This is Flipping the Table and I am Michael Reid Dimock with four minutes on Healthy Food and Farming.
Food is pleasure. Food is culture. Food is nutrition, the basis of our health. And that is my focus today.
Our nation has a malnutrition challenge. There is a two headed monster running amuck. One is hunger, the other obesity. Of the 127 million households in the US, nearly 10 million are food insecure. This means those families lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. On the flipside looms an even a bigger challenge. Sixty-six percent or 216 million of the 326 million Americans are overweight including 70 million, who are obese. Most shockingly, 22 million American children are overweight, and thus very likely to develop diabetes, which lowers life expectancy and cause numerous forms of suffering including amputations. In fact, over 70,000 Americans each year undergo a diabetes-related amputation.
The medical profession deems the obesity monster a sugar problem. It turns out that sugary beverages are the primary source of added sugar for most Americans. Both hunger and obesity are disproportionately impacting low income Americans. Structural racism has kept large segments of Native American, Latino, African American and Asian American and Pacific Islanders in poverty and thus they suffer the highest rates of hunger and diabetes. So that’s the problem.
And there are many solutions? Obviously, we all know that poverty is a root cause. Increasing the opportunities and incomes of tens of millions is an imperative. It is also a long-term problem with immense political hurdles. It is important to note that 20 percent of the nation’s workforce is related to our food system, from farm workers to table servers and all the steps between. The food chain sector is also the lowest paid in our economy. So, whatever we can do to increase wages for food chain workers is progress.
The national campaign known as Fight for $15, meaning dollars per hour for fast food workers, is one positive force. Another is the boycotts of fast food chains organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers from Florida who pick tomatoes and other products that end up in your fast food meals and on grocery shelves. After winning concessions from McDonalds, Walmart and 12 other major food corporations, they still need our support in pushing Wendy’s to add one penny per lb. to the wages of farmworkers.
But there is another solution with potentially much faster impacts. We need to tax sugary beverages to raise funds to make structural changes to the food system and disease prevention programs. My organization, Roots of Change, is working right now with a large coalition to pass a statewide, 2 cent per oz tax on sugary drinks to create the California Community Health Fund. This fund would improve school meals, provide low income families with cash incentives to buy fresh produce, which is more expensive than the processed high fat, high calorie foods. It could provide grants for communities to build gardens and other food projects that make fresh healthy food available in neighborhoods where grocery stores do not exist. It will also provide improved access to preventative care and treatment at the local level. Finally, with the right amendments to the bill, it could allow safe routes to walk or bike to school and other projects that communities themselves define as critical to their health and nutrition.
We like Assembly Bill 138 because it finally begins to invest large smart dollars in the sector of our economy that for way too long has had the wrong types of subsidies. Any public support for farmers, food companies and families should support public health, not degrade it. We need many more investments to improve nutrition, protect the environment, improve food chains worker lives and the public understanding of how critical the food system is to our future.
AB 138 is a great example of a healthy food and agriculture bill. To learn more about AB 138 see the 2-minute video on the Roots of Change YouTube channel or email email@example.com and ask for the video. Please heed the video’s call to action.
Next week look for the Flipping the Table interview with vegetarian author and rancher, Nicolette Hahn Niman, as we continue our exploration of the American meat system. Thank you for listening!
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