How Black Millennials Are Taking Direct Action To Achieve Food Justice — And You Can, Too

Ad failed to load

In the years since Black Lives Matter became a popular rallying cry amongst activists, politicians, students, and many others, another important realization has started to receive more attention — Black Health Matters. The Black population in the United States experiences long-standing health disparities, and even with modern medical technology and more knowledge regarding health best practices, many of these disparities persist. Often times, the culprit of and the solution to many Black health issues are one in the same — food. Access to healthy food remains elusive to many poor, marginalized communities. But community organizations led by young Black people are taking direct action to achieve food justice.

One of these groups is BLKHLTH, a platform created by four millennials to create a space where health information is centralized and accessible through content and community events.

“We see the mantra Black Health Matters as a reflection of the need to center Black people and the injustices they face related to health, similarly to the way BLM seeks to center Black people in the conversation around violence inflicted by the state,” Matthew McCurdy, co-founder of BLKHLTH tells Bustle.

Ad failed to load
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

“Food justice is racial justice. In order to give all people equal access to healthy, nutritious, and affordable food, we will have to dismantle racist systems and policies. The same racist mechanisms that create segregated neighborhoods and income inequality also cause food deserts to exist,” Paulah Wheeler, another co-founder of BLKHLTH, tells Bustle.

Food deserts, which are areas where at least 33 percent of the population doesn’t have access to a grocery store within one mile of their residence, cause food insecurity. And according to Kelly Bower, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Black people are more likely to live in areas considered food deserts. "At equal levels of poverty, black census tracts had the fewest supermarkets," Bower notes in her published research. Wheeler explains the connection between the built environment and health outcomes. “When a family experiences food insecurity, that family is also experiencing chronic stress. The combination of stress and poor nutrition causes worsening health crises.”

Ad failed to load

Folks who live in food deserts and suffer from food insecurity often survive on heavily processed food or fast food, since that's what's available from a geographic and economic standpoint. At an event on Nov. 30, 2017, BLKHLTH spoke with community members in Southwest Atlanta about alternatives to foods full of fat and sugar. “I know I ate a lot of food with salt, sugar, and fat over Thanksgiving,” Mercilla Ryan-Harris, co-founder of BLKHLTH, shared with the crowd gathered to learn about plant-based eating. “I try to cook with limited amounts of salt and butter. A decision as simple as that can help lower cholesterol,” McCurdy tells Bustle. At the event, entitled “Soul Food Junkies,” Southwest Atlanta residents watched a documentary, listened to a diverse panel of speakers, sampled vegan food, and shared their own challenges with healthy eating.

Courtesy of BLKHLTH
Ad failed to load

“I used to not know what vegetables actually tasted like,” one attendee shared. “I realized I put too many unhealthy toppings on them. I had to give myself a chance to taste them [vegetables] by themselves and try them more than once if I didn’t like them the first time.”

And while education and community events play an important role in raising awareness about issues related to food justice, BLKHLTH acknowledges that institutional change is needed, too. “We can make food more accessible through community initiatives such as urban farms and mobile grocery stores. The biggest impact we can have on food accessibility, however, is through local, state, and national policies. Increasing the enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); major improvements in expansive, safe, and affordable public transportation; and incentives for grocery stores to open in poor and minority communities will all help make healthy and nutritious food more accessible for those who need it most,” Wheeler explains.

Ad failed to load

With the current state of politics, the expansion of federal programs that benefit poor people of color is unlikely. But that isn’t stopping regular people from helping others. Like BLKHLTH, there are many groups throughout the country that are helping improve health outcomes in marginalized communities. In Oakland, California, the People’s Breakfast pays homage to the Black Panthers by feeding people experiencing homelessness. (One of the Black Panthers' most well-known initiatives was the Free Breakfast for Children.) In Atlanta, Georgia, individuals are subverting city mandates that fine non-profits for feeding the homeless by sharing extra food with hungry people they pass on the street. There are organizations all across the country that use these and other techniques to create a more equitable food landscape in their communities.

“When resources are allocated to improve the health of those who are most disenfranchised, health outcomes improve for all people,” McCurdy tells Bustle. Food insecurity isn’t just a problem for the folks who are hungry; it weakens entire communities. Food justice can be a realized through thoughtful, intentional organizing by grassroots groups and local government.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Partner Is "The One," Even If They Have Commitment Issues

There's nothing better than finding that one person you could actually see yourself spending the rest of your life with. However, realizing that your partner has commitment issues can put a damper on things. It may even have you questioning whether o…
By Kristine Fellizar

Bustle's Editors On Florida + Fergie

Welcome to a new week, Bustle readers! February is already more than halfway through, and the weather feels way more like spring than winter right now — but don't get used to it. There's a lot to recap today, from the latest on the tragic Parkland sh…
By Rachel Simon

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper