Tag Archive | Food Justice

PODCAST: Can COVID help us close gaps in Michigan’s food supply chain?

Reposted from Second Wave Michigan

LISTEN HERE

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on food insecurity and food systems. According to an estimate by Northwestern University, the pandemic more than doubled food insecurity in America, affecting nearly a quarter of all U.S. households last year. Here in Michigan, one and a quarter million people have received expanded emergency food assistance benefits during the pandemic. The pandemic opened many Michiganders’ eyes to food supply chain issues they’d never considered before. And while the darkest days of COVID-prompted food insecurity may be behind us, major gaps in Michigan’s food system remain.

Meghan McDermott, director of programs at Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, discusses how we can draw from COVID’s lessons to continue strengthening Michigan’s food system in the long run. Meghan has helped spearhead multiple programs to address food insecurity in Northwest Michigan during the pandemic. We talked about the massive challenges COVID created for Northwest Michigan residents and farmers, and how we all can help to build a stronger, healthier food system in Michigan.

Kent County Food Policy Council interview with Lisa Oliver-King published in The Rapidian.

Lisa Oliver-King, Director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT), shares her food experiences, more about OKT’s work and her vision for a more just, equitable food system in Kent County

Earlier this year, the Kent County Food Policy Council launched to strengthen and grow the food system in Kent County. As we build momentum, discuss, and prioritize issues, we are gathering information and engaging with our community through a project called Everybody Eats: Highlighting Food Experiences in Kent County. Through this project, we are inviting our community to share their experiences with our food system and highlight the good food work that is already happening here. 

Below is an interview with Lisa Oliver-King, Director of Our Kitchen Table (OKT), a grass-roots, nonprofit organization serving greater Grand Rapids. OKT promotes social justice and empowers our neighbors to improve their health and environment through information, community organizing and advocacy. Lisa was a formation team member of the Kent County Food Policy Council. Thank you, Lisa, for your good food work and sharing your thoughts with us!  

Tell me about your relationship with food. 

Lisa: My relationship with food has been built over time. As a child, my mother would prepare different meals for my siblings and I so that we could eat what we really wanted to eat, sometimes she would make each of us a different meal. During the holidays, my family would be up until 3 or 4 in the morning making everything from scratch. My family always really bonded over food. We also had hard times. At one point, the gas in our house was shut off for a week so we had ham in many different forms. Although we got tired of ham, we still ate. 

My family was always involved in every process of food: picking some of our own produce, going to get meat from a butcher, helping with preparation, cooking, and cleaning up before and after meals. These experiences gave me an appreciation for food.  

A big part of my relationship with food is connection. We use food in my family to release tension in difficult conversations. If there is something that my husband or my kids and I need to discuss, we will come to the kitchen table and set out blueberries or other snacks and use that as a buffer or comfort in our conversations. 

Food is so much more than something that we eat…we use it on our skin, we can drink it: it has a greater purpose than solely being consumed. And as I get older, I appreciate the earth more, I appreciate farmers more, I appreciate the importance of food subsidies more. 

In what way does your organization engage in the local food system? 

Lisa: Our Kitchen Table works with people who do not have a good relationship with food. We have to think about why that is and if there is anything that we can do to change that. We look at the whole entity: how food smells, the preparation, harvesting, growing, and cooking food. We try to walk people through every aspect of their relationship with food.  

We work to figure out what experience we can create. One of the ways that we do that is by providing people with a food garden coach and working with them to get past the initial obstacles in their relationship with food — whatever they may be. We help people work with the resources that they have. We ask: what do you have in your household? Is there an obstacle with electricity or gas? If there is, that’s okay because there are so many other options. I have worked with people who use their coffee makers to boil chicken. People who grill due to lack of access to electricity or gas. We work with the resources that they have and come up with creative solutions to educate people on how they can prepare food regardless of limitations. There is no one way, there is no right way. 

I have always thought about food as it relates to power. I have the power of selecting what I want to eat, which items I want to purchase, and how I prepare my food. I get to choose what goes into my body. Ultimately, we teach others about food power. 

