In This Episode
Food insecurity affects millions of Americans–a disproportionate number of them are Black. What are the consequences of the way we produce food in our society–and how do they shape who gets healthy, accessible, affordable food, and who doesn’t? Abdul reflects on our food system and speaks with Malik Yakini, co-founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: COVID cases are beginning to increase in parts of the country, but recent shutdowns of testing sites mean we may not have an accurate picture. An FDA advisory committee met this week to chart the future of vaccine boosters. The CDC announced plans for a review and reorganization of the agency to better meet the nation’s public health needs. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. This month is Ramadan. Ramadan Kareem, to all those who observe it. Ramadan is a month of fasting from food and, yes, water, from dawn to sunset. But there’s a lot more to it. It’s a month of prayer and community and reflection. In fact, fasting is common among many faith traditions. There’s the Yom Kippur fast in Judaism, Lent in several Christian traditions, or fasting traditions in Hinduism and Buddhism. I’ll be honest, fasting is really tough for me. It’s not the food or the water, it’s the caffeine. It’s also the sleep. I drink a lot of coffee. Like a lot, a lot. And during Ramadan, that becomes a problem, particularly when all of a sudden I can’t drink any during the day. So instead, I take slow release caffeine pills with my morning meal, traditionally called Suhor, and I drink my coffee at Iftar, after I break fast. You could imagine that leaves me wired, and with breakfast time at eight o’clock and wake up time at 5:30 for Iftar, the whole thing takes a toll on one’s sleep. But there are a few remarkable things that happen when you fast. The first is this incredible awareness of what you put in your body in the first place. When you can’t eat or drink, you appreciate deeply the fact that unlike so many in this world, you don’t suffer this fate every single day of your life for want of food or drink. And nothing tastes like that first morsel of food you put in your mouth. Traditionally, we break fast on dates. They’re sweet, but also earthy. And at that point, your mind is attuned to every single flavor note. That first sip of coffee . . . unreal. The other side is also true. I find that eating processed sugars are salty snacks during Ramadan isn’t nearly as appealing. The flavors are just too intense. Take those two things together, and the whole experience forces you to really reflect on the nature of the food you eat and where it comes from. And in America, that’s a hard thing to have to reflect on. See, our food system is dominated by a few huge corporations. Consider Kraft. Well, Kraft actually owns a whole bunch of other food brands. Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Ore-Ida tater tots, Gray Poupon mustard, Jello. There are also the companies you’ve never heard of. Take Cargill, which had a global revenue of $115 billion last year. They have 155,000 employees working across 70 countries to produce flour, table salt, and all kinds of other ingredients you only hear about on the backs of food labels, like soy lecithin. Industrial food production at this scale has massive consequences for the environment. One of the biggest single sources of greenhouse gas emissions is methane—or put another way, cow farts. Our food travels extreme distances, often crossing national borders multiple times to get to our plates, raising emissions from the trucks and trains and planes that carry our food. The implications for our waterways are even worse. The run off from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOS, that’s profound. Even the smallest CAFOS produce the equivalent in urine and feces of 16,000 people in a concentrated space. The nitrogen and phosphorus runoff leads to algae blooms, which wreak havoc on aquatic ecosystems by blocking light and producing massive quantities of harmful toxins. Not to mention the fact that so much of the food we eat is just awful for our health. Our government subsidizes corn and soy while recommending that we eat fruit and vegetables. That means corn and all of its derivatives, like high-fructose corn syrup and meat end up way cheaper. And where does the money we spend go? Back to Cargill and Kraft. The consequences fall hardest, like almost all broken systems, on low-income Black communities. When I served the city of Detroit, it was popular to call Detroit a food desert, as if there wasn’t food. There’s food all right, it’s just the wrong kind. Many traditional grocery stores don’t set up shop in the lower-income communities, and places like corner stores are left to fill the gap. They don’t sell broccoli, carrots, and oranges. They sell coke, Doritos, and chicken nuggets. The consequences mean higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer in communities like Detroit. Today, I spent my whole day thinking about food so I wanted you to join me, so we’ll be talking about food systems, food swamps, and more with Malik Yakini, co-founder and Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. He’s been digging into these challenges and finding solutions in my own backyard, after the break.
