Bad nutrition and racism go hand in hand, but it is a complex relationship that bears some exploring. For one thing, the way the US dietary guidelines are reviewed every five years involves both the USDA – the Department of Agriculture, as well as Health and Human Serivices (HHS). That is really an odd circumstance, and a manifestation of the swampy conditions in Washington DC. Then it gets worse when science is politicised in a variety of ways, of which the racist bias is just one. I have previouisly written a blog titled: Obituary: Dairy Overdose, about my own vegetarian upbringing and how both of my parents died of illnesses in which dairy played a prominent role. Even while they switched to vegetarianism when I was 2.5 years old, they had no good understanding of plant-based nutrition, the way we do today.
Growing up in post WWII Europe, it was a time in which the end of colonialism was very much part of the public discourse. Europe gradually gave up its colonial aspirations. My native Holland saw Indonesia become independent two years before I was born and as I grew up, our country gave up the rest of its colonial presence in a variety of ways. Many Chinese merchants from Indonesia, who made their living servicing the colonials in Indonesia moved to Holland after the independence of Indonesia, which was evident in the prevalence of Chinese/Indonesian restaurants – almost always together as one. At one time the reach of the Dutch colonial interest had included the little place where I now live, New York City. During that period of dismantling colonial empires, in the sixties, we looked back in shame at our colonial history and made up our minds that the world would be a better place for free relations of sovereign nations instead of colonial empires.
In parallel, we watched the civil rights movement in the US evolve into a beginning of the end of racism in the country of our liberators in World War II, but we also saw the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John Kennedy, both of which events seemed to dent the hopes for a better world. We saw our heroes, the Americans, take over a French colonial war in Vietnam as strange reminder of colonial era we thought was going to be gone forever. Clearly, transitions are not easy, and the end of colonialism, slavery and racism could not be smooth and easy, but setbacks along the way were the norm, not the exception.
The Commissary on the Plantation
I personally love Gore Vidal’s “biography” of the USA, his “narratives of empire,” in seven novels Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington D.C., and The Golden Age. Vidal maintains that America remained a plantation economy after the nominal end of slavery. I think he was right, the roles are shifting, but some of the principles remain entrenched and we have a lot of growing up to do yet. One of the ways of looking at how it works today is the food system, including its interplay with racism.
“Southern” cuisine and its “comfort food,” were a way for the black population to make a virtue out of necessity, i.e. the old slave food, became sort of an inverted snobbery, but at the cost of personal health, unfortunately. Hence the “stroke belt” of the US is the South. In the black population, bad nutrition and bad health became a bigger problem than in the general population – which was bad enough anyway, thanks to the “Standard American Diet,” (SAD), of refined foods, dairy and meat, with as little fiber as possible.
There was a lot of work by the food industry to literally make foods purposely addictive, so you’d always want more. Nobody ever eats a “portion” of potato chips – you eat the whole bag… but at what price? Mac and cheese anyone? Ever since Dr. Neal Barnard’s The Cheese Trap, we now know that milk contains a mild opiate and that it becomes concentrated in the production of cheese… so no wonder many of us seem to find cheese hard to give up. But the USDA promotes the consumption of cheese since they serve the agribusiness and not the health of consumers. This dairy addiction combined with other factors, such as the effective racism of the US dietary guidelines, which continue to promote dairy products as part of a healthy diet in spite of a long trail of documentation of all the bad health consequences of dairy consumption from high cholesterol, to increased asthma and higher rates of bone fractures and many other issues.
And here in his 2019 testimony for the committee that revises the US dietary guidelines every five years, Dr. Mills lays out the details:
The good news amid the mess is that in this age of information we have more and more ways of learning how we can change our nutrition habits ourselves – the choice between sickness and health is at the end of your fork and you decide what you want to put there. Seen from the standpoint of the dietary guidelines committee, their indebtedness to the food industrial complex is indeed a form of institutional racism when we realize that the composition of the population today is indeed such that two-thirds of us are lactose intolerant.
As a personal comment I would add to this that, being Caucasian myself, I am part of the group where “only” one third of people are lactose intolerant and I was certainly never told of the issue by any doctor, but I struggled with allergies for several decades and always refused all medications (typically anti-histamines). For a long time, I struggled with various supplements, always on a search to address the cause and not the effects of allergies (anti-histamines merely suppress the effects, but do nothing about the cause). After many years of experimentation and some guidance from a friend who is a biochemistry researcher, I ended up with the winning combination of sustained release NAC plus glycine… until I dumped the dairy and went on a Whole Foods, Plant-based diet. Ever since then, I have not bothered much with special supplements and my allergies have not been much of a problem. In short, if I am part of the group that is least likely to have problems with lactose, what on earth are we collectively doing to ourselves when we continue to promote dairy products? Fortunately, consumer tastes are now starting to shift.
The way the commissary on the plantation of the American economy works today is that we have massively sacrificed nutrition to convenience, and we try to make up for it with supplements that have been proven by and large not to work – they are not well absorbed and produce mostly expensive urine. In the end, we pay the price in terms of the many chronic illnesses for which doctors tell us there is no cure and “You will have to take this medication for the rest of your life.” Until… we find out that there is indeed a way to prevent and reverse these diseases. The information is coming to us many ways.
