Food Justice as Racial Justice by Miles Francisco

The Eastside of Oklahoma City is a food desert. From the corner of 23rd and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 63rd and Santa Fe there is a total of one grocery store. This store is stock-full of processed foods, canned goods, and scant a fresh vegetable. In this same area one will find a bountiful number of fast-food restaurants. McDonald’s, Sonic, KFC, Taco Bell, Church’s, Wendy’s all line the streets. There are clear statistics that show how one’s eating habits can exponentially increase heart disease, diabetes, and other health-related problems. The issue with this is when your choices are incredibly limited and your access to any nourishing foods is slim-to-none you must rely on foods that deeply worsen your health because your diet solely relies on them.

When one looks at the food deserts in Oklahoma City the reality of the food system is clear: certain demographics are seen as less worthy of food that sustains their health than others. One must look no further than the juxtaposition of the Eastside of OKC and Nichols Hills. Nichols Hills is a predominately white affluent neighborhood just a few blocks from the Eastside. In Nichols Hills there are multiple options to choose from that offer fresh produce and even locally grown foods. This is very much a tool of White supremacy. A way to slowly kill us. This is a trend throughout this country and the world. Limited access to food for marginalized communities and what food is available is likely extremely processed.

Food justice is the simple belief that food is a human right. That no person maneuvering our world should go hungry, should not have access to real food, should be subject to the exploitative working conditions that so many face in our current food system. Food justice is racial justice. It must be, because so much of the most salient issues in addressing injustices in the food system directly affect historically disadvantaged peoples and groups. Food justice without addressing the systemic oppression that has upheld this status quo for centuries is utterly useless. Numbers like 95% of the land globally being owned by White people or, if you’re White you’re four times as likely to have access to a supermarket. Migrant and Black farmworkers have little protection under the law and so many local producers are run out of business because of big food corporations. This all comes down to money. Corporations like Aramark, Coca-cola and PepsiCo, Sodexo, Compass Group, and many more rely on White supremacy and unethical practices to provide institutions like the University of Oklahoma with the lowest prices on the market. This profit comes at the cost of the people. We say no more. The vision is food sovereignty. An understanding that we have an inherent right to control our own foodways and systems. The word control, to me, is what this is all about. Currently, the food system is in the hands of a few very powerful, very corrupt hands who are uninterested in our traditional foodways or in bringing justice to the literal countries that have been ravaged by corporate greed and injustice. Food sovereignty is a reconnection to our land, to our resources, to our foodways. I would be remiss if I did not give light to the word sovereignty. This word, the actions that follow in reaching this are rooted in Indigenous activism to reclaim their roots, their ancestry, their present and their future. So much of their history has been stripped and painted as a European success story which wholly erases their agency. Food sovereignty is about recognizing the land that we stand on is stolen land and understanding that who works these lands and waters deeply matter in addressing the historical trauma of Indigenous peoples.

Right now, people throughout our globe do not have access to drinkable water. This should be something that every one of us wants to fight against. The fact that “water rights” is something to work towards is evidence enough that there is something intrinsically wrong. We must act boldly and with ambition if we are to counteract these wrongs.

I often wear a shirt that reads, “I am My Ancestors Wildest Dreams” and it means a lot to me. The shirt was created by an artist based in New Orleans, Louisiana by the name of Brandan Odums. My mother used to ask me when I would get in trouble in school – which was fairly often – if I was making my ancestors proud. I knew not what this meant as a ten-year-old, of course; but I do now. I know that I am a descendent of slaves. I do not see this as something to be ashamed of. But also, a descendent of people who have accomplished miraculous feats before and after they were stripped from the motherland. My people are a resilient people who built this country and survived so that I can thrive today and continue to fight for fundamental justice. The work for food sovereignty is about reconnecting with our roots, about learning of your history and marvel at the sheer faith that it took for those that came before you to do what they did. Food justice is about healing ancestral wounds, about finding what you love through the food that you eat. About ensuring that that next bite does not exponentially increase your chance of heart disease. More than anything, food justice is for all of us. It is a movement that connects every movement of liberation. Because we all gotta eat! And we all have a story to tell when it comes to food and the ways that it has helped or harmed us on our singular journey. Food is fundamental. Support local farmers and producers, launch a community garden, donate to a food pantry, call on institutions that claim to serve students and their community to disavow from big food and White supremacy and start to invest in the people, in all of us. Our ancestors are watching. Will you be the change?

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