This week’s brown bag featured Tanya Fields, a Food Justice activist from the South Bronx. She and the BLK Projek run and sell fresh produce from the South Bronx Mobile Market, a renovated school bus filled with food straight from the farm. This project began out of a necessity for affordable fresh food within her own community. Her talk did a great job connecting the personal to the political at the many levels of oppression and discrimination that occurs in the South Bronx community and many other similar communities.
As someone who is from the Bronx, I have seen and felt first hand what Tanya was talking about. A few years back, I remember being very confused when my mother brought home a pineapple. I didn’t understand how it was supposed to be peeled or cut or if it was even ripe. Because growing up, to me pineapples only came in a can and in fruit cups. I grew up thinking that canned pineapples and fruit were natural, and that the actual piece of fruit was not, that it was only luxury served to you ready to eat on a tropical island. But the reality for my family and many people in my community is that canned food was (and still is) a part of our diets, since canned foods can last until the end of the month.
Raw vegetables were not a common staple in my family, and the few vegetables that my mother bought often did not look so fresh. Even now when I go to the supermarket, I do not see a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. In thinking about Tanya’s comment about working single mothers not having the time or energy to cook a full meal every night, I also think about how grocery shopping is often a gendered role, and how it is not possible to go buy fresh fruits and vegetables every week.
On this same day, Favianna Rodriguez also talked about food justice during her talk. She shared art pieces that depicted the way the current U.S. food system disproportionately affects children in poor communities and communities of color. Tanya did an incredible job debunking the rhetoric that poor people or people of color do not care about what they eat or about their health.
One of the problems that I see is how food campaigns tell people what they should be eating. In my mind I try to reconcile what I see is the “proper” foods and meals to eat and the food I grew up eating, dishes deeply rooted in my culture. A monologue in the Panza Monologues by Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga, reflects these sentiments when “[the doctor] made mamí go to a nutritionist to learn how to cook out her love, ” after diagnosing her young daughter with diabetes and shaming the mother into thinking that her food made her daughter sick. Culture and food are deeply interconnected, especially in the Bronx, and I do not think that these communities should scrap their cultural foods for quinoa, tofu, and kale, but rather suggest adding raw veggies or a salad along with rice and beans. Or be provided with fresh, affordable peppers, onions and cilantro to make sofrito. Which is why I highly appreciate Tanya’s food bus and the fact that she brings these products to her community, where they can pick up a potato or some onions on their way to work or the doctor’s office.
I am so thankful to Tanya for sharing her personal narratives, and showing us the reality of many people in the South Bronx. I cannot wait to get home in May and support her cause and inform my friends and family about the fresh, affordable produce they can buy.
Women's Health Intern