“The Body is Beautiful. Get Used to It.” A UCLA banner with those words serendipitously waved in the background as facilitator and healthy food practitioner Thabisile Griffin stimulated critical discussion about food deserts, colorful plates, and the struggle to be and feel well. The conversation emphasized being mindful of what we eat and how food politics and accessibility are entangled race and class.
Food deserts, or regions without access to grocery stores and healthy food, are a major problem in many USAmerican cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, and Los Angeles. These areas lack access to good foods because there is a lack of groceries stores and produce markets – New Orleans, for example, has only 20 groceries currently in the city. Compare this to Westwood, which has 5 grocery options within a mile radius of each other. Food deserts are often found in spaces with high populations of black and brown people, in both urban and rural regions, and limit food options to fast foods, processed foods, and otherwise unhealthy foods. This lack of access makes these populations more susceptible to illness and makes them even more dependent on pharmaceutical corporations and the exploitation of the health care industry.
The discussion shifted to discuss some of our own struggles with eating healthy and solutions to easily diversify our plates and our relationship with good foods. Thabisile recommended always having ingredients like ginger, lemon, turmeric, cayenne pepper, honey, garlic, and apple cider vinegar in the pantry for spice and taste but also for the health benefits these foods provide. Shifting our diet ideologies to highlight greens and vegetables as the focus of the plates rather than meats is also a strategy to eat more wholesome. Many participants discussed time as a factor that prevented them from making healthier decisions. Some ways to still eat well without much food prep included eating raw foods and juices and discussing easy recipes without grease or sodium.
The conversation never veered into fat phobia or body shaming. Instead health is defined in terms of practices, habits, and feelings: “You’re as healthy as you feel.” Eating well should be seen as a celebration of the self rather than a moral imperative. In consideration of making consumer choices that benefit one’s own body as well as the workers who produce the foods, we were prompted to think about not simply our own bodies but the health of the collective body. Ultimately the workshop advocated thinking critically about what’s on your plate and treating food as celebratory nourishment to give you energy, health, and happiness.