When we discuss racism, we often talk about white supremacists, hate speech, discrimination, segregation, and a broken justice system. Rarely do we think of food. Yet, hundreds of thousands of POCs are killed every year by an unseen form of racism, a silent and deceptive injustice in our modern food system. This problem is compounded with our pandemic as people of color bear an unequal burden. Pacific Islander, Latino, Indigenous, and Black Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of double or more than White and Asian Americans, who experience the lowest age-adjusted rates.1
Let's look at the underlying causes of these excess mortality rates with our food and health.
Food deserts and highly processed food swamps are significant contributors to poor nutrition in this country for POCs. A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. It's hard to make good choices if you cannot find fresh produce, but if you live within a stone's throw of fast food establishments and corner stores carrying hyper-palatable junk, it's an ominous trajectory for your health. These toxic food areas are more predictive of obesity and illness than food deserts.2 And obesity is an exceptional predictor of someone's likelihood to suffer the ill effects of COVID.3 Black communities have almost twice as many fast-food restaurants as white neighborhoods.4 Only 5 percent of African Americans have a healthy diet.5 This food oppression is the leading cause statistically for people of color falling into sickness and disability. What would you do if your community had a lack of healthy food and an excess of foods that were killing your friends and family slowly? 🌵
Even if healthy food is available, fresh whole foods have a hard time competing with the dollar menus of fast food joints. So when the decision is between facing hunger or the convenience of eating cheap processed food, the choice is almost unavoidable...and a slow killer. Big food companies target black and Hispanic youth at a disproportionate rate.6 In 2019, Black children saw 75% more fast-food ads than white children did, up from a 60% difference in 2012.7 Worse yet, the US Government thoroughly contributes to these trends in the form of policy that carries a through-line to help these food companies succeed in the name of a highly functioning economy.8 If we get sick in the process, it will just be more of an opportunity to find an 'economical' means to an end. Enter stage left: pharmacological interests. 👎🏽
I don't pretend to know how to transform this system of health tyranny for POCs. It has many thick tentacles--government policies, regulations, education, corporate responsibility, and community intervention. And I know that we can always start educating ourselves, speaking the truth (or writing in this case), and leaning into and highlighting POC and health expert voices. Let's listen to those who recognize and take action to fix the far-reaching and detrimental inequities in our racial oppression within our food system.👂🏽