Andrea King Collier is a writer and health and food policy expert with a strong interest in food systems change. WhyHunger is happy to partner with her in presenting the “Voices that Make a Difference” series.
Food and Society Policy Fellow, finds herself getting an eye opening lesson in equity when it comes to food. “On the first day that the fellows met, we went around the table and introduced ourselves,” she says. “There were two things I noticed—that the kind of foodies they were was not the kind of foodie that I was,” Collier says. “The second thing was that just about everybody was proudly announcing that they had a chicken.” She says she couldn’t figure out why the chicken was such a big deal until someone leaned over to her and whispered, “They mean real, live chickens—they raise them.”
“I felt like a black Lisa Douglas from Green Acres,” Collier says with a smile. It was later, as she told the story to a family friend that she was reminded that people back in her childhood neighborhood, including her great grandmother, had raised chickens. “When blacks migrated to industrial cities for work, they brought some of their Southern survival mechanisms with them. Growing your greens and other vegetables, and having a chicken or two meant that you would never be hungry.”
A month later, after conducting a health workshop in Detroit, Collier says a man came to her with a question. “I’m trying hard to do what you say about eating healthy, but it’s so expensive to eat that way. How can I do it in a way that I can afford it?” he asked. Collier says it never occurred to her that the advice she was recommending was “undoable.” Not only was healthy food a luxury for low income people living in urban areas, she says that the lack of supermarkets and farmer’s markets in neighborhoods made access a huge issue.
At that moment, Collier says she “began to really connect the dots” on the truth of inequalities around having fresh, fair, accessible and affordable food.” It was that framing that informed her advocacy around food and race. “I know how lucky I am to be able to be able to move in and out of the food worlds. And I also know that generations of my folks paid a high price for me to be in this spot,” Collier says.
“The notion that any child would go to bed hungry in this country is something I can’t bear,” she says. “The fact that structural racism is one of the roots of our issues around food is also unacceptable.”
Collier says interviewing many of the people profiled on this site was life changing. “Where I am just getting my feet wet in the field, having the opportunity to talk to the people who are rolling up their sleeves to do the true heavy lifting is an education that no money can buy,” she says. In addition to hearing the stories and learning the lessons that these social justice trailblazers offered, Collier says she also became more aware of food as the great equalizer.
“No matter whether you grew up rich or poor, speaking English or Spanish, black, white and everything in between, you have a story about food, culture and the role it played in shaping you and your world view,” she says. “I interviewed Judge Glenda Hatchett for a story on the presidential election the other day. She paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr., and said, ‘we may have come over in different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.” Collier says, “I only hope the boat is big enough, and moves fast enough to get to the place where race and class do not define how we eat or live.”
For more information about Andrea’s work, visit www.andreacollier.com.