THA’ POOR PEOPLES’ PLATE: Race, Poverty, and GMO Food

EXCERPT from “Tha’ Poor Peoples’ Plate” by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia
WRITTEN FOR Po’ Poets Project

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia

The Poor Peoples Plate is rooted in capitalist hate for the three job working mamaz caught in the welfare state.

“Here is your WIC voucher, these are the “approved” dairy products, cereal and dry goods you can buy.”

When my son was born and my mama got diagnosed with a fatal heart condition, I was thrown into another bout of severe poverty and houselessness, which meant I qualified for a program used by all poor and working poor parents known as WIC. I was hungry and my son and very ill mama was hungry too, so when they showed me the array of what I now know were non-organic, hormone and antibiotic-filled-milk and GMO-infused pasta and other dried food options, I felt blessed and eagerly signed up.

It wasn’t until two years later, due to my ghetto fabulous po’ mamaz revolutionary fight for her own life, that I began to understand that the very foods we were “getting” for such a “deal” were actually killing all of us.

As the corporate domination of our food, land, air and water continues and the resistance heats up so the monster known as Monsanto gets stronger, it must be said that in the US it’s us Po’ Folks of all cultures and ages that are getting the worst of it. Some obvious, most not. And no-one is really speaking for us.

Genetically Modified Organisms-Organisms, how U gonna’ tell me it’s a mechanism for better livin’? When ignorance in silence….is how they keep us….but in reality, its violence….that’s how they feed us. Excerpt from ‘Ck Y Food’ by Vivi-T/Po Poets Project

The Po’ Poets Project of POOR Magazine were invited to attend the Sacramento rally to Shut Down Monsanto, organized by Stevan Payan and Occupy Sacramento. It was a challenge for us Po’ Folks to go 100 miles out of town to attend a rally, as over-worked and never paid poor folks in resistance attending rallies in and of itself is a challenge, because it means we are spending gas money we don’t have, losing work hours we need to pay rent, caring for children along the way, leaving sick elders or holding our own sick bodies into revolution, but this is the ongoing struggle of a poor people-led revolution like we do at POOR Magazine.

When we arrived at the huge and power-FUL rally, we felt blessed to be there but sad to see that we didn’t see a lot of folks who looked like us. It seemed pretty clear to all of us, that, with the exception of our indigenous brothers like Stevan Payan, Greg Iron and a few others, this fight was being led and fought by mostly middle-class white folks. Sadly, this didn’t surprise us – it only confirmed what we already knew. We are the ones who are consuming most of the GMO-filled food and yet we aren’t the ones on the front-line of this fight.

From the morning to the evening, our poor bodies of color are being destroyed by killer foods and none of us have the time, the resources, the energy or the money to deal with this reality because we are too busy working multiple low-wage jobs to survive, fighting illegal evictions, fighting and working for government crumbs like food stamps and tiny welfare stipends that require us to work for below minimum wage, evading endless po’lice brutality, profiling and incarceration, or just struggling with the multiple wounds of racism, classism and criminalization impacting our bodies and minds since chattel slavery, Jim Crow, colonization, and the endless lie of these false borders, and our forced migration across them just to survive.

As most GMO-organizers know, our breakfast is owned by Monsanto, from fruit loops to Total, from Quaker Oatmeal to Shredded Wheat, all of the things many of us wake up and feed our children, thinking we are doing right by them, because we are giving them a “healthy breakfast”. Those of us in struggle parents who can even manage to do that, are poisoning our children with GMO-filled wheat, soy, or corn.

As we prepare lunches with the “healthy lunch meat” like turkey or ham, the fix is in, willingly putting substances in our bodies deemed “unsafe for human consumption” by leading doctors in a recent study that never made its way to corporate media.

From Betty Crocker to Frito Lay, from Nature Valley to Nabisco, Power Bars and Prego Pasta Sauce, all Monsanto-owned companies- it’s mind-numbing to figure out what foods, fruits and vegetables aren’t made with genetically modified organisms which have proven to cause bizarre pubic hair loss in a controlled study silently released a few weeks ago. Rats have grown their livers outside their bodies!

And even when we feed our bodies our indigenous cuisines, we find insanely high rates of sodium, saturated fat, sugars and chemicals have snuck their way into our pre-colonial diets in the canned coconut milk filled with high fructose corn syrup, tortillas, rice, plantains, bananas, bread made with GMO’ed corn, wheat, soy and rice, refried beans pumped up with hydrogenated something or other, and large agri-business chicken, pork and beef injected with sodium, anti-biotics and preservatives.

You only have to look at our post-colonial, in poverty, in struggle bodies to see the way these chemicals have destroyed our warriors, silenced our elders and placed our parents on endless Big Pharma prescriptions many of us can barely afford.

My Afrikan-Taino Indian mama who was an orphan – so she didn’t even have access to her indigenous cultures and recipes filled with healthy arroz con frijoles – ate what I affectionately call poor peoples food her whole life, a steady diet of high sodium, fat-filled colonized and processed culture derivative food, refried beans from a can, chili from a can, and top ramen spiced with chilis, peppers and salt, and as much other starch and cheap meat as we could stretch the food stamps to buy with a lot of pan dulce, donuts and coffee thrown in to deal with her ongoing deep depression from her always in struggle life, leaving her over-weight and unable to fight the multiple diseases her poor body of color was constantly attacked by. When she finally made it off welfare into a full-time job, I was the classic latch-key kid, coming home to frozen food or a warm and hormone and fat-filled fast food meal from Burger King, Mickey D’ or KFC.

When we became houseless (due to my mama’s being laid off and then becoming disabled) when I was 11 our food went further down hill, chef Boyardee in a can from 7-11, Spam and Campbells soup and cheap white or wheat bread from the corner sto’, basically whatever we could get and make with the killer, cancer causing micro-wave was that night’s meal.

