Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Members of Witnesses to Hunger frequently contribute blog posts and essays on various issues relating to poverty and food justice. This month, DIANE SULLIVAN of Witnesses to Hunger: Boston writes on the dire need for legislators to improve access to healthy and affordable food, especially for poor communities.

No, it’s not Sidney Poitier.

It’s the food police.

And you’d better be serving off their politically correct menus.

Let me be clear—I have nothing against vegans or anybody’s right to promote a vegan lifestyle. I take no issue with those who encourage others to live a healthy lifestyle by taking note of food and nutrition labels. I do, however, have a problem with those who seek to change how we eat by manipulating food costs.

You better brace yourselves because these foodies are on a mission to make certain, basic foods so expensive that they simply become out of reach for so many of us. Just over a year ago, I had no idea that groups like this existed and are posing such a threat to food affordability in this country.

Like most of us, I knew next to nothing about agriculture and honestly didn’t think I would have reason to think much about it. My thought process around food has pretty much revolved around whether or not I had enough money to feed my family. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t.

As Witnesses to Hunger, we know what it’s like when our SNAP benefits have run out for the month and our paycheck is still days away. We know ‘breakfast for dinner’ because sometimes gathering the last of our loose change to purchase a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread is what spares our children from going to bed on an entirely empty belly.

We know what it’s like to put off eating until tomorrow so that our children can eat today. We know sleepless nights, not worried about how we ourselves might eat tomorrow but how our children will. There are more than 42 million Americans who cannot afford to take our next meal for granted. Too many groups tend to overlook that fact when designing their next food policy.

It’s time to pull back the curtain on these groups who are determined to make it more challenging for us to feed our families. As if it’s not already hard enough, there are some people out there making a whole lot of money removing safe, nutritious, affordable food options from our grocery store shelves.

This is the very definition of social injustice—those elite with money and satisfied choices dictating choices for and imposing burdens on those of us with neither.

Last year, with 15 years of anti-poverty work born out of my own family’s experience with homelessness and hunger, I was recruited to work on a campaign in Massachusetts opposing Question 3, a statewide ballot initiative. Based on a similar California law, Q3 would mandate that all eggs and pork sold in my state come from animals that are not confined in cages.

As I learned about the skyrocketing of prices of eggs in California and began learning more about agriculture from actual farmers and ranchers, I felt compelled to engage in this debate. I set out to give voice to those of us who have not been invited to the table on this discussion. Who is representing low income consumers at the negotiating tables?

During last year’s campaign, my opponents suggested that I myself should be locked in a cage. Some said that if I had ever struggled to feed my children, perhaps they never should have been born. I was called a pawn for big agriculture, as if I could ever forget or separate myself from my commitment to anti-poverty and social injustice work.

As I stood in defense of those of us who struggle to feed our families, I was called out for defending the indefensible. Like most people, I don’t want to be cruel to animals, but I refuse to be cruel to people. My presence in this debate makes some people rather uncomfortable. That tells me I’m doing something right.

Some of these animal rights extremists actually glance over racism and sexism as if we were past these societal ills. Rather, they’d like us all focusing on ‘species-ism.’ They compare the confinement of livestock on farms to slavery and the oppression of women.

They talk about “All Lives Matter” (yes, including animals) while they conveniently ignore the fact that women of color are so disproportionately impacted by poverty and hunger and are most harmed by their policies.

Perhaps they are ignorant of or simply immune to the human condition in communities of color where people—actual human beings—have been historically and unjustly locked in cages. Where is their outrage and work on behalf of those in solitary confinement?

They are silent on injustices to people. And they’d like nothing more than for me—for us—to be silent on the rising cost of food. Since the campaign, I have had the opportunity to connect more with folks in agriculture to share my story – and to hear theirs.

At the end of the day, we share a core value and mission—to ensure that people across this country can afford to feed their families. More than 90% of the food we consume comes from small, family farms and ranches. Together, we can work to protect our dinner plates from the food police.

To help reduce hunger, we must become better-informed consumers. Shopping at the grocery store is not unlike voting in an election. Both require that we do our research, not allowing ourselves to be persuaded by misleading labels or clever campaigns designed and paid for by special interest groups.

Fear and judgment, not necessarily facts and science, have ruled this on-going debate on food in this country. It’s time we take our rightful seat at the table. Otherwise, we will continue to be on the menu.

Please take a moment to check out this video I recently put together asking folks to vote with their wallets. I’d also appreciate your sharing on your social media platforms:

Diane Sullivan is a member of Witnesses to Hunger: Boston and an anti-poverty and affordable food advocate. Her writing and anti-hunger work has been featured in many publications including MassLive, AnimalEngage, and Health Care for All. Find her on Twitter at @FoodChoices4All.