Food access forum featured enlightening conversation and delicious dishes

Speak City Heights hosted a panel discussion and cooking demonstration on Nov. 12 to highlight food justice issues. Photos courtesy of Speak City Heights

Lots of delicious food and intelligent conversation were served up recently at Food for Thought: Exploring Food Justice in City Heights. The community event, which included a panel discussion and a cooking demonstration, was hosted on Nov. 12 by Speak City Heights, a media collaborative comprising, KPBS, the AjA Project, and Media Arts Center San Diego to highlight barriers and solutions to healthy food access in the community.

The evening’s cooks were so prolific that there was food to spare. At the end of the event, Djoha Uwamwiza sent people home with leftovers. It was an added perk. The evening event featured great conversation with bright minds who have been working to improve access to nutritious food in City Heights.

There were women like Uwamwiza, who recently started a cooking group for Swahili-speaking refugees as a way to stave off loneliness and stay connected to the countries they left.

Though City Heights is a vibrant community full of refugees, Uwamwize found that Swahili-speaking women felt isolated living there. Cooking groups like hers have helped ease the transition and brought women together around food to talk about the challenges of raising a family in a new community.

Lisa Vandervort, a nutritionist who works with refugees to promote healthy eating, said her work with the AjA Project’s student photography project exposed her to new ways of thinking about food in immigrant communities. The project encouraged children to photograph culinary practices in their homes.

It was Vandervort’s first opportunity to visit kitchens in City Heights, and the pictures she saw have made her more sensitive to the need of balancing western assumptions about healthy eating with traditional culinary practices from around the world.

Anchi Mei, from the San Diego office of the International Rescue Committee, and Diane Moss, from the nonprofit Project New Village, have been working through bureaucratic red tape to make it easier for residents of City Heights and southeastern San Diego to grow their own food on vacant land.

Both women have already improved access to community gardens and encouraged growers to sell at farmers markets. Mei’s next focus, she said, is figuring out how local agriculture can help create jobs.

If you missed the event, you missed out on an energetic and enlightening community discussion. But not to worry. Photos and videos are available at

Speak City Heights is an initiative funded by The California Endowment to improve the quality of life in the community.