Food Industry Continues the Fight for Social Justice

Main Points:

  • Food companies are still making efforts to fight racial injustice through new partnerships, donations, and other innovations
  • Trader Joes will repackage international foods with ethnic-sounding names
  • Plant-based meat companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are partnering with social justice organizations
  • Pastry chefs and bakers across the U.S. are leading the industry into activism

Food companies across the U.S. are still doing their part to combat social inequality. Major companies such as Trader Joe’s, Impossible Foods, and Beyond Meat, are making changes and new partnerships, while individual bakers across the globe are getting innovative and making a difference in the industry.

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s is nearing the end of a year-long process of repackaging international foods with ethnic-sounding names, reported NPR (July 20).

It will get rid of product names such as Trader José’s, Arabian Joe’s, and Trader Ming’s that critics say “perpetuate harmful stereotypes.”

“We made the decision several years ago to use only the Trader Joe’s name on our products moving forward,” spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel told NPR by email. She added that the company “had hoped that the work would be complete by now but there are still a small number of products going through the packaging change and we expect to be done very soon.”

The branding announcement follows a petition, which had over 2,800 signatures, demanded the company “remove racist branding and packaging from its stores.” It indicated the labeling “belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”

The petition also added that “the Trader Joe’s branding is racist because it exoticizes other cultures—it presents ‘Joe’ as the default ‘normal’ and the other characters falling outside of it—they are ‘Arabian Joe,’ ‘Trader José,’ and ‘Trader Joe San.'”

The change was reportedly not in response to the petition, but was already in progress, according to Friend-Daniel, who said the controversial approach to naming “may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness.” Friend-Daniel noted that the company realizes this may have had the opposite effect, one that is contrary to the experience Trader Joe’s strives to create.

Impossible and Beyond

Impossible Foods partnered with social justice program Know Your Rights Camp, founded by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in the San Francisco Bay Area, reported Veg News (July 9). Know Your Rights Camp’s mission is to empower Black and Brown communities through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization, and leadership.

Impossible donated its plant-based meat to food truck Al Pastor Papi, which distributed meals at the Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church in the Bayview District. The Marin Food Bank will distribute additional Impossible meals to communities in need, while Impossible will also donate to Know Your Rights Camp’s events in Los Angeles and New York City, among other cities.

Impossible also plans to extend donations to other organizations fighting for social justice.

“Impossible Foods’ mission is to reverse the clock on climate change, restore biodiversity, and expand natural ecosystems-results that will literally transform the way earth looks from space,” Impossible Foods’ CEO Patrick O. Brown, MD, said. “At the same time, as an essential business in an unprecedented challenging time, we also exist to serve the most basic and immediate needs of our community-including the food insecurity crisis and social justice struggles in our hometown region of the San Francisco Bay Area and communities throughout America.”

Impossible competitor Beyond Meat also recently partnered with the Social Change Fund to fight racial inequality. The Social Change Fund was created by Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and a group of Black industry executives in response to the continued issue of racial injustice. Beyond Meat and the Social Change Fund both share the goal of creating lasting, systemic change for Black communities across America and fighting for justice on all fronts.

“Beyond Meat is dedicated to serving broader social goals, using what’s on the center of the plate as a critical starting point,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO, Beyond Meat. “And we are excited to support and work with the Social Change Fund initiative to address racial inequalities in nutrition access and health outcomes in America.”

Bakers and Pastry Chefs

Several pastry chefs and bakers have been transforming bake sales into political fundraisers for a variety of causes, reported The New York Times (July 21).

Bakers Against Racism, a global online bank sale, has raised nearly $1.9 million for Black Lives Matter chapters and hundreds of other groups working for racial justice. The group was organized by Washington pastry chef Paola Velez, who recruited two other Washington-based founders: pastry chef Willa Pelini, and the chef and baker Rob Rubba.

On June 4, Bakers Against Racism went public on Instagram and changed the bake-sale model by not collecting any of the money that was raised—which ultimately allowed it to go viral.

The founders created the name and hashtag, shared images and language that bakers could use on social media in a Google Doc, and suggested organizations to donate to-allowing each baker to decide where to direct the funds. Individual bakers connected with local communities for orders and deliveries.

“We didn’t want it to have to be slick and sponsored,” Rubba said. “The bakers and the buyers are equal participants in this movement.”

More than 2,500 bakery owners, pastry chefs, and home bakers participated, including some in Berlin, Paris, and London, even reaching as far as Australia, Tanzania, and Turkey.

Additionally, Southern Restaurants for Racial Justice, a new group started by three pastry chefs-Lisa Marie Donovan in Nashville, Sarah O’Brien in Atlanta, and Cheryl Day in Savannah, GA-raised $100,000 for Color of Change, a racial justice advocacy group, with a Father’s Day bake sale.

On Juneteenth, more than 50 Los Angeles-area chefs and bakers also contributed to Pies for Justice, which raised $36,000 before selling out in only five minutes after going live online. In a global bake sale the next day, more than 2,000 people contributed baked goods to Bakers Against Racism and raised $1.9 million in donations.