This is by no means a simple issue that anyone can solve overnight—or in the entirety of 2021. Addressing food insecurity requires a combination of local, grassroots, and broader political efforts. Amid the pandemic, there was a lot of focus on things we could no longer do, but food justice activist Karen Washington tells mbg, she wanted to focus on the things she could do.
As lines for food banks and soup kitchens began to grow, Washington partnered with 18 community gardens in the Bronx to grow more food, and donate much of it to their local food banks. The takeaway? Start local. “Don’t be overwhelmed with what is happening on a national level; you can make change locally,” Washington urges.
That may be as simple as going into your local grocery store and asking the produce manager: Where does the food come from? Who grew it? And why are we getting food from long distances when we have local farmers? From there, seek out local organizations that are doing great work, and get to know what’s happening in your community.
There’s certainly no shortage of companies, organizations, and nonprofits making important strides to close the food disparity gap, including Oko Farms; The Ron Finley Project; La Familia Verde; Why Hunger; Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture; Black Urban Growers; Soul Fire Farm; and so many more.
Another company is Everytable, a healthy food chain working to provide affordable meal options in communities with limited access to fresh, nutritious meals. “At Everytable, we’ve spent the past four years pioneering a new business model, where all meals are chef-prepared in a central kitchen and then distributed and sold through a variety of channels: grab-and-go retail stores, a weekly home delivery subscription, and food-service offerings for larger organizations,” says Sam Polk, co-founder and CEO of Everytable. “This brings down our costs and allows us to provide restaurant-quality meals at fast-food prices.”
In 2021, Polk says the company plans to work on expanding nationally, as well as launching a “Social Equity Franchise program to foster economic empowerment among entrepreneurs of color, by providing critical access to capital and in-depth training to own and operate their own Everytable franchises.” He hopes other companies will similarly strive to create opportunities for people in their communities, adding, “In order to address an issue as massive as food insecurity and food deserts in the richest country in the world, we must think of transformative, innovative solutions that will literally change the fabric of our society.”
If you want to get involved at a government level, Washington recommends meeting with local and state officials to challenge their policies and address the inequalities within the food system. “Out of 57,000 farmers in New York state, only 139 are Black,” Washington says.
“We have to talk about the systemic racism that has been rampant throughout the whole system,” she says. “If we’re going to move forward in fixing this pandemic and fixing food insecurity, everybody has to be at the table.” In other words, the historical method of change trickling from top to bottom has to be reversed. “It has to come from the bottom up. People have to start listening to people in neighborhoods that for so long have been neglected.”
Remember: You have the right to ask questions, says Washington. Your elected officials are there because you put them there. Here are a few questions she encourages you to ask: