OKT Food Justice Series: Food Justice, Food Workers and a Living Wage

stop-supersizing-povertyThis is the fifth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

In May 2014, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill increasing Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour by 2018.

Most likely, this decision was made to undercut the Democratic Party’s statewide ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. While, raising the minimum wage is a step in the right direction, it ignores the larger issue of a living wage, especially as it relates to workers in the food industry.

A Living Wage is different than a minimum wage. It takes inflation into account inflation and addresses what an individual actually needs to earn in order to live in the current economy. Many organizers around the country are calling $15 an hour a Living Wage and have won campaigns to get such an hourly wage passed.

These $15 an hour campaigns are mostly being organized by workers in the food industry, restaurant workers, those in retail and the fast food industry. These food industry workers have been among the most exploited in the US in recent decades. They are challenging a system that has made billions in profits by paying low wages.

jrw-farmworker-1Almost all workers in the food industry earn an unjust wage—from migrant workers and those working in food processing plants to grocery store clerks and people in restaurants, institutional food cafeterias and fast food chains. In both the restaurant and agriculture industries, minimum wage laws do not apply. Migrant workers are at the mercy of whatever farm owners want to pay them; people working for tips in restaurants have a whole different minimum wage standard applied to them.

For instance, the minimum wage for tip workers in Michigan is $2.65 an hour. The 2014 minimum wage law would increase that to a meager $3.52 by 2018. Imagine working for those wages and relying on the generosity of the general public—especially when larger numbers of people in the US are experiencing poverty.

As an organization that promotes and practices food justice, Our Kitchen Table (OKT) supports the efforts of food workers who are organizing to demand a livable wage and better working conditions. Check these out:

OKT knows that more and more people want to eat local, nutritious food that is chemical- and GMO-free. However, it is equally important that we demand that growers, migrant workers, restaurant workers and fast food workers be paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and have the right to organize fellow workers.

taste-233x173When we enter a grocery store, shop at a farmers market, eat at a restaurant or look at food labels, we should ask:

  • How were the workers who provided us with this food treated?
  • What is the wage that these food workers make?
  • Is it a living wage?
  • Do these food workers have the right to organize?
  • Does this food we are about to purchase and eat promote food justice?

OKT recognizes that workers in the food industry need justice as well!




OKT Food Justice Series: The Farm Bill

fair_farm_bill_tractorThis is the fourth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

We all pay for an unhealthy food system. The current food system in the United States is bad for the environment, bad for public health and primarily benefits the largest agricultural companies. This may not be news to most people, but what is less known is who pays for the current US food system.

Every few years, the US government adopts a new Farm Bill. The most recent Farm Bill, like the previous ones, provides billions of dollars to Big Ag and little to small, family run farms. The 2014 Farm Bill provides $956 Billion in taxpayer subsidies to huge corporations like Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Archer DanielsMidland, Kraft and Wal-Mart, corporations which make billions in profits annually.

So why does the US government give these corporations so much of the taxpayers’ money? These companies spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress every year and they finance political candidates running for election For example, in the 2012 election cycle, Monsanto contributed $1,209,714 to candidates. In 2013 alone, they spent nearly $7 million lobbying the US Congress. (Source:

In Michigan, 2012 farm subsidies provided by taxpayers totaled $263 million, with most of that money going to large farms growing mono-crops or livestock: corn
subsidies, $59 million; soybeans, $35 million; and the dairy sector, more than $22 million. (Source:

fcf9eab0-b4e1-4c3d-9671-1e2a7fa18115-large16x9_snapfoodstampcutsWhile providing huge subsidies to agribusiness, the 2014 Farm Bill cut $8.6 billion in Food Assistance. During a time when more and more Americans live in poverty and rely on government food assistance programs, Congress decided to drastically cut these funds and give more taxpayer money to large corporations.

What we need is a food system that is based on food justice, where food is a right and the government does not punish marginalized communities but provides them access to healthy, nutritious food. We need to promote and practice food sovereignty, giving
everyone a voice in deciding what kind of food system they want for their community. This is what Our Kitchen Table and Well House both promote and practice through their food growing and food justice work.









OKT Food Justice Series: Water Justice

This is the third in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.


