Food for the Soul and Muslim Owned Liquor Stores

A food activist came to campus today. Bryant Terry had a wonderful book called “Grub” which was full of information, recipes, and historical background on healthy sustainable living. I think he was surprised to find a receptive audience. I was even surprised how many books he sold. It is not just that we are health nuts. But a lot of us know something is wrong in the world if 10 companies make 50% of the food we eat. That is like less than 200 people deciding what we process, what we digest, and the amount of energy we have. Terry was inspired by the Black Panther’s food breakfast programs for children. He does a wonderful service by bringing his message to children in the inner city.

Well, today thousands of innercity children are fed poor diets. I did some work as an intern in East Oakland where I did inventory of the food available to low income neighborhoods. Oakland issued a bunch of licenses to liquor store owners, but does little to promote businesses that truly serve the community and provide opportunities to train and develop the youth. It is surprising how few black businesses are in predominantly black neighborhoods. The institutions that be in the city of Oakland support the licenses of the Yemeni-American Cartel, ahem, I mean Grocers. But, little support has been given to providing these communities with actual grocery stores and not just full of junk food and alcohol.

I went to one of the protests against Muslim owned liquor stores, but a friend of mine had misgivings. It wasn’t really feeling her misgivings or lack of condemnation of the Arab/Muslim liquor store owners. It wasn’t a conversation I could get too much into without getting heated. I suspect a lot of immigrant Muslims had similar misgivings. They did not come out in force and represent. I think it is ironic how they will condemn this and that, but Muslims are not willing to condemn an exploitative economic institution. Especially one that preys upon the downtrodden by capitalizing on their weaknesses and nafs. This economic exchange is one that also perpetuates bad relations between Arabs and African Americans. The liquor store interaction is often the only interaction Arabs have with African Americans. And in fact, many immigrant Muslims have never seen the other side of African American life, you know, the other 75 % that is not under the poverty line. Likewise, many African Americans only experience of Arabs is the paranoid and often rude Arab liquor store owner. Ive been talked to crazy like I was some crack head ho.

So, while I’m feeling the food activism and sustainable living, the main problem is access to resources. I find it appalling how easy it is to get liquor and how hard it is for to get a fresh meal, let alone a salad. I see this as a political problem. And it is a public health problem. The African American community is plagued with health problems associated with poor diets, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heat disease. And they dont have access to good health care. I know people who want to open grocery stores in the inner city, but their endeavors receive little support. In Palo Alto, I can get in my car and drive to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Heck, I can even get to Safeway and get some fresh vegetables. But across the tracks in East Palo Alto, I heard there still isn’t a single grocery store. So, like EPA, in Oakland, there are poor families, the elderly, single mothers, and children who don’t have the same access as I have. But what is in front of them is a quick escape from their day-to-day toil of an inescapable cycle of poverty.