Politics, Policy, Research And Racism: This Week's Food Conversation Is A Master Class

On February 7, 2018, the L.A.Times published an Op-ed by a doctoral candidate entitled "Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? Because junk food Is the only indulgence they can afford." There are SO many dog whistles in this article -- I started to put pen to paper on the harm that this type of work has done/can do. As I was musing, stories started breaking regarding 45's proposal in his 2019 budget for "America's Harvest Box." - a program to give poor people a box of (“shelf stable,” i.e., canned and/or processed) food in lieu of a part of their SNAP benefits.

And there you have it. When a society is built on the myth/concept that poor people or Black people or Indigenous people, or any marginalized people are of lesser value than others, institutions governed by those who benefit from this inequality will perpetuate those myths/concepts that maintain the inequity that keeps a few empowered and many marginalized.

How are these concepts being perpetuated here? What themes are there?
Myth/Theme #1 - It's not the system; it's the individuals' lack of drive, education, intelligence, money, understanding, or desire that keeps them poor, unhealthy, sick, or sad.  For decades I have given any research that draws this conclusion a serious side-eye.  This premise has been used for hundreds of years to excuse everything from slavery to defunding social programs.  When this op-ed states that "the verdict is in" (side eye to THAT) that it's not food deserts, it's poor Americans’ use of food for indulgence because "junk food is the only indulgence that they can afford" . . .what!?!?! is the only joy/indulgence that can be gained (what?!?!?!). That's toxic.

Myth/Theme #2 - Because "they" lack intelligence/drive/education, “they” can't possibly understand how to take care of themselves.  So, we, the smart people, should do it for them. This paternalistic/parachuting tactic of imposing one group’s thought or process negates the genius and resilience that exists in marginalized communities.

Myth/Theme #3 - Because someone says something is "research," it is automatically fact or true.  So many of our academic and healthcare institutions have had an under representation of diverse, equitable, and inclusive thought for hundreds of years. We must always be a little skeptical at conclusions drawn, especially when those conclusions reflect the myths described in #1 and #2 above. Creating and preserving a system, economy, policies, and laws based on those myths are exactly how this country has operationalized systemic and institutional racism.

So the master class I alluded to in the title of this post goes like this. . .

  • Research done surrounded in themes of “less than” and intelligence of another class
  • Policy makers and politicians seeking to maintain the status quo cite this research  to impose less value on the minds and bodies of marginalized people.  
  • Because this research says it doesn't matter what the system does, we should just provide them with a box. 
  • We'll save money and force people (to). . .

Enough of that. I call bullshit on the entire thing.

But that's how it's been done for 100’s of years.

Now, of course all cultures have some form of joy/food connect.  We got Soul Food (Film, 1997),  right? And Thanksgiving?  

It is absolutely true that wages and income have an effect on one's quality of life.  And yes, research matters.  But all of the social determinants of health are intertwined.  To attempt to prioritize one determinant over another, as suggested in the L.A. Times article, misses the complexity of everyday living, and completely ignores the overriding impact of marginalization and systemic racism in the US.

Organizations like the National Medical Association, conferences like the National Conference on Health Disparities, and departments like the NYC Health Department’s Center for Health Equity all share info on best practices that are centered in the resources and genius of resilience that exists in communities.  

To shift differences in nutrition/food/health injustice, we need to tackle the entire system. The politics and policy. The laws. The research and practice. The social determinants.  The racism.

Truth be told, and Ifeoma Ike, J.D., L.L.M. expressed it perfectly on the 2/13/2018 podcast of Politea.  ‘Our communities will find a way to get what we need for our families.  We will organize.’ We are shifting things.  

That’s the good news.

Please comment and lift your favorite food justice programs (like this! Black Panther Party and Free Breakfast Program).  Share our genius.


  1. Michelle, this was an well thought out and thought provoking breakdown. I have been saying this for years about the elite and there imposed views on the least of these. Thank you for exposing the BS. May we carry this "REAL" conversation to the very institutions that produce this nonsense.


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