Tag Archives: West Oakland

Greening a Food Desert

Debbie says:

One aspect of body image we don’t often talk about here is what foods people have access to, and how “healthy food” is distributed. So I was struck by this article, which I found in a local news feed for my city (Oakland, California).

Youth entrepreneurs smile for the camera before deliveries.


Pictured above are three young food activists/entrepreneurs in West Oakland. I suspect that one of them is Jamelah Isaac, the focus of the article, but they aren’t identified.

West Oakland is a neighborhood with a remarkable past and a very sad present. In its heyday, it was the center of superb labor organizing, in part by Ronald Dellums, Sr., who was a mainstay of the Pullman Porters Union, one of the great historically black unions. Dellums’ son, Ronald Jr., went on to be a U.S. Congressman for many years, and then mayor of Oakland. Since I’ve lived in the Bay Area (for nearly 40 years now), West Oakland has been rundown and neglected. Recently, it’s had one of those sketchy unpleasant “renaissances” where some sections are gentrified, where foreclosed and abandoned homes are replaced with spiffy rentals, where people are displaced. (Opinionated about this? Me? Naah.) However, many many poor and disenfranchised people still live in West Oakland, which is why I got excited about this article.

Jamelah Isaac and her friends are doing a very exciting thing–they are converting the local liquor stores, which we all associate with poor communities, into sources of fresh, organic food. And they are doing it by borrowing a successful model:

The HNSA Entrepreneurs follow the “Frito-Lay or Coca-Cola model,” Cedeno said. “All the store owner does is pay the bill. The youth put up the shelving. Take out any waste. Replenish the weekly order. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the store owners.”

If you’ve ever gone into a convenience store and noticed how much the easily movable shelves which hold all the chips and bagged snacks, or the cold compartments which shelve soft drinks, look like the ones in the last store you went to, that’s because the corporations supply them to stores, free of charge, to get their products front and center. Using this model for organic produce in “food desert” neighborhoods is both clever and transgressive.

I’m excited that Jamelah and her cohort are working in my city!