In 1984, Jodi Koberinski joined the masses in the streets to protest nuclear arms. Since then, she has not stopped, dedicating her life to activism. “My original focus as a student was around the broad theme of anti-globalization, as I was in university when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was negotiated,” said Koberinski. “I became politicized by the environmental dimensions associated with the obvious social justice issues globalization exacerbate,” she continued. While at York University in Toronto, Canada, she developed a deep interest in climate change and social justice. Through her studies, Koberinski “discovered through food systems analysis that one could unite these issues that were at the time being campaigned against in North America separately.” Koberinski joins the Colby Community as the Oak Human Rights Fellow, a prestigious award granted by The Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights.
Established as an annual award for prominent international human rights activists, the Oak Fellow stays in residence at the College, conducts research, and teaches a seminar concerning their expertise. The fellowship focuses on the intersection between the arts and human rights and how creative expression can be a tool to foster discussions of human rights. Koberinski describes the position as a unique opportunity. “The opportunity to focus for 4 months on reflecting my activism to date and moving forward with clear intention and the time to write in support of our views is truly a once-in-a-lifetime gift” said Koberinski.
Consistently hailed as the leading voice in the field of food sovereignty, the Oak Institute named Koberinski as the Oak Fellow in May 2015. According to a Oak Institute press release following her announcement, Koberinski committed her life to “reimagining agriculture and advocating for more equitable food systems, not only in Canada, but also around the world.”
Katrina von Hahn ’17, an Oak Student Committee member, highlighted Koberinski’s ability to push students to think outside of the box and to challenge traditional notions concerning food. “One thing that is appealing to me is that Colby is a very environmentally conscious school…but [Koberinski’s] depth, practical knowledge and experience helps us enhance our preexisting knowledge and experience with food and global environmental systems” said von Hahn.
As an activist in the relatively young field of food sovereignty, Koberinski’s mission evolved over time. “I used to define my goals as a food sovereigntist [sic] in a more ‘reformist’ fashion. I was focused on supporting alternatives to industrial foods, because I am solutions-oriented, action-oriented,” Koberinski said.
“I repeated others’ advice to me that we ought to not let the pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the good. And so I pursued deep reform of a broken food system and worked many years to support and develop what we call ‘the emerging’ food system—one based on health, fairness, ecology, and caring,” she added.
Having previously worked with the Organic Council of Ontario, Koberinski brings years of experience in the organic food field, conducting research, educating about organic sourcing, and marketing organic foods to the general public. Koberinski will help teach a class, Human Rights in a Global Perspective, that centers on and examines food sovereignty, requiring students to design and implement civic engagement projects focused on both local and global food issues. She hopes the seminar will help develop new ideas to move the field of food sovereignty activism forward. “My next wave of activism, then, will be focused on engendering true systems transformation, which means addressing failed neoliberal policies, overcoming the silly notion of ‘sustainable growth,’ and addressing the worst excesses of corporate capitalism, or we will never achieve food sovereignty. In order to change our practices, we must first change our minds, and it is this long game of paradigm shift to an economy of life, to earth democracy, [to] which I have turned my attention,” said Koberinski.
Koberinski brings a unique perspective on human rights to the College. She hopes that her reforms will help educate and change the culture in our society; however, she feels that such reforms “won’t address our underlying issues, and that the problems of climate change are of such a primary concern that we must transform our systems or perish.” She encourages members of the community to stay involved and to pursue their goals to inflict change upon society: “Stopping at pragmatism rather than pursuing the difficult but necessary paradigm shift we require from consumptive to regenerative culture is simply not enough, given what I have seen and learned.”