By David Carter
The recent 3rd annual Vegan SoulFest in Baltimore, Maryland marked my first presentation at a vegfest organized specifically for people of color (POC).
My talk—Oppression in the Food System—was about how systematically underserved areas are kept subjugated through a lack of proper access to nutritious food and food education.
I’m well aware of the food oppression in the area I grew up in—Los Angeles, California. However, in order to understand what the people of Baltimore City were going through, I reached out to friend and colleague, and Baltimore resident, Brenda Sanders.
Brenda graciously sent me an essay she wrote about her work—Food Sovereignty in a Racist Food System—and she spoke with me about the current and ongoing situation in the low-income POC communities in Baltimore. I also did some research myself—and pouring over statistics and studies were the key to truly understanding the severity of the issue.
When we arrived in Baltimore a few days prior to Vegan SoulFest, I decided to use the additional time I had to get out in the neighborhood and see first hand what access to real food looks like in the city of Baltimore. This is what I found—namely, poor and low quality food of the fast and junk food variety at the local corner stores.
Block after block nothing changed. In fact, it only got worse the closer I got to the low-income housing projects.
I currently have more produce in my refrigerator than most of the corner stores combined. How is this happening? How is this the reality when not too far from here children grow up without food insecurity and have the privilege of shopping at upscale grocery stores like Whole Foods Market?
Can you imagine for a minute—should you find yourself privileged enough to not be in the situation being described—walking into your local grocery store and your produce options there being comparable to what you might find at a gas station?
Children in these systematically underserved communities grow up never knowing what butternut squash is, or what an artichoke tastes like. I wasn’t sure what I’d see during my tour, but what I found was injustice.
When Saturday rolled around and Paige and I arrived at Vegan SoulFest, it was a sight for sore eyes. Seeing every color under the sun being represented harmoniously at one beautiful festival was unbelievably restorative for me.
Seeing a community with all the odds stacked against them still rise reminds me of a beautiful proverb I recently read—“They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
The Vegan SoulFest exemplifies the resiliency that lies within all oppressed people. It’s the desire for empowerment, fellowship, and knowledge—it’s community.
I cannot thank enough Brenda Sanders and Naijha Wright-Brown—the Vegan SoulFest co-founders and co-organizers—for seeing a need in their community and having the hearts to put this life-changing and life-saving festival together. We were truly blessed by what took place at Vegan SoulFest. The spirit of those two phenomenal women is why Baltimore is beautiful.