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Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Brain Equity

This is the twelfth in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

1972gn2dfy55yjpgWhen considering intellect, intelligence, IQ or mental health, we seldom make a connection with food. However, a very distinct and strong connection exists – from the womb to the meals we prepare for our elders. Because people of color are more likely to lack access to the foods that build healthy brains and maintain well-functioning psyches, intelligence levels and mental health are another facet of food justice. OKT calls this lack of access “food apartheid.”

Since environmental toxins play a part in diminishing intellect and contributing to mental illness, these are facets of the larger environmental justice conversation.

In the Womb

Studies have shown that pregnant moms need to eat 80 to 100 grams of protein as part of a well-balanced diet to ensure healthy infant outcomes. That well-balanced diet includes foods rich in calcium, healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables and 100% whole grains. The Standard American Diet will not satisfy this requirement. The junk food, fast foods and convenience foods prevalent in most income-challenged neighborhoods are even worse. Healthy brain growth especially depends on protein.

Infant mortality rates are double for black babies, compared to white. While the stress of racism plays a huge part in these numbers, under-nutrition during pregnancy is a factor, especially when babies born at term are underweight.

At the Breast … or Bottle

Breastfeeding is the very best food for infants. Among its many benefits, breast milk boosts baby’s intelligence. When the CDC investigated why fewer black women breastfed than white women, they found that the hospitals serving black women during childbirth were less likely to encourage and support breastfeeding. In addition, women in poverty, working one or more low-wage jobs, may not be able to pump milk when they are away from their babies.

breastfeedingBecause breastfeeding moms need to continue the same healthy diet they ate during pregnancy, lack of access to healthy foods continues to be a barrier to infants reaching their full intelligence potential after birth.

The human brain grows the most during pregnancy and the first three years of life. Diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods during the first three years of life permanently lower children’s IQ. Wilder Research reports, “… nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior, and health, all factors that impact academic performance. Research suggests that diets high in trans and saturated fats can negatively impact learning and memory, nutritional deficiencies early in life can affect the cognitive development of school-aged children, and access to nutrition improves students’ cognition, concentration, and energy levels.”

Baby’s only food during the first year of life should be breastmilk (or formula). Introducing solid foods earlier can lead to obesity, allergies, asthma and digestive difficulties. Breastfeeding until age three or longer is common in many cultures and can help support healthy brain growth. Whatever age babies wean from the breast, it’s important that parents introduce a healthy, whole foods diet. The commercial-baby-food diet (we are brainwashed to believe in) does not meet these needs.

In the Classroom

Research has also established a link between nutrition and behavior. “Access to nutrition, particularly breakfast, can enhance a student’s psychosocial well-being, reduce aggression and school suspensions, and decrease discipline problems “

Harvard studies agree. “Diets high in refined sugars … are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.”

As an Adult

“Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” says UCLA food-brain expert, Fernando Gómez-Pinilla. He reports that junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain’s synapses. This can result in loss of cognitive function (memory loss, brain fog, dementia) and mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, ADD and bi-polar) Gomez-Pinilla goes as far to say, “Evidence indicates that what you eat can affect your grandchildren’s brain molecules and synapses.”

In other words, when an unjust food system prevents a generation from having access to healthy, whole foods, its children and grandchildren have increased risks for lowered cognitive function and mental illness.

Our Elders, Forgetting and Forgotten

Food apartheid inexcusably impacts our elders. When it’s too difficult to prepare meals, junk and convenience foods are too easy an answer. Fixed incomes can result in choosing the least nutritious options available. The food charity that elders access mostly consists of highly processed foods and white grain products. Some are making strides in offering elders healthier meals, for example Meals on Wheels, but what is needed is a food system that makes whole foods accessible to everyone, no matter their income, age or neighborhood.

Only Food Justice can ensure brain equity. When all people have access to healthy whole foods, from cradle to grave, only then can they reach their potentials for intellect and mental health.

 

Gov. Snyder Appoints EJ Work Group Absent of Impacted EJ Community Members

unnamedMichigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Statement on Gov. Snyder’s EJ Work Group

In December 2016, the Environmental Justice community caught wind of Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to create an Environmental Justice Work Group. With optimism that the Governor was finally responding to the environmental and public health concerns of Michigan’s most vulnerable communities, the EJ community hoped that this action would be a step in the right direction. After all, the creation of an EJ Work Group was a direct recommendation from the Governor’s own Flint Water Advisory Task Force in response to the still-existing Flint Water Crisis. However, it became clear this week that the Governor’s plan to remedy environmental injustice is shaping up to be yet another government sanctioned, private industry-heavy fiasco.

On Wednesday February 15th, Governor Snyder quietly released his list of the Environmental Justice Work Group members on the State’s website. Most glaring about this list is that the Governor did not reserve a single appointment for a resident of an actual EJ community who is directly impacted by environmental injustice. While the Governor states that “ensuring every Michigander has the same protections from environmental and health hazards is of the utmost importance,” the overwhelming majority of his appointments to this EJ Work Group would suggest otherwise. This 19-person Work Group consists primarily of private industry executives and state government agency representatives. This is an unmistaken brush-off and knowing dismissal of the residents and organizations who wrote letters, made phone calls, and sent emails asking the Governor to ensure that EJ communities were represented on the Work Group.

