My Personal Journey to Becoming A Fierce Community Food/Health Activist!

My Personal Journey to Becoming A Fierce Community Food/Health Activist!

In February, 1999 my 1st grandson was born at Alta Bates Hospital, in Berkeley California, as had my daughter in 1973. He arrived early and underweight, and came home from hospital weeks after birth. At the time I was Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director of the Berkeley Community Fund, a community philanthropic non-profit that provided resources, advocacy college scholarships and recognition awards for individuals and community non-profits that helped Berkeley be the best it could be. I liked my job and enjoyed the community aspect of my work.

That same year, coincidently, the COB issued a Health Status Report http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Health_Human_Services/Level_3_-_Public_Health/hsr1999.pdf) which included the fact that my grandson had a 40% less chance of living to the age 40 as did children his age born to households in the hills above the flatlands where we lived. I was shocked, devastated and galvanized! I had to act, do something to reverse this prediction. My grandson deserved as great a chance to a long, healthy life as any other child in Berkeley. I wanted to let people know this was happening. I wanted to get people mobilized and doing something about it. I wanted to save my grandson and others like him.

I quit the Admin job and became the Healthy Start Grant Coordinator at Malcolm X Elementary, where I hoped my grandson would go. There I met and worked with many wonderful people who understood my urgency to reverse these health trends, helped me learn to appreciate the causes of the obvious health disparities in Berkeley there are many: lack of resource and access to health care, living in toxic environments, and a dearth of full service markets with fresh whole food, along with an abundance of liquor stores. I became a member of the BUSD Child Nutrition Advisory Committee and later the Berkeley Food Policy Council. After leaving the job at Malcolm X, I worked with the folks at Berkeley Food Systems Project.  Finally I became an Outreach Specialist for the City of Berkeley Chronic Disease Prevention Program. While there I saw a plastic display showing how much sugar was in specific processed foods. The one that caught my attention most, showed how much sugar was in a 12 ounce can of soda: 9 teaspoons! This blew my mind. I became more and more concerned as I watched the serving size of sodas grow and  grow. People now regularly drink “Big Gulps”, 32 oz or larger drinks of liquid sugar, soda! These sugary beverages are poison and highly toxic to our health. I saw young people buying soda and chips for breakfast, soda and pizza for lunch and then soda and hamburgers and fries for dinner, every day! We all watched our society grow larger and sicker from over consumption of processed sugar, especially soda! As diabetes, obesity, tooth decay and other illness grips our society, the effects are greatest in the African American and Latina Communities, largely due to poverty and target advertising by corporate producers of processed food and beverages.

All these learning experiences changed my life dramatically. I stopped using white sugar, it gave me violent headaches. Since then I prefer honey and agave as sweetener. I reduced my soda consumption and stayed away from ice cream, cakes, cookies and pies and I rarely eat candy, gum or snacks. I lost weight, went to the dentist to repair my teeth, and became a missionary trying to educate and inform people about the health risks associated with over consumption of processed sugar.

The convergence of these events was the catalyst that turned me into a community food activist, with a focus on reducing the consumption of liquid sugar. I work every day to elevate the status of good food in our culture. I try to teach people how to value and prepare healthy food. I want our society to value and honor the people who grow and harvest food. We should eat to live and use food and herbs as preventive medicine. We should all consume lots of whole, unprocessed food everyday and provide access for all who need good food. As we move forward through life, no matter who we are or what we do, we all need healthy minds and bodies. We all must learn how to eat to live and teach our kids how so they can live long, healthy lives. Remember your health is your greatest asset!

Joy Moore is a community food activist and Garden and Cooking Instructor in Berkeley Public Schools.

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