Self-Analysis

This project allowed me to dig deeply into a topic that I did not previously know much about. I have enjoyed exploring the food industry in relation to poverty for the past few weeks, and think that this topic was just broad enough to allow for a new and interesting conversation each week, without being totally overwhelming. I appreciated that over the course of this project I was allowed to do research on this issue over a longer period of time. I feel like I’m now an expert on this issue, but it didn’t feel like I was just cramming the information in and the regurgitating it onto a single assignment. The task of writing 10 plus posts circulating around a single issue has given me the chance to take the facts, process them, and think of new ways to discuss and analyze them.

While working on this project, I started off with an incredibly broad topic. I had seen a documentary called “Fed Up” on Netflix a few years ago, which mainly focused on the detrimental effects of processed foods as well as this revolving door between government officials and influential members of the food industry. After watching it, I was really turned off by the amount of unnecessary sugar that is incorporated in practically every manufactured food product. For some reason, when this project was assigned, this food inequality as a social justice issue came to my mind.

I feel like I am much more acute when it comes to differentiating between reliable and unreliable resources after doing these assignments. The minimum external link requirement really helped push me to not fall back on the same dependable statistics and sources each week. I appreciated that we could hyperlink all of our sources because I feel like doing a formal works cited is antiquated and a bit of a waste of time.

Throughout the past few weeks, I have sharpened my ability to sift through immense amounts of information online and find what is useful for the topic. Every week I would kind of come into the blog post not quite knowing what I was going to be focusing on, but by the time I had read through a few articles something important usually stuck out to me. I made an effort to tie in themes from the previous weeks while still focusing on something different. I feel like overtime I improved at this as well. I looked at the different aspects of my topic and narrowed them individually, rather than getting more and more specific about one facet each week. I think my topic was more conducive to this type of coverage because it allowed me to relay all of the information that I wanted to my audience, while still being explicit enough to relate to.

This project pushed me to use common language and mixed media in ways I had not tried before. I’ve only ever been assessed on my ability to perform in fairly formal writing assignments, and since my position in this case was much more casual, I was worried I would not perform as well. That said, with each post I tried to experiment with images, videos, and more common slang to relay my message to the audience.

I am a Peace War and Defense, Global Studies double major, so I’m here to study things like diplomacy and interactions of people on an international scale. My blog topic dealt with domestic poverty and large corporations, which does not directly relate to what I’m studying. However, both my majors and blog topic fall under a social science category. Learning about relevant issues and being tasked with crafting solutions is definitely an important skill to have. Additionally, the research and synthesis of information as a whole is an integral part of my liberal arts education. For example, I think that in my implications post, by looking at the possible consequences of this contentious issue, I was sharpening my problem-solving skills which will certainly help me in whatever career I pursue. Overall, this was a very influential assignment in my growth as a writer and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Michelle Obama Fights Childhood Obesity

In this speech delivered by Michelle Obama in February 2014, the then-first lady emphasizes the necessity of keeping our children healthy by feeding them nutritious foods and a balanced diet. She equates the grumbling that may come along with this diet adjustment to the way that children don’t want to have shots or brush their teeth, yet we make them do it anyway because it is in their best interest. She also talks about the way these healthy habits can be effectively instilled into the school system so children can learn about nutrition at a young age, especially if they aren’t getting that knowledge at home.

 According to a study published early in 2014, obesity rates in children have declined in the past decade. While obesity rates in adults have remained relatively stagnant, children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old have experienced a significant decrease in obesity at a national level. This could mean that we are gearing up toward the first generation in years that will be less heavy than their parents. Good to see some things are looking up for he future of our nation!

Food Stamps

This week I encourage you to give this video a watch. It’s short, concise and briefly puts the audience into the shoes of someone living on food stamps. Food stamps are something I haven’t really explored on this blog, but the video also touched on many issues I have covered. The video details logistical concerns that go along with living in poverty, like having to shop for food at the dollar store with limited options or not having a working refrigerator. More powerfully though, it looks at things like the fatigue and humiliation extreme poverty can bring on. The video really made me appreciate what I’ve got, I would thoroughly recommend.

Shoutouts

Any balanced blog diet needs a variety of topics to consume. Here are a few of my peers that deserve a special shout out this week!