If you were to design a food system rooted in equity, justice and sovereignty, where would you focus your attention and why? 

Lisa: I would focus my attention on ensuring that food is available in public spaces and that it is available to all. And looking at the issue of equity when it comes to availability. We need to come together and make sure that food is available for all; but also, some spaces may need more support. In those public spaces, we want things to be set up in a puzzle perspective: with charitable organizations, retail, areas where you can just go, and pick produce for free.

We have to ask: how do we create a diversification in the food space that meets the needs of the community at large? And with the promise of no stigma and no judgment. That when you access food, you make sure that others are accessing it without barriers as well. That would be my dream. 

Interview by: Nicole Kukla

Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System.

Tuesday, May 25th, 2:30-4 p.m. 

Virtual. Register here.

The Michigan Local Food Council Network is launching an interactive discussion series, Catalyst Conversations: Re-designing Our Food System. These conversations will invite all advocates and community members – from novice to seasoned expert in topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion – to build relationships and share ideas to mobilize communities for transformative action. The Catalyst Conversation series will use deep-dive discussion to frame a spectrum of food systems change across individual, organizational, and institutional levels; equip participants with practical, accessible change models; and incorporate healing and restorative practice.

The first of these interactive conversations will take place Tuesday, May 25th from 2:30-4 p.m.  During this initial event, a panel of “relatable experts” will ground participants in cultural understandings of food systems engagement and transformation. We will invite participants to engage in small group discussions with these experts and one another.  The MLFCN will also seek input on future discussion topics for this series.

We will send more detail on the first in this series in the coming days, as speakers are confirmed. Meanwhile, please save the date!  You can also register for the May 25 event at: https://msu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJElfumvqzopGtZYwxMcWwtpRmW4bsPJbvSE

This series has been created through the MLFCN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Team, a small (but mighty) group of MLFCN members from across Michigan, that has worked to build a framework for this series that is inspiring, educational, and action-oriented.    

OKT featured on “Thought About Food Podcast”

Listen in on the above link!

Ian’s Show Notes

Ian Werkheiser
  • Follow us on Twitter at @FoodThoughtPod, and you can drop us a line at ThoughtAboutFood on Gmail. Consider leaving us a review wherever you found us!
  • Lisa Oliver King and Estelle Slootmaker work for Our Kitchen Table, a grass-roots, nonprofit organization serving greater Grand Rapids.
  • Our Kitchen Table does amazing work, and they have resources for replicating those programs in your own organization or community. Check them out!
  • Our Kitchen Table was featured in the book Food Justice in US and Global Contexts: Bringing Theory and Practice Together, which I edited with Zachary Piso.
  • The intro and outro music is “Whiskey Before Breakfast” which is both a great traditional song and an increasingly common practice for parents helping their children with remote schooling. It was performed and shared by The Dan River Ramblers under a Creative Commons license.
  • Since we had two guests, we were lucky enough to get two recipes! Lisa Oliver King’s heartily endorses Bryant Terry’s recipe for greens in our episode. She also writes, “Bryant joined us for an event a few years back and has remained dear to our hearts. I always share his cookbook when we table at events.  https://www.sunset.com/recipe/garlicky-mustard-greens
  • And here’s Stelle’s recipe:
    “I love making this soup for my hubby and me. This big pot of soup lasts us two or three meals. I make and freeze vegetable broth from stalks, stems and leaves of vegetables we get from our CSA share all
    summer. If I don’t have sweet potatoes, it works just as well with winter squash, which we also freeze a lot of. This soup recipe launched my passion for making hearty soups, which have become a mealtime
    staple for us. I got this recipe when my daughter, Caitlin, worked at the People’s Food Co-op. I have lots of good memories of meeting her and her brother, Rob, there for lunch of coffee when I visit Ann Arbor.”

