The poor people’s plate: Poverty, race, GMOs and our food

by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Daughter of Dee, Mama of Tiburcio

“The poor people’s plate is rooted in capitalist hate for the three job working mamaz caught in the welfare state.” – from “The Poor People’s Plate” by Tiny, Po’ Poets Project

“Here is your WIC voucher. These are the ‘approved’ dairy products, cereal and dry goods you can buy.” When my son was born and my mama got diagnosed with a fatal heart condition, I was thrown into another bout of severe poverty and houselessness, which meant I qualified for a program used by all poor and working poor parents known as WIC. I was hungry and my son and very ill mama were hungry too, so when they showed me the array of what I now know were non-organic, hormone- and antibiotic-filled milk and GMO-infused pasta and other dried food options, I felt blessed and eagerly signed up.

March-Against-Monsanto-Sacramento-Poor-Mag-Queenandi-Dee-Allen-Tony-Robles-052513-by-PNN, The poor people’s plate: Poverty, race, GMOs and our food, News & Views It wasn’t until two years later due to my ghetto fabulous po’ mama’s revolutionary fight for her own life that I began to understand that the very foods we were getting for such a “deal” were actually killing all of us.

As the corporate domination of our food, land, air and water continues and the resistance heats up to the monster known as Monsanto, it must be said that in the U.S. it’s us po’ folks of all cultures and ages that are getting the worst of it. Some obvious, most not. And no one is really speaking for us.

“Genetically Modified Organisms-Organisms, how U gonna tell me it’s a mechanism for better livin’? When ignorance in silence is how they keep us, but in reality, it’s violence – that’s how they feed us.” – from “Ck Y Food” by Vivi-T, Po Poets Project

The Po’ Poets Project of POOR Magazine were invited to attend the Sacramento rally to Shut Down Monsanto organized by Stevan Payan and Occupy Sacramento. It was a challenge for us po’ folks to go 100 miles out of town to attend a rally. As overworked and never paid poor folks in resistance, attending rallies in and of itself is a challenge, because it means we are spending gas money we don’t have, losing work hours we need to pay rent, caring for children along the way, leaving sick elders or holding our own sick bodies into revolution, but this is the ongoing struggle of a poor people-led revolution like we do at POOR Magazine.

When we arrived at the huge and powerful rally, we felt blessed to be there but sad that we didn’t see a lot of folks who looked like us. It seemed pretty clear to all of us that, with the exception of our indigenous brothers like Stevan Payan, Greg Iron and a few others, this fight was being led and fought by mostly middle-class white folks. Sadly, this didn’t surprise us – it only confirmed what we already knew. We are the ones who are consuming most of the GMO-filled food and yet we aren’t the ones on the front lines of this fight.

From the morning to the evening, our poor bodies of color are being destroyed by killer foods and none of us have the time, the resources, the energy or the money to deal with this reality because we are too busy working multiple low-wage jobs to survive, fighting illegal evictions, fighting and working for government crumbs like food stamps and tiny welfare stipends that require us to work for below minimum wage, evading endless po’lice brutality, profiling and incarceration, or just struggling with the multiple wounds of racism, classism and criminalization impacting our bodies and minds since chattel slavery, Jim Crow, colonization, and the endless lie of these false borders and our forced migration across them just to survive.

As most anti-GMO organizers know, our breakfast is owned by Monsanto, from Fruit Loops to Total, from Quaker Oatmeal to Shredded Wheat – all of the things many of us wake up and feed our children, thinking we are doing right by them, because we are giving them a “healthy breakfast.” Yet parents who can manage to do that are poisoning our children with GMO-filled wheat, soy or corn.

As we prepare lunches with the “healthy lunch meat” like turkey or ham, the fix is in. We’re willingly putting substances in our bodies deemed “unsafe for human consumption” by leading doctors in a recent study that never made its way to corporate media.

