NOTE: This is a guest post from Siena Chrisman, Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at WhyHunger.
Last month, in the small Mississippi Delta town of Shelby, about fifty people came together to talk about the obstacles to eating healthy food and how policy change could overcome those obstacles. People at the gathering came from as close as just down the road and as far away as California and New York, ranged in age from teens to elders and represented a broad diversity of racial and cultural backgrounds. The youth made declarations about what healthy changes they’d like to see in their community, from more places to exercise to investment in local farms. A member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from the Civil Rights era shared her memories and closed out the meeting with a freedom song, sending us off energized, united and committed to each other and to change.
This unique meeting was one stop on the Live Real Food and Freedom Ride, a 10-day trip from the rural South through the Midwestern heartland to the urban agriculture renaissance of Detroit. The ride commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides and focused on food as a social justice issue. The Shelby meeting was cosponsored by Live Real and by the local Delta Fresh Foods Initiative. For me, not only was it an inspiring evening, it was also the embodiment of the mission my organization works towards every day.
I work for WhyHunger, a New York-based antihunger organization that builds the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people with sources of emergency food and working with grassroots organizations building access to healthy, fresh food in their communities. Much of what we do is coalition building: bringing organizations together to work towards a shared goal. It is both challenging and rewarding work; some days like herding cats, and others full of celebration for accomplishments that never could have been achieved working alone. Every day includes the privilege of working with inspiring, passionate people working to better their communities.
WhyHunger has supported the development of both Live Real and the Delta Fresh Foods Initiative for several years. Live Real is a new organization aimed at empowering young people across the US to work for a radically different, healthier and more equitable food system. Delta Fresh is a diverse group of stakeholders from across the Mississippi Delta determining how best to address food deserts in the region. It has been exciting to watch both of these organizations develop and launch — to the point where they are able to learn from and support each other.
At the meeting in Shelby, we learned from each other, found common ground, and made new contacts and commitments. Then the Food and Freedom Riders got back on the road to do the same with family farmers in Illinois, a Native American community in Kansas, and meatpacking workers in Iowa — and at each stop, share stories of the Mississippi Delta and all the other communities along the way. Live Real cosponsored a second Food and Freedom Ride in California several weeks later; all the perspectives the Riders heard in the heartland and the West Coast will shape Live Real’s first big campaign — a youth-driven campaign for healthier eating. Delta Fresh made new local contacts at the meeting as well — new community members to get involved with its demonstration farm, projects with local schools, and regional food assessment study.
All around the country, there are thousands — maybe even millions — of people working at all different levels, from the White House lawn or the halls of Congress to their own block or dinner table, to improve access to healthy food for everyone and fairness for all who grow it. This is the movement for food justice. It will succeed by all of us acknowledging our differences, embracing our shared goals, and coming together to learn from each other in towns like Shelby, Mississippi, and all across the country.
WhyHunger is a leader in building the movement to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. Founded in 1975 by the late Harry Chapin & current Executive Director Bill Ayres, WhyHunger works to put an end to hunger suffered by 49 million Americans and nearly 1 billion people worldwide. Find out more at www.whyhunger.org — where you can also keep up with the latest from Live Real and Delta Fresh Foods Initiative.
Photo credit: WhyHunger