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Food As Medicine, Part1!

Climate Change Food Shortages and Higher Prices Forces Us To Rethink How, Why and What We Eat! Black Coral Inc investigates the impact of climate change on food systems, diet quality, nutrition, and health outcomes.

Food As Medicine, Part1!

Climate change can disrupt food availability, reduce access to food, and affect food quality. For example, projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of heavy precipitation in the United States, which can harm crops by eroding soil and depleting soil nutrients. Heavy rains can also increase agricultural runoff into oceans, lakes, and streams. Along with that comes an increase in health costs as good nutrition becomes harder to achieve and afford.

A shortage of food may happen when not enough food is produced, such as when crops fail due to drought, pests, or too much moisture. But the problem can also result from the uneven distribution of natural resource endowment for a country, and by human institutions, such as government and public policy, this increasingly affects the nutritional value of foods available to the average consumer. By 2050, we will need to produce as much as 50% more food than we did in 2020 to feed the world's population despite current declines in Western populations and China. While some experts postulate we can do it using current farming and production practices, with climate as a factor it could be catastrophic for the planet.

Climate change impacts food systems at different levels, including changes in soil fertility and crop yield, composition, and bioavailability of nutrients in foods, pest resistance, and risk of malnutrition. Sustainable and resilient food systems, coupled with climate-smart agriculture, are needed to ensure sustainable diets that are adequately diverse, nutritious, and better aligned with contextual ecosystem functions and environmental conservation.

Findings suggest that climate change will exert a significant adverse effect on water and food security and showed that the nutritional status of the population, which is already characterized by the triple burden of malnutrition, is likely to worsen via three main pathways mediated by climate change, namely, its impact on food security, care and health. Women, infants, children, those living in poor households and those experiencing displacement will be among the most vulnerable to the nutritional impacts of climate change.

Most people have been conditioned to think that traditional Black food is not nutritious, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. History and food are a source of empowerment to change the narrative regarding nutrition and health across the African diaspora. A 2018 study published in Genetics that analyzed family trees of more than 400 million people suggested that genetics are not as influential on life span as I would have thought. The truth is, what you eat, the company you keep and how you live your life are more impactful.

According to Nutritionist Tambra Raye Stephenson acknowledgment of the inherent healthiness of many traditional Black foods is not part of the dietary nutrition discourse. There was no historical context or willingness to see humanity in the struggle and survival of Black people consuming foods such as chitlins, hot links, stewed beans with neck bones, watermelon, collard greens cooked with smoked meats, and gumbo. Our food, like Black people, has risen like the phoenix, enduring, resisting and recovering from being weaponized to being liberated. From farm to fork, we see this liberation in the work of Leah Penniman's Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm's Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land and Chef Bryant Terry's Black Food.

Historically, Black people come from a culture of communalism: "ubuntu," which is a Bantu term translated as "I am because we are," with an understanding that "our liberty is bound together." Furthering the point, the roots of her mantra extend an old African proverb that states, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." If we want to heal our communities, we begin with healing our meals together. So we honor the women who find purpose and joy in cooking for their community, which is also their medicine.

Black food is constantly evolving. It's not monolithic or stuck in one place. Black food culture is as expansive as continental Africa. So a narrow lens is insufficient in telling the story of Black food. Which makes sense because our culinary arts began thousands of years before Europe and Europeans even existed! Affordable healthy dishes that can feed a whole family during times of struggle are a blessing.

In Oklahoma Tambra explains, "A bowl of pinto beans and cornbread with the holy trinity of greens (mustard, collard and turnip) topped with hot sauce and a baked sweet potato on the side brings me happiness. Texas caviar (also referred to as "cowboy caviar") and purple hull pea dishes of the Lone Star State are my other home...Carolinas' Low Country, Carolina Gold rice, Hoppin' John and stewed okra and tomatoes have brought me fond memories. Prior to that, I made a pit stop in the Appalachians, enjoying pawpaw fruit and sorghum dishes. By living in D.C., I eat my way through Africa, from injera with shiro and gomen, to pepper soup, jollof rice and Moroccan tagines with mint teas. But I can't forget my graduate school days in New England, where I had my share of seafood dishes. Now Black Bostonian-owned The Pearl restaurant is shaping Black food there. Collectively the regional scene is changing the narrative."

Adopted during the Black Power movement, the term "soul food" represented strength, pride, beauty and returning to our African roots. Soul food is more than fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and biscuits, which are descendants of a colonized cuisine. For many of us, the "soul" of Black food is a blessing but also represents power and culture.

Soul food, like my DNA, is not 100% African but mixed with European and American Indigenous roots. Yet we have embraced it as a 100% signifier to Black culture, which has historically been "othered" or viewed as "poverty food" with a colonial gaze. So it's no surprise to see the villainization and omission of soul food's contributions to American cuisine. Yet, recently, it has gained a resurgence as more Black chefs, nutritionists, writers and cooks are embracing the original intent behind the term.

Black food traditions have sustained us, though some have been lost over generations due to migration, modern food systems, suppression, oppression and trauma. Historians and scholars like Jessica B. Harris, Ph.D., Adrian Miller, Toni Tipton-Martin and Michael Twitty have solidly captured this sentiment in their groundbreaking works.


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