Malik Yakini: OK, ready.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Can you introduce yourself with the tape?
Malik Yakini: My name is Malik Yakini. I’m Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Malik Yakini started Detroit Black Community Food Security Network after watching liquor store owners mistreat local community members, only to take their patrons’ money out of the community. When I was health director, he was one of the first community leaders I met. He taught me a lot about the way food insecurity works in communities like Detroit and what it will take to build a more just system. Today, I hope we can teach you too.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Malik, you and I go back to, I think, 2015. You’re one of the first people I met when I was in the city after I’d been appointed to my role there, and I was just really inspired by your story and excited to share it with with folk. So can you share what inspired you to build the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network?
Malik Yakini: Well, first I’ll say that, you know, this hasn’t been a singular project, that I am part of an organization, and several people have worked collectively to build it, so I just want to affirm that. But we were motivated by several things, one being the lack of robust opportunities for Detroiters to get high-quality fresh produce and other nutrient-dense foods. The second is the extractive economy that focuses, that operates in Detroit’s Black community and operates in almost all Black communities throughout the United States. We have a largely extractive economy. As you know, most of the grocery stores are owned by people from the Arab world, and all too often we see policies where that money is not circulating in the communities that they’re operating within, and often it’s extracted with very little job creation. So in addition to the fact that often profits are extracted, there’s very little job creation from the people in the community, very few jobs created for people in the community. And far too often there are disrespectful interactions between people who work in the stores and people who live in the community. And so this is a tremendous problem in Black communities throughout the United States. The ethnic groups that operate the stores change from city to city, but because of the tremendous history of disempowerment in Black communities it makes Black communities more vulnerable for other groups to come in, particularly groups that have a long history of entrepreneurship, and to open these stores in lack communities. Again, usually with very little circulation of wealth. So we were motivated by, again, the grocery store situation in Detroit, but we were also motivated by just a general sense of wanting to build self-determination in Black communities. That our community should be as resilient as possible. We should be making as many decisions as possible about the food that comes into our communities, how it’s produced, how it’s sold, how those profits are shared so that we can have strong, resilient communities.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So you outlined a couple of different pieces here. One is the nature of the food that is sold itself right, and the notion that, you know, in the city, there is too much of the macronutrients that will grow a belly and too little of the micronutrients that that will grow brain. And that is a function of choices made all the way up the food production ladder, and then obviously choices that are made about what foods tend to get sold and marketed in communities. And the other part is also about just the means of food production, who owns the stores, but also who owns the decision making process both about what is sold, as we talked about, but also about where the money from what is sold, goes. And one of the things that I love about your project is that it imagines a self-sustaining food security system in the city of Detroit. Can you walk us through what forms that has taken in your work?
Malik Yakini: Sure. So since the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network was founded in 2006 we’ve done several things. One of the first things we did is met with the Detroit City Council, and we were appointed to start a task force to write a food security policy for the city of Detroit, which we completed and had unanimously approved by the Detroit City Council in 2008. That Food Security Policy called for the creation of the Detroit Food Policy Council, which we also stewarded into existence in 2009. Also, since 2008, we’ve operated one of Detroit’s largest farms, D-Town Farm in Rouge Park. We have a license agreement with the city to use city-owned land to operate a seven-acre organic farm. We operate a youth program, so public education has been another component of our work, both through our youth program that educates young people between the ages of 7 and 12 on how to build and maintain raised-bed gardens, how to cultivate and harvest that food and prepare it in healthy ways. And then also we have lectures in non-pandemic times for the general public. And then the big project that we’re working on now is a cooperatively-owned retail grocery store called the Detroit Food Commons. So what we’ve done really is taking a whole systems approach. We have looked at policy, which is an important part of the food system. We’ve been involved in the production side through farming. We’ve been involved in the public education side through our youth program and our lectures. And now we’re involved in the retail side. We’re also involved in the post-consumer side of the food system through composting. And so that’s kind of the last step of the food system. After people eat, there’s food left over and there’s a tremendous amount of food in the American food system that is wasted before it even gets to consumers. In fact, about 40% of the food grown in the United States ends up in the waste stream. And so we have to think about the waste stream as kind of the final step in the food system. And so we’re involved in that. So we’ve been trying to think about what that whole food system looks like and how we might exert greater control over each aspect of our food system as a way of building greater food sovereignty in the city of Detroit.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to go back to the very first piece of that, which is D-Town Farm and I had the privilege of of getting to visit it. When people think about the city, Detroit, they don’t usually think about farming. I want to ask you a couple of questions about this. The first is what really prompted your sense that you really had to start building the foundational means of food production in the city itself to be able to take on the insecurity that the city faces? But then second, what does it say about the ways that our agricultural industry has failed Black folks across the country?
