Today we’d like to introduce you to Kynsley Akens.
Hi Kynsley, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I grew up in South Los Angeles in the Willowbrook and Compton neighborhoods… The reason I started OKIE! VEGAN is to close the gap that exists between low-income neighborhoods and healthy food options. I feel like it happened organically in the sense that growing up in a low-income household within– what I know now is considered to be — a food desert. I was surrounded by highly inflammatory foods.
In 2015, I relocated to Seattle where I recognized the differences between my South Los Angeles experience and the affluent region I had just moved to. The design of the city was completely different, Seattle (Capitol Hill) was walkable, and there were four grocery stores all within a 3 block radius from where I lived. Given these new food options, I was able to make better choices with my eating habits. I began to do my own research on the industrial food system and learned how systemic racism transfers over to our ability to eat healthy and our access to fresh foods. I started a transition to a complete plant-based lifestyle and I later moved back to South Los Angeles. Once home, I realized that my very own neighborhood suffered from the oppressive food system.
Learning that illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and aneurysms etc. that have affected my family; like many others, are directly connected to the foods we eat, and the lack of options we have in our communities! In South LA, there’s a liquor store on every corner, a fast food restaurant right across from that– but I couldn’t find a Kale Salad within a 5 mile radius unless I made it myself. Although I don’t have a problem cooking for myself, it was apparent that a lot of people don’t have the time to. And some families like the one I grew up in, have lots of little mouths to feed and not much money. So I decided to start OKIE! VEGAN.
A lot of our work is directly in the community. We are a vegan pop-up focused on making plant-based eating accessible. We don’t shame or condemn people for eating meat. We exist to create awareness and offer people an option, and an alternative to what the fast-food industry distributes to our communities everyday. We want people to thrive from the inside out.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has not been easy. To be honest, a lot of people have expressed that the word “Vegan” frightens them. But I feel that the reason behind that is the pressure and judgment that can come from peers and social organizations. [In our first year] There was a day I set up and no one came. I posted flyers, shared all over social media -family came, but the community passed on us that day. I was determined to keep going. My own personal awakening didn’t happen overnight and I don’t expect normalized fast-food conditioning to be erased in a heartbeat. The good news is that we are continuously growing. We will be here for the community when they are hungry and we’ll always have fresh organic options ready for them!
We’ve been impressed with OKIE! VEGAN, LLC, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
OKIE! VEGAN is a direct response to South Los Angeles’ lack of healthy food options in neighborhoods of color and is committed to promoting health and wellness. Our services are meant to be a presence of love, kindness and community empowerment for groups of people who have been left out of the conversation. I am most proud to see others excited about our mission. Connecting directly with the community is always so fulfilling. Not only do I get a chance to share my food with others, I get an opportunity to hear about their personal experiences too. I’d like your readers to know that OKIE! VEGAN is here for them. We value our communities and want them to thrive! We see the need for healthier options in underserved spaces and are giving our all to make a lasting impact.
Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
I’d like to focus on creating a solid foundation of trust within the community and committed to doing so for the next five years and further. I’d like to build deeper community partnerships and outreach programs with local organizations. We intend to open our first brick and mortar location January 2021.
Photo cred: OKIE! VEGAN, LLC