Food Policy for Food Justice: Animal Rights

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

cows-skipping“A measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals.”
— Mahatmas Ghandi

Among the many unethical practices that comprise the current industrial food system, the brutalization of livestock animals is an ever present atrocity. During our trips to the supermarket, we rarely consider the price animals pay so that the food industry can profit. This is not a judgment on the grocery-buying public. The industry has manipulated our spending habits with messaging that convinces us that not only are the cows happy, but eating fast-foods, junk foods and convenience foods will bring us happiness, as well.

The CAFO: Concentrated Animal Feed Operation. In 2011, factory farms raised 99.9% of our chickens for meat, 97% of laying hens, 99% of turkeys, 95% of pigs and 78%  of cattle sold in the US. Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to global climate change; CAFOs are a major factor. According to Sierra Club of Michigan, “CAFOs produce huge amounts of animal sewage and other pollutants. CAFO owners and operators spend millions of dollars on technologies that make it possible to produce massive quantities of milk, eggs, and meat, yet they resist investing in technologies and practices to proper


View this 4-minute animated film to about CAFOs. Also check out The Meatrix 2 and The Meatrix Relaunched.

ly treat the wastes that are by-products of this industry … The sheer amount of wastes produced … often overwhelms the ability of the land and crops to absorb CAFO wastes.” 


Animals raised inhumanely provide meat, milk and eggs that are less nutritious and even harmful. When cattle graze freely on grass rather than eating grains in CAFOs, the meat has less fat and more heart-healthy nutrients that can reduce heart disease and cancer. Eggs from free-range chickens offer similar benefits. (Beware the term “cage-free.” This is not free-range.)

When it comes to milk and cheese, cows who ingest hormones and antibiotics pass these along to the consumer. The growth hormones found in milk are one factor in girls reaching puberty at a younger age. (Others include pesticides in produce, obesity and phthalates in plastics and cosmetics.) CAFO’s overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise of deadly, drug resistant bacteria.

Livestock animals on CAFOs suffer terribly. Crammed together by the thousands, shoulder to shoulder, in pens that don’t allow them to move, they endure excruciating pain, debilitating illness and absolutely no opportunity to enjoy what was once every animal’s birthright: sunshine, fresh air and socializing with others of its kind. Mother animals are not even allowed to instinctively care for their suckling young.

Pigs grazing on the grass field.Hormones that increase milk production cause dairy cows to live every day in pain as they are over-engorged with milk. Growth hormones cause chickens to put meat on so rapidly that their bones break because they cannot support their own weight. Until the FDA intervened in 2015, US poultry factories routinely fed their birds arsenic-based drugs to promote weight gain. Because much of our chicken comes from China (and origin labeling is not required), it’s difficult to know if it contains arsenic.

How can you stand for livestock animal rights? OKT offers these options for reducing the pain, misery, pollution and disease caused by the industrial food system’s inhumane treatment of animals.

  • Consider a vegetarian diet. Another option, the pescatarian diet includes fish (avoid CAFO fish farmed fish). Pregnant women need 80 to 100 grams of protein a day so a vegan diet may not be advisable. OKT does not endorse “lab meats” being developed as we believe these Franken-foods may be shown to be harmful. Check out chef Bryant Terry’s cookbook, Afro-Vegan.
  • Buy meat, milk, cheese and eggs that have been humanely produced. Local sources of free-range meat, milk and eggs are your best bet. These products will cost more so eat a little less. Add more fruits and vegetables to your plate – and be healthier for it.
  • Reduce meat consumption. The food industry has brain-washed us into thinking meat makes the meal. Our bodies do not need large amounts of meat – or meat every day. Eat legumes for protein, e.g. refried beans, hummus, black eyed peas, peanut butter.  If possible, ask your mothers and grandmothers how they ate before the ‘60s and ‘70s. They most likely have a long list of meatless meals.
  • Use cosmetics labeled “Cruelty Free/Not Tested on Animals.”
  • Join the Food Justice Movement. Learn about the issues. Get involved with local groups making a difference. Let your commissioners, representatives and senators know how you feel about CAFOs, product testing on animals and other food justice issues. Help OKT build a just and sustainable  alternative to the current food system.


Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & GMOS

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

gmosGenetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are deeply entrenched in our current food system. Most of us don’t even know when we are eating something that contains GMOs. So what is the big deal? And what do GMOs have to do with food justice? The corporations behind the development and proliferation of GMOs would certainly like us to quit asking questions. Since Our Kitchen Table is a food justice organization, it’s our mission to ask such questions.

GMOs are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology. This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

GMOs are part of the current food system in a big way, as reflected by the above info-graphic. And, they are something that the public has had little or no say in. Genetically modified organisms cause numerous problems.

Since most GMOs are not fully tested, we don’t fully understand their impact on human health over a long period of time. According to sources like the Organic Consumers Association,

GMOs have been linked to:

  • Thousands of toxic and allergenic reactions.
  • Thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock.
  • Damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals.
  • Increased likelihood of allergies.
  • Damage of the immune system.
  • Damage of the liver.

The growth of GMO plants causes genetic pollution when GMO plants infect the DNA strain of non-GMO plants. This contamination may pose public health threats by creating “super weeds” that require greater amounts of more toxic pesticides to manage; threaten extinction of rare plants and their weedy relatives that we need for crop and plant bio-diversity. These weeds are not only the traditional relatives of our domesticated plants; they also assist us in overcoming crop blight.

GMO plants and seeds create huge problems for small farmers if, through naturally occurring cross-pollination, GMOs being used at neighboring farms contaminate their plants. Farmers save seeds from their crops to save money and rely on proven seed stock. When their seeds show evidence of containing the GMO’s DNA, the current US legal system allows companies like Monsanto to sue the farmers unless they pay royalties. Seems unjust doesn’t it? Well, it is unjust. However, since agribusiness entities have lots of influence with the political system, the courts often rule in their favor, leaving both small farmers and the public on the losing side.

nongmo-logoThe good news is that an international movement to ban GMOs is gaining ground. Several dozen countries have already banned the use of GMOs; more countries are moving in that direction. Our Kitchen Table supports banning GMOs in favor of biodiversity. The more biological diverse our diet is, the better off we will be. We also support transparency on the GMO issue. Most of us are eating GMO foods right now and don’t even know it. In the US, food labels do not have list GMOs. Many states are attempting to pass legislation to require that GMOs are labeled, but the agribusiness sector is spending billions to defeat such efforts.

Our Kitchen Table practices food justice that rejects the use and proliferation of GMOs by:

  • Providing heirloom seeds and plants to families involved in our home gardening program.
  • Ensuring that our Southeast Area Farmer’s Market vendors sell only non-GMO produce.
  • Working on public policy issues that promote greater transparency and justice in our food system.



OKT executive director featured on national Encore site.

encore-org-logo-with-tag-lineReposted from Encore.Org

optimized-lisa-oliver-king-410x410Lisa Oliver-King
Grand Rapids, Michigan

“I don’t do charity. I just do what I’m supposed to do: I’m my brother’s keeper. . . . It’s the best way to use my gifts, to help people express kindness.”


As a youngster, few things struck me so profoundly as the moments I joined my family around the kitchen table, just to talk. So many good, and difficult, and funny, and serious conversations happened around that ‘magic’ table, topped with smoky glass. That hand-me-down now sits in the kitchen of the home I share with my husband and my daughters in Michigan on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

Years after serving as a gathering place during my childhood days, the table continues to spawn ideas. It was there, over wine with a friend a few years ago, that I was challenged to amp up my commitment to environmental and social justice in my city.

I had worked in the public health sector well into my 40’s, including jobs with the Kent County Health Department, the Michigan Public Health Institute, and Hospice of Michigan. Eventually, I shifted into consulting work around public health and it was during that period that a girlfriend stopped me in my tracks during that table talk when she said: “Consulting is good. But you should do some real community engagement.”

I became intrigued with the problems around lead poisoning in our Michigan communities and how it was affecting human health and the environment. From that concern, I branched out to exploring strategies for mobilizing low-income families, mostly on Grand Rapids’ southeast side.

