TWU student brings plant-based eating to local food desert


Sociology doctoral student Vanessa Ellison is keen on greens. Through a recently awarded Pioneer Center for Student Excellence experiential learning grant, she will launch her passion project, “Power of Your Plate: A Juneteenth Summit.”

Headshot of TWU sociology student Vanessa Ellison

During the summit, Ellison plans to demonstrate the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, especially for those who live in “food deserts,” or urban areas where there is limited or no access to affordable, high quality and nutritious foods.

The event will be held in conjunction with Denton’s 50th Annual Juneteenth Celebration, which takes place at Fred Moore Park June 19-21, 2020. The summit will cover a broad range of topics, including effective grocery shopping, nutritious meal planning, gardening in small spaces, in-season produce selection, and pickling and canning practices. She also plans to host a forum with members from the Black Vegetarian Society of Texas and provide food from Soulgood, an award-winning, Dallas-based vegan restaurant, food truck and catering company owned by TWU alumna Cynthia Nevels.

“Choosing a plant-based lifestyle is a personal emancipation from cultural foods that can lead to poor health,” said Ellison, who grew up in a food desert in Waco, Texas.

Similar food deserts have been identified in the Southeast Denton neighborhoods adjacent to Fred Moore Park. “Many of the ailments that plague black and brown communities are food-related, such as diabetes and heart disease. These diseases can be managed and sometimes alleviated through food. By the time that I was 26 years old, I was the only surviving member of my family. I lost my grandmother, father, mother and 28-year-old brother to heart attacks. My experience is not unique in the black community and my goal is to make it a rare occurrence.”

As part of her independent research project, conducted with guidance from sociology faculty mentor Jessica S. Gullion, Ph.D., Ellison plans to use data gained from the summit to further community education and advocate for healthier food options in Southeast Denton.

TWU sociology doctoral student and Denton TV news anchor Vanessa Ellison.
TWU sociology doctoral student and Denton TV news anchor Vanessa Ellison.

In addition to her studies, Ellison works full time as the City of Denton’s Education Coordinator for Sustainability. Her responsibilities include public speaking, event planning and providing educational opportunities to promote the City of Denton’s “Simply Sustainable” plan. She also now serves as a news anchor for Denton TV. One of the most rewarding aspects of her job is educating people of all ages, or as Ellison says, “from Kindergarten to grey,” about topics such as conscious consumerism, recycling, land use and local food.

“Maya Angelou once said ‘Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better do better.’ This is my way of doing better for my community,” said Ellison.

Vanessa Ellison stands in front of a mural that says

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Page last updated 2:18 PM, March 23, 2021