OKT asks you to stand with the native peoples and water protectors at Standing Rock in opposition to  DAPL

As the media hype around the Flint Water Crisis wound down, the focus shifted to the safety of public drinking water throughout Michigan and lauding charities for collecting and distributing bottled water to Flint residents. A lot of effort is being put into band-aid approaches that do not solve the root cause of the problem. Meanwhile, Flint’s children continue to be poisoned every time they drink, bathe or brush their teeth with tap water.

Although a better alternative than drinking poisoned tap water, flooding the City of Flint with  bottled water causes other problems. For one, the city is now awash with millions of empty plastic bottles. For another, bottled water is a product. Charities and individuals are purchasing this product from corporations like Nestle, which takes water from Michigan’s ground water stores. According to a Feb. 2016 Democracy Now broadcast, “Nestlé, the largest water bottling company in the world, (is allowed) to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from aquifers that feed Lake Michigan … in Mecosta County, Nestlé is not required to pay anything to extract the water, besides a small permitting fee to the state and the cost of leases to a private landowner. In fact, the company received $13 million in tax breaks from the state to locate the plant in Michigan.”

(Since first publishing this document on Water Justice, Nestle is proposing to pump ad additional 210 million gallons of water a year from its Mecosta County site.)

While our state and city governments cannot find money to repair our failing water infrastructures, they can afford to give away millions, if not billions, of dollars to private corporations that have convinced us to buy bottled water. Many communities across the country and around the world have sold their municipal water works to private corporations – with disastrous results. In 2011, the City of Grand Rapids considered privatizing its water. Thankfully, Mayor Heartwell declined.

web_830x437_fact-publicwater-webAccording to Food and Water Watch, water privatization “undermines the human right to water … When private corporations buy or operate public water utilities – is often suggested as a solution to municipal budget problems and aging water systems. Unfortunately, this more often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service, job losses, and more.”

Food & Water Watch has documented these, among other, problems with
privatizing water:

  • Loss of Control. Local government officials abdicate control over a vital public resource.
  • Loss of public input. Citizens don’t vote in the corporate boardroom.
  • Loss of transparency. Private operators usually restrict public access to information.
  • The objectives of a profit-extracting water company can conflict with the public interest.
  • Cherry picking service areas. Private water companies are prone to cherry-picking service areas to avoid serving low-income communities.
  • Rate Increases. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.
  • Higher Operating Costs. Private operation is not more efficient and can increase the cost of financing a water project by 50 to 150 %.
  • Service Problems. This is the primary reason that local governments reverse the decision to privatize.
  • Jobs. Privatization typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.
  • Privatization can allow systems to deteriorate.

take-backIn its handouts, OKT often includes the words, “Healthy food is your family’s right.” We also proclaim, “Clean, harmless water is your family’s right.” Therefore, OKT asks you to join with us in demanding that the City of Grand Rapids, City of Wyoming and
Michigan municipalities:

  1. Ensure that our tap water is safe to drink and bathe in. This includes employing more reliable testing measures for lead content.
  2. Reconsider fluoridating our water supply as fluoride has been associated with health risks. Let people choose for themselves whether or not to
    ingest fluoride.
  3. Decline from considering privatizing our municipal water supplies.
  4. Call for the end of giving Michigan’s water away to Nestle and other bottled water corporations.
  5. Stop cutting off water service to households with delinquent water bills and cease from using liens from unpaid water bills as a means of seizing property from homeowners.




OKT Food Justice Series: Definitions

foodjustice_1Our Kitchen Table has developed a series of publications about different facets of Food Justice over the past several years. As our farmers’ market and growing programs are in seasonal hibernation, we will be highlighting the series on a weekly basis here on the website. Today, we will commence with brief definitions of a few Food Justice terms. (By the way, we may be starting up a limited, indoor, winter farmers’ market soon — we will keep you posted!)

Food Justice

The benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown, produced, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten are shared fairly. Food Justice transforms the current food system to eliminate disparities and inequities by focusing on issues of gender class and race.

fs-food-securityFood Insecurity

1) You cannot get healthy foods. 2) You cannot store or prepare healthy foods. And, 3) Only junk and fast foods are available in your neighborhood.

Food Sovereignty
People determine the kind of food system they want, as long as it is ecologically sustainable.

Food Dessert? No.

Generally used to describe neighborhoods with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods. Is this a good term? After all, a desert is a vibrant incomegap_introecosystem. And, grocery stores are not a measure of food security.