Malik Yakini: Well, I think the reality is the agriculture industry fails people in general, except for ones who are making bigger profits as a result of it. But what happens in American society because of the system of white supremacy, the things that impact the entire society negatively impact Black people and other folks who are marginalized by the society in more detrimental ways. And so certainly in many ways, the impact of the food system on Black communities is detrimental. And really, we have to situate this within inside of history, and first we have to acknowledge that essentially America is a settler colony, that it was founded by Western Europeans who came here and through various means, dispossessed the indigenous population of their land and then enslaved millions of people from West Africa to come work the land and to create wealth And so in that sense, you know, the entire wealth of the United States of Western world was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. But then after formal chattel slavery was over and many, many Africans were able to obtain land, many oftentimes through cooperative buying programs, but then there was a reign of terror to separate Black people from their land, and we have lost about 90% of the farmland that Black people had in 1910. So there’s been tremendous Black land loss. So all of that kind of forms the backdrop for why we find Black people in urban cities and in food insecure situations. And so in in estimation, the primary cause for food insecurity in Black communities is our own lack of self-determination, the lack of our ability to provide for ourselves. And that is tied directly again to this assault on Black farm land ownership, which put us in a much more depended position. And so we’re concerned about becoming producers and not just being consumers, which is kind of what most people are in American society. We don’t think that American capitalism works in the best interest of anybody, frankly, but what we find is that most people are consumers in American society, and very few people are producers. And so that puts us in a tremendously dependent situation when all of the things that we need to sustain life are being produced outside of our community and usually are being sold to us, so we don’t even get the economic benefit for the money, we’re spending all these necessities. And so for us, it was almost a no-brainer given the tremendous amount of vacant land in the city of Detroit. Then at that time about one third of the footprint of the city was land unoccupied by human beings. And so we have the opportunity to grow food on a scale which is just unimaginable in most cities across the United States.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s right. And people who don’t know Detroit don’t appreciate that you have 138 square miles, there is a tremendous amount of land in the city. And just for context, you could fit all of Boston, San Francisco, and Manhattan in the city of Detroit and still have room left over. And so, you know, the notion that that land can be leveraged to create the the fundamental starting point of food, and try and control the means of that production for folks in the community is correct and it’s thriving. The broader context that you laid out, I think, is so important here as well. The notion that, you know, this country was founded on both colonialism and then capitalized racism in the form of slavery in ways that Black folks were brought to this country, forced to create the means of production, work on farms. That’s what plantations are. And you look at this hundreds of years later, and the consequences of the food system that we’ve allowed to be built falls hardest on those the descendants of those very same Black folks. It is a system of marketized depression from the beginning to the end through history.
Malik Yakini: It falls pretty hard on the indigenous population also, I’ll say that.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: True. Yeah. And I appreciate that. That’s, that’s right. I want to look forward now to this food co-op. And you know, you’re not just building a food business, you’re not building a grocery store, you’re building a food co-op. What goes into making it a co-op and why is that important for you?
