REAL Talks Episode 1 - Welcome to REAL Talks! (Reaching for Equity in All Lives)

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Welcome to episode 1 of REAL Talks (Reaching for Equity in All Lives)! The purpose of this podcast series is to explore the question: what does diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, look like within the nutrition incentive community?

Reaching for Equity in All Lives podcast cover art includes a graphic of a green tomato with a photo of a young girl cooking superimposed inside.

We hope that this series captures the experience or journey of DEI work, underscoring that this is not a straightforward process.

Through informal conversations and storytelling, nutrition incentive practitioners and partners will chat with us about how they're incorporating DEI into their organizations and work.

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Episode 1 Transcript

Kolia Souza: Welcome to episode one of REAL Talks, Reaching for Equity in All Lives. I'm Kolia Souza, Food System Equity and Advocacy Specialist with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

Andrea Weiss: And my name is Andrea Weiss. I'm communications director at MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

Kolia Souza: And we're your hosts for this podcast. The purpose of this podcast is to explore the question: what does diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, look like within the nutrition incentive community? We hope that this series captures the experience or journey of DEI work, underscoring that this is not a straightforward process. It takes time and it surfaces values, intentions that need to be explored to create a culture of DEI. We're going through this very process within the Nutrition Incentive Hub, which is part of the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, or NTAE.

Andrea Weiss: Through informal conversations and storytelling, nutrition incentive practitioners and partners will chat with us about how they're incorporating DEI into their organizations and work. We hope that these stories will offer inspiration by showing some of the various ways that this work can be done, and what it looks like to be at different points in organizational journeys.

Kolia Souza: The Nutrition Incentive Hub began this journey by hosting a Food Justice Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, or Food JEDI, summer webinar series to lay the groundwork for a shared understanding of how our food system came to be what it is today. There are some hard truths to grapple with in terms of inequity, which Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists captured so well during our first session.

Ricardo Salvador: Looking at the history of the food system with the racial equity lens seems to be a new exercise for everyone and a very healthy one, so I will be giving you my rendition of that. So we have a system of some folks that are still contesting that this nation was created by them, for them, with them in mind, and the rest of us are here in order to make it work for them, to serve them. And we're only going to get the dregs off at the table and to the extent that we require some nourishment in order to be able to hack at carcasses in meat plants or yank food out of the ground or put things into shelves and grocery stores. Then we can have a little bit of SNAP in order to make all of that work.

So you can see why I began by saying I love that GusNIP operates the way that it does, but I wish we didn't need it, and I wish we didn't need SNAP. And I want you all to be working really hard on making SNAP and GusNIP work while we need it, while others of us work on making sure we don't need those things.

Kolia Souza: While the first Food JEDI session offered the big picture overview of inequity in our food system, the second session's guest panel of national and international food system advocates grounded these issues in local context. Here's what Aurora Calvillo Buffington with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the National Racial Equity and the Food System Workgroup had to say.

Aurora Calvillo Buffington: Our farmers markets, for example, they're limited to selling only those products which are produced by them or that are considered local, but in doing so, we're cutting out a lot of the culturally relevant foods, for example, for our Latino communities. And I'm not just saying Latinos, there's other communities too. And so, when we ask Latinos to use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets, but their food's not there, like the food that we want is not there, how do we justify that? So I know that the farmers markets are supposed to be local and all, but is there a way that we can bridge that with making culturally relevant foods available, even at a farmers market?

Kolia Souza: Ultimately, the big picture and the local context together tell a story with deep sociocultural implications for the food system and beyond. Listen to FoodShare Toronto executive director Paul Taylor's thoughts on this.

Paul Taylor: We have these uncritical conversations about local food, where everybody loves to head out to the market, we celebrate our local food and people feel good about the environmental impact of what they're purchasing. But they don't seem to connect the dots that yes, we might not be flying food thousands of miles, but we're importing bodies thousands of miles, and we're treating them very poorly through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. And again, it's black and brown bodies, and just one of the many ways that these kinds of food injustices show up and that are deeply tied to racism.

I also think another one that doesn't get talked about enough is the policing that happens in communities of color as we're doing something as simple as buying food. Many of us learn that when we walk into any kind of shop, we need to make sure our hands are visible at all times. Like, these are the things that impact our ability to not just access food, but to celebrate food.

Andrea Weiss: It's these kinds of conversations that are leading nutrition incentive practitioners and organizations to find ways to intentionally center diversity, equity, and inclusion in their practice, and the results are transformative. Here's a clip from our first series interview with Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program grantee, Mid-America Regional Council, a member of the Double Up Heartland Coalition, to illustrate exactly this.

Lauren Schamburg: The early days definitely brought up some tension in the group, and I think it really exposed our difference in focus between organizations. And just for context, Double Up Food Bucks has been operating as a collaborative in our region for about five years, so we have history together. We have worked together for a long time, and I think this is the first time, at least in my experience, that I have been able to have any vulnerable conversations within the collaborative. And I think that is a sign that maybe the culture and of the way that we communicate with one another is changing, and I like that. So I would say that's something really positive that's changed about the way that we relate to one another.

Andrea Weiss: This is just a small preview of what we are exploring in this podcast series, which we created, because we believe that we can all learn from each other in this process. Partnerships and relationships are the backbones of DEI, and these short episodes bring life and ideas to what it means to do DEI work. So we hope that you will dive in with us, ready to question, learn, be challenged, and embrace the process.

Kolia Souza: To dive deeper into this work, you can check out diversity, equity, and inclusion resources like the Food Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion webinar series provided on the Nutrition Incentive Hub website at nutritionincentivehub.org

Andrea Weiss: You can find all REAL Talks episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Please share this podcast and check out our other episodes. REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


REAL Talks is a podcast created by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. The series is hosted by Kolia Souza and Andrea Weiss, and produced by Lindsay Mensch and Andrea Weiss. The podcast is supported by the Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation, and Information Center, and Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, grant number 20197003030415, project accession number 1020863 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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