How food can help combat racism as a chronic health condition

As the CEO of a vertical farming company focused on energizing local food systems, I spend a lot of time thinking about the role good, nutritious food plays in our personal lives and the potential it has to make a change in our communities, writes Nona Yehia with Vertical Harvest Farms. It’s been almost a year now since the CDC declared racism a chronic health condition and a serious threat to public health… and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since. We’ve long understood the connection between social determinants, like where a person lives, learns, works, and plays, and the quality of their health. Enter your zip code and researchers can predict your health outcomes with uncanny accuracy, compared with a neighbor one digit away.

There’s a lot that goes into understanding racism’s effect on health, but a nine-item measure called the Everyday Discrimination Scale helps assess the impact racism has on an individual’s lived experience. Researchers have found that the higher your EDS score, the more likely you’ll experience adverse health conditions such as high blood pressure, the onset of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental health issues. Why, exactly? The theory suggests that this extra adversity, the accumulation of these additional barriers, and the added stress of getting your basic needs met, wears on a person over time. It shortens their telomeres, changes their biology, and consequently affects their health.

One key “input” to this equation is access to healthy foods. Black and Brown neighborhoods are more likely to be food deserts than white ones. Harvard Professor David Williams, a pioneer of the EDS framework, says “to have grocery stores that provide affordable access to high-quality foods is a good thing from a health and nutrition point of view. But in addition to that, it provides employment opportunities. And really — a job is a good health-enhancing strategy.” We couldn’t agree more.

This February, as we make an intentional effort to think about Black History and the legacy of systemic racism in the US, we’re asking ourselves how might our community-based business model be leveraged in this context. Even outside of our social impact-oriented, customized employment model, we’re committed to assessing our place within a community across three key measures of the availability, accessibility and affordability of our food.

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For more information:
Nona Yehia, CEO and co-founder
Vertical Harvest 


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