That’s how, in 2003, I founded Our Kitchen Table, a quiet force that empowers urban neighborhoods to improve their health and monitor sometimes life-threatening environments through education, advocacy and community organizing. Its overall goal of combating oppression, race and gender bias, and disparities in wealth and power.

Banking on strong social networks, we developed tools to empower families with the tools to develop homegrown foods even on properties threatened by soils with suspected or actual high lead levels. Our Kitchen Table teaches residents how to grow crops in containers and take full advantage of the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market.

It’s there that OKT will continue partnering with the Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council and the Kent County Health Department to host educational events and participate in the Bridge Card (SNAP), Michigan Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Project Fresh, Kent County Health Department coupons and DoubleUp Food Bucks programs.

We promote growing from a systemic lens and from understanding what is going on in the community and we look at the entire food landscape, everything from grocery stores to wild edibles to pantries to food-buying clubs and co-ops.

A big part of my motivation is that I really wanted to have my children understand the importance of giving back. My daughters know the power of communicating amongst ourselves around the magic table. But it was important that I talk to them about the value and effect of being part of a community.

I view my participation as a chance to immerse myself in community and make a difference with a program that meets basic human needs and lifts up families with education as a core element.

I don’t do charity. I just do what I’m supposed to do. I’m my brother’s keeper, and I try to emphasize that. It’s the best way to use my gifts, to help people express kindness. It’s what we should be to each other.

Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives opening and oral history project

12645001_657648147706976_3902566714826086628_n.pngOKT dropped by the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives (GRAAMA) Royal Opening on December 26. GRAAMA is currently located at 87 Monroe Center, downtown Grand Rapids. The space functions as a museum store and donations center. The opening coincided with the first day of Kwanzaa, Umoja. Festivities included a ribbon cutting, proclamation and Kwanzaa ceremonies. It also kicked off a membership and fundraising campaign in hopes GRAAMA can secure a building for its permanent collection.

GRAAMA’s mission is “… to promote, preserve, display, collect and honor the lives, culture, history and accomplishments of African, African American, and connected peoples in the Greater Grand Rapids Michigan community.”

The GRAAMA store hours are 10 am-5 pm Tuesday-Saturday. For information, call 616 540 2943 or visit The Michigan Humanities Council and the W K Kellogg Foundation awarded the GRAAMA a $24,990 grant for its Grandmas Voice oral history project that will document the life experiences of some of the area’s oldest living people. African Americans, particularly women, are the focus of the grant.

GRAAMA is collaborating with the Grand Rapids Urban League and the Kutsche Office of Local History located at Grand Valley State University in this project. GRAAMA is looking for African American elders, primarily women, who can tell the story of early Grand Rapids or the surrounding area. Those who participate will receive a small stipend. The finished video and audio disk will be featured as a main attraction.  If you or someone you know are interested in participating, email George Bayard at


Women of Color & The Fight for Food Justice

foodjusticegraphicThis is the second in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.
When people think of farmers in the United States, the image that most people have is a man. For the most part this is true, especially with the onset of industrial agriculture, where men operate machines to produce food. However, globally, women dominate food production.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  women produce about 80% of the world’s food.

If you think about food preparation and preservation, the image, probably, is of work being done by women. This is also true whether it’s
preparing meals, baking breads, canning or saving seeds, women are
responsible for the majority of these tasks. Isn’t it ironic that while the world’s women are the most involved with food, they have the least to say in our current food system, which is dominated by large multinational corporations. This system doesn’t consider the well being of women in the decisions it makes, especially not the well being of women of color.

Because communities of color experience higher rates of poverty, women of color are forced to make difficult decisions about food with limited income every day. Research shows that the current food system impacts women of color disproportionately with higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity and other illnesses of under-nutrition. The vicious cycle of poverty and limited access to healthy food is further compounded because communities of color have little or no health insurance.

Our Kitchen Table believes that these injustices need to be fought and the fight needs to be led by women of color. While providing temporary relief, food handouts and food assistance, are not the answer. We need a food system where women of color and communities of color play an intricate role in determining the kind of food they eat, how it is produced and who participates and benefits from that food production.