Malik Yakini: So again, our organization thinks that capitalism is a really terrible system for human beings and for the planet. For human beings, it creates tremendous class disparities when you have a few people at the top who, because capitalism is racialized, are almost always wealthy, white men, sometimes white women as well. And we have tremendous amounts of capital and power being concentrated in their hands, with the rest of the people having to share, you know, kind of the leftover wealth. And so, you know, we saw this during the Occupy movement that something like 1% of the population controls 90% of the wealth. And so we’re going to always have conflicts among human beings as long as we have these vast disparities in wealth because those who are without are just not going to settle for that. And so the balance in power in the world is changing, in large part as people reject these colonial notions that are associated with how wealth is still accumulated in the world. So a co-op is a business owned by several people. And the thing that distinguishes a co-op from a corporation is, let’s say if we were both members of a corporation, we both bought shares in a corporation, if you have lots and lots of money, maybe you can buy 500 shares of stock and that gives you votes that correspond to the number of stock, pieces of shares of stock that you purchase. On the other hand, if I have a small amount of money, I can only buy 50 shares. You get 10 times the votes I get. A co-op is a horizontal, flat democratic structure where everybody has one share and one vote. You can’t buy more than one shares in a co-op. And so it makes it again flat and democratic, which we think is tremendously important because it restores agency, and it makes us not only able to be consumers in the store, but actually to be owners at the store. So a membership in the Detroit People’s Food Co-op is not the same as a membership at Sam’s Club, where the only thing the membership at Sam’s Club allows you to do is to go and spend your money in their business. A membership in the Detroit People’s Food Co-op means you actually have a share of the ownership. And so as a co-owner, you can run for, nominate others, and vote for, members of the board of directors. There will be periodic at the register discounts for member owners, although the store’s open to everyone, whether you’re a member of it or not. And then finally, in any year the store is profitable, the member-owners are paid a share of the profits. And so it’s a different paradigm than just buying a membership at a place like Sam’s Club again, where you have absolutely no say-so. And so we think that this ability to shape the retail means of obtaining food in our community is tremendously important because it restores our sense of agency. And this is especially important in a place like Detroit, where over the last 20 years we’ve had several emergency managers appointed by the governor, one who was directly appointed to the city of Detroit for 18 months or so, and then we had multiple emergency managers appointed to the school system. And so in a situation where democracy, in a sense, has been put in a deep coma by having one person appointed by the governor whose powers supersede all of the powers of the elected officials of Detroit, that kind of puts people in a sense of lethargy. And so part of what we’re hoping this co-op and the other efforts that we’re involved in will do is restore a sense of agency, that we have the responsibility of shaping our own reality and that we are not just passive objects that are acted upon by these more powerful forces like emergency managers. So we want to restore our sense of agency and affirm our right and responsibility for shaping what happens in our own communities.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I really appreciate that, that that effort to reestablish self-determination and collective effort starts with food.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’ll be back with more with Malik Yakini after this break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: And we’re back with more of my conversation with Malik Yakini.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to ask you, zoom out beyond Detroit and if we were to take the ideals and the values of the food system that you’re working to help build for folks to provide a certain level of security, we’re to take that and embed those values and ideals into our American food system, what would it look like?
Malik Yakini: Well, first of all, we have a food system that was based on a redistribution of land. Again, America is a settler colony, and as a settler colony, there were certain advantages given to the settlers who came from again, England, Spain, France, and their descendants. And so there were tremendous amounts of land either given away to settlers to populate the West, or sold to them at a very cheap price. And so that land, the so-called land ownership, is typically passed down inter-generationally. And so you still have farmers now who perhaps whose families obtained land in the 1830s, who they’ve been able to pass it down from generation to generation. And so because of this legacy of colonialism, the only way to correct that is by having some land redistribution, because in a sense, many of the people who owned, so-called owned the land now, got it by means that we’re not morally upright. You know, certainly we’re looking at now what’s happening with the Ukrainian people in Russia and I think most people would agree that it’s incorrect for Russia to come in and take swaths of land from Ukraine. And so, but if we apply the same analysis, the same thing essentially happened in the United States, that settlers first established themselves along the eastern seaboard and then began to move westward, and as they moved westward, they captured land. And it was done often by violently. And so, you know, we have to come to grips with this, this terrible foundational element of American society. And so I think—
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It’s an original sin.
