New York City just got its first communal vegan fridge.
The plant-based fridge, called Overthrow Community Fridge, is located on the edge of the East Village in Manhattan, inside of Overthrow Boxing Club. The food pantry provides free produce, canned goods, and other plant-based food items like legumes, rice, and beans. It also supplies vegan clothing and toiletries.
Longtime activists and community organizers Eloísa Trinidad and Power Malu spearheaded the vegan fridge. Trinidad is the executive director of Chilis on Wheels New York, a charity that helps provide vegan meals to people experiencing homelessness in Brooklyn. She’s also the co-founder of Vegan Activist Alliance and the New York chapter president of activist group Hip is Green. Malu is the founder of the social justice organization Artists Athletes Activists.
The vegan items are available 24 hours per day, and they’re completely free to anyone in need. However, Trinidad says it usually serves people experiencing homelessness or living in shelters, people who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic, and students unable to afford healthy food.
“Everyone qualifies for food. We do not check to see who is in need as this can create shame. We trust our community and it works,” Trinidad explains. “People who are in need take what they need and those who have more, donate.”
Helping Those In Need
In the U.S., approximately 35 million people struggled with food insecurity in 2019, according
to a report by the USDA. Hunger relief organization Feeding America projected this figure jumped to 54 million amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trinidad says the initiative has already helped hundreds, despite only being open for two weeks. “We are getting people who are not local to the area because this is the only place for them to get healthy, plant-based food. This is indicative of a much bigger problem of course,” she explains.
She says one of the goals of the program is to eliminate the “stigma and shame” associated with not being able to afford food. “We want to make it accessible to everyone—the unhoused, the marginalized, the poor. Everyone,” she continues. “Plant-based food is a natural right. The gatekeeping and lack of inclusion in wellness needs to be dismantled.”
Trinidad says the local community has rallied around the new initiative. “People [have] donated an incredible amount of food, clothes, and toiletries,” she explains. “We have not quantified the amount so far, but the support has been amazing.”
But, she says, the donations are simply not enough. “The need is so high. Even though we are receiving donations and rescue food as well, we are having to purchase food to supplement,” she explains.
New York Community Vegan Fridge
Overall, Trinidad and Malu say the initiative is working to address the issue of food justice. “We want to make veganism and plant-based food available to everyone. We want to insert the conversation of food justice into the mainstream,” Trinidad says.
The duo has big plans for the new initiative and plans to launch more plant-based fridges throughout the city.
Malu tells LIVEKINDLY, supplying vegan literature has been a really important part of the program. “Education is just as important as the food because we believe in empowering the community, not in charity,” Malu explains.
They also plan to host educational seminars for the local community to teach them about the importance of veganism and other food justice topics. “We are planning cooking demos with the ingredients provided in the fridge and sanctuary trips for inner-city youth to connect with nature and animals,” Malu adds.
In addition to giving marginalized communities access to plant-based foods, Trinidad says she hopes the initiative will help promote animal liberation. “We cannot disregard how food is used as a way to oppress others: from the animals to the human persons who are affected by its multiple level oppression,” she explains.
Trinidad and Malu hope community leaders will support their initiative by providing funding for more vegan fridges.