Reverend DeVanie Jackson is a co-founder of the Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest Center, the Bed-Stuy Farm & the Malcolm X Blvd Farmers Market an organization that promotes food justice, youth leadership and hunger relief for Brooklyn residents.
What motivated you to get involved with food policy and to become a food policy advocate? Was there a specific trigger or inciting incident?
I work every day in my community as a food policy advocate on the front lines to improve the food landscape in Central Brooklyn; I am drawn to this work because of my own personal desire to live a healthy lifestyle. I am working to see my Central Brooklyn community transformed into a healthy place where its residents live, work and play and it is easier for people like me to find food that is healthy and affordable than it is to find unhealthy food choices.
My specific trigger for becoming active as a food policy advocate began through a conversation with an esteemed colleague who stated that people who live in communities of color feel unnecessary blame and shame for eating unhealthy foods “but it’s not their fault.” I was all at once fascinated, inspired and relieved by this statement because now it was no longer a conversation about placing blame or finding fault but more of a conversation about a profit making system working behind the scenes to fill my neighborhood with junk food.
Can you describe how Brooklyn Rescue Mission works?
Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest Center Inc. (BRMUHC), our official new name, was conceived with the simple thought that everyone is entitled to healthy fresh food. That all people, anyone and everyone, who lives in poverty or in a community with limited access to fresh food, or just someone who has never eaten anything fresh in their entire life, all still have a basic human right to healthy food. We founded our food outreach program with this conviction and have extended our food program to feed our community through various programs: the BRMUHC food pantry, the Malcolm X Blvd. and Marcy Plaza farmer’s markets and our Bed-Stuy Farm urban agriculture program. Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest Center inc. is a community based anti-hunger food justice organization.
Our programs are volunteer driven with a large youth leadership project which helps us to operate our four main community food outreach programs (supermarket style choice food pantry, community farmer’s market, urban farm, youth wellness & leadership program). We envision urban farming as the starting point for a self-reliance movement, empowering community residents to take ownership of their own food supply, nutrition and economic development. We endeavor to build community pride, provide healthy food to our neediest residents and encourage youth leadership and development.
What do you believe to be the greatest food policy challenges for New York City? And the greatest opportunities?
The greatest food policy challenge for NYC is finding a way to get fresh healthy affordable food into every community in NYC. Access to healthy food should not be a luxury for some New Yorkers and unattainable for others. Low cost junk food should not be the only option for a parent who has to feed their hungry children. It should be just as easy to buy an affordable healthy lunch for your children as it is to buy them an unhappy meal.
We need to gently cut across cultural barriers and reach our communities where we live, work and play to develop messaging that competes or counteracts the negative messages we are bombarded with by various media outlets. Positive mass media messages such as “drink more water for beautiful skin” or “drink water to help fight fatigue and appear more youthful” are far less invasive and abrasive than fear and strong arm tactics.
What is the one food policy change at the local (or state or federal) level that would have the greatest impact on health?
Universal school lunches will have a great impact on our health if we can improve the quality of food the children are eating and make lots of clean water available to all school children. Universal school lunch will help with fighting obesity in children and help break the junk food habit that starts so early in our children. The youth interns we have met through the BRMUHC have great ideas about the food they eat what they like and what they don’t like but they lack basic nutrition education. If we add basic nutrition education to every grade from pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade our children will have a better arsenal to fight deceptive media advertising campaigns that promote unhealthy eating habits.
What do you think are the opportunities for food advocacy in the deBlasio Administration?
There is a great opportunity for the deBlasio administration to help working families living in NYC put food on their tables and still have money to pay their bills. Too many New Yorkers are choosing between eating healthy, feeding their families and coping with the high cost of living in New York City. The deBlasio administration has the opportunity to advocate for people who are hungry by increasing their media campaigns and SNAP application sites consequently encouraging more families to apply for SNAP benefits. There is a great opportunity for the deBlasio administration to make use of all food pantries and soup kitchens interested in helping hungry New Yorkers apply for SNAP benefits. Organizations with a food pantry like BRMUHC should be given training, facilitation and access to the SNAP benefit applications system to assist residents in their living communities obtain these much needed SNAP benefits.
How does your organization think about the connections between hunger, food insecurity and obesity? What strategies do you suggest for better integrating the efforts to reduce these two food-related problems?
BRMUHC as an organization believes that we must get more fresh healthy food into lifestyles of the residents of Central Brooklyn and the families, seniors and youth who visit our community food programs. This is why we have as an organization grown from feeding hungry families in our food pantry to bringing local farmers from the tri-state area to our community farmer’s markets to growing fresh produce on the Bed-Stuy Farm. We believe that we need more high quality, nutrient dense food that has great locally grown taste in the hands of every person in Central Brooklyn. We give apples to children hoping that they will forget the taste of apple pie and we have replaced many canned products in our pantry with fresh produce. I know that if our healthy food tastes better, then more families will eat healthier and use their SNAP benefits, FMNP coupons and their cash to eat healthier and fight the obesity epidemic. Together with our community partners we can all work to make fresh food more accessible, affordable and convenient in Central Brooklyn.
What’s the last Food Policy Book or website you read: The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
Your Current Location: Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Your Favorite Food: Mangoes
Your Website: brooklynrescuemission.org