Fast food has become a major source of nutrition in low-income, urban neighborhoods across the United States. Although some social and cultural factors account for fast food’s overwhelming popularity, targeted marketing, infiltration into schools, government subsidies, and federal food policy each play a significant role in denying inner-city people of color access to healthy food. The overabundance of fast food and lack of access to healthier foods, in turn, have increased African American and Latino communities’ vulnerability to food-related death and disease. ‘ Structural perpetuation of this race- and class-based health crisis constitutes “food oppression.” Popular culture has raised some awareness of the deleterious effects of fast food, but media delivering this message often fails to reach the communities suffering the greatest harm. Even where efforts at education succeed, government support of the fast food industry severely limits dietary choices for low-income, urban African Americans and Latinos. To eradicate food oppression and improve health and life expectancy in these communities, activists must lobby for drastic changes in law, policy, and education. But the real question is, do they even care? Out of all the recent elections, I have never seen one candidate talk about the subject or even acknowledge these issues facing our communities. Individuals and groups have mounted attacks on food oppression through litigation, education, lobbying, and community-based organization. But, these efforts must continue and grow if they are to effect real and meaningful change.
The convenience stores charge twice as much as grocery stores for identical items. Fast food restaurants selling cheap and hot food appear on almost every corner. The prevalence of fast food in low-income urban neighborhoods across the United States, combined with the lack of access to fresh, healthy food, contributes to an overwhelmingly disproportionate incidence of food-related death and disease among African Americans and Latinos as compared to whites. Individuals are often persuaded by the media into lost cost “fast food”. We see this all too often with dollar ads from establishments such as Mc Donald’s, Taco Bell and various chicken franchises. The over all health effects of a diet are monopolized by fast food and lies delivered by the media. Members of these communities also experience multiple forms of oppression as a result of their class and race. Attributes such as gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation can add further layers of vulnerability. Although the harm caused by over-consumption of fast food cuts across race and class lines, its pronounced and extreme effect on low-income people of color represents a form of structural oppression that activists must incorporate into a struggle for racial and economic justice.
However, even with the overwhelming odds against our communities, there are some rays of light starting to appear with in the food industry, especially here in Houston. Now more then ever, we are seeing restaurant owners take a greater presence in our communities rather than taking “healthy” eating options outside our neighborhoods, they are choose to bring awareness of organic eating and vegan/ vegetarian options right to their door steps.
Activists across the United States have begun to address the problem of food oppression through the food justice movement. Community organizing, popular culture, and litigation have successfully raised awareness and created solutions for specific communities. Despite these efforts, however, food oppression continues to be part of structural economic and racial inequalities that limit access to and lower the quality of health care, reduce income levels, limit job opportunities, and inflate the cost of low-quality housing for many African Americans and Latinos.
We have to take control of the health in our respective communities and it starts with awareness and education. Individuals must make better personal choice, but we must also find ways to make healthy options affordable. If we don’t, we are simply brining the end times that much closer every time we sit down for out next meal.