Eating Healthy in Communities of Color: A Revolutionary Act of Rebellion?

man chopping vegetable
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“Food is not just calories, it is information. It talks to your DNA and tells it what to do. The most powerful tool to change your health, environment, and entire world is your fork.” – Dr. Mark Hyman

 

A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw a post by @plantbasedvibes asking people what was the inspiration behind their health and wellness journey. One of the responses that really stood out to me was from @paijawn. Her response was “I took graduate level health disparities courses and learned more about food deserts and swamps and the [government’s] planned lack of access to healthy food options within black communities. I started eating healthier as an act of rebellion.” She said an act of rebellion y’all. I have always tried to be conscious of what I am eating but it was for personal reasons or sometimes sheer vanity. I had never looked at it as a rebellion though. But when you stop and think about the many systems in place that make healthier food options so difficult for some people to access, a rebellion is exactly what it is.

We know that since the times of slavery the food options available to African Americans were often times food that was discarded and unwanted. Food was usually very scarce and devoid of any nutritional value. The healthy food options that were available were usually grown by the slaves themselves during their spare time in small gardens that they planted themselves within their slave quarters. Fast forward many generations to current times and we have embraced soul food as a huge part of our culture and something that brings us all together. We use soul food to express love to our family and friends. How many of you have seen the memes of an overweight black woman’s arm with a caption saying something like “if her arm looks like this you know the mac n cheese gon’ be fire”. Hilarious right?  But what about the many illness that we say ‘run in the family’ of many African American’s, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. These diseases are often directly related to the foods that we eat and often times can be cured, corrected, or managed through a change in diet.

So, when you drive or walk through poor disparaged communities of color, what do you usually see when it comes to food options? What I usually see are convenient stores and liquor stores on nearly every corner and a lot of fast food restaurants. You hardly ever see an actual grocery story or farmer’s market with healthy food choices. Even if healthy food options are available the cost of these foods are usually more expensive or people may choose the unhealthy options simply because it tastes better or is more familiar to them.

However, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, we all have the power of choice. We can choose to educate ourselves on healthier food options, we can choose to feed ourselves and our children healthier foods, we can choose to grow our own foods, we can choose something different. This starts with non-judgemental conversations, constructive dialogue, and education. A lot of times people are turned off by vegans, vegitarians, and other healthy food “gurus” simply because they feel attacked and judged. So it turns into an us vs them type of thing, as opposed to a teachable moment to simply provide information and allow people space to process the information given and then (hopefully) make a more informed decision about what they choose to feed themselves and their families. Usually, when you know better you do better. This will look different for everyone and it will not happen all at once. Change is slow but it can happen, and it is already happening.

So what can you do right now to start making better choices? I would definitely recommend making small changes so that you don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged. You can start by setting small goals such as drinking more water, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on processed foods and eating out less. These goals should be specific. For example, your goal for the week can be to drink two bottles of water a day and only drink one soda. It should be doable and what works best for you. If you use social media, you can also start following healthy food pages so that this information pops up on your timeline and serves as a reminder and motivator for you. Find a friend to join you on your journey who will help hold you accountable. Do your own research, read books/articles, and watch documentaries on why healthy food options are so important. This will help you look at food differently and it can totally change the relationship that you have with food. It will also help you understand why limiting the access people have to healthy food was/is such an oppressive and calculated power move and why choosing to make better/more informed decisions regarding your food choices is a powerful act of rebellion that can change everything for you, your family, and the people around you.  When you choose different from the status quo it is most definitely an act of rebellion.

In the words of Tupac Shakur, “We gotta make a change. It’s time for us as a people to start making some changes. Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live, and let’s change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do what we gotta do, to survive.”