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Honest Dialogue about “Food Desert” Legislation

In February and March, several organizations that I am a member of had legislative days at the state and national levels. For many years, I have participated with the pest control industry and women business owners’ legislative days in DC.

Coincidentally, both are usually held within days of each other every year. Because of my hectic schedule last month, I did not attend legislative events in DC that pertained to issues that regulate how I do business as a pest management professional or a woman-owned company.

But I did visit our state legislators to address issues that I felt strongly about professionally and morally. The voter registration ID bill reminds me of the Old South and legislating when a mother can breastfeed her baby sounded too much like “big government” overstepping. Because I blog about issues on the hill often, I was right at home with our state legislators, even this new crop of politicians. Many issues cherished by my family because of my grandfather’s contributions on the civil rights battlefield have been steamrolled by this group. I have shared my thoughts with many bill authors by phone, email, and in person. Bills regarding voting issues have wiped out years of voter rights activism.

Although not as important as bills pertaining to voting issues, the food desert legislation bill, left me with mixed feelings. It is a good idea but I do believe more education around food deserts is essential, and the community of color needs to be informed of the role it plays in getting this type of legislation momentum.

Food desert legislation has been a hot topic since our First Lady, Michelle Obama, kicked off her initiatives to tackle obesity in children. “Food deserts” are neighborhoods and areas of the country without supermarkets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Mrs. Obama, like many First Ladies before her, picked a cause that is close to her heart. She is raising awareness about childhood obesity and using her platform as First Lady of the United States to influence others to become involved to make a difference in stamping out childhood illness related to obesity.

The initiative named “Let’s Move” is celebrating its first year of raising our country’s consciences about what our children eat and how it impacts their health in the long term. Mrs. Obama kicked off the program by inviting children to the White House to plant a vegetable garden and to learn healthy eating habits from the White House chef.

Mrs. Obama’s program has cited statics that show one out of three children is overweight or obese. In African American and Hispanic homes, the number jumps to 40%. As children have gotten bigger, the number of children diagnosed with adolescent diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and even cancer has increased significantly as well. Disease and chronic illnesses that 30 years ago were usually found in adults are plaguing kindergarten-age children.

Thirty years ago, most school-age children walked to school and played outside almost daily. Today, recess programs have been cut from most school budgets and children spends hours indoors playing video games or watching TV, engaging in less physical activity and eating more processed foods, Mrs. Obama addresses obesity and unhealthy eating habits among children by cheering for more outdoor play and exercise and stressing to families and schools to cook more nutritional meals.

Mrs. Obama has also encouraged more fresh vegetables be made available in inner cities and rural communities that have no grocery stores. Mrs. Obama drew the ire of conservatives when she spoke about lunch cafeterias serving more salads and baked foods. This was touted as being part of the President’s socialist intent to introduce the government into every aspect of our lives by suggesting healthy eating to school age children.

When Mrs. Obama spoke at an event in Philadelphia last year, many took note of her suggestion on how to deal with food desert areas of the country. She offered this solution:

“Let’s move to ensure that all families have access to healthy, affordable foods in their community,” she said. “[W]e’ve set an ambitious goal here: to eliminate food deserts in America within seven years…To do that,” she added, “we’re creating a Healthy Food Financing Initiative that’s going to invest $400 million a year—and leverage hundreds of millions more from the private sector—to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help places like convenience stores carry healthier options.”

About Genma Holmes