Amber Burns, pictured here (on the far left), after leading a Food Justice Workshop at Harvard Law School, February 2016, with other national food justice leaders.
This blogpost was composed by Amber Burns, New Roots Food Justice Leader and former staff member. Keep on the look out for the dates of the 2017 Food Justice Classes where we look forward to hearing your food story:
I am a lifelong resident of West Louisville. I was born here. I grew up here. My parents, two lower middle class workers, made a lovely home for their family here. My husband and I purchased our first home here. Needless to say, my roots run deep in West Louisville.
West Louisville is composed of 9 predominately Black neighborhoods. Most residents are also classified as having limited resources. Due to decades of isolation, institutional racism and income disparities, my community became a food swamp; all but void of affordable fresh produce but overflowing with cheap, high calorie, high sugar, processed "food." I use the term "food" loosely.
When I was child, there were two groceries stores meant to service 9 neighborhoods and about 80,000 residents. Needless to say our choices were limited. For my family, the nearest grocery story was 20 minutes away. I thought it was normal to travel outside of our neighborhood to purchase food. I thought it was normal for families to buy processed food in bulk because they knew it would last them until the next pay period. My parents did not have a lot of money, but made sure I never went to bed hungry. This often meant that a meal consisted of a meat, starches and canned green beans. If these items were not attainable, then a bowl of ramen noodles was a quick and cheap "treat."
When my family became more economically stable, whole foods were more available in the house but by then, the damage had been done. Vegetables like collard greens and cabbage made me gag and I refused to eat a salad unless it was drenched in dressing. My mother worked 3rd shift in a factory and would often be too tired to pressure me to eat my veggies. And thus, for the first 20 years of my life, I ate absolutely no fresh fruit or veggies.
At the end of my undergraduate career, a few things happened that would change my outlook on food forever. My father's type 2 diabetes was becoming worse and I realized that his eating habits mirrored my own. I also met a new friend whose family was vegan. His mother would prepare beautiful elaborate meals that were delicious. This opened my eyes to what eating could look like.
Upon graduation, I was working as a food runner and was in desperate need of a job. My introduction to the world of food justice came by way of craigslist. While job hunting under Non-Profits, I came across a posting to become an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. I had no idea what food justice meant but I knew I lived in a food desert and I had a social justice background so I applied. Surprisingly, they hired me. Through my work with PCUSA as a Community Food Justice Cultivator I was introduced to many organizations, the most moving one being New Roots; Fresh Stop Markets. For the first time I felt supported in my journey to food freedom. I was surrounded by people from my neighborhood, who look like me and loved broccoli. They held my hand as I transitioned from a diet of mostly processed foods, to now eating kale for breakfast. Today, when Fresh Stop season concludes, I still must leave my neighborhood to purchase quality fresh produce. I have the privilege of having a vehicle. I have the privilege of knowing there is better. I have the privilege of being able to afford better. I have the privilege of having a whole community of people behind me.