Now & Later Nutrition

According to research including a national sample including 31,243 public secondary schools, 48,460 convenience stores, defined by proprietary SIC codes, and 2004–2005 NCESCCD; census 2000 and Census Bureau 2005 population figures, The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that:

  • Schools in predominantly black (>70%) tracts and those in predominantly non-Hispanic white tracts had a similar number of convenience stores within 0.5 miles

  • Schools in middle-income and high-income tracts (based on tertiles of median household income) had 22% fewer and 50% fewer convenience stores within 0.5 miles, respectively, than schools in low-income tracts

When I was in 6th grade, I pretty much ate candy for lunch everyday. We didn't have a convenience store nearby, but we were across the street from a housing project where one of the residents converted their living room into an impressive full-blown candy shop. I was a regular customer during lunch break, as were many other students attending our school. I was making some horrible dietary choices that formed some habits that I still struggle with overcoming today. Let's just say....I likes me some sweets. In fact, some might suggest that I overindulge in them. I believe my intake is relatively moderate, but others may disagree.

The research above suggests that young people from black and brown communities today are probably making similar dietary choices due to the abundance of less healthy snacks made available to them by the stores they are most likely to patronize on a regular basis. When you read the statistics of how diet related illnesses disproportionately effect black and brown people in the U.S., you have to wonder where it all begins. I'll suppose that for many, it likely happens on the way to, or from school.

I would love to see neighborhood convenient stores take the steps to reduce the amount of sugary offerings they provide, but I know from my experience in retail that consumer demand determines the product on the shelf. What we have to do is change the culture of food in our homes, so that making healthy food choices becomes a normalized behavior. In my natural food retail experience I've seen the results. There are actually full-grown adults who have never, or only occasionally experienced the embarrassment of a light blue, or fire engine red stained tongue revealing their fructose-driven transgressions. (Mom: I told you that to you need to stop eating all that candy. Me:...What candy?)

The impact of food, how it is produced, who produces it, and where it is available, is critically important. We can make a difference in the statistical outcomes with the choices we make, and how we educate ourselves and our young people. Teach them well, and they will one day love kale. Be healthy y'all. Love the People. Feed the People.

 

The D.J. in the Desert.

According to the USDA, Food Deserts are defined as "parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers."

My good friend Rashid is a very popular guy. He's a D.J. and he cuts hair for a living, so he meets and talks to a lot of different people. People share a lot of information with their hair stylists, which means Rashid hears a lot about peoples' health issues. He is convinced that due to my experience working in natural food stores that I am way more knowledgable about health and wellness than I actually am. He often passes my phone number along to people who have issues with their health, and from time to time they actually call me. There are some very interesting conversations that we have  about the chronic and acute health conditions they are experiencing, and what their actions have been thus far in addressing the problem. Mostly, the response has been a litany of stories about pain, hospital visits, drugs, disappointments, more drugs, depression, and finally a decision to seek an alternative opinion (This is when I usually receive a call).

My first response to these calls is always to make sure people understand that I am in no way a physician, nutritionist, or therapist, and that any information I share is based on my experience from working almost three decades in the natural food industry. Second, I try to emphasize the importance of proper diet and nutrition to support any healing or wellness program. I am keenly aware of the lack of attention given to fundamental nutrition best practices in our society not to mention the outright bombardment of misinformation and advertising to encourage the purchase and consumption of products that may be addiction forming, and detrimental to our overall health. I inform them that anything I suggest should be discussed with their physician to ensure that there will be no complications or disruptions to any regiment they are on. Sometimes I educate people about herbs or supplements I've known to be effective, but mostly what I talk to people about are choices. The choices they have made around lifestyle. What their diet consisted of before their medical issues, and what dietary choices they are making now.

I believe that we make choices based on the information we have, and the best way I can help anyone is to give them the resources to help themselves. I find that most times when I talk about herbs or supplements I am speaking a language the average person doesn't understand, so I'm careful to try to spell things out. I'm a huge proponent of empowerment through self study, and I often refer people to two books that are readily available, Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, and  The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine by Michael T. Murray. I've used these books interchangeably over the years, and found them extremely useful in helping me make better informed decisions about my choices for health and wellness.

