Friday, April 25, 2008

How much does that cheeseburger value meal cost?

The What Tami Said Read-a-long begins…

Your choice of an evening meal may cost you more than the $5.00 you paid for it.

People of color suffer disproportionately from the epidemics (heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cancer) that are fueled by excess meat consumption. They are the ones most harmed when the Food Pyramid continues to push frequent meat consumption.

The cancer incidence among African-Americans compared to whites in the United States is 26 percent greater.

The prostate cancer rate among African-Americans compared to whites in the United States is 36 percent greater.

The lung cancer incidence among African-Americans compared to whites in the United States is 53 percent greater.

The likelihood of an African-American woman dying of breast cancer compared to her Caucasian counterpart is 67 percent greater.

The hypertension (high blood pressure) rate among African-Americans compared to whites in the United States is 40 percent greater.

The heart disease rate for Hispanic women compared to white women in the United States is double.

The incidence of obesity among African-American and Mexican-American women compared to white women in the United States is 45 percent greater.

The diabetes incidence among Hispanic men compared to white men in the United States is 53 percent greater.

The diabetes incidence among African-American men compared to white men in the United States is 69 percent greater.

The diabetes incidence among African-American women compared to white women in the United States is more than double.

The diabetes incidence among Native American women compared to white women in the United States is more than triple.

Healthy lifestyles, including eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise, can significantly help to prevent, reverse and control these diseases. Studies have shown that people eating plant-based diets have far lower rates of heart disease, cancer, hypertension, obesity and diabetes than do meat-eaters. But current government policies are indifferent to the reality that non-Caucasian persons are suffering disproportionately from diseases caused by the standard American diet.

The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans purport to provide nutritional advice to keep Americans healthy. Though ostensibly written for all Americans, the guidelines ignore the unique health needs and traditional food customs of African Americans and other racial minorities. –John Robbins in the article “Racism, Food and Health
If it is true that we are what we eat, as the saying goes, then it is no surprise that a staggering number of Americans are over-fat, Super-sized and sick. And if I may get real with my brothers and sisters, African Americans are suffering more than most.

In the article above, John Robbins, scion of the Baskin-Robbins family, writes:

Statistically, people of color have less formal education and less access to many kinds of resources, and are therefore more vulnerable to the manipulations of junk food advertising. Children of color are disproportionately the latchkey kids who watch an average of 32 hours of television a week during which they are bombarded by ads for sugar-laden greasy foods. Neighborhoods of color are full of billboards for tobacco, alcohol, and the least healthy of foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, organic foods, and whole grains are difficult (if not impossible) to find; instead there are convenience stores and fast food chains with their greasy "bargains." Meanwhile, women of color are about 50 percent more likely to be obese than their white counterparts.

The diets of people of color are typically higher in sugar, salt, fat, and refined
carbohydrates. Lacking access to healthier foods, and also lacking knowledge about what diets are in fact healthier, the poor are easy prey, not only to the tobacco and alcohol sellers whose billboards pervade their neighborhoods, but to the junk food industry and the fast food chains who see these communities as markets they can readily exploit.
Yes, poverty and poor nutrition education are the reasons for some of what ails the black community, but now let me get really real…with myself. I am overweight—moreso than I have ever been. My diet is abysmal and my life is way too sedentary. I have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke—in fact, my own blood pressure in congenitally high. I am an educated, middle class black woman living in the suburbs. There are three major supermarkets within minutes of my house with a bounty of whole foods for the buying. I have access to Farmer’s Markets with locally-grown produce. I have consumed more books, magazines and reports on proper nutrition and its link to health and the environment and world hunger than I could possibly list here. And I actually like healthy, whole foods better than most of the greasy, fatty stuff. You see, I know better. I know better and I could do better, but still I have found it difficult to separate from my bad habits—some I inherited from my family and culture, and some I have acquired all by myself. I bet some of you can say the same.

Recently, I made a pledge to myself to reach some of my health-related goals before my 40 birthday, which is two years away. The more information I read about the food industry, the more I am inspired. Hearing how consumer food companies prey on the American appetite and how our government is complicit in promoting profit over the health of its citizens, makes the lefty activist in me good and mad. If you read the excerpts from John Robbins’ essay above, you should be good and mad, too.

