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January 1, 2009

And So It Begins…

I am an expert in finding healthy things to eat, no matter where I am or how much money I have (or don’t have).

By Arnell J. Hinkle

New Year’s Day.  I have a pot of black-eyed peas simmering on the stove.  In spite of way too much education, and living far from the South, I still can’t face a new year without eating a bowl of black-eyed peas for good luck.  The fatback of my youth is now smoked turkey, but the intent is the same.  Start the new year with a ritual from the past that brings good luck.

I am thinking about my black-eyed peas, and wondering who grew them?  were the workers paid a living wage?  Doing a bit of research, I discovered that the US has about 60,000 - 80,000 acres of land producing black-eyed peas, and that farmers earn $0.35/pound for dried peas. It cost them roughly $370/acre to grow the peas, they earn about $385/acre when they sell the peas, so their profit is only $15.00/acre. Hardly seems worth it.  However black-eyed peas are 23% protein, full of fiber, and do bring good luck. Seems like we should be growing more of them, especially since they are a relatively inexpensive source of protein.  But farmers don’t get subsidies for black-eyed peas, few stores sell them, restaurants rarely serve them, and the foodies haven’t discovered them. We are left to our own devices, and need to cook up a pot for ourselves if we want good luck in the new year.

In my work I struggle with the contradiction between the desire for change, and a power structure that keeps certain conditions in place.  Public health officials recommending that we all eat more fruits and vegetables, yet the government supporting farm subsidies for tobacco and cotton and not fresh produce, and providing junk food to school and after school programs in the name of profit. I see middle and upper class communities with grocery stores filled with reasonably priced food, and low-income areas without full service grocery stores, but filled with fast food franchises. I also see a lot of people working to get healthier food into low-income communities, but not being able to relate to the people who live in those communities.

This blog is my attempt to bring what I know about food, community, health, race and class to a larger audience.  I am an expert in finding healthy things to eat, no matter where I am or how much money I have (or don’t have).  I was a restaurant chef for seven years, and even used to cook for Diana Ross.  I was an organic farmer for three years.  I have grown food in India and Scotland and in my own backyard in California.  I have degrees in Nutrition and Public Health and am a registered dietitian.  For the past 15 years, I have been working with low-income communities around the country to change the food system, so that healthier food is available in neighborhoods and community based organizations.

My Blog Recipe:

  • 1 part observation
  • 1 part information
  • 2 parts action
  • dash of resources

Mixed together well with a little seasoning and perspective.

I hope you like the weekly dish!

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