May 23, 2007

Whole Foods Doesn’t Live Here

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:41 pm by nevavegan

As I sat at the mechanic’s the other day, waiting for repairs to be finished on my car, I saw a man limp into the attached parts shop. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but I couldn’t help noticing that on one side of his head an enormous abcess, fluid-filled and transparent, probably half the size of his head in fact, bulging and hanging from his cheek, stretching his face out of proportion. I can’t know he hasn’t been to a doctor, but here it’s a fairly good bet that he doesn’t have insurance and is waiting for that odd point it becomes an “emergency.”

That’s what people here do. They deal with scary health issues for months, even years, and then wind up in the ER, possibly dying from something preventable.

Then a woman and her daughter came in to see if their car was ready. They chatted with me, ready to complain to anyone about the wait. Both were morbidly obese. The daughter, who was maybe 11 or 12 could barely walk, and each step seemed to bring agony, though I can’t guess if it was just the weight or if she had other health problems.

“Why don’t you sit down, baby?” asked the mother of her daughter “You look so uncomfortable.”

The girl eyed the tiny plastic yellow chairs and said “No, I’m gonna lean up on the counter here.”

I remembered how I was at that age, literally swinging from trees and trying to outrace my dogs, and here’s a little girl who can barely walk. I wanted to cry, but I smiled instead because I didn’t want her to feel out of place or singled out.

I remember reading in the paper about a low-cost clinic where a doctor reported treating a little girl whose obesity had caused both of her hips to dislocate, just from the extreme weight on her small frame.

One of the mechanics came in from the garage with the typical facial discoloration of uncontrolled diabetes, panting slightly from the exertion of moving his own considerable weight around.

This is my community. I live right down the street. And here are people who are not having basic health needs met in ways that matter. They are all waiting for the point it becomes an emergency to think about change, to think about doing something. That day that they can’t walk, the day their blood sugar crashes, whatever it is that will warrant the trip to the ER. Though it’s much harder to tackle most health issues at that point.

At the same time that I was observing this, as well as the obesity in my neighbors, and the hold that cigarettes still have over communities like this, even as wealthier neighborhoods ban them from public areas. At the same time I got an email asking to give feedback to Whole Foods on their product selection.

But how could I give them feedback? Whole Foods won’t move to neighborhoods like mine. They say they sell wholesome, healthy foods, but they also charge high prices, and someone at Whole Foods did a demographic study and decided my whole, entire county was a poor bet for opening a store. Whether it was the average income, the racial factors, or the crime statistics, Whole Foods doesn’t live here and isn’t even thinking about moving.

Meanwhile we have My Organic Market, and you’ve got to love them for setting up shop here and posting their “We take food stamps” signs, and for having better prices than Whole Foods anyway. Every weekend I go to My Organic Market to load up on veggies and see new faces each time. Sometimes it’s people timidly bagging up greens saying “My doctor said I gotta start eating this.” Sometimes it’s enthusiastic newbies vowing to try every mock meat available until they find one they love.

But it’s not as simple as opening a store and hanging out the shingle. The papers right now are full of people lamenting the gaps in our health care system (and those definitely need to be addressed). But we also need to teach people skills to help themselves. I’m sure that mother at the mechanic doesn’t want to do anything to hurt her daughter, but she feeds her the same foods she’s always eaten. On this rung of the ladder food means comfort, food means afluence, food means love, and nobody wants to be stingey with those things.

I’ve definitely gone hungry myself. I have my own disordered relationship with food. For me veganism is such a simple solution (although I’m an ethical vegan, the health benefits are just a bonus for me). It means that the basic “filler” of my diet is now vegetables and legumes and whole grains. So even though I do add some vegan “junk” in, it’s a better diet for maintaining health. Fewer empty calories, more good stuff.



  1. Matilda said,

    Hi Neva,

    I have just found your blog (thanks to Bazu for directing from her blog!). It is really great, and i am so pleased I am here now.

    Thanks for your courage to share your world view and thoughts.

  2. Opal: The Raw & The Cooked said,

    Excellent post! I was talking about these issues with a friend a few days ago.
    Your socioeconomic background, in many cases, determines the quality of the food you receive and the health care that is readily available to yoo.

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