If you are interested in the racial achievement gap as it relates to public vs. charter schools, check out Schachtinafool. His blog takes social justice issues in our education system to a whole other level. His topics are very relevant and he references popular broadcasting networks like NPR to draw in interest about this issue.

If you’re more of a recreational drug person, you might be interested in this blog. His posts vary from discussing SNL skits to talking about the serious implications of Marijuana legalization. Never a dull post!

If you are more into the judicial side of the Devil’s lettuce, check out Bud. He discusses our racist penal system in regards to drug (particularly Marijuana) arrests. His topic kind is kind of a combo of the previous two that I mentioned. He does great work, check it out!!

Forever Fat? What if America is Doomed

The inaccessibility of fresh, healthy foods to low-income Americans disproportionately affects an already disadvantaged group. That is, the poor individuals forced to base their diet on unhealthy amounts of processed and fast foods. Large food corhealth-care-300x198porations have a stake in the issue as well because if their product is not the only option for this group of people, they might face monetary consequences.

 

If we lived in a perfect world, these divergent sides could compromise on a solution that might alleviate the stress of this issue. I touched on a few potential resolutions in my last post. Unfortunately, we currently live in a highly polarized and politicized society.

obesity-smoking-and-the-cost-of-healthcareDespite the two sides most effected, the largest group this issue involves actually includes every tax-paying American. If we cannot reduce obesity rates significantly in the coming years, the cost of healthcare will continue to rise exponentially. Heart Disease accounts for 30% of national medical expenditures. Furthermore, 53% of Americans covered by Medicaid suffer from a form of Cardiovascular Disease. Not only does this affirm that impoverished individuals are at a major health disadvantage, it also means that tax-payers are in part fronting the bill. Healthcare in and of itself is an incredibly heated and politicalized issue, but one thing I think everyone could agree on is that guaranteeing these individuals ha
ve the necessary tools to maintain their health, healthcare would be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Finding Solutions to FAT America

As I’ve mention in previous posts, this issue of food accessibility and the health of low-income Americans is very contentious. There are two fairly obvious opponents in this war: (Mostly Republican) lawmakers and the food industry advocate for low regulation and high profits, which inevitably yields unhealthy food for American consumption. On the other side, poor Americans whose lifestyle relies on a diet heavy in processed/fast food, as well as activists, push for healthier and fresher options in areas that might not have them currently. Since laws are only altered arduously and corporations are not likely to ease up on profits, I see solutions coming from elsewhere.

A place to start would be with fast food restaurants. Healthy fast food does exist. Sweetgreen is a new dining establishment that offers convenient and easy meals made of healthy, fresh ingredients. This middle-ground fast food restaurant would be categorized with Five Guys or Chipotle, certainly convenient but nowhere near as affordable as a McDonalds or Burger King. For this reason, I propose a program where the government provides significant tax breaks to restaurants that adopt a few healthy options that remain affordable. Of course guidelines will have to be set out to define what “healthy” means, but this way anyone can access nutritious foods.

Another proposal that I touched on in my previous post was the idea of establishing community gardens throughout existing food desserts. Doing so would provide fresh fruits and vegetables to communities otherwise lacking these necessities. This could be carried out by a non-profit or governmental institution. If we’re really getting ambitious, governments at the state or federal level could allot block grants to local governments in order to build and maintain these spaces.  Not only are these gardens physiologically beneficial, but they are mentally and emotionally beneficial as well. If a combination of these two initiatives were implemented, I believe that both low-income Americans and big business would be satisfied with the results.

A Broader Look at Obesity and the Food Industry

In 1960 the average American was 25 pounds lighter than they were in 2002, and over the next 15 years Americans have only gotten fatter. This issue of obesity in the United States lies at the feet of the food industry. This post will analyze the way the structure of the food industry is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of low-income Americans. Are there restrictions in place that hinder certain groups from accessing healthy, fresh foods? The food industry is a multi-faceted entity comprising of food producers and manufactures worldwide. “Food industry” uk-food-industry-turns-on-to-automation_strict_xxlis essentially an umbrella term encompassing farmers, food processors, distributors, regulators, retail and more.

