Dr. King may never have spoken about it, but Venice Williams is convinced that had he lived longer, he would have been an advocate for “food justice.”
“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was concerned about all issues of justice. I believe he would have seen the right to have access to good clean healthy food for all, in this country of abundance, as a civil right,” said Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden and The Body and Soul Resource Center, at a community event commemorating Dr. King’s birthday.
An energetic group of more than 250 people gathered to celebrate King’s life and work of Dr. King, which included breakfast, workshops, lunch, a drum circle and a panel discussion on food justice.
Sowing the Seeds of Food Justice was the theme for the 14th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration held at the Body and Soul Resource Center, 3617 N. 48 St. The event was sponsored by Public Allies of Milwaukee.
The seven-member panel of food justice advocates agreed that every neighborhood should have a food store where fresh food is available, and that people need to be knowledgeable about the food they consume and the food system.
Lack of access to nutritious food is a major reason for the health disparities in Milwaukee, panelists said.
Asked how many people have a liquor store close enough to home that they can walk there, most people raised their hands. However, when asked how many had a food store within walking distance, many fewer raised their hands.
“Lack of knowledge of the foods we eat (doesn’t) help us,” said Mara Woodring, of the
Project Phoenix Wellness Center. “Our food is our source of energy and our food system right now is contaminated.”
Woodring, who eats organic food, acknowledges that it is more expensive, but points out “when you eat processed food you will always be hungry. When you go organic, you eat less because you are getting more nutrients.” She added, “We have to focus on self-awareness, (and) learn to value ourselves and the food we eat.”
Victor Noth, a panelist from Riverwest Food Pantry, pointed out that there are more than 100 food pantries in Milwaukee, but the food they offer is limited.
“The food that is donated has low nutritional value. Food pantries need nutritionists to make the food pantry an educational place for community development.” Noth said.
Nichali Ciaccio, a panelist from Riverwest Co-op, asked the audience who benefits from the current food system. “Is it you or someone not in your community who is getting very wealthy from you eating processed food?”
Monique Liston, a panelist from the Milwaukee Food Council called on the audience to get involved in food justice. “Everyone eats. If you eat, you must be responsible for food justice,” she said. “We should be growing our own food on our own lawns and we can stop buying foods and goods from corporate stores and start buying local products.”
Added Liston, “Participating in food justice leads to a strong local food system and a self-reliant and healthier community.”
“Knowledge is like a garden,” said Williams. “If it is not cultivated, it cannot flourish.”