Organizations like Via Campesina, Navdanya and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers all recognize the vital role that women play in food justice and food sovereignty movements. Our Kitchen Table is committed to playing this same role in West Michigan, empowering women of color to have a voice in determining the kind of food system they want.

We see women of color creating food justice in the following ways:

  • Having real access to healthy and nutritious food through growing, preserving and
    preparing their own food. We do this by offering food growing resources and
    operating neighborhood-based farmers
  • Changing school food policies to guarantee that their children eat healthy, nutritious meals, made fresh daily. We do this by
    supporting food growing projects and local schools with students and parents.
  • Sharing knowledge and skills on food
    growing, food preparation, seed saving and food preservation. The more women have these skills and share them with each other, the more influence they will have in creating a food justice movement. We do this by hosting forums, workshops and creating educational materials on food justice.
  • Challenging local restaurants to prepare food that is local, fresh, culturally
    relevant and does not use exploitative labor, including those who pick the food, prepare the food and serve the food.
  • Demanding that the City of Grand Rapids allow women of color to garden on vacant, city-owned land for food production in their neighborhoods.


For more information on the food growing and food justice work of
Our Kitchen Table, contact us at





What is Food Justice?

fj-treeThis is the second in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

Food Justice is an idea, a set of principles and something we should all strive to practice. More importantly, Food Justice is a movement and, like most social justice movements, it was born out of the lived experience of people experiencing oppression.

In many ways Food Justice grew out of the Environmental Justice
movement, where communities of color and poor working class people began to realize that their lack of access to healthy and affordable food
was not the result of their own behavior, but of a food system that was
motivated by profit.

It is fashionable for people to talk about how people who are living in
poverty also live in a “food desert.” What they generally mean is that
people don’t live close to a grocery store. Using the term “food desert”
is problematic in many ways. First, a desert is a vibrant eco-system and
not a barren wasteland, as is often associated with the term. Secondly,
identifying neighborhoods as food deserts ignores history and fails to
acknowledge that most of these neighborhoods had small grocery stores, farmers markets, fruit & vegetable stands and lots of backyard gardens. However, economic and political decisions driven by the current industrial food system resulted in neighborhoods being both abandoned and undermined, often resulting in food insecurity.

Therefore, it would be more accurate to say that neighborhoods
experiencing a lack of access to healthy, affordable food are communities experiencing Food Apartheid. Food Apartheid explains that a small number of people (agribusiness) determines the kind of food system that  the masses can access. Like the Apartheid imposed on Black South Africans, Food Apartheid means that few of us have a say in the current food system.

The movement for Food Justice is changing Food Apartheid. Armed
with the notion that everyone has the right to eat healthy, food justice
advocates engage in more locally grown food projects, sharing skills
foodjustice_1on how to grow, prepare and preserve food, while exposing the current food
system’s unjust nature .

The Food Justice Movement is an international movement that is ultimately
fighting for Food Sovereignty, where everyone has say in the kind of food system(s) they want. Food Sovereignty is Food Democracy, where healthy food is a right for everyone―not just for those who can afford it. Here is a list of Food Justice principles that Our Kitchen Table supports and promotes:

  • Food Justice recognizes that the causes of food disparity are the result of
    multiple systems of oppression. To practice food justice we must do the work through an intersectional lens.
  • Food Justice advocates must focus on working with the most marginalized and vulnerable populations:
    communities of color, communities in poverty, immigrants, children, our
    elders, women, people who identify as LGBTQ, those with disabilities and
    people experiencing homelessness.
  • Food Justice require us to work
    towards the elimination of exploitation in our food system, both exploitation of humans and animals.
  • Food Justice demands that we grow food in such a way that preserves
    ecological biodiversity and promotes sustainability in all aspects.
  • Provide resources and skill sharing so that people can be collectively more food self-sufficient.

Eating Healthy Food is a Right! The current global food system must be resisted and dismantled. For more information on ways to practice Food Justice in your community, contact Our Kitchen Table.

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.