From Betty Crocker to Frito Lay, from Nature Valley to Nabisco, Power Bars and Prego Pasta Sauce – all Monsanto-owned companies – it’s mind-numbing to figure out what foods, fruits and vegetables aren’t made with genetically modified organisms, which have proven to cause bizarre pubic hair loss in a controlled study silently released a few weeks ago and, in rats, to grow their livers outside their bodies

And even when we feed our bodies our indigenous cuisines, we find insanely high rates of sodium, saturated fat, sugars and chemicals have snuck their way into our pre-colonial diets in the canned coconut milk filled with high fructose corn syrup, tortillas, rice, plantains, bananas, bread made with GMO corn, wheat, soy and rice, refried beans pumped up with hydrogenated something or other, and large agri-business chicken, pork and beef injected with sodium, antibiotics and preservatives. You only have to look at our post-colonial, in poverty, in struggle bodies to see the way these chemicals have destroyed our warriors, silenced our elders and placed our parents on endless Big Pharma prescriptions many of us can barely afford.

POOR-family-at-Homefulness-garden, The poor people’s plate: Poverty, race, GMOs and our food, News & Views My Afrikan-Taino Indian mama, who was an orphan so she didn’t even have access to her indigenous culture’s recipes filled with healthy arroz con frijoles, ate what I affectionately call poor people’s food her whole life, a steady diet of high sodium, fat-filled colonized and processed culture derivative food, refried beans from a can, chili from a can, and top ramen spiced with chilis, peppers and salt and as much other starch and cheap meat as we could stretch the food stamps to buy with a lot of pan dulce, donuts and coffee thrown in to deal with her ongoing deep depression from her always in struggle life, leaving her overweight and unable to fight the multiple diseases her poor body of color was constantly attacked by. When she finally made it off welfare into a full-time job, I was the classic latch-key kid, coming home to frozen food or a warm and hormone and fat-filled fast food meal from Burger King, Mickey D or KFC.

When we became houseless – due to my mama being laid off and then becoming disabled – when I was 11 our food went further down hill: Chef Boyardee in a can from 7-11, Spam and Campbell’s Soup and cheap white or wheat bread from the corner sto’, bascially whatever we could get and make with the killer, cancer causing microwave was that night’s meal.

It was all about survival and poverty. There was no way we could prepare fresh vegetables, fruits, salads or even beans and rice. If someone had told us to “change our diet” or only buy fresh foods, we couldn’t have. It was all we could do just to get through the night without freezing to death.

We graduated from the car to a shelter where we were happy to receive whatever they served us – most of the time GMO cereal in the morning, killer lunch meat on white bread for lunch and a fat-filled, warm gravy over an undiscernable meat for dinner.

When I turned 18, I graduated to jail food – being incarcerated for the crime of sleeping in our car in Amerikkka – which included food that didn’t even look like food. Bread so white it almost wasn’t there, filled with meat so green it looked like lettuce. Again, I ate it until I was sick cause it was all I had access to and, suffice it to say, nutrition wasn’t the first thing on my mind.

My family is but one of billions of poor families around the world with unseen stories of survival, struggle and in the U.S. eventual death from diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure, to name a few, all in large part due to what we are eating. As indigenous, landless people living in shelters, plantation prisons, public housing units, over-crowded, substandard housing units with no land surrounding them and so many years of colonial theft of our land and resources, corporate defined, under-paid labor taking us away from the organic work of caring and teaching our own children and our gardens, and racist laws constantly incarcerating our young people, corporate media selling us and our young people on the lie of advancement and convenience, healthy eating seems almost impossible.

And yet the whole process of coming at our poor people’s communities with demands to “eat better” or an endless stream of critiques and accusations about “our bad food choices” isn’t helping. Instead it’s just more racist, classist hate against the poor, while the hypocrisy of Michele Obama touting healthy food choices when her husband pushes the Monsanto Protection Act and most of his administration and a Supreme Court judge – Clarence Thomas – are former and current employees of Monsanto.

Rather my challenge to conscious food justice people is the same one I have to housing justice folks, stemming from a frame of what I call “community reparations.” Work with the stolen resources you might have access to to make community gardens accessible to us, donate healthy non-GMO food to food banks and shelters, schools and community centers, even if it means purchasing them out of your own pocket.

