posted September 13, 2022

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

She sat with vacuous eyes.
Tears disappearing
in her torn shirt.
Nails digging
into her own flesh.
She shook, she trembled
but couldn’t shake off the dread.

Told she couldn’t stay–
As she wrapped up all her life
in a small broken suitcase,
she touched her belly
pregnant with another life
growing inside of her.

More tears disappeared
in her torn shirt.
Silent. Salty. Warm.
Mixed with blood from all
the scratches and bruises.
Freshly served,
with a volley of abuse.

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

Over the years,
she turned to food.
Whatever she could find,
Wherever she could get it.
Food somehow soothed her sorrow.
She could bite into it,
it didn’t bite her back!

No longer homeless.
A single mom with a child who wouldn’t sit still.
Living in what they call “a distressed zip code,”
her life still felt like one giant hairy blur.
She had gotten herself through community college.
Cleaning homes by day,
nursing her baby—with a book in her hand
by long, cold, dark nights.
Neurodivergent—someone said.
Can’t see it, can’t put a finger on it—
Her baby was “different.”

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

A special clinic?
A special school?
Ah! Out of question!
The public school
offered lunch:
“Taco Tuesdays,
Wendy’s Wednesdays.”
She helped him
with math homework.
Counting stale,
greasy fries.
Then came the virus!

And news from Alabama—
Her mama gone!
The only parent she ever knew.
She looked at her moon-faced boy…
He will never see his nana again!

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

Coronavirus erased—
Her blood,
Her roots,
Her source,
Her mama!

Who just like her,
Was a lone warrior
Fighting cancer and
-isms” all her life!

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

-isms you ask?
Racism, Sexism, Narcissism
The list is long.

Her heart sinking
That wave of nausea
Taking over her mind
She knew she must get to the drive thru.
“Cheeseburger, large fries and soda,”
Spelled comfort.
She wanted—nay, needed—this so bad.

At the drive thru—
Her friend working
the window today,
“I threw in extra mayo, ok love?
The little guy
likes that stuff!”

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

Back home now.
The cheeseburger soothed her.
Food spoke to her.
And she to it…
As if in a relationship!
Yes. That’s how she felt with food
Heard. Comforted. Loved.

Cheeseburgers, Chicken wings, Nuggets,
Dreamy swirly soft serve,
Shiny packs of mayo, mustard, ketchup,
Little toy-animals for her baby.
All of them—One big happy family!
Affordable, Dependable, In her Budget.

She managed a faint smile.

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

Then the phone rang—
through a shattered screen.
The cleaning service:
Madam said not to come during the lockdown’
No wage? How will she pay for her insulin?

A friend worked for a research company.
Could she earn something by filling surveys?
This time a study on food and health
It was a five-day online diary.

She signed up!

Answering questions on her life, her food.
Her relationships—the apple of her eye, her little boy!
Recounting some of the direst moments of her life.
Especially, those when cravings took over,
And the drive thru saved her life
“Literally,” she said and laughed!

“Do you have any pets?” a question popped up.
Her baby rescued a pup (phew).
She said, “He smiles more now.
I don’t know who rescued whom, you know?”

“So, you seem to like the puppy.
What about the cow in your favorite cheeseburger?”
Silence. She stared at the screen!
What am I supposed to eat then?
Where am I supposed to eat then?
Should she have signed up to his survey?
These people don’t know
what it’s like here in a food desert

Tell us what’s “healthy food” like?
Veggies, she typed. Fruits too…
You know those skinny girls they show on TV?
The ones eating salad, working out, going to romantic dinners…
The ones on the screen.
Not ones like me, she sighed.

“This shattered glass on my phone—
That’s what separates us!
My zip code, my genetic code.
That’s what separates us!
True story, sister!” she said.

Image credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

This content is based on real respondent stories from JIVINITI’s qualitative research.

When you donate to The Virsa Foundation, you facilitate deep insights on structural inequality, social determinants of health, perceptions around illness, food-related coping mechanisms, and more.

These issues have been amplified during the pandemic, particularly for low-income women and women of Color.

By supporting our research, you offer a voice to the most marginalized amongst us—often the first and worst victims of pandemics, climate change, and chronic illness due to carnistic violence-based food systems.


Photo credit: The Virsa Foundation Inc.

Nivi Jaswal is an intersectional vegan advocate and social entrepreneur in the Boston, Massachusetts area and Main Street Vegan Academy graduate. She founded The Virsa Foundation Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit and the JIVINITI Research Program after healing herself on a Whole Food Plant-based lifestyle. In addition to holding a BA (Psychology, Sociology), an MBA (Consumer Behavior Marketing) and extensive international corporate experience in the consumer packaged goods, medical devices, and media and research sectors, Nivi is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) trained at the Mayo Clinic. She is passionate about developing creative multidisciplinary intersectional content and designing unique research collaborations aimed at communities of color in the US, South Asia, and elsewhere.

Find her on InstagramFacebook, TwitterYouTube, and Spotify.


1 thought on “My Zip Code, My Genetic Code–That’s What Separates Us! by Nivi Jaswal, MVLCE”

  1. So sorry for this lady and hope she will question her dietary addictions and look at where and at what a terrible expense this food she eats comes from and clean up her diet by going Vegan! This can sole so many of the world’s problems — and help save precious Life on Earth!

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