The underlying issue is that we should feel compelled to address the fact that many of us have such limited access to healthy food options. When I think about the health issues faced by many people in urban and rural communities that could have been prevented through dietary best practices, I reflect on my upbringing and how grocery shopping often required a "plan of action" due to distance, schedule, and  other limitations. The lack of exposure to what I now consider common fruits and vegetables probably limited most of our culinary choices, and influenced a diet that was static and dependent on heavily processed packaged goods with low nutritional value. The results of these circumstances are in direct relationship to the statistics on the incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity that plagues these communities.

The power to change and transform food deserts into vibrant, food secure communities lies in the hands of the people of the community. I grow food as a way to ensure available healthy food for my community, and I offer workshops and classes at my small organic farm to encourage and support others who grow food. Community gardens have the capacity to provide similar opportunities. Consumer Food Cooperatives are another way of empowering underserved communities by providing convenient food access, and generating local economies. Also, existing convenience stores should be challenged to carry healthier food options that support the well being of the communities they serve.

I believe we should consider whatever options available to try and reduce the occurrence and effects of food inequality in our communities, and I remain committed to the challenge of overcoming these surmountable obstacles by remaining actively dedicated to this cause. If you live in a community with limited healthy food choices, you also have the power to effect change by informing yourself and becoming a local "food activist" in your community. I hope this has been helpful information, and that the reader is inspired to help achieve food security for all. In sincerity and Good Health, Love The People. Feed The People!

 

The Green Earth Experience!

The Green Earth Experience

I didn't know what food was until I was almost 21 years old. I had lived most of my life eating either what was literally forced down my throat, placed before me at a table, marketed heavily to me, or appealed to my senses and my mostly unsophisticated and immature tastes. In the spring of 1989 that began to change. I was hired as a cashier at a small health food store in Evanston, Illinois called The Green Earth. In the span of about six months I began my journey towards learning what food really is. 

As a cashier operating a manual cash register I had to constantly refer to price lists for produce, and I often had to ask customers what some of these strange looking items were they were purchasing. Things like kale, kohlrabi squash, kumquats, celery root, and Jerusalem artichokes. This stuff looked weird to me. What do you do with it? What does it taste like? Even the things I did recognize made me wonder to myself  "where in the world do these folks find the time to eat so many vegetables"?

I felt that it was my duty as an employee to make an effort to become more familiar with the products we sold at The Green Earth, so I began to sample some of the foods I had never tried before. I started with things like natural cookies and other snacks (of course), and progressed to more fresh fruits and vegetables. I eventually  experimented with every one of the vegetables I thought were "weird", and moved on to some of the packaged goods that I saw were popular. My first major leap was into the world of tofu. This item was the most intriguing to me because I saw so much of it go through my register lane. It appeared that if you considered yourself a true believer, this dense, cold, unappealing, white block of soybean curd had to be a staple of your diet. My first attempt didn't go so well. I knew that it was a meat alternative, so I cut it into (uncooked) cubes and decided to try it with some natural pasta sauce over some whole wheat spaghetti. The experience was less than amazing. I got much better at it over time.

As I began to ask the store owners and other employees what foods they enjoyed and why, I learned that although their food choices had something to do with taste, the decisions they were making were mostly about health, sustainability, principles, and empowerment. Over the next 28 years, my experience in the natural and organic food community has put me in touch with people who have overcome so many health related problems through diet and lifestyle change. I've learned that the way food is grown has the potential to impact the environment, the workers who help produce it, and the people who consume it. I've seen the positive economic and social effects of this movement, and I am fully committed to the idea that food culture has the potential to strengthen and empower individuals and communities.

I now know what food is. I am a food activist. I believe that my years of experience have prepared me for the mission I am embarking on. I want more people to understand food the way that I do, and make empowering choices for themselves, their communities, and the environment. I plan to continue to learn the ways of production, distribution, and marketing to better support farmers and producers. I also plan to continue to share my experiences in an effort to promote food justice, and to educate, and encourage more people to make choices that reflect ownership and empowerment around one of life's most basic staples. Love the people. Feed the people!