Malik Yakini: —one of the first steps in having a more just food system would be redistribution of land in a way that everyone, all communities, particularly those that have been historically oppressed and underserved, have access to the land necessary not only to grow food, but to really all of the things modern society is based on come from the land. The minerals to produce much of the technology comes from the land, the wood that we build houses from and the stone comes from the land, and we actually build the community on land. So that would be the first step: redistribution of land. Secondly, would be prioritizing the health of the planet, because the industrial agricultural system that produces most of our food now has terrible, terribly negative environmental consequences, such as the amounts of runoff that we see in water as a result of the fertilizers and pesticides that are used in large-scale agriculture, such as the depletion of topsoil by the incessant tilling that is part of large-scale agriculture, the excessive amounts of water that are used in large-scale agriculture. And so we are destroying topsoil at a rate which is faster than the planet can naturally reproduce it. And so that is clearly not sustainable. So if we want future generations to be able to engage in agriculture, we have to protect the topsoil now. So the second aspect or the second characteristic of a more fair and just food system would be the utilization of methods of growing food which are both sustainable and regenerative. And I’ll just kind of break down the difference between those two terms. So sustainable means, of course, something that can be done for the long term without depleting the supply. But regenerative is even a step farther than sustainable. Regenerative means not only are we doing things in a way that is not destroying the planet, but we’re actually, in the case of soil, regenerative farming methods are actually creating topsoil, so we’re contributing to the solution by using regenerative farming methods. So that would be the next aspect of a fair and just food system that it would not be based on the drive for profit, but it will be based on the responsibility to maintain stewardship of the planet, and to make sure that everyone had access to food. Of course, within that, we would have to have an analysis of how race plays out in American society, and class plays out in American society, and to make sure that we are affirming that food is a human right and that regardless of people’s so-called race, religion, geography, or class, that just as a result of being a human being on the planet, you have the right to high-quality, nutrient-dense food. So those would be some of the characteristics that I would suggest would be part of a fair and just system.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And I appreciate that. The other piece that we’ve seen is that so much of the food that we consume is held, the control over it is held, by a few large corporations, whether they’re agribusinesses involved in, as you talked about, the incredibly destructive agricultural practices to, you know, to coax every last piece of possible profit from the Earth, or you’re talking about large food corporations that tend to be conglomerates, you know, Yum! Foods or Kraft or Unilever. How has the processing and the control of food affected the health and well-being of people in in our communities?
Malik Yakini: Well, as you correctly pointed out, much of our food supply is controlled by a few corporations. In fact, almost all of the chicken that people consume in the United States is produced by four companies—or is processed, I should say, by four companies, coming from multiple farms but those farms are selling to these four of these processes, which are often using in immigrant labor in dangerous conditions to produce meat. And so there’s been a lot of talk about the fact that it’s essentially a monopoly with these four companies controlling the entire supply of chicken. And it’s similar with beef in this country as well. So again, you know, we would favor breaking down these large corporate systems and having more locally-controlled food systems. In fact, that’s been part of our effort over the last 15 years, to create a more localized food system that is not so subject to failure. Because that’s the other thing, we have these huge multinational corporations shipping food large distances. You know, clearly what happens in China can affect what happens in Detroit, or what happens in Brazil can impact what happens in Miami, and so by having more localized food systems, there’s less chance for these kind of systemic breakdowns that can cause an interruption in the food chain. And then also local control means that we can make sure that those profits are circulated locally. In the United States food on average is imported or travels approximately 1,500 miles from the point of production to the point of consumption. And so if the average is 1,500, that means that probably more than half of the food is coming from more than, you know, probably 3,000 miles away or more. And so, of course, transporting food tremendous distances emits carbon into the atmosphere. And so the transportation of food is one of the leading causes of emission of carbon into the atmosphere, that’s one of the leading ways that the food system contributes to global warming—in addition to the packaging and all those kinds of things. So control, local control of the food system produces food closest to where we have centers of population density and thus contributes not only to better environmental health, but also the closer in proximity to the time that food is harvested and the consumption, the more nutrient-dense the food is. If you pick an apple from a tree, it really immediately begins to die. And so if you pick the apple from the tree and you wash it off and bite into it immediately, you’re kind of getting the full, you know, the full power of the nutrients. If you eat that apple three months later, it’s still good for you, but it has less nutrients. And so if we’re able to produce food closer to where we have centers of population density, people are eating the food sooner, and thus have better quality food. So, you know, the thing is that now the food that we’re eating is less nutrient-dense than the food people were eating 100 years ago, and part of that is because the soil is less healthy and the plants get their nutrients from the soil. So as the soil has deteriorated, so is the nutrient density of the food. But we can positively impact that by having localized food systems.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The other piece of that that is important is that corporations have understood that they can sell us more food that we probably shouldn’t eat by manipulating the taste to magnify those flavors that you know in times of far less abundance than now, we needed to crave in order to actually have the, you know, the wherewithal to go, to go get it—hunt it, gather it, grow it, whatever it was. And so, you know, you wind up with these chemically processed and almost broken down and repurposed foods that you know, we buy on the grocery shelves. How has that contributed to the demand side, right? A lot of what you are working on is the supply side of food, making sure that the money that is invested in food stays in the community, making sure that it’s grown locally. But there’s also a demand side, that people will have to want to eat more nutritious and less processed foods, and once you’ve sort of built a palette that has been adjusted to a unnatural set of flavors, it’s really hard to go back to those more natural flavors. How do we start to think about detoxifying our flavor palette, and how has that impacted the sets of food choices that that we often make?