Read with me: The Food Revolution by John Robbins

I hope you will join me in learning how “your diet can save your life and our world.” Join the What Tami Said Read-a-long and dive into “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins. The publisher says of the book:

Fears of Frankenfood, e coli, and "mad cow" meat abound. If, indeed, we are what we eat, what in the world are we becoming? Now, John Robbins, who revolutionized how we think about food, reveals the truth about our already deadly diet. Fifteen years after the publication of Diet for a New America, and 10 years after the popular PBS special about the book (September 1991), general readers are informed, curious, and articulate about diet and nutrition, and that phenomenally successful book was one of the vehicles for awakening people’s interest in the direct connection between what
they eat and their health.

Now, at this time in our culture’s history, people in the general population are fairly sophisticated in their knowledge of quite a wide range of issues related to diet: the importance of a low-fat diet; the relative importance of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in daily eating; the connections between certain foods and certain health issues, particularly heart disease and cancer; the dark side of the agricultural business, particularly the beef and chicken industries; and the questions raised by scientific breakthroughs in genetically engineered foods.

This sequel to Diet for a New America speaks to a nation that is much more savvy about food and health issues than it was in the 1980s and presents the tremendously compelling new information that has come out of research in the fields of nutrition,
medicine, and agriculture, bringing the reader in on what we now know about relationships between diet and longevity, aging, and robust health. Armed with powerful statistics, fascinating discussions, and exposes of false information and its proponents, the author argues for people adopting a vegetarian diet for their own well-being as well as that of the planet. Politically charged, the book is unquestionably convincing in its advocacy of a lifestyle that is not only personally beneficial but of critical importance to the world at large. This is a book of health and hope, and it unabashedly makes a pitch for a better world through better eating.
First assignment

The first reading assignment is Part I of The Food Revolution: Food and Healing. We will read the first eight chapters of the book over the next two weeks and discuss them here on Friday, May 9. I’ll post my thoughts and readers can comment. Or, if you are interested in writing one of the posts for the Read-a-long from your perspective, let me know.

Happy reading!


Hagar's Daughter said...

Count me in. Health issues in the black community are close to my heart. I have a pending post next week and will certainly link to your essay.

Although I have been eating vegetarian, I am still struggling with my weight because of health issues unrelated to weight, presciption med, and lack of exercise because of chronic pain. But I am working toward increasing my exercise and being consistent.

Thanks for this.

Tami said...

Yeah! Welcome, Hagar's Daughter! I look forward to disussing the book with you.

Tami said...

A commenter who disagreed with this post sent me an e-mail. I've asked him to please post his comments to the blog. I don't ban dissenting opinion.

The commenter, if I can paraphrase his opinion, believes that personal responsiblity is the problem not the government or food companies. This is my reply to him:

Thanks for your comment.

First, I hope you don't believe a group of parents in Berkeley represent ALL black people or people of color. I don't know the details of this incident, but as you've told it the parents' actions sound idiotic.

Certainly each of is is responsible for our health and that of our children. We hold the PRIMARY responsiblity for our health. That is why I work to educate myself on nutrition and, as I wrote in my post, admit when I fall short of doing what I should do. That said, I also expect my government, institutions and the corporations that serve the American public to be responsible, too. I don't expect the government to promote consumption of unnecessary dairy products. I don't expect public schools to give our children's nutrition over to corporations like Pepsico and Pizza Hut. I don't expect government reports to minimize the negative impact of high fructose corn syrup on the diet under pressure from sugar purveyors. I don't expect consumer food corporations to be allowed to make spurious nutritional claims. If you don't think that food companies don't spend a lot of money preying on the public and attempting to distort their view of what is healthy, then take it from someone who used to do consumer marketing for food companies--ME. And the government is complicit in those actions through poor oversight and by bending to the will of corporations when releasing health information.

I disagree that "Super-Size Me" was absurd. I can't imagine consuming that much fast food in a short period of time, but many Americans' diets are not far off. If they aren't dining on McDonald's every day, they surely are supplementing regular visits to fast food places with lots of processed junk that might as well be fast food. Look in the shopping cart of the person behind you in line at the grocery store some time.

There are many populations, particularly poor populations, that do not have access to good nutritional information nor healthy whole foods. People of color make up a large part of that population, but not ALL. And frankly, even some of the most educated and wealthy of us are lacking in good nutrition information, bombarded as we are by conflicting data from the media, food companies and the government.

