Pediatrician Nadine Burke and healthy food advocate Anna Lappé discuss the importance of closing the food gap and ensuring access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for all.
What are some of the health challenges in vulnerable communities?
Nadine Burke: There are huge issues around environmental justice in “food deserts.” Low-income neighborhoods, where people simply don’t have access to nutritious, healthy food, tend to be food deserts. They tend to be targeted by the fast food industry. Obesity is a serious problem because the food that is available tends to be high-sugar, high-fat food. Low-income neighborhoods don’t have as many safe places to play, so it’s hard for people to get outdoors and exercise.
I did a study where we looked at the price of bread in high-income and low-income neighborhoods. We found that in low-income neighborhoods healthy foods and staple foods tend to be more expensive, and fast food is more readily available and less expensive. On top of that, we found that the high-income neighborhood had only one fast food establishment and the low-income neighborhood had six.
When we think about what our families have access to, low-income families already have a lot of challenges. Let’s at least give them the ability to feed their families in a way that’s healthy. I see young folks who are struggling every day because everything in their environment is stacked against them. It’s time for us as a community to get together and say, “This is ridiculous. We need to change our environment. We need to do things differently.”
What disparities do you see in the American food system?
Anna Lappé: We have two Americas. We have one America with money, resources, and a food system that is abundant and accessible. Most people living in well-off communities have access to any food they want any time of the year. And we have another America, in which the poorest communities don’t have access to any grocery store at all. If they do, it is carrying maybe some wilted lettuce, old tomatoes, and packaged food, and that’s about it. It’s an America where 36 million people in this country go hungry every year.
People are saying that this is not acceptable. We have the resources and the intelligence to ensure that every single one of us, no matter where we live, no matter how much money we have, has access to healthy and sustainably grown food. Within the past one or two generations, we have come to a place where very few of us are eating any fruits and vegetables anymore. In addition, of the fruits and vegetables that we are eating, almost all of the servings come from potatoes, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce. And the potatoes are in the form of French fries, which are of dubious nutritional quality.
As a result of this incredible dietary revolution in what we’re eating, some health researchers have recently said that if we don’t change how kids are fed in this country, this generation may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Just as we woke up as a nation and realized that smoking was a public health crisis, we’re waking up to realize that this industrial food system is a public health crisis.More: Anna Lappé, Food and Health, Food Justice, Junk Food, Nadine Burke, Taking a Stand