When Skinny Isn’t So Cute

farm workers in the field during harvestGrowing up as the daughter of a farm worker, we often had dinners of biscuits and milk gravy. I always thought I was having a great meal! While we did grow a lot of vegetables and canned as many as possible, we often ran out before the next season.

Sometime there would be a little piece of meat to flavor the gravy or, if not, saved bacon grease. Usually the only meat we had was pork that we saved through salting it down and hanging it in a little shed to last for the year. The only time we had chicken is when the family who lived near us and raised chickens for corporate buyers suffered a heat wave, and chickens died. We would rush over to get as many dead chickens as possible to cook and can.

There were times during the end of winter when we ran out of food. Then, for days on end, we would eat the dried beans we had grown. I just started eating pinto beans again in recent years!

While I was often craving meat especially, I had no idea that I was malnourished. We ate the red dirt clay that was all around us – a common practice especially among the kids and pregnant women. We didn’t think it was weird at the time. But now looking back, I understand why we always had worms in our poop.

Eating Healthy Is Costly

We ate what we grew, so at least I think it was a lot healthier than many current day poor people who often rely on 99-cent fast food, which is usually cheaper than buying groceries to cook for a family. Many poor people depend on Coke or Pepsi (because of the sugar and caffeine content for temporary energy), junk food and fast food. Parents often working two jobs have learned to depend on fast food to feed their family.

As a result, an alarming number of poor children especially are obese and suffering from diabetes. Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. It affects more than 30 percent of children, making it the most common chronic disease of childhood. This number has more than tripled since 1980.

It is a constant and expensive fight to eat healthy, organic foods.”

Hunger is not just about starving and being skinny. Tonight 1 in every 5 children in the United States will go to bed hungry (1 in 4 in most southern states and in North Carolina).

Growing food is becoming much harder, as giant chemical corporations have taken control of our seeds, modifying them so growers need to buy expensive fertilizers and pest controls from the same company in order for the seeds to grow. Also, the seeds either do not reproduce or cannot be used for the coming years.

In addition, poor people are more likely to live in toxic waste areas where they can’t grow food. In the community where Spirit in Action [the organization founded by Linda Stout] works, there is a 42-acre eyesore in the middle of the community that used to be the plant where everyone worked. It burned down and was never rebuilt.

A dejected young girl lays on a worn out, unmade bed with an empty bowl in front of her

credit: Wayne S. Grazio

People would love to have that space turned into community gardens, playgrounds and retail property. Some even broke through the fence to plant a garden. It was torn up and a sign now says “no planting” due to the fact the soil is toxic. There are tubes coming out of the ground that we were told release toxic gasses. We found out afterwards it is only one of 58 toxic sites in Buncombe County that are contaminated with hazardous waste of some type and various severity.

Today, food scarcity shows up in different ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean starvation in the typical way we think of it, but it does mean a huge increase in malnutrition; illness; and often lack of motivation, learning ability or good mental health.

Eating Healthy for Life – Literally

A few years ago, I went to a specialist in holistic health. I had been told by Western doctors I only had six months to live, as my adrenal systems were shutting down. I weighed 357 pounds. A lot of the weight was gained from a non-working thyroid, getting multiple sclerosis – which at the time was treated with steroids – and my inability to be as active as I had been before.

I believe that my MS was directly linked to being sprayed with DDT while working in the fields, and later living near a factory where everyone was exposed to mercury. Many of my immediate family members and others in the community have died at very early ages from cancer or immune system diseases. I’ve already lived much longer than my parents and many of my family and friends who worked in the same conditions.

When I asked my doctor about losing weight, he laughed and said, “Your body is in starvation mode. It is not processing the food you eat or providing you any nutrition. You won’t be able to lose weight until your health improves.” It took almost two years before I began to slowly lose weight.

Today, food scarcity shows up in different ways ... malnutrition; illness; and often lack of motivation, learning ability or good mental health.”

Now that I’m getting all the nutrients I need, I have continued to slowly lose 137 pounds. Still more to go, but it is a constant and expensive fight to eat healthy, organic foods.

We need to make huge systemic changes in this country, including federal and state budget priorities working on real solutions to provide our children with proper nutrition, education about healthy eating, and making sure poor people get what they need to feed themselves and their family a healthy diet.

1 Response

  1. Really interesting testimony. And shocking, but not surprising. To make changes in the Western world, we need to hear more genuine working class/poor people’s voices and experience of poverty and systemic economic injustice.

    Please have a look at our British website and get in touch!


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