As it stands, the very makeup of the Governor’s  Environmental Justice Work Group runs counter to every rule of the widely accepted Principles of Environmental Justice -in particular, the principle that “Environmental Justice demands the right [of impacted communities] to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.” However, the Governor’s transgressions do not have to persist. Standing in solidarity with EJ communities around Michigan, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition is calling on Governor Snyder to not only reconsider his appointments with the Principles of Environmental Justice in mind, but to also make appointments of EJ community members who suffer the impacts of unfair environmental decision-making on a daily basis.

To view the Environmental Justice Workgroup members click here. To connect with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, please visit us online or contact us (313) 577-1687.

Congress to Defund Fair Housing Act Data on Racial Disparities in Housing

unnamedThe Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition just issued this statement:

Statement on H.R. 482 & S.B. 103

On January 11th and 12th, Senate Bill S.B. 103 and House Bill H.R. 482 (the “Bills”) were introduced respectively by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and the House Financial Services Committee. Being mirror images of one another, both Bills are an outright attempt to disempower the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) by rolling back necessary protections of the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) by “nullify[ing] certain regulations and notices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and for other purposes.”

Among the numerous detrimental provisions, the Bills call for the defunding of Federal programs that provide access to housing data for States, local governments, and public housing agencies regarding “community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” The specific language is as follows:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

While the Bills purport “to further the purposes and policies of the Fair Housing Act,” by giving State and local officials more control over housing decisions, this assertion couldn’t be further from the truth. Sen. Lee and Rep. Gosar make walking-contradictions of themselves and an oxymoron of their proposed Bills by implying that the best way to enforce the Fair Housing Act is to actually create financial barriers to accessing data that clearly informs whether housing decisions are in fact “fair.”

States, local governments, and public housing agencies in the U.S. have a long, well documented history of housing discrimination when it comes to racial minorities. This is the very reason why the FHA exists today. Yet, the Bills would strip housing officials of Federal resources and then turn the reigns back over to them –suggesting that they are now better equipped to enforce the FHA. This simply cannot happen.

As fair, affordable housing is an essential component of Environmental Justice, we are calling on our representatives in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to reject the notion that States’ sovereign powers are somehow boosted by defunding Federal housing databases that are meant to protect vulnerable citizens and communities. Reject this notion by voting no when the Bills come up in Committee and making sure that they never reach the chamber floors.

To view the H.R. 482 and S.B. 103 click on the hyperlinks. To connect with the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, please visit us online or contact us (313) 577-1687.

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Farmers’ Market

13882561_1253537447998287_2460462587423020698_nThis is the tenth in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the number of farmers’ markets in the US increased from 1,700 in 1994 to more than 8,200 in 2014.This increase demonstrates the growing public interest in eating more fresh produce and supporting local growers. Farmers’ markets also provide people an opportunity to have regular interaction with local farmers, develop relationships and have a greater appreciation for what it takes to grow food, especially outside of  current agribusiness models.

However, having more farmers’ markets doesn’t necessarily result in a more just food system. In some ways, they can perpetuate the current food system’s
inequalities. For example, a farmers’ market that is part of a larger urban development plan often benefits those with economic and racial privilege. These markets charge more for produce and other food items use public dollars without public input and often contribute to urban gentrification.

When looking at farmers’ markets through a food justice lens, the market should not contribute to further inequity or sustain the current food system, which creates and perpetuates food insecurity. A farmers’ market that practices food justice would deliberately make it a priority to serve the nutritional needs of those most negatively impacted by the current food system. It would target communities of color, working class communities and communities experiencing poverty.

fullsizerender_2These communities consist of people receiving government food assistance like SNAP, WIC and the Double Up Food Bucks programs. The food justice movement and public health sectors have been pushing for more food assistance for purchasing fresh produce and even vegetable plants for those who want to grow their own food.

While such programs are subsidized by public money, the dollars spent on government food assistance programs pales in comparison to the public dollars supporting large corporate agribusiness. While neither subsidy is sustainable, Our Kitchen Table supports subsidizing communities experiencing poverty until our food system is truly democratic.

In addition to supporting people experiencing food insecurity, farmers’ markets that practice food justice should also make it a priority to have local growers and vendors who practice ecologically sound growing practices and fair labor practices. A farmers’ market practicing food justice should be transparent about these dynamics and exhibit signage that makes the practice of food justice highly visible.

Last, farmers’ markets should not end up being niche markets, but rather venues for both transforming the current food system and creating new food system models. In addition to providing more fresh food purchasing options, a farmers’ market that practices food justice should also educate the community about the food system and share resources and skills that empower people to collectively become more food independent, for example, cooking resources, food preservation workshops, seed exchanges, information of food policy challenges and even the development of food cooperatives. In other words, a farmers’ market that practices food justice should not only be a means to resist the current agribusiness food model, but also provide a venue for people to create truly democratic food systems that ultimately lead to food sovereignty.

