Jaden Smith Loves You. He does – particularly if you’re dealing with food insecurity in the L.A. area.
Everyone’s favorite artist, humanitarian, and connoisseur of capital letters rolled out his new, free food truck in L.A.’s Skid Row last week. Launched in celebration of his 21st birthday, the truck is called “I Love You” and features a menu of entirely free, vegan food. I know, it’s a whole lot of Gen Z to process. But when you consider the factors that went into making this project a reality, a vegan food truck doesn’t just start to sound like a nice idea – it starts to sound like a brilliant one.
Trendy vegan health food. For people dealing with homelessness. I know what you’re thinking. But this is much more than a useless gesture from an out-of-touch celebrity. Here’s why: more often than not, we assume people experiencing poverty should be “grateful for what they’re offered.” And sure, gratitude is great. But compulsory gratitude doesn’t leave room for honesty – and honestly, a lot of the cheap, readily available food offered to hungry people is actually making them sick.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, low-income and food-insecure Americans are uniquely vulnerable to poor nutrition. While this problem has complex causes, one of the most consistent cited by FRAC is that healthy food is often “more expensive in terms of the monetary cost as well as the potential for waste,” while “refined grains, added sugars, and fats are generally inexpensive, palatable, and readily available in low-income communities.”
This means that, frequently, what’s cheap and available is the same kind of food that contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and other life-threatening illness in the long-term. People experiencing food insecurity or homelessness have distinctly limited access to healthy food – let alone tasty, healthy options. And elective dietary choices like vegetarianism and veganism? Forget about it. Principle-based lifestyles, unfortunately, are for those who can afford them.
Think about it: culturally, we tend to live and die by the motto “beggars can’t be choosers.” Which is why the very valid reasons for many dietary restrictions are often overlooked. Even a cursory glance at the ultra-popular “Choosing Beggars” subreddit will show you countless stories of hungry people turning down offers of free food – to the outrage and disbelief of the people offering. (Yes, Brenda, gluten allergies are real, and they suck. He’s not “ungrateful” because he doesn’t want your half-eaten sandwich…)
Veganism might be the last thing you’re thinking of when you’re donating to a food bank, but access and variety remain key parts of ensuring people with food insecurity can eat with dignity and peace of mind. For those living with both food insecurity and restrictive diets, the “I Love You” model is a way to receive a free meal without having to justify anything. And for those with no restrictions, it’s a healthy free meal. A true win-win: by addressing the most specific, marginal experience – and then building outwards – everyone is covered.
As it turns out, no, this isn’t just another celebrity trying to save the world by handing out a few Pepsis. Instead, bringing a free vegan food truck to Skid Row is a carefully thought-out (and super generous) gesture toward accessibility and dignity.
The reality is, we don’t know people’s very personal relationships with the food they put in their bodies. If we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity – like Jaden – to offer some inclusive choices with no questions asked, it can make the difference between a humiliating experience and an empowering one for people on the receiving end. It’s all about giving people “access to what they deserve,” as basic human beings – which is pretty awesome. So well done to you, Jaden. We love you too, dude.