Women and Girls Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture (WANDA) launched a national survey to help shape a new U.S. food bill of rights. Through cultivating an intersectional food policy framework, WANDA seeks to address racial and other injustices across the food system.
Fewer than 3 percent of nutritionists are Black, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), less than 1.5 percent of U.S. producers are Black. This is a direct result of discriminatory USDA and federal policies, which dispossessed 98 percent of Black farmers of their farmland, according to a memo produced by Meleiza Figueroa faculty-owner of the Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice in Birmingham, AL and Leah Penniman activist Co-Director Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY.
WANDA is a non-profit that seeks to empower women and girls of African descent and call upon ancestral knowledge to address racial and gender inequalities in the food system. Some of WANDA’s initiatives include the creation of a survey to capture the voices, experiences, and perspectives of Black women, a fund to support what WANDA calls “food sheroes,” and Sisterhood Suppers. These “suppers” bring together women, girls, and recipients of WANDA’s scholarship and fellowship program to cultivate intentional, democratic dialogue and a supportive community.
Through the survey, which is open to everyone aged 18 and older, WANDA seeks to understand individuals’ participation in the food system. To evaluate this, the survey asks respondents’ to reflect on the most pressing issues in their food environments, their trust in food systems stakeholders, and more.
Tambra Raye Stevenson, Founder and CEO of WANDA tells Food Tank that “you need to have a seat at the table to be able to influence [food] policies and build a more sustainable, more resilient system.” Stevenson envisions a future of food that reflects the mission and structure of WANDA, where Black women have more influence, are in key leadership positions, and represent the “everyday women, mamas, aunties, and nanas” across the food system.
Stevenson also emphasizes the importance of addressing the lack of grocery stores in historically marginalized and low-income communities across the U.S., an issue activist Karen Washington coined food apartheid. “It is a flawed, rigged system based on a certain set of man-made policies that determines where food should be placed and who is able to access food in close proximity to their homes,” Stevenson tells Food Tank. Like Washington, Stevenson believes that the fight for food justice and food sovereignty go hand in hand with the fight for racial justice.
During the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health in 1969, President Richard M. Nixon vowed to “put an end to hunger in America for all time.” At the time, Black women didn’t have a seat at the table. Half a century later, Black women are still advocating for more representation when it comes to shaping an intersectional food policy framework.
“Democracy means full participation in the shaping and making of food policy that influences how we operate within the system,” Stevenson tells Food Tank. She also shares that the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health has pushed WANDA to be more explicit about what the nonprofit stands for, saying: “Malcolm X said, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’ What WANDA stands for is food freedom and the unveiling of our own bill of food rights.”
WANDA is working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to raise awareness of the White House Conference and ensure that food policy and food justice are a priority in NAACP’s and other partners’ work.
“Who should be at the table that wasn’t before [if we want] to change food policy?” Stevenson asks, reflecting on the White House Conference and democratic processes. “We want to make sure that WANDA has a seat at the table.”
WANDA also recently celebrated the proclamation of the inaugural WANDA Week by the Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington D.C. The week begins on Juneteenth (June 19), ensuring that time is dedicated to amplifying, documenting, and celebrating the voices and contributions of Black women, both past and present.
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Photo courtesy of WANDA