Let’s Talk about Food Deserts

As someone that has been overweight her entire life, there is one thing I can attest to: I am well aware that I am overweight. Most people that are overweight don’t need reminders. And if no one else agrees with me, at least James Corden does. 

On September 12, 2019, Corden highlighted the realities of being obese, and the impact fat-shaming can have on someone, while on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” He advocates by stating that fat shaming, in its purest element, is simply bullying. He was referring to someone in specific: Bill Maher. 

Maher took to his show, ”Real Time with Bill Maher,” to say that he believes that fat-shaming needs to make a comeback (as if it ever went away in the first place) so that we could shame people out of being fat. He said, “Being fat isn’t a birth defect. No one comes out of the womb needing to buy two seats on an airplane.” Maher has oversimplified this issue by insinuating that those that are overweight are lazy and illiterate. In actuality, the biggest perpetrator is not in their control: food deserts. 

Via YouTube

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In Cordon’s monologue, he briefly touched upon the fact that obesity is correlated to poverty. This is where food deserts play a massive role. 

Food deserts are low-income areas that have a lack of grocery stores, but a high concentration of fast-food chains. Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program, argues, “Obesity and hunger are two sides of the same coin. Those that need food assistance make trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.” 

In addition, The U.S. Census Bureau notes that the 10 poorest states are also states with the highest obesity rates. The relationship between economic disparity and hunger, as a result of food deserts, is often neglected in discussions of obesity. And, this neglect is fueling a health epidemic amongst some of the most vulnerable communities in our country.  

The obesity dialogue prefers to put blame on the obese, so companies can get away with making profits while facing no backlash. The fast-food industry capitalizes on the helplessness of the poor. They are well aware of their consumers and specifically target low-income populations to further their business interests. 

According to The Washington Post, companies like Coca-Cola and Mars spent over $10 million to lobby Congress into allowing food stamps for their products, proving that their target consumers are those who are below the poverty line. Those living in poverty fall victim to a deliberate system planned, executed, and upheld by America’s largest corporations. It’s Taco Hell. 

Via FeedBerkeley

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But, it's not only the fast-food industry at fault. Our government completely misses the point when it comes to health in impoverished neighborhoods. They ignore the impacts of food deserts, instead of blaming a lack of exercise as the prime factor for obesity within impoverished communities. Our government’s approach to obesity is not only misguided but even potentially dangerous because it underestimates the impact of caloric intake. 

Marion Nestle, New York University’s nutrition professor, contends government initiatives advocating for physical activity, such as “Let's Move!” are strategic decisions to remove all responsibility while simultaneously appeasing the food industry. These campaigns simply send the message that those living in poverty just need to get off their butts and do some exercise. Unfortunately, it is impossible to outrun a bad diet. Trust me, I’ve tried. (Just kidding, I don’t run.)

Our country constantly prides itself on the equality of opportunity, but those living at the bottom don’t even get a chance to eat right. Instead, we have talk show hosts like Bill Maher shaming people for their body type. He isn’t alone. Many people agree with him, and that’s the problem. Their ignorance is what is causing those that are overweight depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior (such as eating unhealthily). It’s counterproductive and quite cruel. Before we outright demean someone for their weight, we must put their circumstances into context. For the 23.5 million people who live in food deserts, the dollar menu is all they have. And it’s costing them their health.