Malik Yakini: So, excellent point, and I’ll start by just affirming what you’re saying and say, saying that major food manufacturers hire scientists who not only create tastes that are essentially irresistible. You know, they study human psychology, they study the relationship between the taste buds and the chemicals that are released in the brain, and really produce flavors that are almost irresistible, as well as studying the texture of food and the smell of foods. And so they manipulate all of these things to the point that people almost can’t resist them, or what you know, what you eat if you’re craving these foods over and over and over again. So, you know, the question of how we move away from that is very complex. I don’t have the answer, let me say clearly. I have some ideas which I’ll share in just a second. But as you know, it’s not realistic, for example, to expect that American people are going to stop drinking coffee for example, and you know, I—
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Malik, don’t do that to me, OK? I can’t stop drinking coffee.
Malik Yakini: I don’t think coffee grows anywhere in the United States.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s true.
Malik Yakini: And in fact—
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Not good coffee.
Malik Yakini: In fact, coffee originated in Ethiopia, and so it’s amazing to think how this global system of imperialism has really created a craving by people all over the world for a beverage made from this bean that originated in the highlands of Ethiopia. And so I don’t think it’s realistic to think that people are just going to stop drinking coffee because it doesn’t grow locally, right? But I think we do have to take steps, and there are some things that we can begin to eliminate, we can become more conscious consumers. And, you know, looking at the labels on what we’re buying, for example, is very important. Where things produced? Being concerned about things like the labor that was used in the production of the foods, the land that was—and so in a sense, every time we buy food, we’re making a political decision. So one of the first steps is becoming more aware of the food system and how food is produced and how it gets to us, and trying to use our power as consumers to shift things in a more positive direction. But again, that’s only going to shift things incrementally, because people are highly-addicted to the flavors and taste that the corporate food system has brought to us. But there are some other things, you know, for example, Ramadan is happening right now and one of the advantages of fasting—Ramadan Mubarak, by the way.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Ramadan Mubarak.
Malik Yakini: One of the advantages of fasting is that it gives you greater control over your urges. And so part of what has happened in American society is that our lower self, if you will, is often in control. Our desires are often controlling us. And so whether people are Muslim or not, fasting is a good practice because it allows you to have your higher self or your higher consciousness in control of your bodily desires. And right now, capitalism has us hooked by the taste buds, and so one of the ways of breaking that being hooked is by learning how to fast. And in fact, fasting also literally breaks the addiction for things. Like, many people are addicted to sugar in this society, processed sugar, but by fasting for while, getting that out of your system, you can actually create a chemical equilibrium with inside of your system, where you’re not still craving that. So that would be another, on a very personal level, a practice that I would encourage people to engage in. But also, I found that if people become involved in gardening, in agriculture, in buying from farmers markets and develop a closer relationship to their food and begin to really know what whole foods taste like, what actual carrots recently-harvested tastes like, what tomatoes taste like, onions that were grown locally and the bountiful flavor in these vegetable—as people do that more, and they begin to slowly shift their dietary habits to eating more whole foods and less processed foods, then, after a while, that addiction becomes, is broken as well. So, but again, that’s a very difficult question, and I don’t think we’re going to go back to some time, some pre-capitalistic era when people stopped drinking coffee or when people in Detroit no longer eat oranges, or, the folks in New York are not going to stop eating bananas. So we’re not going to go completely back to what it might have looked like prior to European colonialism, but we can certainly make steps to break some of the addictions that we have and to make better choices to gradually shift the food system as consumers, in a direction is better for the planet and better for human health.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. As someone who’s currently fasting, I can tell you that going without coffee is hard, but I also can tell you that A, nothing taste as good as that first bite, and we traditionally break fast on a date. You eat a date and you know, it’s just is a sugar filled but naturally occurring fruit, and you break fast on that and there’s just this incredible explosion of flavor. But it also reminds you that you know everything else that you eat, right, when you’re constantly eating it, the way that your body creates a certain level of tolerance for those flavors, has you eating more. And that’s exactly what the corporations want you to do. Just keep buying more. And so I really appreciate that point about both sort of trying to reset our own approach to our food, and then also being really thoughtful about gradations. It’s not that you, you know, will give up eating bananas and oranges—those are great fruits and they’re naturally occurring and they’re pretty nutritious. Is that, you know, you think a little bit about where you get your bananas and your oranges from. You think a bit about how much of your consumption is local and seasonal, and that allows you to to gain a bit more control. And I want to just first thank you for coming and joining us and for your work on behalf of folks in the city in your work in the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. And we’re really just grateful to have been able to have you on the show and to have learned from your insights. That is Malik Yakini. He is the leader of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. If you’re ever in the city, please do check out the Co-op. And really appreciate you joining us today.
