Food for empowerment

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Web of life: Brenda Ruiz, president of the Sacramento Food Policy Council, first started thinking about the interconnectivity of food systems as a chef, and later as the parent of a child who qualified for free school lunches. In the mind of a parent, she noted, lunch is linked to after-school programs, school gardens and community centers. But there wasn’t a unifying organization to speak to lawmakers on behalf of communities regarding their food.

“Food justice is about autonomy and teaching the man to fish instead of just giving him the fish,” Ruiz says. “And not just teaching them, but letting them fish the way they want, to access resources that are available to others.”

Currently, the SFPC is mediating between city government and residents of North Sacramento’s River Garden Estates neighborhood, who for nearly three decades have been farming on an unsanctioned, nearly two-acre-sized plot of land named the International Garden of Many Colors. Ruiz said the SFPC hopes to convince the city not to enact its plan to close the garden by the end of the year.

They also have three longer-term projects. They’re working to integrate food policy into the city and county’s general plans, establish a central kitchen so local schools can make fresher, healthier meals for students, and boost outreach to CalFresh recipients about using their credits at a farmers market—a feature of the program that less than a third of the population knows about, said SFPC Vice President Beth Storelli-Smoker.

Beyond this, they educate the public on a variety of food topics. Starting at 5:30 p.m. on December 7, they’ll host a free event on the importance of healthy soil at Hot Italian (1627 16th Street) with Andrea Lepore, the restaurant’s co-founder; David Baker, co-founder of Sac’s Green Restaurants Alliance; and Timonthy Chapman of West Sacramento’s IRC Refugee Farm. The three will talk about the life cycle of food, from soil and back to compost.

Dumpling delight: Right across the street from C.K. McClatchy High School, the recently opened Dumpling & Tea House (3000 Freeport Boulevard) offers some damn good deals on dumplings (12 for $7.35) with flavors that include kimchi pork and chicken and corn. It also serves BBQ pork baos (3 for $4.00), a Thai chili chicken bowl ($6.50) and teas ($3.50) that can be customized with boba, red bean and “grass jelly” (50 cents each).