We Deserve Real Food Too: Black Women's Search for Healthy Organic Food

by Janice Gates

About 6 years ago, and after losing 45 pounds, I made a commitment to only choose organic and non-processed foods. I researched the web for the best health blogs and fitness professionals to follow, subscribed to newsletters, and followed fitness and health gurus on social media. I was ecstatic! I had discovered the secret to losing weight and optimal health: a balanced diet of fruits, veggies, and lean meats, as well as daily exercise. After 11 years as a vegetarian who rarely consumed an actual vegetable and one year as a vegan who over indulged in heavily processed meat and dairy substitutes, I had finally taken control of my health. I lost 45 pounds, my acne disappeared, and I had a lot more energy.

Eventually, I noticed that very few of these bloggers, experts, and gurus looked like me. Even when I read articles detailing the top health and fitness blogs, very few were African American—and even fewer were African American women. I could not understand this, especially with the unique health challenges we face. I found a few blogs, websites and online groups that spoke to black women, but they were few and far between.

African Americans have some of the highest obesity rates in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between the years of 2009-12, 57.6% of non-Hispanic black or African American women over the age of 20 were obese. About 44.5% suffered from hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke and congestive heart failure. We have high rates of both. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, about four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. In 2011, we were 80% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic White women. This increases our risk of heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis, and some cancers. Nearly half of black women have high levels of total cholesterol. In addition, heart disease is more prevalent among African American women than white women.

With these challenges, it is a no brainer that processed and non-organic foods—particularly those laced with harmful and toxic ingredients—can wreak havoc on our health, exacerbate any current conditions, and promote those lingering in the background.

So, why aren't more health experts talking about this? Why do they omit how difficult it is to find these types of foods in certain communities like urban and low-income areas (which usually have high populations of people of color as well)?

Understandably, it is a lot easier to suggest what people should eat, not eat, and to provide hundreds of healthy recipes. It’s very difficult to tackle the realities of why these health disparities exist: the high obesity rates in both low income and middle class communities, food deserts in major cities, and the lack of organic produce and foods in many small neighborhood grocery stores. Another staunch reality is that in many areas, junk and fast foods are more affordable than fresh fruit or veggies, especially organic.

As African American women, we cannot rely on mainstream blogs for information specific to our health. Primarily because many of these blogs are geared toward women of a higher socioeconomic status who have unlimited access to information on food, how food can make or break our health, and stores where non-processed and organic foods are plentiful.

So, how do we get this information to more African American women? Especially to those who don’t know where to look for information about organic foods, toxic foods, and harmful additives; as well as how these foods might exacerbate many of the diseases African American women are at risk for?

We can start by highlighting more African American women bloggers and giving them a bigger platform to amplify their voice—particularly those who are committed to helping decrease our obesity rates and risk of developing obesity-related diseases. Another way is to share this information with our friends, families, and communities when we find it. We might even consider blogging about it ourselves.

It's imperative that we know what's in our food and make every effort to avoid food that is processed or filled with harmful ingredients like these toxic additives. It is also important that we know where to find these foods at an affordable cost and what foods to buy. (For example, The Clean 15 and The Dirty Dozen.) Our health, which has been the subject of many debates and discussions, depends on it. It’s time we stop being talked about and started being talked to about our health.

Photo: Shutterstock

Janice Tate is a certified personal trainer and soon to be health coach based in Farmington Hills, MI. Her organization, Bravo Girl Fitness is dedicated to helping women and girls achieve their health goals and through physical fitness training, a healthy diet and lifestyle changes. For more information and resources on organic foods and healthy living, visit her website at: www.bravogirlfit.com.

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