June 27 2016

fisthealthfyood tileFood is powerful. Food not only sustains us, but the choices we make around food give us a voice in our communities.

Let me explain.

Every dollar consumers spend on food represents their voice. Will that dollar help people in the community thrive, or will it go to a far-away corporation? Will that dollar show retailers there is demand for fresh, healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food or will it show retailers that processed junk food is preferred?

We need to reclaim the food practices of our parents and grandparents, before our food system became industrialized in laboratories instead of nurtured in family farms. As our food became institutionalized, rates of preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes and hypertension skyrocketed, with devastating effects to the health and economic vitality of our communities. It has to stop. Regardless of your income, zip code, or skin color, everyone must have access to good food and be able to live healthy lives.

Individual consumers can make a difference through their purchases, but we must address these issues as a nation. We need to think creatively about how we engage our local institutions to provide more access to healthy food. Does that community center have extra space to plant a garden? Does my church have an industrial kitchen not in use that could benefit the community?

I recently participated in the Brioxy White House Summit for Innovators of Color in Washington D.C. with more than 100 other changemakers. Often, young people of color pushing the boundaries can feel like they’re working alone, so it’s difficult to express how monumental this experience was. The summit became an opportunity for me to share how food can effect change in our communities and to learn how the other participants are making a difference in their neighborhoods, cities, states, and the nation.

One of the most powerful moments came when we visited the White House. People of color from all over the nation inside an edifice many of our ancestors built were hearing young White House staffers of color share the work they’re doing on projects like My Brother’s Keeper and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. It is energizing to know that while I and the other summit participants are organizing at the grassroots level, there are progressive, intelligent, and caring innovators working to change things from the inside.

I left the summit inspired. Any sense I felt of being isolated was gone. We’re all working to strengthen our communities, whether you are working to improve food systems, rebuild crumbling schools, increase the minimum wage, address structural inequality, or something else. There is a generation of people working across the country to strengthen our communities.

I see the world through the prism of food. This election year we have a unique opportunity to feed our voice. Now is the time to get loud and create change at the local, state, and federal level.