Stepping into Food Justice: One Milwaukee Intern's Experience

Aug 25, 2017

Hannah Uitenbroek knew very little about food justice when she arrived in Milwaukee a year ago.

After graduating from college with a degree in sociology degree, the Appleton native spent a year of service in Connecticut and then, "literally googled food justice in Milwaukee and Lutheran Volunteer Corps popped up." She applied and became All Peoples Church's food justice organizer.

Uitenbroek decided to try to bring the quality of the meals kids were served during summer camp up a notch or two.  More than 120 kids participate in All Peoples summer camp program - half of them at 2nd and Clarke, the other half about 15 minutes away at Havenwoods - and are served breakfast and lunch.

Breakfast prep in progress.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

“Pastor Steve (Jerbi) had found some information about a summer feeding program and send it my and said, 'Hey look into this,'” Uitenbroek explains. She dug into it and All Peoples was accepted into the program.

Uitenbroek says applying for federal funding and then providing as much nutritious food as possible has been tricky. But, she adds, it means a lot to have meals prepared from scratch in All Peoples' kitchen. 

"The reason kids get crappy food is because the system is set up so they get crappy food....Right now Anita is cutting all the beans up. It is much easier to just get cans of corn and dump it in a container and warm it up."

“Today, the only thing we’re required to serve is English muffins and a peach, and the option of milk. That is what we get funded for,” Uitenbroek explains.  But local partnerships help fill out the menu, such as including eggs and ham.

Uitenbroek gets a hand when arriving with breakfast at Havenwoods summer camp site.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

"We’re working with Feeding America. We work with Victory Garden Initiative as well. We go to their farm," she says. "We also have our garden that we take food from occasionally as well. We’re able to do what we do – provide the high quality of food – because of these other organizations.”

As Uitenbroek prepares to deliver food to Havenwoods site, she enlists campers to haul the milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and other food. She clearly loves interacting with the kids, knows everyone’s name and seems to have a feel for their moods.

Campers pitched in to help serve meals.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio

The more she experiences, Uitenbroek says, the more she realizes she has a lot to learn.

“I don’t see how the food justice conversation can exist without racial justice conversation," she explains. "I think within the food justice movement, there needs to be a very careful conversation about not pushing white food tastes and ideas of what is good onto to black people, I think that’s a very delicate. That’s why I think food justice is a very touchy conversation because I don’t want to (act like) I know what’s best, I don’t. I try to keep my hands off the menu because I’m outside of the community coming in.”

At Pastor Steve Jerbi's final service before leaving Milwaukee, he and other church leaders acknowledged Hannah Uitenbroek's work at All Peoples.
Credit Susan Bence / Milwaukee Public Radio