On July 21, in a darkened auditorium adjacent to the elevated BART tracks at 57th and MLK, the Oakland Planning Department held a community workshop on urban agriculture. With 300 plus attendees clamoring to shout above one another, the loudest voices dominated the discussion, and other perspectives were silenced without redress. The goal? To “build community” and to incorporate “issues of concern” surrounding urban agriculture. The outcome? Failure on both counts.
From the outset, the Planning Department has had its heart set on bundling animal breeding and backyard slaughter into its urban agriculture policy. Its eagerness to be in the limelight alongside bestselling locovore authors singularly obsessed with “knowing their meat” has blinded it to the mandate that Oakland set forth for creating food policy.
To provide low-income people in food deserts with the foods that they most lack access to, which are — according to luminaries such as Michelle Obama and public health advocates the world over — healthful fruits and vegetables.
At the recent meeting, the Planning Department framed the debate in “breakout groups” so that people were only allowed to give feedback on how — not if — animals would be raised and killed in Oakland.
Shouting over a sweaty crowd, City Planner Heather Klein told me that, “Livestock animals have always been in Oakland,” as if to settle the matter. But the historic legality of breeding and slaughtering livestock in Oakland is murky at best, despite what starstruck city planners keep telling residents.
The ethical questions raised by this process are of even larger concern. The Planning Department has refused to engage in a sincere dialog about how to best meet its mandate to create sound food policy, instead cowing to pressure from do-it-yourself slaughter hobbyists currently practicing their craft in the greater Bay Area.
Initially, the process was slated as a “minor code revision,” the Planning Department ostensibly hoping to pass animal slaughter under the radar of public scrutiny. The language in the original proposal seems purposefully obtuse on the issue of livestock.
Planning Commissioner Michael Colbruno and other planning commissioners were surprised when they discovered that animal agriculture was even being considered as a part of food policy. They didn’t know about it until they read it in the news.
The Planning Department’s refusal to accurately gauge the needs of the majority of Oakland residents and its failure to notify the appropriate people are alarming, given the level of controversy that surrounds allowing raising animals for slaughter in our city.
Creating a public process that is outright hostile to anyone not in agreement with the Planning Department’s position seriously calls into question the legitimacy of the entire urban agriculture proposal. This is what democracy looks like?
All of us who are in favor of creating food policy that would allow people to feed themselves and neighbors by growing fruits and vegetables on community gardens and urban farms form a silent majority. If you are like most of us and not currently raising animals for slaughter while writing memoirs about it but still want Oakland to have sound food policy, speak up. Tell the city to leave animals out of it.
Ian Elwood is an Oakland resident and works in animal rescue and environmental advocacy in the Bay Area and Central Valley.
Originally published in the Oakland Tribune