Miguel Avila-Macias, student
Sunday, March 30, 2014
When driving down International Boulevard in East Oakland, you will see liquor stores, prostitutes, and dope dealers at just about every intersection. Take a turn up Montclair, and the scene changes entirely. Liquor stores become organic food markets, community organizers replace prostitutes, and the dealers become friendly neighbours. How is it that these communities can reside in the same city, and yet be so different? Part of the answer can be found in the availability of healthy food. Unfortunately, healthier foods come at much higher prices than fast food and other affordable options. In the neighborhoods of East Oakland, where residents live off of an average annual household income of roughly $32,000 (Bass, et, al.), these healthier foods can seem too expensive. Even if the decision to purchase these foods were to be made, finding a market with organic products would be nearly impossible. Instead, neighborhood liquor stores and fast food restaurants litter the streets, where the healthiest choice would be purchasing the baked potato chips over the regular ones. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the exact way in which this inequality exists, unveil the history that created it, and propose solutions which, if expanded upon, could quite possibly solve this great dilemma.
The first aspect of the problem is access. In California, a state well known for its vast farmland, one could safely assume that fresh produce would be at everyone's disposal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As stated above, the poor communities of Oakland do not have access to healthier, organic food. East Oakland resident Gregory Higgins stated, “It’s easier to stay drunk than it is to eat” (Bass et, al.). In communities like these, it is much easier to gain access to drugs and alcohol than a decent meal. Supermarkets here are a rare sight. If a community member wanted to buy healthy food they would have to travel long distances, which would be an additional expense to their already small budget.
The existence of this “food apartheid” (Parame) in Oakland has its roots in a long history of disinvestment from certain parts of the city. As wealthy people began to move out of central areas of Oakland, businesses and supermarkets left with them. Poorer families occupied the remaining homes, causing banks to “redline” these once thriving areas as locations where investment would be risky. Patricia St. Onge, a member of The Hope Collaborative in West Oakland stated, “The effect is that today it’s still easier to get a loan to open a liquor store than a supermarket in low-income neighborhoods of Oakland” (Bass et, al.). Many supermarkets have stated that West Oakland is “a neighborhood that… isn’t able to sustain a full-functioning store” (Field & Bell).
Despite the fact that these corporations and banks have opted to pursue profit, community members and organizations are fighting to bring organic, healthy foods back to East and West Oakland. The Hope Collaborative is a food policy organization working towards establishing Oakland communities with independent community gardens. Through Hope, many community members have taken action and turned once abandoned lots into thriving community gardens. By doing this, not only will these families have access to healthier food options, but most gardens will give away the produce to those who worked the land (Bell et, al.).
Another food justice initiative is People’s Grocery, a supermarket with the mission to bring nourishing and delicious food to its community. They were founded with the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programs in the 1960’s and quickly learned that feeding the children is just as important as any revolution. Executive Director Nikki Henderson believes that People’s Grocery is a space “to raise the consciousness about structural racism and the role it has played… in creating and maintaining food deserts” (Field & Bell).
Although these amazing organizations have managed to bring healthy foods back into the poor communities of Oakland, it’s still not enough. For many living there, accessibility is still a great obstacle. The gardens and markets currently in existence don’t even come close to fully meeting the needs of the population of East and West Oakland. However, organizations like The Hope Collaborative and People’s Grocery are taking steps that if expanded upon, could lead us to a more just future.
“No Grocery Store in Sight” by Angela Bass, Puck Lo, Diana Montaño. Oakland North. http://oaklandnorth.net/few-
“Food for Body, food for Thought, Food for Justice: People’s Grocery In Oakland,California” by Tory Field and Beverly Bell. http://www.
otherworldsarepossible.org/ food-body-food-thought-food- justice-peoples-grocery- oakland-california
“Food Justice In West Oakland” by Parame