by Minister of Information JR
Right after the chattel slavery era, the great Marcus Mosiah Garvey taught our people all over the world the importance of providing for ourselves as well as the importance of being able to employ our own community.
Today Garvey would be proud of ATL transplants Yasser and Vahid, two young adults who brought the Soul Food Co-op (grocery store) to West Oakland’s Village Bottoms Cultural District. We finally have a place, in the hood, where you could send your children to the store to get real fresh fruits and vegetables, without them having to see cigarette and alcohol ads.
Soul Food Co-op is being transformed into a place where people can come learn about how food affects their body, learn new vegetarian recipes, get a massage, buy fresh vegetables and fruit through walk-in or through ordering it and having it delivered to your house, among other services.
I took this opportunity to interview Yasser, one of the co-owners of Soul Food Co-op, so that the community could understand what the mission is in providing all of these much needed services to an impoverished community, with a high unemployment rate, sub-standard schools and government sanctioned liquor stores on every other block.
M.O.I. JR: You and Vahid just opened a store. Can you tell us its name and purpose in the community?
Yasser: A grocery store – or rather food security in general – is vital for any community in these days and times and before. Communities knew that to thrive there had to be a food source. And while, sure, we do have community food sources in this historically Black neighborhood, we were thinking that it would mean a lot to our people if we provided a space for them to get their goods at a price. And recently due to networking we will have free food to offer to our families and coming generations.
M.O.I. JR: What kind of stuff do you carry?
Yasser: Produce, spices, fruit – it’s all natural foods – no MSG, no intrusive stuff that doesn’t mix with the body chemistry. Remember, this is for our community.
M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of eating right and knowing how food affects your body?
Yasser: Like I said, we don’t offer anything that is intrusive. You won’t find a Pepsi, liquor or skittles in our store. You will find whole food, spices and super foods. We know our people have been ridden down with all these liquor stores.
But West Oakland is coming up. We have two grocery stores and our people have good food to eat. Good food allows you to think straight. It’s about body chemistry.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about the mobile nature of your business?
Yasser: To provide a space for our people to get groceries, to mingle, to eat whole – that’s a movement within itself.
M.O.I. JR: I know that both of y’all have Southern roots from Atlanta. How does that mix up with that West Coast living to create Soul Food Co-op?
Yasser: The West Coast is always seen as the place where you have healthy foods education. But we both come from backgrounds where our foods was whole. Our families fed us soul foods and soul food is what keeps the body happy and whole.
So the mix just matched and we saw what this neighborhood needed and we answered the call with the rest of the community. Remember this grocery store is located in the Village Bottoms and this village is a sustainable one with good Soul Foods Co-op right down the street or the Village Bottoms Farms.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk about some of things other than selling food that Soul Food will be engaged in?
Yasser: We are a part of the Village Bottoms Neighborhood Association, which makes us a part of the entire Village Bottoms Family. Right now there is this campaign – “Become a Friend of the Black New World” – that’s vital cause the Black New World is a social aid and pleasure club modeled after the kind in New Orleans where people would come out and perform by singing, dancing, whatever they felt would entertain. But the money would go right back into the community to feed the people, programs, all of the vital community stuff. So that’s what we support and we ask that you support that too! Come by and support us. Support us all.
M.O.I. JR: Where is Soul Food Co-op? And how do people get in contact with you?
Yasser: Twelfth at Pine Street. We deliver to Oakland. You can’t beat that. Bottoms up! To contact us, call firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us your grocery list if you are in the East Bay. But if you are in San Francisco, don’t worry; we do vending.