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University students lead a driving force for food sovereignty

Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis is demanding the University cut ties with Cargill and Aramark.
Image by Parker Johnson
Uprooted and Rising Campaign Co-Lead Meredith Song poses for a portrait at Northrop on Sunday Sep. 20. Uprooted and Rising is a group striving to promote food sovereignty within the University of Minnesota system.

A new group of students and community members launched two campaigns to organize against the University of Minnesota’s relationship with two big food corporations: Cargill and Aramark.

Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis’ main two campaigns, #CancelCargill and #RealMeals, seek to highlight the ties between the food companies and the University — and advocate they be cut.

The group is a chapter of a national organization that aims to end the support for big food corporations in higher education. The Minneapolis chapter started in August to advocate for food sovereignty, the right for people to access healthy and culturally appropriate foods through sustainable methods.

The recently-established group is hoping to build momentum with two initial campaigns around food sovereignty, and they plan to use social media and rallies to get the word out.

After a summer virtual retreat led by the national Uprooted and Rising organization, University student Meredith Song said she reached out to students she knew were passionate about food sovereignty and started a chapter in Minneapolis.

“Part of the [#CancelCargill] campaign is changing perception around Cargill and revealing that, first of all, the influence they have over our food system, [and] how this system is fueling ecosystem destruction abroad,” Song said.

The #CancelCargill campaign and its connections to the University

Cargill is the nation’s largest privately-owned company by revenue, and is headquartered in Minnesota. It operates internationally to produce and distribute agricultural products like grain, oil and meat. The company also provides services like transportation and risk management.

Cargill has been accused by environmental activists of polluting the environment and exploiting workers and Indigenous land. It has been under scrutiny for deforestation, pollution and human rights abuses and the theft of Indigenous land. Though the company has made efforts towards reducing its environmental impact, activists continue to push for more accountability.

In 1999, Cargill Inc. gave $10 million dollars to the University to create the Cargill building located on the St. Paul campus for expanding agricultural research. The building houses the Microbial and Plant Genomics Institute and 15 University Cargill-based faculty that conduct research while teaching students.

Since then, the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences have continued to receive funding from Cargill, according to public records.

The #CancelCargill campaign also aims to address the company’s presence on campus, said Edward Cruz, a fourth-year student studying environmental policy planning and management.

“We really want to focus on shifting the narrative of what is a reputable or desirable company to work for, within the larger culture at the U and specifically within CFANS,” Cruz said.

Cruz joined Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis as a co-lead to the #CancelCargill campaign. He said the University facilitates a pipeline of students, specifically students from CFANS, to work for the Cargill company by coaching them on how to approach the company at job fairs.

“The U takes students, specifically in CFANS, and teaches them to do agricultural business or how to do other business practices, and then funnels them through Cargill… to steal [Indigenous land] further, just in a different place now,” said Cruz.

The #RealMeals campaign and its connection to the University

The #RealMeals campaign sparked after the University made a proposal to extend its contract with Aramark, the University’s food contractor. Through this campaign, Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis is pushing the University to cut ties with Aramark and bring in local vendors and producers that are Black, Indigenous or people of color to provide healthy food for students.

In 2008, the University signed a 20-year contract with Aramark that was set to end in June, but was later extended to 2022. The Minnesota Student Association, among other student groups, led initiatives to end the University’s contract with Aramark. Due to COVID-19 and other reasons, the office of University Services proposed to extend the contract until 2023.

“Cargill and Aramark, we see them as players within the big food sphere. And so [Uprooted and Rising] Minneapolis is also doing some work to take on Aramark’s contract with the University,” said Mina Aria, the midwest coordinator at the national Uprooted and Rising.

“[Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis] see both of those players as enemies that have no place on campus.”

What Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis is doing now

On Monday, Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis hosted a #CancelCargill virtual teach-in to discuss the company’s role in land-grab universities, deforestation and its presence at the University. At the virtual teach-in, the group discussed finalizing the list of demands for Cargill and the University.

“I’m doing work to not only take down corporations like Cargill who are perpetuating injustice and violence throughout the world,” Aria said. “But also I want to contribute towards building something in its place. And that being local food systems, food sovereignty and reclaiming power as uprooted communities and people displaced from our homelands.”

In addition, Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis is planning to collaborate with student organizations at the University to continue involving students and spreading awareness about the two campaigns. The group is not a registered student organization out of concern that the University would stifle their movement, Cruz said.

Uprooted and Rising Minneapolis’ Instagram platform has more information about the #CancelCargill and #RealMeals campaigns, including ways to get involved. The group has weekly meetings on Mondays.

“I hope folks know they can join [Uprooted and Rising] and be involved in the campaign as much as they want,” Aria said. “[And] folks know that people in the university community… are fed up with the University putting corporations over students, over workers, over staff on campus and that there’s a wave coming.”

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