Food Apartheid. Yes.
The intentional, systemic marketing and distribution of profitable, nutrient-poor, disease-causing foods to income-challenged neighborhoods, mainly, communities of color (i.e. communities receiving the most food assistance dollars).


OKT played active role in four important fall Michigan conferences

123951This fall, Our Kitchen Table has had the opportunity to attend and four different Michigan conferences relative to its work.

On September 24, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition sponsored a conference in Detroit. Discussion centered on the Michigan Environmental Justice Plan, developed with input from many of the state’s most prominent activists during the Granholm administration. Pressured to complete the plan before the Snyder administration took power, those involved agreed to accepting a weakened version. Even so, the Snyder administration shelved the plan.

OKT was impressed by the commitment demonstrated by staff members from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) who were present at this conference. This commitment fostered hope that government could come on board as a protector of Michigan’s environment and thus its citizens’ health.

Another government official, Agustin V. Arbulu, director of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, led a session that highlighted how the Flint water crisis transformed environmental justice into a civil rights issue. As such, those impacted by environmental catastrophe may be able to access more governmental power to effect change.

On October 20, OKT traveled to Ann Arbor for the  Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (GLC-SOPHE) conference, which hosted public health professionals from across the state. Here, OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King, and communications manager, Stelle Slootmaker, shared “The Many Facets of Food Justice” with the 50 folks who chose to attend the session. The presentation focused on the ten-part food justice series that OKT has developed over the past four years. Lisa brought the session to a rousing conclusion with an emphasis on how food justice is integral to public health.

Grand Rapids’ LINC Empowered Communities conference was next on the agenda. Southeast Area Farmers’ Market vendor, Yvonne Woodard joined Lisa and Stelle to listen to the morning panel featuring Van Jones. After the panel, Lisa and Stelle presented “Growing an Alternative Food System: The OKT Model” at one of the breakout sessions. After defining food justice terminology and intersectional foci, the two shared how the very replicable OKT model is making a difference in Grand Rapids.

On October 28, the OKT contingent drove to East Lansing to for the Michigan Good Food Summit. In the afternoon, Lisa, Yvonne and Stelle repeated their presentation, “Food Justice and How to Grow It” for 90 participants—it was the most popular workshop of the day!

OKT believes that sharing its model will help educate others working in food issues not only on the injustices of the current industrial food system but also on ways to build an alternative that will operate outside the bounds of racism, improve community members’ health and contribute to the earth’s environmental recovery.

You can view the PowerPoint presentations on the Educational Handouts & Recipes page of this website.

65% of Nickelodeon Food Ads for Junk Food

Note from OKT: Teaching your children that advertisers spend billions to target them with lies and false promises will help them to resist making food choices based on the ads they see on TV, computer and phone screens and billboards.

Reposted from September 13, 2016

Nearly two-thirds of the food ads on kids’ television powerhouse Nickelodeon were for Baby Bottle Pops, Frosted Flakes, Fruit Gushers, and other junk foods, according to new research published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  The nonprofit nutrition and food safety watchdog group found that the network—which prides itself on its health and wellness efforts—aired no ads for fruits or vegetables or any public service announcements during the 28 hours of programming CSPI examined.  And while the percentage of ads that were for unhealthy food has steadily dropped since CSPI began monitoring Nickelodeon in 2005, the raw number of junk foods remained constant, but for an unexplained one-time drop in 2012.

In 2005, 88 percent of the food ads on Nickelodeon were for unhealthy food.  That percentage dipped modestly to 78 percent in 2008 and then to 69 percent in 2012 and 65 percent in 2015.  In all of CSPI’s studies of Nickelodeon’s food advertising the group examined 28 hours of coverage between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

“Nickelodeon is failing its viewers and their parents by refusing to adopt reasonable nutrition standards to ensure that its advertising does not harm children’s health,” said CSPI deputy director of nutrition policy Jessica Almy.  “Nickelodeon was basically a fruit- and vegetable-free zone during our study period, instead broadcasting ads for candy, sugary cereals, and unhealthy restaurant meals.”

Kellogg’s is a member of the self-regulatory CFBAI, but Frosted Flakes did not meet the expert panel’s nutrition standards.