For more information about Our Kitchen Table’s farmers’ market, the Southeast Area Farmers Market, contact SEAFM@OKTjustice.org or  on the Southeast Area Farmers Market  Facebook page.

 

 

 

Food Policy for Food Justice: Natural Oral Care Supports

This is the ninth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.

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Is oral health a food justice issue? OKT says yes. People without access to nutritious food experience more oral health problems. As these people usually also have income challenges, if they can access oral health care, extractions are the norm. As a result, they suffer unease  in social situations and are often unable to present themselves as candidates for better employment opportunities.

The following information aims to support those without access to good oral healthcare maintain their oral health.

  • Breastfeeding is the foundation for oral health. It exercises the jaw, creates good fit, healthy palate formation and increases healthy flow of saliva.
  • Whole foods promote oral health: fresh produce, legumes, nuts and seeds, lean meats and whole grains support the growth of good bacteria and fight inflammation. Crunchy fruits and vegetables clean teeth, remove plaque massage gums and help prevent gum disease.
  • Avoiding processed foods, especially those high in sugar, can boost oral health. Chemical additives (many found in toothpaste) can increase risks for oral health problems, e.g. triclosan, aspartame, saccharin, sorbitol, sodium lauryl sulfate, dyes and fluoride.
  • Oil pulling (swishing with a spoon of coconut oil) 15 to 20 minutes a day can help strengthen gums, whiten teeth, reduce plaque and remove toxins from the mouth. WIC and EBT can be used to purchase coconut oil.
  • Herbal supports for oral health include peppermint, spearmint, fennel, cinnamon, sage and thyme. Grow your own in a window sill!
  • Toothpaste alternative: mix coconut oil, baking soda and a drop of peppermint essential oil. Brush every day but not too hard!
  • WIC and EBT can be used to purchase coconut oil.

 

 

Food Policy for Food Justice: Food Justice & Public Health

Picture1.pngThis is the eighth  in a series of weekly posts highlighting OKT’s Food Justice series. You can download series handouts here for free.Most Americans would put healthcare near the top of their list of concerns. Healthcare is not only an issue of cost, but deeply impacts our daily lives. Through the lens of Food Justice, Our Kitchen Table believes that Americans are facing a public health crisis; a major contributor to this crisis is the current food system.

The consequences of poor health are directly linked to the kind of food we eat and have access to. Whether heart disease, diabetes, obesity or any number of current health issues, all connect to what foods we eat and have access to.

Though we all have some responsibility for improving our health, the current agribusiness-driven food system is the main culprit in creating poor public health. From a Food Justice perspective, here is how we understand the issues of food and public health.

  • Agri-business manufactures processed food items that make up the majority of what people buy in grocery stores. Most of these food products are unhealthy to consume over an extended period of time.
  • These processed food items are saturated with sugar, salt, fat and chemical preservatives, which contribute to poor public health.
  • Agri-business spends millions of dollars every year lobbying Congress to limit any regulation of the food system. This makes it difficult for us to know what foods make us unhealthy.i
  • Agri-business spends billions every year researching new ways to make food items that are highly addictive. This is why we all really like the stuff that is not healthy.ii
  • Agri-business spends billions more marketing the unhealthiest foods to the public: soda, candy, snack foods, fast food and many other highly processed food items. Much of this marketing targets children between the ages of two and 18.iii
  • The current Agri-business driven food system most negatively impacts the people most marginalized in our country—people experiencing
    poverty, communities of color, children and immigrant communities.

Agri-business costs us billions of dollars in public health care costs every year. Those who have the least healthcare insurance and or no insurance are the ones most |negatively impacted by these health care costs. The bottom line? The current food system profits by making us all sick.

What can we do about this?

  1. Stop solely blaming individuals for unhealthy eating habits and instead realize that the current food system is the root of poor health.
  2. Educate ourselves and organize campaigns that frame public health through a Food Justice lens.
  3. Find allies working on public health issues and build our own power base in order to confront the current food system and create community-based options for eating healthier.
  4. See that poor public health is connected to racism, sexism, economic exploitation and other forms of oppression.
  5. Support local farms, organizations and retailers that provide nutritious, healthy food that the most marginalized can access.
  6. Expand urban growing opportunities for communities experiencing poor health
  7. Create greater access to neighborhood-based farmers markets and provide more food sharing and community kitchen opportunities— the people most negatively impacted by the unhealthy food system have fewer resources (and time) to prepare and preserve food that is not processed.
  8. Pressure public health officials to acknowledge that many of the major health issues we face are caused by the food system and ensure that those same health institutions develop new strategies that challenge the current food system.
  9. Grow some of our own food as an opportunity to eat better and develop greater awareness of how food impacts our health.

Sources:

  1. www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=A
  2. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, by Michael Moss
  3.  http://casestudies.digitalads.org/wpcontent/uploads/2011/10/digitalads_brief_report.pdf