American Grown: Michelle Obama’s New Book

Yesterday, Crown Publishers (a Random House imprint) announced their newest title,  American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities by First Lady Michelle Obama. The book will be on sale nationwide on April 10, 2012.

This book is Mrs. Obama’s first,  and her goal is to use the story of the White House kitchen garden. She will continue her quest for Americans to understand how increased access to healthy, affordable food can promote better eating habits and improve health of families and communities across America.

I applaud FLOTUS’ efforts at changing the dialogue and through it, the culture, around food and sustainability in the US. I think her efforts to talk about food deserts (low-income urban and rural areas that lack stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables) is drawing important attention to these communities and access to healthy and fresh food. It brings a class consciousness to the issue of community health, something that is often lacking if we apply the same tired “bootstraps” analysis to health.

Once, when I was doing a training on health care reform in Alabama, a young woman student could not believe that we needed a policy and advocacy focus on community health especially in regards to low income urban communities, where health outcomes are so disproportionately bad. She asked, “Well, why can’t people just exercise? It’s not that hard, I run outside. They could do that, I don’t think we need a budget for community health centers in the health reform law.” That’s a fairly accurate paraphrasing, and you get the gist. Her argument was that it’s the fault of low income folks for their own poor health. It’s a lifestyle choice, she claimed. And that’s the argument echoed all over the country from folks who think that health is something that has nothing to so with social factors. Sheesh.

I think that the First Lady’s work goes a long way to challenging this kind of myopic thinking. And I think we could push the conversation even further. How about adding a few things to the mix? For example, toxic environments that cause health problems in low income communities, the fact that produce is so expensive and that processed food is so cheap, that there are fewer safe spaces in low income urban areas like parks, and rec centers. The point I’m making is this: awareness is great and it moves the national conversation about health and well-being, but what we need are policy changes at the federal, state and local level. So let’s get some bills on the books, shall we? Our very lives are at stake here.

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