The sight of children dressed up as fruits in protest had many Brooklynites smiling Tuesday morning. But Nancie Katz, journalist and founder of the not-for-profit Seeds in the Middle, said there was a serious side to the cute demonstration — the need for greater access to healthy food options.
As the city continues to recover from COVID-19 and normalcy rests just over the horizon, some are fighting to make sure the new normal is better than the pre-pandemic ordinary. For activists on June 15, the focus was on food deserts in the city’s Black and brown communities — something, Katz believes, contributed to higher numbers of deaths from the novel coronavirus in communities of color.
“We know that since Michelle Obama started tilling the soil in 2009 and sounded the alarm that the obesity and diabetes rates related to bad food have only gone up among the most vulnerable people, mainly people of color,” said Katz, who emphasized that the city’s elected officials have not paid enough attention to the toll eating processed and junk food — the most affordable and accessible items in many neighborhoods — takes on their constituents.
Heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and obesity were among the many ailments that made individuals more susceptible to COVID-19. Katz said Tuesday that many of those comorbidities are preventable by giving communities the tools necessary to empower themselves to take charge of their eating habits.
Seeds in the Middle, a group that works with farmers markets throughout Brooklyn to sell inexpensive, nutritional snacks, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the City Council to provide $150,000 in funding to build eight to 10 community-run farm stands in Central Brooklyn — an area they say is a food desert.
Additionally, the group is calling for free fresh coupons so that individuals can purchase produce near their homes at a more affordable rate.
Beginning at Brooklyn Borough Hall, the group of protesters — some dressed as produce — marched through the streets yelling, “Healthy lives is a human right!” and “Eat green!”
Led by pre-teens, the demonstration garnered attention from many pedestrians who whipped out their cellphones to capture the moment. The fourth, fifth and sixth grade students took their rally over the Brooklyn Bridge, calling the fight a battle against food injustice not just within communities, but also within city schools.
“We are out here today to tell the government and the president that they need to stop putting more junk inside the stores in the city and get more fresh food and vegetables for us,” said 10-year-old Aniyah Jackson.
Jackson, who’d been trying to eat better since before the pandemic, said that once she learned about all of the comorbidities that contributed to COVID-19 deaths, she concentrated on eating fruits and vegetables over candy.
“It’s important to do this because we can get healthier and not have diabetes or heart conditions,” said nine-year-old Selayria Fortune, wearing a banana costume. “When I started eating better and only drinking water it felt good, like I’m becoming healthier. It feels like stars in your stomach.”
This story first appeared on AMNY.com.