A while ago a friend asked me to respond to this article: Expanding access to food across racial lines
The correlation between low-income levels and unhealthy eating is not a new one, though it is, so far, a largely ignored one. When I interned at A Wider Circle, my job was to research health statistics and trends among low-income populations. You know how difficult that was? The majority of research institutions had published studies examining the associations between race and health, as if being Black or Asian was the sole indicator of healthy eating (watch out Asians, we’re eventually going to overdose on rice and die). A much more important indicator is income. It’s pure economics really: vegetables from the supermarket are expensive, while Happy Meals from McDonald’s and other fast foods are not.
Then again, maybe healthy eating in the U.S. is not wholly dependent on income. One reader, meadowrock, made the following comment:
If people want children to have access to healthy foods why in the world does the food industry add the toxic chemical aspartame to over 6000 foods and beverages in this country. Aspartame has been shown to cause massive weight gain in most people that consume it on a daily basis. It also has been shown to cause leukemia, lymphoma, diabetes, dementia and 90 other diseases. It is added now to almost all chewing gums sold in the U.S. which are of course consumed by children. Look at the kids that chew gum; they are almost always fat. This toxic substance was originally rejected by the FDA as unfit for human consumption seven times until President Reagan fired the FDA director in 1981. Three cheers for stock profits over citizen health.
I have to say that I agree. If we want our families to eat healthier, we can’t expect profit-motivated food retailers to stop selling their most popular items (in other words, I wouldn’t wait around for supermarkets to stop selling Twinkies anytime soon). It is up to us to make changes in our diets. Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should eat less; that way we’ll have more money to buy organic food. While most of us do not have the dietary control of a Buddhist monk, he does make a good point: we waste our money on unhealthy food that we do not need. Changing food habits is hard (take this from a girl with an inexorable sweet tooth), but it is necessary. For those of us who can’t afford buying organic food 100% of the time, growing our own vegetables or participating in community gardening projects is a much cheaper alternative (check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for some easy tips). Besides, gardening contributes to our developing a better understanding of the life cycle and the ecological system that sustains us and all of life. Let’s not forget that the human society for the most part has always been defined as an agricultural society (that is until the last hundred years or so!).
We can strive to incorporate, at the very least, a few vegetables from our local farmers’ market into our weekly diets. Eating healthy does not have to be expensive and it does not have to be difficult. There are a multitude of books and Internet resources available with easy-to-prepare recipes that are good for your health (check out Simple Food for the good life by Helen Nearing for super straightforward, uncomplicated recipes).
At the same time, it is up to the government to encourage healthy eating by promoting access to low-cost healthful foods among Americans of all races and income-levels. First and foremost they have to put an end to the decades-long practice of collusion between the FDA and the food industry whereby bureaucrats/politicians turn a blind eye to harmful methods of food production, dangerous food additives, and misleading labels because of the political contributions they receive from the meat manufacturers, food retailers, etc. The FDA should be defending Americans’ health, not selling it to the highest buyer.
Another step is reducing the costs of healthful foods for consumers. Broccoli should not cost more than a cheeseburger. Part of this has to do with the government’s policy of farm subsidies, which targets large-scale producers and encourages them to manufacture excessive quantities of foodstuffs. Our support of giant corn and soy farms is the reason that derivatives of these products are found in everything (And I mean everything: corn syrup, candy bars, ketchup, cereals, even lightbulbs!) Our government needs to stop stuffing the pockets of the wealthiest farmers and start subsidizing the average Americans’ food consumption. The government has already made moves in this direction by allowing food stamps to be redeemed at farmers’ markets. But what about those people who don’t qualify for food stamps? The government needs to redirect its food subsidies toward farmers markets, organic produce, and healthful foods. I’m still hoping for the day the sign “two boxes of Entermann’s for the price of one” is replaced by “On Sale: broccoli and kale CHEAP!”
A government policy promoting healthy eating would not be complete without support for local non-profit organizations like A Wider Circle that combat poverty and poor health. AWC provides health and wellness information through workshops on a variety of topics, including stress management, anger management, nutrition, self-esteem, and the mind-body connection; monthly wellness materials; and the Health Professionals Network, which connects health professionals with local schools and shelters where they can give presentations. The more crusaders for good health we have out there, the better.
I would like to formulate a healthy eating petition to send to our President and First Lady and I would love your input.
What do you think should be included?
What are ways that our government can encourage healthy eating?