Our Kitchen Table Addresses Food Justice in West Michigan

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Helping neighbors take control of the food they eat is the central mission of Grand Rapids’ Our Kitchen Table (OKT).
“Everybody has a right to good, nutritious food,” said Lisa Oliver-King, OKT Executive Director.
The grassroots, non-profit organization works with neighborhoods on the southeast side of the city to improve access to healthy foods. OKT does this through a variety of methods, including at-home gardening instruction and supplies, cooking workshops, nutrition classes, and the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market.
Organizers are also deeply invested in getting the word out about food access as a social justice issue. They hope residents take advantage of a free, five-week class that starts this Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, titled Food Politics and the Food Justice Movement: Moving Forward.
According to OKT’s website, the class will investigate the current food system and food policy, look at food justice responses around the country, and discuss what a food justice and food sovereignty movement in West Michigan could look like.
“Our Kitchen Table isn’t just about growing your own food, but it’s about understanding the food system and your role in what that food system is,” Oliver-King said.
She explained that OKT works with people where they’re at. Not everyone wants to start their own container garden, although OKT is happy to help if they do. Even helping people understand food labels is a good start in enabling residents to take control of the food they’re putting in their bodies.
Once residents learn more about how to grow their own food or take a communal cooking or nutrition class, Oliver-King said they naturally want to learn more about the food systems in place in their communities. She said expanding knowledge about the inequalities in obtaining fresh, healthy food spurs many to then become interested in understanding public policy as it relates to food justice.
The organization must take into account a number of factors when they design curriculum neighbors will benefit from, but Oliver-King said residents often bring their own unique insights to classes as well.
“People know a lot more than what we’re willing to recognize and they share that with us,” she said.
The importance of addressing issues of food access can be seen in the many health challenges faced by children in the neighborhoods, including asthma and challenges with obesity and diabetes. Oliver-King said many times the food kids are eating is high-calorie, high-fat, and loaded with sugar.
Garden coaches work with residents on growing their own food, and show them how to incorporate those fresh ingredients into their cooking. The organization focuses on meatless meals, one-pot cooking, and raw foods, because these types of meals are often the most cost-effective to prepare. It’s also driven by utility and the fact that some residents who take advantage of the cooking programs might not be working with a fully functional kitchen. Some might be making a majority of their meals on a hot plate or even a coffeepot.
“It’s very important for us to understand that,” Oliver-King said.
If you want to learn more about food policy and food justice, as well as Our Kitchen Table, make sure to check out their free five-week class that starts this Saturday.
Photo credit: Megg

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