Planting the Seeds of Food Justice

Planting the Seeds of Food Justice

by Sarah Smith-Moore, Hunger Outreach Program Specialist

 

February 23, 2022

Food is a basic need that every human being deserves but it is also more than that. Food nourishes our bodies, connects us to our families, our neighbors, and our community. We often gather around a table of food for many reasons: holidays, hardships, birthdays, or a night out with friends. We ask each other about food allergies, specific diets, or what someone’s favorite food is, planting the seeds of connection, love, and empathy. The pandemic ripped through our country, exposing how fragile our food system is, and attempted to damage the seeds we planted. What if we collectively agreed to share the responsibility of tending to our seeds so they can sprout and grow?

Prior to the pandemic, Oklahoma was and still is one of the hungriest states. The pandemic exploited centuries of historical traumas, white supremacy, and systemic racism, disproportionately impacting Black, Native, and Latinx communities. Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) and Latinx are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 and two times more likely to die because of the virus compared to their white counterparts. Nationwide, 43% of Black and Latinx workers are employed in the service sector or production jobs that cannot be done remotely. BIPOC and Latinx are more likely to reside in apartments, more likely to use public transportation, and more likely to have severe health conditions due to limited access to food, healthcare, and medication. We cannot separate the data from the historical impacts of white supremacy. 

Since 1492 in America, Black and Brown communities have created their own food systems to survive. Throughout the pandemic, these communities have continued to leverage these systems as more equitable and resilient solutions. In Lawton, Oklahoma, Mike Daniels, who was furloughed during the pandemic, transformed his backyard into a “mini-food forest” to help offset the increase in food insecurity. Recently, he created another food forest on an empty lot in a food insecure neighborhood. To eliminate hunger and create safety nets for people who are food insecure, we must plant anti-racist seeds together.

To work on decreasing the risk factors of vulnerable populations, and a commitment to follow the leadership of BIPOC and Latinx communities, the Tulsa Food Security Council is participating in a two-year program focused on racial equity and economic justice community of learning and practice for food policy councils, hosted by the John Hopkins Center. Nationwide, food policy councils are working to create equitable and resilient food systems, and if we are to build that in Tulsa, we must develop a Food Justice Collaborative, led by people of color. We are beginning listening sessions with our community, centering people who are most impacted by hunger and food insecurity. We are committed to navigating uncomfortable conversations and recognize that we must transform our council through the perspectives of race, class, and region.

It will take time and vulnerability to create an equitable and resilient food system for all of us. The challenging work we will do together reminds me of a painting that a child created for a friend who then passed it on to me as a reminder to stay strong and focus on the work. It is an image of dirt, sprouting green stems with a strong root system and at the top of drawing it says, “You [tried] to bury us, you didn’t know we were seeds.” Every time I look at the painting, I remind myself that we are seeds, and we can collectively build roots that stretch as deep and wide as we want. We can grow into something sustainable, resilient, diverse, and equitable so long as we do it in solidarity.

The Tulsa Food Security Council has launched a new website including information on each team and updates on the Food Justice Collaborative. We invite conversations from all community members, farmers, gardeners, chefs, organizers, and those experiencing hunger or food insecurity who have felt excluded in food-centered work and want to share their expertise with us. Please visit our website at tulsafoodsecurity.org, fill out the contact form, and we will reach out and join this journey with you.

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