So, I agree with you: personal responsibility is one BIG part of regaining our nation's health. But also important is helping to educate underserved communities; to hold the government, which is in place for American citizens not American corporations, accountable for its actions; and to hold food companies accountable for their actions.

Hey, I hope you will post your comment to my blog post. I will approve it. I don't ban consenting opinions. I actually intend to post this reponse because I think this is a good dialogue and one that needs to happen.

Jennifer said...

I just want to echo Tami's call to have the original dissenter's comment come through. I read, with interest, Tami's reply, but it was a bit hard to follow and am not sure exactly where the dissension lies, aside from an assertion of personal responsibility, which I think we can all get behind in the abstract. Personal responsibility, the value of education and hard work, eating healthy.

I think the problem with the abstract is the practice, which is what I appreciate about Tami's post and her choice of books to read.

There's a great fiction book Tami, MY YEAR OF MEATS that may be interesting as a followup to Robbins (and btw, I will try my best to get the book and keep up with the reading because I LOVE read-alongs! Perfect for the nerd in me!).

Anyway, MY YEAR OF MEATS is also about global consumption and race and gender. And there's a very important part in the book (this won't spoil anything) when the main character talks about the kind of willed ignorance that she lives in. That she knew about factory farming and pesticides and other unsavory practices. And she continued to go about her life because it was easy not to worry or think about such things. And because the problems seem so big that you think, what difference will it make if I buy organic vs. non-organic meat/vegetables.

Anyway, that really resonated with me then, and I think of it now when I read Tami's post because I think so much of what we do is about willed ignorance. And we should take personal responsibility, but it's also hard to do when there are larger forces at work and it's easy for us, individually to take personal responsibility, but when do we start to extend that to taking responsibility for our friends, family, and neighbors? I guess that's what I appreciate about what Tami tries to do in her posts in general--to extend her community beyond where she actually lives in the Midwest to the rest of us in cyberspace.

And like you Tami (I'm also 38) I've recently had some health issues which my doctor has said I need to address so if you want a health buddy, count me in! Right now I've got to lose 14 lbs in 2 months to try to see if a lifestyle change will prevent me from starting cholesterol drugs (UGH--really don't want to go THERE).

NOLA radfem said...

I love how Robbins broke away from the Baskin-Robbins family and its fortune. A gutsy truthteller - he has my respect!

Tami said...


I will gladly be your cyber-health buddy!

Brother OMi said...

as much as i would want to be down. I got so many books to read (reading Skinny B***h right now).... and I would be behind. but if you need help with anything, let me know

if i am in your town doing a workshop, i got you (for free)..

allecto said...

I haven't read this book but I found this post very insightful and definitely rings true for me. Nutrition and health are absolutely class and race issues.

I watched a movie 'Fast Food Nation' a while ago and something that hit me really hard about it was actually a scene at the end of the movie where a cow was slaughtered. The majority of workers in abbotoirs and meat factories are people of colour. Most often they are immigrants. In Australia the meat industry has utilised the asylum seekers and are currently attempting to recruit people into the industry and gain special visa grants for people from disadvantaged countries to be trafficked into the industry. This is a personal issue for me as well as 3 of my five multi-racial uncles have worked in abbotoirs. But the slaughter of a cow in the movie just illustrated the horrific nature of the 'work' that people of colour are trafficked into. It brought back the reality that this was what my uncles did when they went to work. Day in and day out they would turn a live, breathing, flesh and blood creature into a thing, a carcass, a slab of meat. How much of their selfhood did it destroy? I cried my heart out in that scene of the movie, not just for the hundreds of thousands of cows that are slaughtered for Western meat consumption but also for my uncles and the many, many men and women like them who could not help but be affected by the callousness their job requires.

This of course does not diminish at all the terrible health problems related to nutrition that predominantly poor, people of colour suffer from. If I look at my own family I can definitely see that both race and class have a huge impact on our health and nutrition. My poor, Black grandmother struggled to feed her family, often stealing what she needed in white food (flour, sugar, eggs, milk) from her employers (she worked as a cook in a boys school and made next to nothing) and the white food was just not good for Black physiology (not good for white people either really).

I think another problem is not knowing how to cook. Meat and boiled vegies was all my mum really knew. And I became a vegetarian at 15 and proceeded to exist on junk food until I left home. Luckily I moved in with a white, middle-class girl who taught me how to cook.

Time, money and energy are also huge contributing factors. But this comment has gone on far too long and I will sign off now.


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