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Resident Food Equity Advisors Reflect on the Past Year

Mayor Mendenhall and seven of the inaugural Salt Lake City Resident Food Equity Advisors, with the project consultant.

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Last year, as part of the city’s overall focus on equity and as part of an effort to co-create programs with residents, rather than for them, the Sustainability Department piloted the Resident Food Advisors Program.

Thirteen residents from a diverse set of experiences and backgrounds explored issues in the food system and strategized solutions for their communities, discussing everything from food vouchers to a food leadership academy, and in their final report, published last month, advocated the idea of an “Edible Salt Lake City” and made recommendations for how the city can achieve greater food equity.

We caught up with a few of the Advisors after their recent meeting with Mayor Erin Mendenhall to see how they’re feeling now that the report is out.

Zana Jokic, from Sarajevo, whose work as a medical interpreter has given her a unique perspective on healthy food access among immigrant communities, said she’s been sharing the report with everyone. “I’m so proud of our work,” she said. “I’m passing it around to friends, families, organizations,” anyone and everyone she can think of.

Eugene Simpson, who moved from Belize and works as a barber in Rose Park, has also been spreading the good news. “I talk about the Food Equity program in the barbershop,” he says. . “I talk to the kids that come in about eating good food. The kids are the ones that need it. If they hear it when they are young and start eating good foods,  then they will do it when they are older.”

Those who participated in the program came away with new insights and new perspectives. “I was glad that I could talk and share my opinions with a very diverse group of people,” said Zana.

Resident Advisor John Wilkes said one thing he would take away is a new understanding of the difficulty of accessing culturally specific foods. “I learned that many ethnically specific foods are very difficult for cultural groups in our area to find at any neighborhood stores. That was something which had never occurred to this Midwestern white boy, that many immigrants cannot find items that are staples in their food culture. How exasperating that must be.”

John had some suggestions for how people can take steps towards improving the food system in their own backyard. “Know what laws are in your area with respect to growing your own food, and keeping certain food producing animals such as chickens, pigs, ducks. If restrictive ordinances seem to discourage acts of food self-sufficiency, work to change them to laws that allow everyone to do all in their power to produce what they are able in order to reduce their costs, environmental impact, etc.”

Zana encouraged people who care about food to “be an active part of the community.” She hopes that food, especially, might be something to unite people. “I think food is big deal, you know? Especially if you are talking about healthy, good food, people are willing to participate.”

Following the meeting with the Mayor in late June, the Sustainability Department has set aside funding and is exploring how to implement some of the recommendations.

If you’d like to learn more about the Resident Food Equity Advisors’ work you can read about it and view their report here. Sign up for the SLC Green newsletter to receive updates about the program and to learn about other exciting SLC food equity and sustainability initiatives that will be announced in the next few months! 

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