Of the food ads shown on Nickelodeon during CSPI’s most recent study, 77 percent were from companies that belong to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-regulatory program administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.  Participating companies complied with the CFBAI’s nutrition standards. However, fewer than half (46 percent) of those ads met a stronger set of nutrition standards developed by a panel of experts convened by CSPI and based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  In contrast, almost all (94 percent) of the ads from Chuck E. Cheese’s, Sonic, Wendy’s, and other non-CFBAI members did not meet the expert panel’s standards.  Nickelodeon is not a member of the industry-wide self-regulatory initiative, and, unlike competitors the Walt Disney Company and ION Television’s Qubo, Nickelodeon does not require that its advertisers meet nutrition guidelines.

Even some of Nickelodeon’s self-promotional bumper spots feature unhealthy foods, such as hot dogs tucked in to sleep in a white-flour bun and SpongeBob SquarePants over-eating burgers (“Krabby Patties” from the show).

“Saturday is Nickelodeon’s ‘Worldwide Day of Play.’  The network should mark the occasion by announcing a policy to eliminate all junk food ads during children’s TV programming,” Almy said. “That would do a lot more to support children’s health than Nick’s once-a-year PR stunt.”


“Am I Next” city-wide bike ride Saturday

9am Registration, free bike tune ups & giveaways. 9:30am  begin cycling. 11am arrive to Rosa Park Circle. 12pm– “Am I Next” Peaceful Rally Rosa Park Circle.

Note: Black Lives Matter – Grand Rapids did not create this event or orchestrate the rally, nor have they been organizing along with 4Unity, the team behind it. See their note below the image.


Am I Next Final

Black Lives Matter: Grand Rapids’ Official Statement on the “Am I Next?” 4Unity Rally
There has been a lot of confusion regarding Black Lives Matter: Grand Rapids’ role in the upcoming “Am I Next?” Rally happening at Rosa Parks’ Circle this upcoming Saturday afternoon, in large part due to the term “Black Lives Matter” that was originally in the event’s title. The term “Black Lives Matter,” while coined by the three Black women who created the Black Lives Matter official movement, is used by various activists, advocates, organizers and movement workers both within and outside the official network to center Black victims of police brutality. However, to clarify whose event it was and to help direct people to the rightful organizers of the 4Unity rally, we asked the name be changed. We did not create the event page or orchestrate the rally, nor have we been organizing along with 4Unity, the team behind it.
Regardless, BLM:GR originally intended to show solidarity with 4Unity and their rally by spreading the word on our social media outlets, having a presence, and supporting the young Black leaders behind it in any way they requested of us. We reached out on Facebook, but due to the volume of responses the 4Unity organizers received, were unsuccessful in discussing a possible collaboration or get in conversation with the youth who led the event. However, having followed the page, spoke with other concerned community members including the new organizer behind the scenes, a business woman by the name of Monica Sparks, the co-option of the event by adults, police, and others in seats of power is very clear. This is no longer an event that centers the lives lost to state violence, anti-Black police brutality or even conversations on how to support victims and deter the problem in our own city. While we respect the youth leadership and the direction they wish to take their event, we cannot stand in solidarity with the turn this rally has taken nor the public statements made regarding the issues at hand and do not wish to be affiliated with it.
To say there has not been an incident of excessive force, racial profiling, discrimination, targeted racial and sexual harassment and intimidation by the hands of the police in Grand Rapids is a dangerous erasure of the truth and betrays the alleged desires of #4Unity for peace. The King Park incident of last summer, the physical assault of Donovan Braswell, as well as the racial and sexual assault of a Black woman at the hands of former GRPD officer Ryan Bruggink are all clear incidents of police violence against Black residents of Grand Rapids. The numerous other incidents that have not been brought to light should also be taken into account and recognized by the community. Before anyone gets their “peace” (which has long become code for silence, passivity, compliance and respectability), we deserve justice. Before talks of unity, we must speak openly about how Black and Brown communities are viciously torn apart by systems and institutions of injustice and violence.
Additionally, we do not believe that victims of brutality could have “done something different” to avoid the violence they experienced. We do not think it is appropriate to ask members oppressed communities to look at their oppressors and join hands with them in times such as these. The Grand Rapids chapter of Black Lives Matter is committed to radical change. We do not think those who police, intimidate and enact violence on communities are healthy, functioning parts of those communities and regard with suspicion those who believe that moral appeals will save Black people from public execution.
In Power,
Black Lives Matter: GR.