Sunday, August 29, 2010

Further Insights on Our Report

We did it!

That is the first thing I have to say about Food Empowerment Project’s (F.E.P.) new report, Shining a Light on the Valley of Heart’s Delight: Taking a Look at Access to Healthy Foods in Santa Clara County’s Communities of Color and Low-Income Communities.

A huge thanks to all of our volunteers who made this possible. Many non-profit organizations, and even foundations who work on these issues, can only accomplish tasks such as this with generous funding (not to say we couldn’t use it!), but we were able to do it because of the passion and drive of those who help make F.E.P. what it is!

This report was in my mind and heart during the creation of F.E.P.

The idea that people of color and low-income communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to access to healthy foods was something that I wanted to figure out how to stop. Maybe in my mind, while running campaigns against corporations who kill, abuse and exploit animals, it seemed easy. My thinking was, I’ll do the research, come up with solutions and implement a campaign to change it. But the amount of work it takes to do something like this was tremendous and more difficult than I had imagined –especially while having a full time job!

I have come to realize how complicated this issue is and now know that there is not one easy solution or even something that one individual can do to put an immediate stop to it – like go vegan.

After we worked with the Humane Research Council (HRC) to create the survey, the next phase was going out and surveying the establishments. We had dozens of volunteers from both inside and outside of Santa Clara County going into various grocery stores, liquor stores, markets, etc.

I did dozens in both the lower-income and higher-income areas (the report explains our criteria) and the differences were pretty obvious. Some of the stores that called themselves “food markets” were basically just liquor stores (mind you classified federally as a grocery store!). Many carried various types of alcohol, and some of the food consisted of expired and dusty cans of fruit (mostly fruit cocktail) among junk food. The fresh fruit was without prices and the cost was determined by the person behind the counter—sometimes with a shrug of the shoulders. The higher-income area stores, however, were well-lit and had large varieties of fruits and vegetables.

As you will read in our report, the vast majority of the stores in communities of color did not have many vegan options, but I was excited to find that at least two of the Mercados carried a vegan soyrizo and soymilk—both from brands that I had never seen before. I remember a volunteer from San José State who told me how sad it made her feel and that even if she wanted to go veg it would be difficult for her to do so due to the lack of available options.

Having said that though, I am also disappointed to see vegan or vegetarian groups go out of their way to reach out to communities of color without having any true understanding of the importance of having access to the healthy foods that make up a vegan diet. These groups seem to ignore the fact that giving people important reasons to go vegan without realizing how these communities are absolutely lacking in the ability to locate fresh fruits and vegetables to eat, much less find many of the vegan options that are currently available, is an approach that is not likely to succeed and is one that is out of touch and insensitive.

We definitely need to reach out to everyone when it comes to what happens to animals raised and killed for food, along with the other reasons to go vegan, but it is short-sighted if we do not work to ensure that everyone actually has all the options needed to go vegan. And that is one of F.E.P.’s main goals—from fresh fruits and veggies to soymilk!

If we want to make sure there are more vegans then we need to make sure that everyone has access to healthy vegan foods.

Just as important is the need to work towards justice and end forms of environmental racism—no matter what form it takes. Food Empowerment Project has chosen to address the injustice of a lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color and lower-income communities with the hope of one day putting an end to it. So please do read our report – we’d love to hear what you think of it—and do check out the acknowledgements. If you know any of the people—please thank them!

A special shout out to our board member Valerie Belt, all of the activists in the Bay Area who spent hours doing the surveying, Ché Green with HRC, and I am really excited to be working again with my good friend Jake Conroy who did the beautiful design and layout of our report.

This was quite a challenge for us, and I am thrilled that we have completed this first phase. BUT, this is only the beginning…and we hope you will join us as we continue our work so that one day everyone has access to healthy foods.