Although the food industry is made up of private companies, the Federal government certainly has its hand in those affairs. Every year the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA, spends billions of dollars subsidizing crop production on farms. This seems beneficial to the farmers, but it really turns out to be most advantageous for big food manufacturers like Kraft or Nestle. You see, the crops that the government subsidizes are cheap and can easily be manipulated through food processing techniques to make the most money for manufacturers. Crops like wheat, corn, and soy can be put through numerous processes and turned in to any number of unhealthy foods you find at a gas station, bodega or grocery store. The practice of food manufacturing and processing inherently removes the nutritious integrity of foods but it makes them cheaper for consumption. Cheap foods, fat profits, and happy farmers seems like a triple victory right? Well when you take into account the health of Americans, this dichotomy becomes increasingly problematic.aaeaaqaaaaaaaan5aaaajddjnjiwmdrlltdmndqtngzmzs05zgjilty2zje0zdnhzwi5zgIn 2010, 15.1 Americans lived in poverty. In the most poverty dense counties of the United States, there were much higher obesity rates. According to The American Diabetes Association, “counties with poverty rates of >35% have obesity rates 145% greater than wealthy counties.” So how could this be? Poverty stricken areas are often referred to as “food deserts.” These are neighborhoods deemed by the Census Bureau as being low-income in addition to having low-access to fresh, healthy food sources. This is incredibly problematic for the well-being of our nation’s citizens. How are the most affordable, accessible foods on the market so unhealthy that they are in one way or another the number one cause of death in America? We are putting the most vulnerable of residents in the United States in such a difficult position.

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When a single mother of three, working two jobs, needs to feed her family, is she going to give up valuable time that could be spent earning money to pay bus or cab fare to the nearest grocery store to buy expensive fruits and vegetables to feed her family? Or is she going to take her children to the corner store or McDonalds on her block to get a cheap and filling meal, and go about her day? More often than not impoverished people choose the latter. It’s not a difficult choice either. So this begs the question; are unhealthy foods too readily available and healthy foods too scarce in poor neighborhoods?

There are two, maybe three, sides to this argument. The first camp of thought says yes, the food industry takes advantage of poor people who cannot access fresher foods. Something needs to be done by lawmakers because this could be addressed as a form of preventable medicine that could save billions on health care costs. The second argument is usually that of Republicans and those in the food industry. This is the stance that the government should not regulate private industry and it is the choice of Americans as to what they choose to eat. The third argument is perhaps a combination of the two previous ones and, states that the current involvement of government in the food industry is problematic because many members of congress have a hand in food corporation profits.

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So before I go all House of Cards on you, there have been very few cases of overt corruption in US government, particularly as it pertains to the food and health regulations. However, lawmakers’ job depends on reelections and these come very frequently. This gives private corporations an opportunity to incentivize, inherently or not, law makers to vote one way or another, in favor or against regulations. So say Congress proposes a bill to regulate waste production by food manufacturers in Idaho. Nestle, a major food corporation with many plants in Idaho, might pay for Republican Senator Mike Crapo’s (real name, you can’t make this stuff up) campaign ads for reelection so that he votes against the bill. This seems kind of illegal…right? Well it’s actually perfectly constitutional under the Supreme Court Case Citizens United v. FEC which essentially allows unlimited campaign financing from any corporation.

This is an issue that needs to be in the hands of lawmakers since it has such incredible healthcare implications. Republicans want to cut down on healthcare spending and simultaneously deregulate the food industry. That is totally backwards. Preventative medicine is basically entails eating healthy, exercising regularly and practicing healthy habits (i.e. not smoking) for an extended period of time. This can be highly effective in reducing rates of obesity and in turn heart disease, type II diabetes, and even cancers.

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There is still hope for the health of these impoverished individuals. There has been considerable success in the creation community gardens in low income food deserts. Usually owned by local governments, community gardens are established on vacant lots and allow residents of the neighborhood to contribute to and take from the garden. Benefits include: Increased access to (and consumption of) fruits & vegetables, increased physical activity and food security, reduced obesity rates and improved mental health. Small acts like these can reduce the stress of finding fresh foods in disadvantaged areas and increase the overall wellness of the community. Despite the struggle, we are taking steps in the right direction.

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