    People’s Food Coop of Ann Arbor West African Peanut Soup
    • 1⁄2 T olive oil This big pot of soup lasts us two or three meals
    • 1 1⁄2 C Spanish onion peeled and chopped
    • 1⁄4 T minced fresh ginger
    • 1⁄2 t sea salt
    • 1⁄4 t cayenne to taste
    • 1 1⁄2 C sweet potatoes, chopped
    • 2 1⁄2 C veggie broth (may need more)
    • 3⁄4 C creamy peanut butter
    • 3⁄4 C tomato juice1. Sautee onions in oil until transparent. Add carrots and spices. Continue sautéing about 5 minutes more.
    2. Add sweet potatoes and broth. Simmer until veggies are cooked through.
    3. Remove from heat. Add tomato juice and peanut butter. Process until smooth. Adjust consistency with more broth or tomato juice.
    4. Soup will thicken as it cools.

Michigan wastes massive amounts of food.

Here’s how it can be rescued to improve people’s health.

Reposted from Second Wave-Michigan State of Health Series

harvest-7_(custom).jpg

Food Rescue US reports that over 50 million Americans are food insecure, while over 40 billion meals are wasted each year — and 40% of the U.S. food supply rots in landfills. The solution is obvious: deliver this food to people who need it instead of to the dump. Food rescue operations in Michigan are doing their best to make that happen – and positively affecting public health in the process.

According to a Centers for Disease Control report, A Public Health Opportunity Found in Food Waste, “The United States has an epidemic of food insecurity and obesity that coexists in the same population (low-income families on a budget). Moreover, fruits and vegetables, which are linked to improving health and preventing chronic disease, are also perishable and commonly wasted.”

Obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it — diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, sleep apnea, and some cancers — are only a few of the medical issues resulting from poor nutrition. Behavioral health issues can take root in a poor diet, too. And as housing, childcare, and transportation costs viciously outpace wages, more and more working families are finding themselves without the means to provide good food for their families.

Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue organization serving Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, says the need for emergency food is increasing despite improvements in state employment numbers. A lot of working people live paycheck to paycheck, and any life crisis can put them in a vulnerable situation that forces them to choose between buying food and paying the rent.

“Inflation has outpaced wages for decades, so people struggle to keep up,” Mayes says. “It’s more difficult for the average family to keep pace with rising expenses.”

Emergency food can provide those families a way to get their health back on track.

angie.jpgGood food = good health

Samantha McKenzie is president and CEO of Hidden Harvest, another Michigan food rescue serving the Bay, Midland, and Saginaw region.

“All of our food pantries say that they are getting more and more people who have never been to a pantry before,” she says. “We take a resource that already exists and make sure it gets put on the dinner table instead of in the garbage bin. Our donors don’t want to throw away good food. They feel real positive about where it’s going and we’re happy to share it.”

In 2018, 300 donors gave Hidden Harvest 2.5 million pounds of food — about 200,000 pounds a month. Hidden Harvest delivers the rescued food to 170 nonprofits including soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, and youth programs.

oranges.jpgHidden Harvest’s food rescue efforts directly integrate good nutrition into the healthcare system through donations to substance abuse rehab centers, where food donations free up funds for treatment options; and health clinics like Saginaw’s Hearth Home, which treats people living with HIV and AIDS.

“They need items high in protein and rich in vitamins and nutrients. We direct these foods their way as it helps their medications to be more effective,” McKenzie says. “Fresh produce is a proven cancer preventative. There are many positive reasons why good health depends on having a well-rounded diet.”

Forgotten Harvest’s 30 refrigerated trucks glean food from 400 partners at 800 locations — grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers growing food in Macomb County and Ontario, Canada. The nonprofit also grows food on 100 acres of land in Fenton.

“If we’re giving them corn, it’s probably an ear,” Mayes says. “If it’s green beans, it’s a bunch, not a can. We’re one small part of the set of things people got to do to be healthy.”

Because the operation specifically takes in food that no longer meets retail specs, nutrient-rich perishables like dairy products and meats are in abundance. From its warehouse in Oak Park, the full-time drivers deliver to more than 250 pantries, churches, community centers, and community-based organizations with food-related missions.

“We see a little bit of everything,” Mayes says. “There is no shortage of variety in the things we come across.”