Look at the model of Planting Justice, creating living wage jobs in permaculture for plantation incarcerated folks, and then the model of Phat Beatz in Oakland and Urban Tilt in Richmond, who truly work inside communities of color to build, support and maintain community gardens and make fresh, garden grown vegetables accessible to poor folks.

Homefulness-Black-child-watches-Pachamama-garden-grow, The poor people’s plate: Poverty, race, GMOs and our food, News & Views Buy free shopping gift cards for poor communities of color from markets who sell healthy, non-GMO food like Rainbow and Berkeley Bowl – instead of Foods Co and Slave-Way. And if you work at collectives like Rainbow, offer free groceries to shelters, group homes and grassroots, non-profit organizations on a monthly basis, not just when we sponsor an event, so we can feed our communities, members and families fresh food all the time.

At POOR Magazine we have been teaching folks wit’ race and class privilege to become revolutionary donors and support us, stand in solidarity with us as poor and indigenous peoples to launch our own landless peoples movement to reclaim Mama Earth from the capitalist lie of real estate speculation with a project we call Homefulness.

From this cross-class solidarity work and support, not savior dictation, we have been able to launch the Pachamama Garden community garden and take our poor bodies of color off of this killer capitalist grid. Each week we share healthy, non-GMO, non-nitrite meat purchased, thanks to the support of the revolutionary donors, with the East Oakland community. This is an act of revolution in a community where so many of our poor mamaz and daddys, elders and young people dwell and have ready access to a lot of GMO fast food, chips, sodas and liquor in corner stores.

“I have been able to create relationships with many of the corner store owners and Hilal meat vendors who don’t buy GMO veggies or meat so I can create an affordable meal for myself and my daughter and community,” said Mama Needa Bee, chef and healer-mama from Oakland who taught at the 2012 Healing the Hood event at POOR Magazine’s Homefulness.

We also launched the Healing tha (Neighbor) Hood series last year, where we teach our young folks, mamaz and daddys how to decolonize their diets back to their own indigenous roots and strategize their bodies out of this food genocide available at every street corner, Walmart and supermarket in Amerikkka. And we are currently working on a poor people’s healthy cookbook co-written by our youth and mama skolaz at POOR. Because for us po’ folks, it’s all about decolonizing, strategy and inter-dependence.

“In the end of the day it’s another way to kill us,” Gerry, 67, said. After the Monsanto rally, my family and I went to a trailer park way out in West Sacramento, where the only store for miles was a Food 4 Less. We drove into the park to take some food and cash to one of our multi-generational, indigenous families in deep poverty gentriFUKed out of San Francisco due to real estate speculation, whose tenuous hold on stability was destroyed by the move and was now living in a broke-down trailer with hardly any of the family working and most of the people in some state of crisis.

I told elder grandmamma Gerry and her adult granddaughter Felicia about the rally and Monsanto’s theft of our food system. Gerry’s tired eyes registered shock and fear and yet resignation. “It’s genocide ‘cause they know we just don’t have the energy to deal with yet another thing against us.”

“So start counting yo’ change, cause a Poor People’s Plate is on its way to a poor people’s neighborhood near you, and if you have 99 cents, you can have some too!” – from “The Poor Peoples Plate” by Tiny

Healing the (Neighbor) Hood

Healing the (Neighbor) Hood will go down this summer at Homefulness, 8032 MacArthur Blvd in Deep East Oakland, on Inter-Dependence Day Weekend, July 6-7. Learn non-Western Indigenous healing practices, healthy cooking, martial arts, massage, and inter-tribal, multi-nation spirituality and education. For more information, go online to

For POOR’s Healing the (Neighbor) Hood Youth Mentorship program, from July 9 to Aug. 3, we will have 10 slots available for youth in poverty age 14-21. At Homefulness, 8032 MacArthur Blvd, each young person will learn permaculture, gardening, media investigation, the impact of GMOs on our poor communities of color and basic building. All students will publish and broadcast their own investigative findings and receive a stipend upon graduation. Email to enroll.

Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee and co-editor with Tony Robles of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at Visit and