It was all about survival and poverty. There was No Way we could prepare fresh vegetables, fruits, salads or even beans and rice. If someone had told us to “change our diet” or only buy fresh foods we couldn’t have, it was all we could do just to get through the night without freezing to death.

We graduated from the car to a shelter where we were happy to receive whatever they served us, most of the time, GMO-cereal in the morning, killer lunch-meat on white bread for lunch and a fat-filled, warm gravy over an undiscernible meat for dinner.

When I turned 18 I graduated to jail food (being incarcerated for the crime of sleeping in our car in Amerikkka),which included food that didn’t even look like food. Bread so white it almost wasn’t there, filled with meat so green it looked like lettuce. Again, I ate it until I was sick cause it was all I had access to and suffice it to say, nutrition wasn’t the first thing on my mind.

My family’s story is but one of billions of poor peoples around the world, unseen stories of survival, struggle and in the US eventual death from diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure to name a few all in large part due to what we are eating. As indigenous, landless peoples living in shelters, plantation prisons, public housing units, over-crowded, substandard housing units with no land surrounding them, and so many years of colonial theft of our land and resources, corporate defined, under-paid labor taking us away from the organic work of caring and teaching our own children and our gardens, and racist laws constantly incarcerating our young peoples, corporate media selling us and our young peoples on the lie of advancement and convenience, healthy eating seems almost impossible.

And yet the whole process of coming at our poor peoples communities with demands to “eat better” or an endless stream of critiques and accusations about “our bad food choices” isn’t helping, instead its just more racist, classist hate against the poor, while the hypocrisy of Michele Obama touting healthy food choices when her husband pushes the Monsanto Protection Act and most of his administration and a supreme court judge (Clarence Thomas) are former (and current) employees of Monsanto.

Rather my challenge to conscious food justice peoples is the same one I have to housing justice folks stemming from a frame of what I call Community Reparations. Work with the stolen resources you might have access to to make community gardens accessible to us, donate healthy un-GMO-ed food to food banks and shelters, schools and community centers, even if it means purchasing them out of your own pocket. Look at the model of Planting Justice who creates living wage jobs in permaculture for plantation incarcerated folks and then the model of Phat Beatz in Oakland and Urban Tilt in Richmond who truly work inside communities of color to build, support and maintain community gardens and make fresh, garden grown vegetables accessible to poor folks. Buy free shopping gift cards for poor communities of color from markets who sell healthy, non-GMO-ed food like Rainbow and Berkeley Bowl (instead of Foods Co and Slave-Way) and if you work at collectives like Rainbow- offer free groceries to shelters, group homes, and grassroots, non-profit organizations on a monthly basis, not just when we sponsor an event, so we can feed our communities, members and families fresh food all the time.

At POOR Magazine we have been teaching folks wit race and class privilege to become revolutionary donors and support us, stand in solidarity with us as poor and indigenous peoples to launch our own landless peoples movement to reclaim Mama Earth from the capitalist lie of real estate snakkking and speculation with a project we call Homefulness From this cross-class solidarity work and support, not savior dictation, we have been able to launch the Pachamama Garden community garden and take our poor bodies of color off of this killer capitalist grid. Each week we share healthy, non-GMOed food , non-nitrite meat purchased thanks to the support of the revolutionary donors, with the East Oakland community, this is an act of revolution in a community where so many of our poor mamaz and daddys, elders and young peoples dwell and have ready access to a lot of GMO-edfast food, chips, sodas and liquor in corner sto’s.

“I have been able to create relationships with many of the corner store owners and Hilal meat vendors who don’t buy GMO’ed veggies or meat so I can create an affordable meal for myself and my daughter and community,” said Mama Needa Bee, chef and healer-mama from Oakland who taught at the 2012 Healing the Hood event at POOR Magazine’s Homefulness

We also launched Healing tha (Neighbor) Hood series last year where we teach our young folks, mamaz and daddys how to decolonize their diets back to their own indigenous roots and strategize their bodies out of this food genocide available at every street corner, Walmart and Supermarket in Amerikkka and we are currently working on a poor peoples healthy cook-book co-written by our youth and mama skolaz at POOR. Because for us Po’ folks its all about decolonizing, strategy and interdependence.

“In the end of the day its another way to kill us,” Gerry, 67, said. After the Monsanto rally my family and I went to a trailer park way out in West Sacramento where the only store for miles was a Food 4 Less- we drove into the park to take some food and cash to one of our multi-generational, indigenous families in deep poverty, gentrifried out of San Francisco due to real estate speculation, whose tenuous hold on stability was destroyed by the move and was now living in a broke-down trailer with hardly any of the family working and most of the people in some state of crisis. I told elder grandmamma Gerry and her adult granddaughter Felicia about the rally and Monsanto’s theft of our food system. Gerry’s tired eyes registered shock and fear and yet resignation. “Its genocide cause they know we just don’t have the energy to deal with yet another thing against us.”

So start counting yo’ change, cause a Poor Peoples Plate is on its way to a poor peoples neighborhood near you, and if you have $.99 you can have some too!

Tiny sent us her bio:
Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia) is a poverty scholar, revolutionary journalist, lecturer, Po’ Poet and welfareQUEEN, Mixed Race, Boriken-Taino, Roma mama of Tiburcio, daughter of Dee, and the co–founder of POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE/PoorNewsNetwork. She founded Escuela de la gente/PeopleSkool- a poor and indigenous people-led skool as well as the Po Poets Project, welfareQUEENs & the Theatre of the POOR to name a few. She is also the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, co-editor of A Decolonizers Guide to A Humble Revolution and currently working on her second book- Poverty SkolaShip #101- A PeoplesText.