We can break the chains of ill health that are robbing most people blind in their retirement years, both in monetary terms and in overall quality of life. According to lifestyle medicine, with Dr. Dean Ornish in the lead, the pre-corona virus healthcare spending was 86% on the chronic diseases that are all caused by diet and lifestyle, and accordingly are preventable and often even reversible. In short. lifestyle, diet included is the driver of boundless healthcare inflation. The moral hazard is that the pharmaceutical industry and doctors too, make more money on disease management and maintenance than on health. So there you have the commissary on the plantation: a food system that makes people sick and a sickness profiteering system that strips them of any remaining assets in retirement – medical debt is the largest cause of bankruptcy in the country today.
Doctors Want To Be Part of the Solution
Too often, doctors are part of the problem, for it is too convenient to make your living off of supporting the drug habits of patients, no different from the illegal drug trade. Repeat customers keep them in business. The opioid crisis has shown us in spades just how easy it is for doctors to go off the rails, but the problem if far more pervasive than that. The present system of healthcare practically ensures that doctors do not have time for much else besides writing a prescription.
Fortunately, many doctors are waking up to the fact that their original desire was to help people. Unsurprisingly, given the greater prevalence of these chronic health problems among people of color (POC), there are now a new cadre of Doctors of Color (DOC), who are at the vanguard of this change and the COVID-19 crisis is all about comorbidities and those comorbidities, in turn, are the very chronic diseases that are exactly preventable or reversible by diet, like coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and so on. The real prevention is all about Lifestyle Medicine and its mainstay of Whole Foods, Plant-Based nutrition, which immediately helps to improve our immune systems. Diet cannot shield you from exposure or the risk of contagion, but it will improve your body’s chances of coping with the disease, should you get it. It pays to remember that worrying helps no-one. 80% of cases are light – some people never even noticed having he disease.
In short, reading or watching the news is not going to solve the crisis – though you want to know what’s going on and how you need to take care of yourself, but Taking Care of Business (TCB) is something else. The most important things you can do are the things you can do to take care of yourself, for the very feeling of empowerment alone is an indirect boost to the immune system, as much as the better nutrition and also exercise boost the immune system directly. Lifestyle Medicine pays double dividends! For those of us who have experience with the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet, and the Lifestyle Medicine lifestyle, it is immediately obvious just how much we can do for ourselves and how fast the results can appear.
The movie The Game Changers demonstrated how a single meal with animal protein could make a difference in a famous scene showing three young athletes who were part of a test showing that a single meal affected both quantity and quality of their erections. It has been proven that some conditions like ED and gout can be completely reversed within a week, and angina often reversed within two weeks. Also, it is now widely known that your gut stops producing TMAO (Tri-Methyl Amine Oxide – which is a major driver of inflammation in the body) within three days after the switch to a whole foods, plant-based diet, for your entire intestinal flora changes when you stop eating animal products. It is all about the processed foods. Animal proteins all come from plants in the end, but they are de facto second hand proteins that were “processed” by the animals that pre-digested them for us, so you are better off getting the amino acids directly from plants yourself and make your own protein. All the animals do is change the mix of proteins and add fat and cholesterol, none of which you need.
It just makes sense that leadership should emerge from the very communities where the suffering from our bad food system is the greatest, because wherever the need is greatest, that is obviously where the greatest improvements are possible. Brooklyn Borough President is the poster child for that situation, with his story of a complete turnaround of a disastrous case of T2D, going from an A1C of 17.1 to 5.6 in three months and reversing blindness in one eye inside of three weeks. Thank goodness, he does not shut up about it. So whereas the devastation of the current viral epidemic is the greatest in the black community, perhaps they can in turn become the leaders in the turnaround of the disastrous american diet. Dick Gregory was one of the first to set the example, but plant-based nutrition was not yet as well understood in his day. Today it is and the scientific proof is in, courtesy of the work of Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study. The rest is a DIY project.
Evidently, the turnaround eventually transcends limitations. It is only natural that leadership should emerge in those communities where the need is greatest. Eventually we will all benefit from it. As we can see, racism is not something that simply goes away, but if we want to help, all we can do – since I cannot change someone else’s mind, only my own – is to be commit ourselves to NOT taking it seriously in this sense that the differences between people are obvious, and nobody should deny them. Different bodies, different cultures, different skin color, different languages, not to mention the sexes etc. but, as they say, we all bleed red. So don’t make a big deal out of the differences. Racism really is when we politicize the differences and trouble starts. The grown-up way of dealing with the issue of differences is to realize that, what else is new, we’re all different – no big deal.
Eventually, we cannot be helpful to one another, unless we realize what what matters is not what makes us different but what makes us the same. Listen to this conversation of a student speaking to non-dualist teacher Rupert Spira (and no, I do not agree with what she or Spira says about A Course in MIracles – but that’s for another day):
In short, if history is such that the comorbidities for COVID-19 are greater in the black community, it is only natural that the “Doctors of Color” above should focus on the things that can make a real difference in their communities and for everyone else, for in the end that lesson is universal: all these comorbidities are the same chronic diseases that plague the entire population – some more than others – and they are almost all reversible with a whole foods, plant-based diet, and we all have an equal interest in boosting our immune systems.