diet culture.  I’m very grateful to my fellow Fellow, India, for bringing amb and her work into my life.  She continues: “This means feeding people great healthy food that nourishes them when they come to a meeting and working together to meet the needs of the people in the space” (2017, p. 432).