Recently “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” television show debuted chronicling Oliver’s efforts to improve the health of one of America’s unhealthiest towns. His mission to overhaul their poor eating habits and introduce natural and unprocessed foods was unsurprisingly met with loads of resistance and resentment. It seems that Oliver finally received a positive response when he helped reveal one family’s poor health and their son’s high risk of diabetes.
Most of us don’t like change especially when it comes to our beloved food. It’s no wonder that we are so attached to the cheap, convenient fast fodder that masquerades as food. Its ubiquity is unrivaled, from our urban metropolises to small town America and everywhere in between, highly processed, high calorie, nutrition depleted rations have replaced real food and is being exported to the rest of the globe like wildfire.
While America is long overdue for a food revolution; there is no bigger and more urgent need for a food revolution than in our African American communities. Every day we are inundated with the not so subtle ads with ethnic flair and hip-hop tunes designed to keep us as their most loyal customers. As McDonalds’ latest ad campaign ad extols, we’re “lovin’ it!” (to death). Despite our wide waist lines and poor health that follows a steady diet of the high-fat, cholesterol laden foods they peddle, we keep coming back for more. Not to be outdone in the artery-clogging food bazaar, KFC is launching a new “Double Down” bacon and cheese sandwich which replaces the bread with two fried or grilled chicken patties. As always, the ad campaign is “ethnically friendly”.
In our communities, these handy convenience foods have replaced real food. As noted in Oliver’s television show many children don’t even know what real food looks like. Many couldn’t identify a simple tomato or potato but all were familiar with chicken nuggets and French fries. This is sadly the case in too many of our communities; you’ll find children who have never eaten a fresh peach or blueberry. And you’ll find adults who haven’t eaten a fresh orange or nectarine in years. We have become accustomed to our food arriving in box or a fast food bag. While food desserts and lack of availability are often a factor, our choices are often misguided even in the face of availability.
Recently, a grocery store in my urban neighborhood had a huge sale in preparation for closing the store for remodeling. Naturally, everyone took advantage of the low prices and ravaged the store leaving many shelves bare. There was however, one section of the store that remained in tact—the produce section. The fruits and vegetables we untouched despite the incredible sale. This highlights the need for a real food revolution that educates and empowers. Our pallets have become so terribly distorted with highly processed, sugared and high fat foods that the yearning for fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains has vanished.
The results of this “convenience food” bazaar are disastrous: African Americans have the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. Even more startling, 80% of African American women are overweight and 50% are obese. Contrary to what many believe, these conditions are not hereditary; rather they are the inevitable results of our perverse eating habits.
I used to be locked in to the belief that my family genes dictated my health destiny. I was afraid that I was destined to contract diabetes or breast cancer because close relatives had these conditions. I later learned that a diet high in animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol was the leading cause of these diseases. Armed with this new information, I realized that I was in control of my health destiny, not my family history. My family history would only be a predictor of my future health if I continued with their eating habits, recipes and traditions.
My grandmother was an excellent cook and she passed on these talents to my mother who then passed on her favorite recipes to me. Unfortunately, my grandmother died of diabetes-related complications well before her time. My choice was to continue with the family tradition or make a change. I decided to break the tradition and instead of using those wonderfully delicious, but not so healthy recipes they way they were. I updated them with healthy alternatives that removed the saturated fat and cholesterol. Instead of carrying on a tradition that could lead to an early death I passed those updated healthy recipes back to my mother and family.
From the White House to our school cafeterias, the food revolution is at hand. Will our communities be left behind and remain ensnared by the catchy tunes and slogans that will take our children to an earlier grave than their parents? It’s time to get the facts and get on board with this revolution. Instead of “doubling down” with a heart attack sandwich, double down on fresh fruit and vegetables. Fall in love with the taste and texture of fresh, flavorful, real plant-based foods that are high in fiber, loaded with nutrients, low in fat and calories and free of saturated fat and cholesterol. We need to embrace the simplicity and potency of the food revolution. Foods can nurture and heal or they can take us to an early grave and poor health along the way.
I’m lovin’ the real food revolution and hoping that it will catch on in the communities that need it most.
by Dr. Ruby Lathon. Ruby Lathon inspires with her powerful story of overcoming thyroid cancer through a plant-based diet and natural remedies and teaches others how to live disease free. Dr. Lathon serves as the Nutrition Policy Manager for a national non-profit, leading initiatives to improve child nutrition.