This Food of Seventy Two Labors, an Invitation to a Bearing Witness Retreat to Food, Land and Racism in the USA


Youth at Soul Fire Farm. Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm.

This Food of Seventy Two Labors, an Invitation to a Bearing Witness Retreat to Food, Land and Racism in the USA

By Rev. Ariel Setsudo Pliskin

PETERSBURG, NEW YORK, USA. Eating in soup kitchens on Zen Peacemaker street retreats, I experienced great separation between those serving and being served.  

My sense of the Zen Peacemakers tradition is that separation is the source of suffering. Therefore, to free myself from suffering, I work to wake up from the illusion of separation. I work, as Bernie says, to realize and actualize the oneness and interconnectedness of life. Based on this understanding, community members and I built a community cafe (originally in Montague, MA and later in Greenfield) in order to bear witness to the whole of society by breaking down barriers between those serving and those being served.

As I got more deeply into the work of food sourcing and waste management as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Cafe and Unity Tables, I learned that separation between those eating in and serving at soup kitchens wasn’t the only form of separation connected to how we eat.  

I started to think more about the impact of my choices.  For example, consider eating a slice of pizza.  I started to consider questions such as:
Where were the pigs and cows from which the pepperoni was made raised and slaughtered? Under what conditions?  How much were the workers paid that grew, transported and prepared the mushrooms? What distance did all of the ingredients travel? How much carbon was emitted in the production and transportation of the ingredients? What impact will my choice of what to eat have on my health? On the workers?  On the planet?  

By not considering these questions, I was operating under illusions of separation in several aspects of my food.  By seeking to bear witness to the impact of each stage of the food cycle, I hope to see a broader swatch of Indra’s Net.

Unity Tables and Hudson River Peacemaker Center/House of One People is partnering with Soul Fire Farm to host an event inspired by this tradition in September, to bear witness to racism in our food system and the work to transform it. While Zen Peacemakers, Inc. is not hosting this event, my ability to consult them has been helpful and I appreciate their help in spreading the word. On the retreat, we will look at the history of racism and how it plays out in our communities today. This retreat is inspired by movements for racial justice, the Zen Peacemakers tenets and the work of alternative community cafes.


The dynamics of racism can be seen through every harmful aspect of our food system, which, in the United States, has its roots in the violent theft of land from Native Americans by European colonizers and agricultural production for international consumption with labor of enslaved Africans.  

Some statistics illustrate this today.

Hunger: 1/8 of people in the U.S. report suffering from food insecurity and there are racial disparities in prevalence of diseases related to food access.  7% of white American adults have diabetes, compared to nearly 19% of African-Americans.  

Jobs: With 20 million people (1 in 6 Americans), food is the largest sector of the U.S. economy.  At the same time, 5/8 of the worst paying jobs in our economy are in food.  At restaurants, 1 in 3 blacks and nearly 1 in 2 Asians and Latinos work in the Back of House compared to 1 in 5 whites (earning lower wages than front of house jobs).  70% of farmworkers annual personal income is under $20k, while 90% are under $30k.

About Soul Fire Farm:“Soul Fire Farm is committed to ending racism and injustice in the food system. We raise life-giving food and act in solidarity with people marginalized by food apartheid. With deep reverence for the land and wisdom of our ancestors, we work to reclaim our collective right to belong to the earth and to have agency in the food system. We bring diverse communities together on this healing land to share skills on sustainable agriculture, natural building, spiritual activism, health and environmental justice.”

If you are considering joining us on this retreat, please visit to learn more and apply today.


Rev. Ariel Setsudo Pliskin is an ordained Minister in the
Zen Peacemaker Order with certifications for instruction of yoga and mindfulness (pending summer of 2017). He has participated in and staffed several Bearing Witness Retreats on the streets, at Auschwitz and with Native Americans. Inspired by the experience of street retreats, Ariel founded the Stone Soup Cafe, a weekly pay-what-you-can community luncheon in Greenfield, MA. Every week, over 100 people from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds gather to prepare, serve and share healthy, locally grown, delicious food. As the founder and Executive Director of Unity Tables, Ariel helps launch similar cafes around the United States.



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This Food of Seventy Two Labors, an Invitation to a Bearing Witness Retreat to Food, Land and Racism in the USA

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