This is not a food story. On the surface the only real connection this story has to food is that a young man named Trayvon Martin was at a convenience store buying Skittles and iced tea. If it was a food story, we would be shaking our finger at him for eating junk food. We’d be scolding the neighborhood for not providing him a fresh, affordable apple. But instead, because he–a young, unarmed black man wearing a hoodie–got murdered, this isn’t a food story, but a story about justice.
As a health writer who often talks about the links between what gets grown and what gets put on the plate, I consider myself an advocate. I want to see people eating good food in close proximity to their homes. It never occurred to me that walking to the store—no matter what you go there to get–could get you murdered. And as a person who cares about justice, I never thought that in 2012, our system would care so little about seeking justice for this boy. He was somebody’s son. As the mother of a young black male who often walks to the convenience store by our house, my heart is broken.
As a person who wants equity and justice for everybody, I am just mad. But there is a teachable moment here. We who work hard in the food movement often work in the silos of our own passions and forget that justice and equity move across sectors. Place matters. Race matters. Humanity matters.
The other day a young woman I know who is righteous in the food and environmental movement was upset that organic produce wasn’t getting the media attention that she thought it deserved. She wanted me to write an expose on apples. She said that it was the real social justice issue of the year. And it was also an hour after I learned about Trayvon Martin. “Why aren’t you mad as hell about the fact that all the good organic food never makes it into poor communities?” she asked.
There are a lot of things I want to see happen. I want kids to have healthy meals at school and at their homes. I want them to be educated so that they can compete in the workforce. I want there to be places that offer workers a living wage and health benefits. I want kids to be able to walk to the store to get a snack and not get killed. I want law enforcement to care enough about all our kids to protect them—even when they buy Skittles. And, I want them to have access to apples.
I still might write about apples. But I also want folks in the food movement to care about the people we want to see eating those apples. I want people to see that equity and advocacy are bigger than an apple.
Over lots of conversations with folks who are trying to make a difference, whether it is through the food we eat, the wages we earn, or where we lay our heads at night, I have learned about the notion of being a change agent. I discovered that we all come to it on our own paths, sometimes deliberately and strategically and for others it is accidental and surprising. Some are trained and groomed for the work of change, others like Trayvon Martin end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometimes, sadly, young black men can become change agents by walking to the wrong convenience store in the wrong city, at the wrong moment.
There is a lot of work for us all to do together. If the food movement wants to make real progress, we must be vigilant in addressing the truly uncomfortable things that hold us all back. We have to tear down the silos to begin to deal with the constructs of poverty, racism, and inequities wherever we see them—in the food system or in a young man with a hoodie. It all matters.