Show Us The Food!

By Megan Izen Apr 05, 2008

The irony that my first workshop at the Dream Reborn conference in Memphis, Tennessee was "Food Justice and the Green Economy" wasn’t lost on me. I spent my first day and a half in Memphis trying to track down any food that wasn’t fried, laden with high fructose corn syrup or heaping pile of meat. I was wholly unsuccessful in my quest. I couldn’t even track down a yogurt (other than the 5 dollar-a-pop version offered by the hotel). I like to consider myself a pretty resourceful person, but finding healthy food in Memphis, at least downtown, seems utterly impossible. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Memphis, the second largest city in the Southeast, is over 60 percent Black. We know from community food assessments across the country that there is a direct correlation between race and access to healthy food, Black and brown communities are more likely to have a McDonald’s than a grocery store. LaDonna Redmond, president and CEO of the Institute for Community Resource Development in Chicago talked about how she could find every kind of potato chip, every kind of drug and even a gun within ten miles of her home, but not an organic tomato. That coupled with her son’s severe food allergies inspired her to start ICRD that has created urban farm sites, organizes farmers markets, distributing locally grown produce to restaurants and working to build a a grocery store that will bring access to sustainable products to urban communities of color. Redmond said her next step is to tackle the public policy realm. She and other panelists suggested policy options that might help bring healthy foods to communities of color including incentives to chain grocers to open up shop, setting aside land for public agricultural use and changing the WIC guidelines that prevent many families from purchasing healthier food options. According to Zena Nelson of the South Bronx Food Cooperative,45% of children who started life on WIC end up morbidly obese. That’s not a genetic phenomenon, that’s public policy gone awry. It’s clear that at a minimum Memphis needs a LaDonna Redmond or Zena Nelson but across the US, we need to develop policies that protect access to healthy nutrition in communities of color that can begin to address many of the racial health disparities that plague them.