Grocery stores do their part

Kroger, ALDI, Trader Joe’s, and Meijer are among the many Michigan retailers who operate robust food rescue operations. Michigan-based Meijer’s effort began with 29 stores in southeast Michigan in 2008. Now all 235 of its stores rescue food, and they donated over 10.6 million pounds in 2018.

Many of Michigan’s smaller retailers take part in food rescue too. Busch’s Fresh Food Markets, a 15-store independent grocery chain headquartered in Washtenaw County, partners with Washtenaw County-based food rescue nonprofit Food Gatherers, as does the single-location People’s Food Co-op of Ann Arbor.

sausgae.jpgThe Co-op rescues about 200 pounds of food a month, not as an afterthought but to support its primary goal of promoting health and economic justice. Its donations include fresh produce and dairy products, as well as canned and boxed goods.

“We actually have a bunch of different reasons for rescuing food,” says Angie Voiles, Peoples Food Co-op general manager. “Through our commitment to the triple bottom line, it is environmentally sustainable to rescue and donate food instead of putting it into a landfill. From a social justice perspective, the co-op was founded and continues to strive to provide access to healthy food throughout the entirety of our community, at the retail level and also through food rescue.”

Voiles says her own health improved after switching to a whole foods diet. She believes that confirms research that has found eating fresh produce and less-processed foods contributes to improved physical and mental health.

“We want to get healthy, whole foods into the hands of as many people as possible,” she says.

Silver linings, logistics, and a long way to go

Rescued food can include much more than grocery store items nearing a sell-by date. Shipping or packaging errors, or failure to reach other specifications that have nothing to do with quality, can turn perfectly good food into waste. Mayes says well over 75 billion pounds of food is classified as waste in the U.S. every year.

In addition to helping more Michiganders be healthy, food rescue helps donor businesses by reducing disposal costs and providing tax breaks. It also helps the environment by diverting food waste from the landfill to the table.

“You never know when there’s going to be a truck accident, a shipment that a shipping company doesn’t know what to do with, weddings cancelled because of soap-opera stuff, a catering company doing an outdoor event in terrible weather, or a funeral dinner with leftovers,” McKenzie says. “We put it to good use. There’s always a silver lining.”

However, food rescue efforts are making only a small dent in the vast amounts of food waste. Feeding America, one of the country’s largest food rescue organizations, reports having rescued just 3.5 billion of the 72 billion pounds of food wasted last year in the U.S.

Experts from the state’s food industry, healthcare systems, government, and nonprofit sectors need to forge even more successful collaborations to ensure that healthy foods are not thrown away, but instead made readily available to all Michigan residents, starting with children and those experiencing chronic illness.

“Food insecurity is unfortunately a problem that is prevalent in almost every underserved and middle-class community in America,” Mayes says. “The volume of food rescue food puts us in a place where addressing hunger is no longer a food problem. It’s a logistics problem.”

A freelance writer and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness, and the arts. She is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media, communications manager for Our Kitchen Table, and chairs The Tree Amigos, City of Wyoming Tree Commission. Her finest accomplishment is her five amazing adult children. You can contact Estelle at Estelle.Slootmaker@gmail.com or www.constellations.biz.

Hidden Harvest photos by Ben Tierney. Angie Voiles photo courtesy of Ken Davis.

 

OKT presents at City-sponsored workshop

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Growing: Community Justice and Food
6-9 p.m. Monday June 18
Baxter Community Center, 935 Baxter St. SE 49506

OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King will talk about growing food–and growing justice–in Grand Rapids’ southeast neighborhoods. The workshop seeks to share how to strengthen relationships and quality of life in these neighborhoods, practice food justice and engage neighbors via a community garden with financial support from the City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund (NMF) www.grandrapidsmi.gov/nmf.

The main goals of the NMF are to build stronger connections among residents in neighborhoods, and to address and promote social justice. All projects, including community gardens, must intentionally advance these goals. So if you’re a GR resident interested in starting a community garden to grow community, justice and food – attend this workshop for important tips and strategies.