By now we all have come to know the importance of healthy eating and a well-balanced diet right? I mean it's all over the news, television shows, commercials, even former First Lady Michelle Obama based her entire campaign on the importance of a nutritious meal in schools, which then resulted in nutrition facts being posted on menus and food packaging at restaurants. However, somewhere along the way, certain demographics did not fully get the message. Coincidentally, healthy eating campaigns did not reach far enough into black communities who need to get the message the most.
Eating healthy, Stigmas w/ Mental Health, Capitalism, Lack of POC Characters in Childrens Books & More (See full conversation in HERE, part of the Strolling Series by Cecile Emeke).
This quote was taken from the Strolling Series by Cecile Emeke, a YouTube video that I will post at the end of this article. But reflecting on this statement, it really says a lot about the status and wellness of the average American citizen. These pressures are taught at an early age, and the socioeconomic gap is extreme in America, from the over-educated to the under-educated, the misunderstood to the misguided. All of these things are embedded in us at birth. The problem with this is that many of us are products of our environment. No matter what we are taught, our surroundings often drowns out the sounds of sustaining positive wellbeing in order to promote growth in various ways.
When you pack people into an environment with little to no resources and then expect them to fend for themselves, the outcome can be quite detrimental. Blacks and Latinos typically live in neighborhoods where healthy options are limited; thus leading to problems such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. Fast food and junk food is very prominent in poorer areas. Even soul food restaurants that offer “comfort food” tend to be over-saturated with sodium and fats. Don’t get me wrong, soul food is good!! Damn good actually. Unfortunately, it’s not good for us, in addition to all of the sodas, chips and candy shoved in our faces every time we go to pump gas. And I won’t even mention the alcohol and tobacco available for purchase on every corner.
Imagine what would happen if all of the fast food restaurants and take-out spots were removed from minority neighborhoods and replaced with healthy franchises such as Kale Me Crazy or Sweet Tomatoes, the entire health dynamic of the urban market would change. Obesity and other health related issues would decrease, physical activity would increase, and most importantly, mental health issues would improve. Families would become familiar with healthier eating options simply because, well, there aren't many other options to chose from. But honestly, all of this is pretty far fetched. The lack of healthy choices is not the only issue in inner-city neighborhoods. When it comes to finances, jobs, and other resources, the black community is still suffering, which in return leads to overexertion, low-wages or no wages, and lack of parental guidance and family involvement. All of which creates a recipe for unhealthy food choices. When you combine these symptoms and then you have no real solution, the problem only gets worst and a cure becomes almost nonexistent.
Now we have to think about the fact that organic fruits and vegetables are extremely high in cost. Compare a bag of organic apples at $5.99 to Wendy's 4 for $4 value meal. When your stomach is growling, the last thing you would chose to walk into a store to purchase is a bunch of apples, therefore, choices are very limited on a low-income. Lean, grass-fed organic beef averages around $3.99/lb., now compare that to pork at around $1.99/lb., further limiting healthy options. While I understand that it may cost agriculture farmers a lot more to raise animals and crop fruits and vegetables organically, but in what way does this benefit the consumers? Healthy eating is constantly shoved in our faces, but what do you do when you simply cannot afford that lifestyle, or when that lifestyle isn't even offered at all?
Living in both inner-city and suburban areas, I will tell you that the white community eats out just as much as the black community, if not more. Their purchase of canned foods and frozen dinners are through the roof!! Working with white women, I have seen them bring a frozen Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers for lunch and call that a healthy balanced meal; until I had to remind them of how much sodium is in one of those bad boys just to preserve the flavor and shelf life. They are quicker to pop open a can of Chef Boyardee or boxed Mac-n-Cheese with canned string beans on the side and call it a meal. Their excuse is just that, an excuse. "The kids had soccer", "I had to work late", or "traffic was horrible" are the typical excuses I would hear. It's not that they couldn't afford it, they just didn't have time to make a healthy choice. Unfortunately, not having time is a common phrase used in western society, and it is bearing down on our physical and mental health. While a busy lifestyle affects white families, it hits black families 10x harder! And not because of time on the black man's watch, but again, because of resources and money, therefore, whites are more likely to go out to dinner for the sake of saving time.
In the black community, men and women are suffering with mental health issues that tends to go unnoticed or untreated all together. Not knowing our issues, or simply not understanding how to address them is what leads to poor eating choices and eventually down an unhealthy road of illnesses, including eating disorders. This is a condition in the black community that is commonly reserved for "white's only." In other words, eating disorders are not "black people problems." But I beg to differ. Over the past few years, I have come across dozens of black women with nice figures who claim to be "fat." They starve themselves or go on diets that consists of eating practically nothing because they have a desire to slim their waist when there is no waist there to begin with. And with the Waist Trainer trend bursting onto the scene, many women tortured themselves to have their waist "snatched," including myself. On the contrary, I know even more black women that refuse to go on a diet of any kind because they don't want to lose their "booty and thighs." From one extreme to another, black women are suffering with the need to look a certain way in order to win the approval of society.
Instagram models flooding the social media with their excessive body enhancements and photoshop is not making it any easier on black women, and the pressure to keep an ideal physique is causing unhealthy diet choices to be made, especially when we lack the funds to surgically alter our flaws. Some women even claim to be thick, when they are actually overweight. While there is nothing wrong with a curvy woman and being body conscious, but when is the red flag raised on losing weight for the sake of your health? Black men have praised a big butt for years (shout-out to Bel Biv Devoe and Sir Mix-a-Lot). Black women have been known for their curves since the beginning of time, however, I’ve come across women claiming to over eat just to increase the size of their butts. We as black women have to create ways to be body positive and work around those mental issues that prevent us from being our healthiest. I personally have felt pressure in the past to put on extra pounds; being a small framed girl from the hood, I got teased a lot. I was called skinny, bony, and any other name you can think of that relates to not being curvaceous. As a teenager, I developed a complex about my body. I became one of those girls that ate and ate and ate until I weighed 160 pounds, and at 5 feet tall, I was considered overweight and placed on high blood pressure medicine with my pressure reading at 210/180!!!! Yikes!!!! All at the cost of having a “booty.” Now at 35-years-old, I look pretty good and everything fell into place for me. But not only did my physical appearance fall into place, my mental health is now in a state of embrace.
I know I hit various targets with this topic, but I have to be honest, there is no one answer to this particular issue; however, there are ways that we can get around this health battle. If we as black people could work together and put effort into bettering our community, we would see much progress and great success. I am confident that if we were to place more healthy choices in black neighborhoods, and have the right people in place to promote healthy efforts into our communities, people would gravitate towards it because they have that option. The biggest problem is exposure and it is hard to accept something that you are unfamiliar with. If I had the money and the resources, even a platform with social power to stand on, I would do this in a heart beat. I know far too well what it's like to live under the pressures of society in a socially oppressed area. Without motivation and exposure, situations tend to remain stagnant. I commend those that have taken the choice to step up and make changes in their community, while I continue to search for ways to uplift and encourage our black men and women.
I hope you take the time to study the chart above and watch the video. This article went in several different directions, but that is just the dynamics that makeup the black community. Dynamics where change needs to be enforced by people that genuinely share a concern for the well-being of black neighborhoods. Please click the links down below and start a discussion in the comments section as you see fit. Be Blessed!