This is my first post in a new series of posts that will explore themes around food justice and health.
If you’ve been here before, you may be wondering how I went from sharing donut recipes to talking about food justice. Well, I’ve decided to take the blog in a new direction, read more about it here.
If you’ve never been to this blog before, and you just stumbled across it. Welcome.
When I first started the blog I thought I would enjoy sharing food recipes, and to some degree I did. But as time went by, it didn’t feel authentic to who I am. It was also the same feeling I had when I began my path to becoming a dietician (I switched my major to sociology), it just didn’t feel like me.
Over the years I’ve tried to make sense of our food system and our relationship to food. I have found that health is a lot more complex that just choosing the right foods. More recently, I have been trying to make sense of the trends I’ve seen throughout media. It seems these days everyone is on the path to health, and according to the experts, all it takes is a trip to Whole Foods for the latest and greatest health food.
But if it were that easy, why are still so many people struggling with obesity and obesity related problems?
Who gets to be healthy?
When I met twenty-six-year-old Tammy, she had just found out she had type 2 diabetes and was considered obese by her physician. She told me she was set out to change her lifestyle. However, Tammy was faced with a few problems, she lived on a on a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget and despite a new grocery store opening in her neighborhood, SNAP benefits were not accepted. Tammy also faced challenges in her neighborhood, fast food restaurants like McDonald’s were abundant and there were no gyms within close distance. As a college student, she was barely making ends meet, and all of the advice she received from her nutritionist seemed out of reach.
Tammy’s problem is not unique, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 36.5% of US adults are obese . Obesity is one of the most concerning health problems in America, responsible for an array of related diseases including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Interestingly, minorities living in poverty and living with food insecurity are the most affected by obesity and associated diseases.
If you’re thinking this is just Tammy’s problem to bare, it’s not. Obesity is not just an individual problem; it affects communities and productivity.
In 2008, medical costs of obesity were estimated over $147 billion US dollars, half financed by government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid , programs that are funded by tax payers. As a result, food policies have become an integral part in the fight against obesity. However, despite government efforts to create food policies that aim to address diet and health disparities among impoverished communities, there has been no substantial impact on the diet quality that has been shown to lead to the current obesity epidemic among low-income communities.
Many times over I have heard the argument that people just need to make better choices, or we need food policies that help people make these better choices.
Most arguments I hear have some truth to them. Yes, people could make better choices. Yes, people could shop at healthier stores. Yes, perhaps we need better food policies.
But what about the other truth?
What happens when making better choices is almost impossible? Like Tammy’s situation.
What if the person doesn’t have access to healthy food, because let’s be honest, healthy food is not cheap. Or, what if your food environment is saturated with fast food restaurants and little to no markets that provide you with healthy foods? And finally, what if the food policies that are in place do not support a healthy lifestyle? Instead, they further encourage one to continue eating unhealthy processed foods.
In it’s simplest form, the food justice movement aims to respond to race and class disparities in access to healthy, culturally appropriate, and affordable food in the United States .
Originally started from a group of academics and and activists, who in 1996 formed the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) as a response to race and class disparities in access to healthy, culturally appropriate, and affordable food in the United States. As a result, the CFSC brought together a vast network of activists working in low-income communities, cultivating what we know today as the Food Justice movement.
The food justice movement is fundamentally a social justice movement. It takes issue with inequalities in access to food, exploitive labor practices in the food system, and environmental degradation associated with conventional agriculture
and environmental racism .
Where Do We Go From Here?
In this blog, I hope to explore and share some of the research I have done on these topics. As I mentioned before, food and health is a lot more complex than it seems.
Over the next few posts I would like to examine the inequalities in access to food, and how food policies address or don’t address these inequalities. I also hope to talk a little about how sometimes we forget to think about how our food choices affect those who work in the food system. How organic is more than just for our own individual health, but for the health of workers. Finally, how those very same food choices affect the environment.
I would like to bring light how our food is more than just an individual choice. Rather, how it’s intertwined into every aspect of our communities.
  Bradley, Katharine and Hank Herrera. “Decolonizing Food Justice: Naming, Resisting, and Researching Colonizing Forces in the Movement.” Antipode, vol. 48, no. 1, Jan. 2016, pp. 97-114.