When Healthy Eating is Overwhelming
Eggplant stew cooked with collard greens, rice and fried plantains on the side. From Funmi's Cafe. I only eat like this when I go out.

Eggplant stew cooked with collard greens, rice and fried plantains on the side. From Funmi’s Cafe. I only eat like this when I go out.

I could be cooking right now. Or gardening. Or sleeping. Or exercising. Or reading. Or writing something else. But I’m spending time writing this blog post because I’m committed to sharing what I hope are new and unique insights into various issues in the social, cultural and political sphere. This is my gift. This is where I’m effective. I also enjoy writing to change the world, so I’m glad to do it, but it does come at the expense of other activities that could be seen as equally important—like any of the ones listed at the beginning of this post.
I got to thinking about this yesterday during the post-film discussion of “Soul Food Junkies” at UofL. Audience members shared their issues with affordable access to fresh produce, and I said to the woman next to me, “You also have to have time to cook.” She gave me the, “Oh, please,” look and said, “It doesn’t take that much time.”
I wanted to hit her. I know I shouldn’t say that. She could be reading this right now, and besides, it makes me look violent and angry black womanish, but I wanted to hit her, because I get so tired of the “Oh come on, just suck it up and take this individual responsibility step,” type of advice (or looks) when problems are more structural.
I don’t even have some of the problems the audience shared. I live in an area of town where the produce in the store always looks fresh. Shopping organic would be a splurge for me, but I could do it if I really wanted to. I technically live in a food dessert, because all the shopping options are just over two miles away from home, but I have a car, so I can get to them.
My problem really is time. The woman next to me didn’t know I normally leave home between 7:30 am and 8:15 am and return some 12 hours later on a good day. Most of the time I come back 14-15 hours later. I eat whatever my mom prepared or I microwave a Lean Cuisine frozen entree if there’s nothing or if I don’t like it, and then I shower and collapse into bed. On weekends, I do my hair, go to church, and try to write. Occasionally I take time away from those things to go to the grocery store or to cook, all the things that take big blocks of time that I don’t have during the week.
Spiced sweet potatoes and spinach is one of my favorite dishes, and I did cook this, but it ain't quick.

Spiced sweet potatoes and spinach is one of my favorite dishes, and I did cook this, but it ain’t quick.

Has systemic oppression contributed to this? In a way, I guess. We work to have money to buy food, because we don’t grow it ourselves because we’re a sprawled out, industrialized nation and farming is a business. We also work to have material things, and I probably wouldn’t want material things if we didn’t have a consumer culture driven by greed and manufacturing products made for cheap labor in foreign countries. So I spend a lot of time at work and in transit to and from it, and I go to a gym after work to exercise because no one does laborious physical activity for work anymore except aerobics instructors, because again, we’re an industrialized nation. All that to explain what a friend of mine who’s a pediatrician said one day: “We’ve built ourselves lifestyles that are not conducive to healthy eating.”

That’s why discussions about food and food justice, which were held yesterday and last night after showings of “Soul Food Junkies,” can get overwhelming for me. This subject has a lot of moving parts that go from government and agribusiness down to plates on kitchen tables. I don’t feel like my friend and I are lazy or have some kind deficiency because the last thing we want to do after a 12-14-hr day—and we’re supposed to sleep for 8?—is pull some carrots up from the ground we don’t own out back and cook them, just as I don’t think people who love pork or who buy food from a grocery chain instead of a farmer’s market are morally deficient. I think there are a lot of people who care about good food and good health for everyone, but who have the freedom in terms of time, money, or skills and knowledge to downplay others’ restrictions.
And I think it’s annoying. But this post will be the closest I come to beating anyone up about it.
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