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Do you want Fries with that? No!

by on October 18, 2013

As a kid I could remember the sheer joy I had whenever I was able to go to McDonald’s, order the typical six piece of Chicken McNuggets and French fries.  If my memory serves me correctly my family probably went there at least once a week, sometimes more.  I remember going to Taco Bell after football practices, eating several tacos and thinking it was the best tasting food I could ever eat.  That is the issue with being young, when you are not exposed to other options or are being sold things through advertisement one is naïve enough to believe it.

Fast forward almost twenty five years and I find myself in a much better position to understand and research the world around me, to learn from my mistakes and to improve myself from it.  Hence when I came across Andrea Freeman’s article from the California Law Review, “Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition,” I was provoked into delving into this issue.  Freeman’s main argument is that fast-food has established itself so well in poor communities, via market forces and government policy, that it is becoming nearly impossible for the poor to find food from alternative sources, and with her years of experience researching economics and critical legal theories and a long list of publications in various law journals she forms a very convincing argument.  I found the argument not only convincing but as a great source of information to develop public policy around in reversing this course that fast-food companies have taken.

Freeman states, “The overabundance of fast food and lack of access to healthier foods, in turn, have increased African American and Latino communities’ vulnerability to food related death and disease.   Structural perpetuation of this race and class based health crisis constitutes food oppression” (Freeman 2221).  While it may seem silly to some that low income people of color can be coerced into eating unhealthy, there is plenty of evidence in the article to indicate that there is little choice in this matter.  There are clear reductions in supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods as evidenced in this paper as there are “thirty percent fewer supermarkets than high income areas in 1995”  (Freeman 2240).  This reduction in supermarkets also makes food more expensive on the poor as small grocery stores have higher prices because of an inability to buy in bulk, and the food quality is typically worse in small grocers as they have to rely on purchasing more processed and pre-packaged foods.  This lack of availability to healthier foods has led to a “disproportionate incidence of food-related death and disease among African Americans and Latinos as compared to whites” (Freeman 2222).

After Freeman had put out this publication there has been an uptick in the awareness of what is now called “food deserts”.  In Chicago there are forty four square miles of food deserts where lack of access to healthy foods is considered difficult to get to  (Wehunt).  I was also  observing a panel discussion in 2011 when Wal-Mart was attempting to reach out to these neighborhoods to build a superstore in one of these areas.  During the discussion one of the panelists wanted to accept the Wal-Mart (highly processed food sources) in their neighborhood because it would bring in more jobs and other stores next to Wal-Mart like McDonald’s and Burger King.  Many of the people representing these neighborhoods are not even aware of the issues that their constituents suffer from.

Another factor causing this “food oppression” is the amount of government assistance that fast food relies on.  Among these benefits are subsidies for animal feed, sugar, fats, farms that receive subsidies to produce certain crops, hormones and anti-biotics to enhance animal growth, market deficiency loans, cheap immigration labor, and special tax breaks, which leads Freeman to assert that, “Without these subsidies, the price of a typical fast food meal would triple” (Freeman 2242).  It does not take a mathematician to figure out that this price increase would drastically change the landscape of poor neighborhoods.  Another large perk that fast-food companies get is that the government provides “official food guidelines that support the production of cheap, low-quality fast food products, and endorsements by politicians” (Freeman 2245).  Not only is the government monetarily supporting the fast-food industry but the government that represents them, is leading them to believe that fast-food is healthy for them.

The “free market” opposition that argues against limiting any action to prevent this “food oppression” attempt to blame the people for the existence of these food deserts.  There are entrenched policies and practices that the government has instituted, as laid out previously, that make evident that the blame for this mess is on the government and not the people.  This emphasis on individualism takes the blame off corporations and government and allows things to stay as is without any accountability.  There is also an argument for the social responsibility to bring healthier food stores into “food deserts” in order to help reduce poverty, diseases, crime, and improve education, all of which can be affected by poor nutrition, and can reduce government costs by decreasing the prevalence of these issues.

Freeman clearly lays out a case in how fast-food is fully entrenched into the neighborhoods of Latino and African American neighborhoods through market forces and government assistance.  She asserts that “the government should acknowledge and terminate its complicity with the fast food industry […], support nutrition programming that targets areas and communities affected […], banning junk food from schools […], and requiring fast food companies to provide accurate nutrition labeling” (Freeman 2258).  As “food oppression” is a legitimate concern to improve the lives of these communities many of the above stated policies should be implemented to make a healthier society and give these communities a true “free market” choice to eat healthier.

Works Cited

Freeman, Andrea.  “Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition.”  California Law Review, 2007, JSTOR.  Web. 9/29/13

Wehunt, Jennifer. “The Food Desert”. Chicago Mag, July 2009. Web. 10/5/13

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  1. 7/29 Oppression within the food system | phil1400blog

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