Letters for the Week of September 11 

Readers sound off on gentrification in Oakland, police corruption, and our use of the word eponymous.

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Unfortunately, this was never explored by the article, and any mention of Misako's displacement from the kitchen she helped build out was conveniently left out, along with the narratives of countless other vendors pushed out by Lee and Grease Box (just visit the comments section of the Express article to read more testimonies from former vendors.) Here's what Misako has said in regards to no longer being able to cook in the cafe:

"We are waiting for working together with Phat Beets and other vendors again hopefully soon.  The Phat Beets Market was the only affordable farmer's market to join for start-up food entrepreneurs with not enough funds (ironically we spent all our hard-earned money to invest to build the co-op kitchen).  The reality of food business is that if you don't have enough money nor good support and connections, there is no chance even for the great cooks and workers. There are too many costs (licensing, kitchen rental, insurance) for small businesses.  So small vendors need organizations like Phat Beets who can support and offer the marketplace which we can sell to the public."

Phat Beets spoke with another vendor, Naimah Matthews, and her family in this video account about what happened in their last few days as vendors at Crossroads before Grease Box moved in. Days after Grease Box arrived, Matthews and her family were forced to pack up their stuff and leave. Grease Box even went so far as to say that "the vendors that were 'displaced' are doing just fine elsewhere." In Naimah's own words:

"For [Boelter] to tell anyone that everybody is fine is a blatant lie because you didn't bother to check! ... She didn't care. We were told to immediately get our stuff [after the sale] ... and the whole restaurant looked totally different. ... A lot of the stuff she sent me back to get wasn't there! ... It was like we weren't important. ... How do you just sell something out from underneath us? Handling it the way they did, it hurt A LOT of people. ... This was our dream!"

Just to be clear, Phat Beets Produce has never called for a boycott of Grease Box, though we do inform our supporters of the history of the space and the ongoing conflict. Boelter has told Phat Beets members they "are not allowed in the cafe anymore," she has called the police on members, and has threatened Phat Beets staff with restraining orders and slander lawsuits, making our own work space a hostile environment and forcing us to work from home. No one from Phat Beets has ever advocated for or used any sort of violence toward Boelter or any of her staff.  The Phat Beets Collective, vendors, former Crossroads members, as well as our supporters, allies, and neighbors, will continue to speak out against these injustices.

Ken Shandy, lifelong North Oakland resident, father, former Crossroads Kitchen Overseer, and owner of Brother's Kitchen in West Oakland, sent us his thoughts about Grease Box and what this business means for North Oakland:

"I have lived in the North Oakland area all my life, [and] I would like to speak about 942 Stanford Ave and how the space has affected me and my community, and I had the pleasure of working with the Crossroads cooperative and Phat Beets. I was excited to see a great synergy and team pulling together to create dreams for individuals in our local community. Unfortunately, due to a faulty leader with other motives not in line with the core group, our community is now forced to settle with the likes of the Grease Trap. I'm sorry but I had hoped to see more diversity in the space, with more of a community feel. Not just another gentrify hot spot. This is not in the best interest of our community. Changing the culture of a community without regards of what the people want and need. STOP IT!!!!!!"

The Express article did not seek out the narratives of Shandy and those vendors that were displaced, but rather only highlighted the perspective of Grease Box, which evidences the gentrification process itself, as the stories of historic residents are erased by the prevalence of newer, more affluent and more visible residents with greater access to media.

Not many folks want to talk about gentrification, which is why these injustices still fester and persist, hushed and squashed by irresponsible phrases like the "G word" that try to conceal the violence of displacement. This is precisely why Phat Beets highlights the injustices of gentrification taking place not only at Crossroads, but all over North Oakland, including by the Real Estate company Better Homes and Gardens and its NOBE campaign.

Phat Beets defines gentrification as "the displacement of historic residents of a neighborhood as a result of rising housing costs because of the moving-in of newer, more affluent residents and businesses." Just to be clear, many members of the Phat Beets Produce Collective are not historic residents of North Oakland, but we do spend a great deal of time and energy in organizing with and supporting the interests and leadership of North Oakland residents in building a just food system and healthy economic opportunities for everyone. Because of the programming we operate and the background of our staff, Phat Beets is also implicated in gentrification, as many of us are not historically from Oakland and bring with us some degree of privilege to the formerly working class neighborhood of North Oakland. But there's a difference between acknowledging that we are part of the gentrification process and fighting for healthy food and economic opportunities for historic North Oakland residents, versus profiting by using gentrification to start a business that caters to new residents with more money.

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