Monday, October 25, 2010

Choice Reflects Privilege

The New York City Department of Health said a few years ago that NYC-dwellers are living longer than most people in the US - as a group. There are some New Yorkers who aren't:1
"... look at the local bodegas, where the food options are pretty lousy—mostly fatty canned foods and virtually no fresh vegetables. The new reality is, the Bronx is ballooning. 'You walk along here and you almost never see an actual supermarket,' Balentine says with a shrug. 'So people can’t eat healthily even if they want to. It’s all fast food. That’s what’s cheap—Chinese food, pizza.' "

These are the people I refer to when I say not everyone has a choice. These are the people I refer to when I say taxes on soda and fast food are regressive and are levied disproportionately against poor and minorities.2

Another group with few food choices are seniors, specifically those on fixed incomes who live alone (and who, for a second year in a row, will not be receiving cost-of-living adjustments in their Social Security checks3).

These are two groups that sit below the radar in discussions about how to fix America's obesity and chronic disease problem. John Robbins was not eliciting these groups when he said:
"If Americans were to stop overeating, to stop eating unhealthy foods and to instead eat more foods with higher nutrient densities and cancer protective properties, we could have a more affordable, sustainable and effective health care system. ... Each of us is responsible for what we put in our mouths."4
For some, it's not so much about personal responsibility as it is lack of control over environment:
"Although personal responsibility plays a crucial part in weight gain, human biology is being overwhelmed by the effects of today’s ‘obesogenic’ environment. ... Some members of the population, including the most disadvantaged, are especially vulnerable to the conditions."
- Tackling Obesities: Future Choices, UK Government Office for Science
Choice reflects privilege. Those who have a choice in their food selections are privileged. It's a fine state, but it's not a ubiquitous state. Some people abuse their privilege; I'm not talking about this group. I'm talking about those whose life circumstances - poverty, sickness, disability, abandonment - strip them of their choices.
1 Why New Yorkers Last Longer
2 The Argument Against Soda Taxes
3 It's Official: No Social Security Increase Next Year
4 How Bad Is McDonald's Food?
Photo of Bronx Bodega from Blen167


Melissa said...

Why does the Bronx get such a bad rap? There is some seriously good food there. I love the Bronx's "Baron" who has a show that cuts through all the stereotypes of the Bronx being food barren. I think it reflects how Anglocentric our ideas of healthy food are.

Bix said...

There is some seriously good food for those who have a choice. From your link:

"I had a virgin margarita and several glasses of ice water. We ordered appetizers: braised-short-rib empanadas, calamari salad with baby spinach, seviche mixto, and grilled baby octopus with chorizo. For the main deal, I got the grilled skirt steak, medium rare, with garlic mojito sauce."

Many of us don't appreciate how privileged we are.