Malik Yakini: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual, here’s what I’m watching right now. As we’ve been talking about for weeks now, it was only a matter of time before cases started to jump here like we’ve seen in Europe. It seems like every friend group I know is starting to talk about people getting COVID again. In fact, there was a sizable outbreak among government officials, including the Commerce Secretary, at a high-profile D.C. dinner. I’ll give you the good news first. While cases are beginning to go up, they’re not spiking the same way they did in Europe because of BA-2. That may mean that ultimately they won’t cause the same kind of severe spike as they did there. The bad news is that we may not be getting an accurate picture of how bad cases are in the first place. Over the last few weeks many communities have closed their testing sites that have been reporting test results to local health departments. In fact, while the number of cases hasn’t been going up this long, test positivity, the proportion of tests coming back positive, has been increasing for nearly three weeks though the number of tests has been declining. That means that our current case count may be low because there’s been less testing. Last week, the FDA authorized second boosters for all people over 50 and anyone who was immunocompromised. And this week, an FDA advisory committee met to chart the future of U.S. vaccine policy. The FDA still has a lot of questions on their hands. First, there’s a question of how immune we are as a population. We know that vaccine-mediated immunity wanes to about 70% effectiveness against serious infection after four months, but we also estimate that nearly 45% of the population has been infected with Omicron, giving them another dose of immunity. Then there’s the question of whether or not we’re going to have another surge, either now or in the fall when COVID has surged in 2020 and 2021. There’s also the question of what variants are likely to cause a future surge, and the question of whether or not to offer boosters of the vaccine to everyone or whether we’ll have a new vaccine targeting new variants, which of course, is hard to do if you don’t know which variants we’re trying to protect against. For now, we know cases are going up, so folks who are eligible for a second booster or are immunocompromised should get their second booster. For everyone else, we’ll have to wait and watch. And remember, as cases start to bump up, your next best piece of protection is a well-fitted N95. As cases continue to increase, you should definitely consider putting yours back on in crowded indoor settings. Finally, as we just discussed, COVID is complex, and the CDC’s messaging hasn’t really made it less complex. That’s been a huge challenge to our ability to build trust and inspire people to get vaccinated, which is why this news is a welcome step.
[news clip] The Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky has called for a one-month review to identify ways it can reform.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The CDC announced plans for a review and reorganization of the agency to better meet the nation’s public health needs. There are two ways these things usually go, either they’re PR stunts that make a splash and then make a series of recommendations that don’t really change the overall function of the agency, or they’re serious undertakings that really do make change. I hope this one is the latter.
That’s it for today. On your way out, do rate and review the show. It really does help get us to a new audience. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us, I hope you drop by the Crooked store for some American Dissected drip. We’ve got our logo mugs and t-shirts, our Science Always Wins t-shirts, sweatshirts, and dad caps, and our Safe and Effective tees, which are on sale for $10 off while supplies last.
America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producer is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Tara Terpstra and Ari Schwartz. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez, and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.