As always, PETA’s igniting a firestorm of controversy.
Last week, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) made headlines when it offered to pay for 10 struggling Detroit households’ water bills, on the condition that these 10 households would have to commit to going vegan.
At its best, it’s an attempt to drive impact at a time when Detroit’s Water and Sewage Department is being forced to cancel water service to thousands of customers because of unpaid bills. At its worst, it’s not just a PR stunt in the face of a real human rights crisis, but an offer that’s completely out of touch with reality: many low-income families don’t have access to good produce in urban food deserts, and really struggle afford the healthy staples that a vegan diet requires.
It’s discouraging to see a high profile organization so epically miss the mark, but it does highlight that social challenges are interrelated, and raise questions about what a meaningful solution to this crisis might look like.
If we want to see Detroit develop and flourish, we have to do something that’s going to address the root causes of both the water shutoffs and the lack of healthy food options for residents: poverty and access.
There’s good news about this daunting challenge: there are already innovative solutions out there. There are people, communities, and organizations that are finding ways to transcend yesterday’s approach of highlighting one social cause or issue at the expense of another.
Take a look at what Common Market is doing in Philadelphia: By connecting sustainable farmers with schools, nonprofits, faith centers, and other organizations within Philly’s urban food deserts, Common Market is helping local rural farmers sell their healthy food into high-poverty regions. It’s a win for local farmers and a win for urban communities.
Common Market’s approach is innovative because it’s aggregating the power of communities to drive change: growing the marketplace for sustainably harvested food by bringing together suppliers and institutions that previously lacked access, supporting local agriculture and creating jobs along the way. When people have work, money, and access to healthy food, they can better afford both water bills and nutritious meals.
Detroit’s water crisis isn’t happening in a vacuum; it’s the result of a range of challenges that are core to the 21st century economy, spanning issues from income inequality and environmental concerns to the obesity crisis.
To that point, our solutions can’t happen in a vacuum either. We can’t afford to play a zero sum game where some agendas win over others: it’s not good for the progressive movement, and it’s certainly not good for families. We need to learn from creative, high-impact organizations like Common Market—with approaches that hone in on the power of bringing communities together—and replicate them, both across industries and across the United States.