Featured Leader: Suparna Kudesia

In this Featured Leader piece, we can totally feel the spirited and intentional personality of Suparna Kudesia, the Choreographer of Collective Change at CoFED, and FSLN Network Weaver, come through! Writing from the unceded Kumeyaay Lands in what many refer to as San Diego, CA, Suparna offers insight into her journey in food systems work, what brings her inspiration, and her vision for its future. Thank you Suparna, for sharing more with us and for supporting the FSLN as a Network Weaver!

Your Leadership Journey

Who are you? (Beyond the job title!)
Suparna is a decolonial educator and immigrant mother. She brings with her over 15 years of experience imagining and breathing life into educational programs and leading organizational development. Suparna believes in the power of unraveled unlearning to shift narratives, heal trauma, and transform systems. She is guided by ancestral re-visioning, abolitionist and decolonial praxis, and manifesting collective dreams. Suparna responds to the call to return stolen wealth as the Choreographer of Collective Change by moving money where it can have a critical impact on building a beautiful regenerative food system – into the hands of young cooperators of color. Suparna lives on unceded Kumeyaay land with her partner, two kids, and numerous bunches of mint. 

What inspired you to get involved in food systems work?
To me, food justice is deeply interconnected with the entire justice ecosystem. When I joined CoFED, I had found a place that recognized that food justice is equal to racial justice, land justice, gender justice, and environmental justice. Food ways and the food we eat are a universal experience and they are universally impacted by a larger white supremacist colonial-capitalist system. I am committed to dismantling these manifestations of oppression and co-building a transformative cooperative food system. 

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
In my life before CoFED, I was an elementary school teacher. Each of my students I have learned with and their families have been the people who have had an impact on my leadership. Doing justice work is an honor and it is what gets me up every day; the communities I have worked with and continue to are those who remind me and teach me of why I do this work. I am here for the kind of deep healing that my ancestors hoped for and that I wish for our future ancestors/children.

What does food systems leadership mean to you?
It means a recognition of the systemic factors at play in the food system and that our food system functions within a colonial capitalist white supremacist system. And that it doesn’t have to be this way. Leadership in the food system means stepping out of the way of those who have been carrying the wisdom and labor of building and holding up our food systems. It means continually disrupting the current system. And it means dreaming and birthing a whole new transformative, regenerative, and just food system with those most deeply impacted by the current food system in the forefront. 

What’s your greatest leadership challenge now, and what are you looking for support for?
Something fellow members could help with. Because we live in a dangerous and precarious colonial-capitalist system, we continually note the harms that Black and Brown farmers, land stewards, food growers, producers, distributors, and composters experience. These harms are at every level in the food chain – funding, procuring seeds, land acquisition and stewardship, marketing, and so on. We need more white folks to join us on this journey towards collective liberation.

What are you most excited about in your work?
The constant inspiration that working with young QTBIPOC (queer trans black indigenous and/or people of color) brings!

What’s something about you (a fun fact!) that not many of your colleagues know or that we wouldn’t expect from you?
I love writing and reading poetry.

Similarly, how are you most misunderstood?
Mostly racial and gendered stereotypes that hurt, unsurprisingly.

Reflections on the Network Weaver Role

What is your network weaving superpower that you’re bringing with you in this role and that you’re excited to share with this network?
The reminder that rest is key in our liberation and dismantling of what harms us.

What is one thing you hope to take with you from your weaving experience?
Deeper connections and unlearnings. I’ve already learned so much from my time at FSLN! I love my co-conspirators (fellow Weavers) and what we’re doing together.

Reflections on 2020

A lot happened in 2020. What is one lesson that you’ll carry with you or a piece of advice you’d like to send forward? 
Our liberation is collective, rooted in rest, can be joyful, and depends on the dismantling of anti-Blackness in our systems.

COVID is impacting the food system in a number of ways, and in some cases, one can argue that more attention is being paid to the value and resiliency of local and regional food systems. What is one change you’re hoping to see to the US food system and how do you think we can get there?
I hope that the value and wisdom of Black and Indigenous food ways is nationally recognized. I believe in the power of food cooperatives to create the wave we need in our food system.

Discussions around America’s past and present-day systemic racism have caused many to consider how to build anti-racist food systems. How might those involved in the movement for equitable food systems ride this momentum to reach this goal?
This is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to continually make way for those most deeply impacted by the food system to be leaders. We need federal and philanthropic dollars to actively flow to Black and Brown enterprises in the spirit of reparations.

Speaking of… when you imagine an equitable and anti-racist food system, what do you envision?
A liberated, joyful, just future of abundance. I see communities living in freedom in beautiful, non-extractive relationship with the land. I see children running free and picking food from the land and eating with abandon. I see the wealth generated in our communities, staying in our communities. I see is healing our relationships with each other, the earth, our land, our waters, our air, our ancestors, and our great grandchildren.

Time for some real talk …

Burn out. It’s a thing, and social change is a long game. Have you found ways to balance taking care of yourself with your commitment to creating more equitable food and social systems?
Rest. Rest. Rest. Capitalism wants us to burn out 

What is one change would you like to see that might encourage more folks to enter and stay in this work for the long haul?
Rest. Rest. Rest.

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