Student fasts take hold at Catholic universities this week, as the Fair Food Nation keeps its eyes on Ohio State!

One month after the Return to Human Rights Tour made its mark on Wendy’s hometown of Columbus, OH with the conclusion of a weeklong fast by 19 students, alumni, and community members of The Ohio State University – and one month out from the Fair Food Nation’s return to Wendy’s headquarters for the annual shareholder meeting – this past week bore witness to continued, strengthening action from Florida to Indiana and Washington, D.C.!

Students at Tampa Bay-area universities, Vanderbilt University and Divinity School, and four Catholic institutions of higher education have continued to pass the rolling fast from school to school, uplifted by local clergy, Fair Food groups, and community-based organizations that have continually provided moral and material support for the sacrifice undertaken by students – and sometimes taken on the fast themselves.

We’ll begin our report in Florida, home of the Fair Food movement and the site of a three-school collaboration between the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, and Eckerd College to roll a five-day fast across the Tampa Bay. Tabling on campus, passing out Wendy’s Boycott flyers, stickers, buttons, and literature, served to educate hundreds over the course of the week – as did the lively picket at a downtown Tampa Wendy’s, followed by a moving reflection circle bookended by the CIW’s Leonel Perez:

Leonel Perez: “Our community in Immokalee knows about the fasts that are taking place.  In the past few weeks, when we go to the fields to educate workers about their rights as a part of the Fair Food Program, that’s one of the things we open with: We’re not alone.  There are students fasting, students protesting, students flyering and delivering letters.  With your support, tens of thousands of workers now live with respect in the workplace.  And in just a few weeks, workers will move to other states, and their rights will travel with them under the expanding Fair Food Program.” 

A sunset ceremony at Eckerd College concluded the Tampa Bay rolling fast, with Rev. Kim Wells from nearby Lakewood UCC offering a reflection and prayer before breaking bread:

Rev. Kim Wells “Food is essential to life. And the farmworker movement honors all workers. It’s also about the dignity of consumers, because we are all diminished when our food supply is tainted by injustice. It dehumanizes all of us. 

You all talked about fasting, and I really admire you for that, along with the students from the other schools in solidarity with farmworker concerns… You’ve made a sacrifice, but I imagine you’ll find that you’ve received far more from your experience than you gave up.  And I believe that’s the character of the farmworker movement.  It’s teaching us to honor the humanity of each and every person.”

Vanderbilt University’s seven-day fast paralleled efforts in Florida. The fast not only amplified the campaign led at the Ohio State University, but also drew attention to VU’s own yearlong campaign to “Boot the Braids.” That is, put an end to Wendy’s participation in the university’s “Taste of Nashville” dining program. The fasters’ on-campus education efforts helped raise the total number of petition signatures from 700 – gathered last semester – to a sizable 1,300, crystallizing students’ strengthening call for Vanderbilt to finally cut its ties with the fast food holdout.

This end-of-semester swell of support was bolstered by a lively march attended by Nashville Fair Food, Workers' Dignity and CIW members from Immokalee! The hundred-strong group began at the Wendy’s near campus, then made its way to administrative buildings to take the new signatures and a letter directly to Vanderbilt’s Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos:

Following a successful delivery to Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain, the students finally broke their seven-day fast. Joseph Sheeran, a Presbyterian student at the Vanderbilt Divinity School, shared a biblical reflection just before the bread was broken:

“Those of you who have fasted this week understand that we cannot live simply on bread or food.  But that food without justice is no food at all.  We understand that as students at this university we have an obligation to speak to the powers that be, and the powers that be away… about this profound need for justice.” 

This week, the fast rolled on at four Catholic institutions of higher learning. Longtime Fair Food base Barry University came up first, with a 24-hour fast and a sunny, loud picket at the Wendy’s near the university’s Miami campus! Things drew a close with Father Cristobal Torres breaking bread with students:

Sister Jesuit institutions John Carroll University and Georgetown University were up next. In Cleveland, JCU students set up a colorful tent outside the highly-trafficked atrium on campus, gathering over 50 new pledges to Boycott Wendy’s in 48 hours before concluding their fast at their table. Georgetown students did the same on one of their campus’s main arteries, off of Copley Lawn. In Washington, D.C., where George Washington University students had fasted the week prior, the Georgetown fast concluded at dusk on Thursday evening in the supportive presence of alumni and DC Fair Food members and with a reading of the moving prayer, “A Step Along the Way,” written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw in commemoration of Bishop Oscar Romero.

The week is drawing to a close in South Bend in Indiana, at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame Student/Farmworker Alliance fresh off of their own transformative experiences in Immokalee and along the first couple stops of the Return to Human Rights Tour began a 48-hour solidarity fast on Wednesday evening, with a “Last Supper” and reflection:

Tommy Clarke:  Immokalee is a beautiful town. It is a hardworking town. It is a town filled with many immigrants. It is sometimes referred to as the capital of the tomato picking industry, since it is home to several of the largest growers of tomatoes in the country.  It is also home to an amazing organization that started in the basement of a church… They have changed the landscape of farms all over the U.S. Through a program they created, called the Fair Food Program, they have increased the wages for the backbreaking farmworkers, ensured safe working conditions, and holding farm owners and crewleaders accountable for abuse in the fields… We pray for all immigrants as they flee persecution or leave familiarity. We pray for farmworkers who provide the food that we eat. We pray for companies both big and small, to ensure justice for all their workers. As Catholic Social teaching tells us, we are called to honor human dignity for all, to honor the dignity of work and workers especially for migrant farmworkers, and to live in solidarity.

That’s a wrap for a packed week of action in the campaign! The CIW’s website has the full reports from each chapter of the past week’s incredible series of events. Read more about the fasts at Tampa Bay schools, Vanderbilt University, and Catholic universities, as well as the ongoing efforts by OSU students to terminate their institution’s Wendy’s lease (including full press round-ups on each!). And stay tuned for more on the growing national campaign to Boycott Wendy’s!