Earlier this month, I began an internship with People’s Grocery, a food justice organization that manages an urban farm and works to provide access to healthy food to those living in low-income food deserts in Oakland, Calif. My experience so far has been amazing. Everyone I’ve met is deeply dedicated to the goals of People’s Grocery. They are compassionate, optimistic people around whom I feel right at home.
Yesterday, I volunteered at the Eat Real Festival, an event that People’s Grocery participates in annually. As the Eat Real website describes it, the event, “combines a state fair, a street-food festival, and a block party to create a celebration of good food.” All the vendors are local or regional, and their ingredients are regionally sourced. Much of the food at the event is organic and produced using sustainable practices. The goal of the event is to raise awareness about the importance of local, sustainable, organic food, to help consumers find out where and how their food is produced and to create a platform for food producers to meet with local and regional farmers. What’s more, any kind of food you could want – from mac and cheese to curry ice pops – can be found at Eat Real.
As I said, the people I’ve met at People’s Grocery are truly inspirational. For example, Paula told me about her parents, who farmed and fished and provided fresh food for their large family every day. She said her parents made a point of helping others in need, regardless of their background. And it is her desire to continue that legacy that has led her to a career of service. She has worked to promote prison reform, fair housing and now food justice. She is working to open a sliding scale restaurant that will welcome all people, regardless of their ability to pay. Paula is pictured in the middle, and for the record, I am on the right.
I also met Shalina through People’s Grocery, who is passionate about redressing the social determinants of health. She plans to open a catering business for people with diabetes and high blood pressure and hopes to teach nutrition classes. And Jacqueline, who is combining her lifelong love of quality food with her experience in advocacy work. She is about to begin teaching nutrition classes at the urban farm and plans to open a restaurant, as well.
Working with People’s Grocery has been very encouraging for me, because it has shown me just how strong the food justice movement is. It has been wonderful to work with people who, like me, feel deeply the need to change our current food system and who understand that it is truly a social justice issue. And volunteering at Eat Real gave me an even more expansive view of the food justice movement. It was heartening to see how many restaurants and food businesses use local, regional, organic and sustainable ingredients. And I was thrilled to see how many people turned out. It was packed. Last year, 110,000 people turned out over three days, and from what I saw, I’m certain this year’s attendance will match that.
So it might be discouraging when we see companies like Monsanto continue to thrive. Or when we drive through neighborhoods where the only sources of food are fast food restaurants and corner markets. But my recent experiences have shown me that the food justice movement is growing. And with time and dedication, we can change the face of this country’s food system.