The Food & Wellness Equity Collective Is Bringing Racial Justice to a Whitewashed Industry

As the collective passes its second anniversary, co-founder Yoli Ouiya reflects on the organization’s origin story, current mission, and goals for the future.

A photo of two women smiling and standing back-to-back.Share on PinterestPhoto provided by Yoli Ouiya

For People of Color, a concern for environmental safety and justice in the food industry isn’t new.

POC have always led the food justice movement, advocating for humane working conditions for farmworkers and food accessibility for low-income communities while challenging the whitewashing of cultural foods.

Co-founded in 2020 by Yoli Ouiya and Sonja Overhiser, the Food and Wellness Equity Collective is here to further that work.

Challenging racial disparities in the food and wellness industries

The collective is a group of content creators, recipe developers, social media influencers, and entrepreneurs dedicated to promoting anti-racism in the food and wellness industry.

The group formed with 20 founding members in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. Ouiya and Overhiser had a similar interest in creating a space of safety, education, and resources with others who understood the challenges within the food industry.

For example, Ouiya noticed pay disparities and a lack of representation for Black and Brown content creators within the food and wellness space.

“We started out with having different events, especially digital events, and it launched at the right time and in the right space,” Ouiya shared. “We were filling a void that was needed in terms of providing resources for content creators. I think most people look at content creators and wellness professionals as service providers, but they also need support.”

Navigating the food and wellness space as a group of Black and Brown folks wasn’t the easiest task. The industry is notorious for being whitewashed, and it often isn’t reflective of the grassroots organizers that have consistently been advocating for change.

Recently, for instance, Latinx content creators have called out some white TikTok users for consistent cultural appropriation after they replicated agua fresca and dubbed it “spa water.”

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The gentrification of ethnic foods is not a new trend, but promoting food justice — including the cultural foods of Communities of Color — can be a solution to it.

Early lessons learned

Share on PinterestPhoto provided by Yoli Ouiya

Since the Food and Wellness Equity Collective was created during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group adjusted to hosting virtual events, including a digital summit and multiple panels.

Past event topics range from fat liberation and its relationship with body reclamation — which are frameworks that respond to racial fatphobia — to addressing racial pay inequities.

“When we first started, we were at an elementary level and doing a lot of ground level education in terms of, ‘This is how you’re being racist,’” Ouiya said. “I realized that intrinsically, allies get to do more without leaning on Black and Brown people to be the inspiration or source of their self-education.”

Ouiya said many people and companies seemed more interested in performative actions that made them seem more aligned with racial justice, rather than truly dedicated to anti-racist work.

“A lot of people just wanted to appear to not be racist versus inherently digging deep into their ethos and their lineage and clearing out the muck of their own biases.”

—Yoli Ouiya, co-founder of the Food & Wellness Equity Collective

Sustainability and access are essential parts of food equity

As a longtime member of 4th Street Food Co-op, Oiuya understands the value of food accessibility, especially for communities of color.

Located in East Village, the neighborhood is home to Manhattan’s only co-op, and the grocer stands by their motto: “Food for people, not for profit.” The grocer is member-run and provides discounts for students, seniors, and EBT recipients.

Grocery co-ops are rooted in food justice and equity, so its goals are similar to Ouiya’s mission for the Food and Wellness Equity Collective.

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Along with her efforts in the food wellness space, Ouiya had the opportunity to serve as a spokesperson for Toyota as a part of their Green Initiative program.

The initiative provides young Black students and alumni from historically Black colleges with tools and resources for sustainable living practices, as well as opportunities for environmental stewardship.

Ouiya mentioned that “seeing the disparities relative to accessing fresh food and high quality foods in different parts of the country” was one of the many benefits of joining Toyota’s program.

Learn more about food access disparities here.

What’s next for the collective

Currently, Ouiya’s looking forward to the next iteration of the Food and Wellness Equity Collective, which includes a few forthcoming projects.

“In the next year, I intend for us to be committed in a thoughtful and impactful way relative to providing resources for our community and tangible resources that actually make a difference in this,” she said. “It’s cool to have events and be like, ‘Oh, I’m learning about food justice.’ But how can you implement it into the work that you’re doing? How can you get what you are worth in terms of equitable pay?”

“It’s one thing to have these events and then learn about it. But now, how can we be a solution source for you?”

—Yoli Ouiya, co-founder of the Food & Wellness Equity Collective

To learn more about the collective and Ouiya’s work, follow their Instagram account and check out their website.


Noella Williams (she/they) is an assistant editor at Apartment Therapy and a recent journalism graduate from Florida A&M University. Her experience in freelancing includes Fodors Travel, Essence, Teen Vogue, and Them. Her reporting includes but is not limited to music, environmental justice, veganism, and pop culture. In Noella’s spare time, you can find her roller skating, making TikToks, or cooking plant-based dishes! You can find her work at her website or on Twitter.

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