Karen Washington (00:00:00):
If we want to deal with the food system, get the junk food and the processed foods out of our community. Plain and simple, plain and simple.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:00:15):
Welcome to Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. Today’s conversation I think matters a lot because it’s about the issues that face us in America in our food system, that face underserved communities, that address the racial injustices within our food system, and food injustice in general.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:00:37):
We have an extraordinary guest today, Karen Washington, who is a farmer, an activist, a food advocate, and she lives in the Bronx where she has been growing food for decades and decades now in abandoned lots, and community gardens, and has built farmer’s markets. And has actually now built a whole farm up in upstate New York and Chester, New York, where she’s got Rise & Root Farm and brings that food to underserved communities in the Bronx and in New York.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:01:07):
She’s also co-founded Black Urban Growers or BUGS, which is an organization supporting growers in both urban and rural settings. She’s really a leader in the food movement and is bringing together all sorts of voices that have not been heard, and that need to be heard about food injustice and how do we address these issues systemically. In 2012, Ebony Magazine voted her one of the 100 most influential African-Americans in the country. She was a recipient of the James Beard Leadership Award, which is no small thing, in 2014.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:01:40):
She serves on the boards of New York Botanical Gardens, Soul Fire Farm. We’ve had Leah Penniman on the podcast from Soul Fire Farm, and the Mary Mitchell Center, WhyHunger, and Farm School New York City. So welcome, Karen.
Karen Washington (00:01:51):
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:01:54):
Well, Karen, you’ve been doing this work a long time, and I know your story starts with you eating a tomato and how it woke you up to the fact that most of the stuff that we eat isn’t really food. It’s some kind of industrial product that resembles food, but actually isn’t food of the juicy nutrition and taste that we are lacking. And so, what happened with that tomato? Tell us that story, how that got you connected to, from a girl who grew up in the projects in the Bronx, to being a urban farmer and a farmer?
Karen Washington (00:02:31):
Yeah, so I always tell that story because my parents weren’t farmers, my grandparents weren’t farmers. Nobody in my family are farmers. My relationship to food was that my mom was a good cook. Oh my goodness. She could slam three meals a day. And the fact that food came from a grocery store, d’oh. And so, when I moved to the Bronx, I had a big backyard, and had three options, either to cement it, put a lawn on it, or grow food. And I said, “What the heck? Let me grow some food.”
Karen Washington (00:02:58):
There’s four things that I want to grow. I had to grow some collard greens because that’s the staple in African-American history cuisine. I wanted to grow eggplant because it was funky eggplant, really, green peppers and tomato. And so, I put the seed in the ground, nurtured it, watered it. And to my amazement, it grew in a vine. Who knew? First of all, it grew in a vine. What? A tomato in a vine? And it was red.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:03:27):
And it didn’t come in a box.
Karen Washington (00:03:29):
It didn’t come in a box wrapped in cellophane. And when I bit into it, it just changed my world. There was a taste that I’ve never tasted before, and it really got me growing everything, from trying to grow pineapples, to avocados, you name it.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:03:44):
Yeah. Probably that pineapple growing didn’t go so well in Bronx, right?
Karen Washington (00:03:46):
No, but it gave me that inspiration to try and grow more things. So that’s how I got started.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:03:54):
Yeah. You grew up in the Bronx, which, as you said before, is the most unhealthy of all the 60-plus counties in New York State, is the unhealthiest county in the state. There are a lot of reasons for that. You were involved in the medical profession for a long time. You were a physical therapist for most of your life, and you were taking care of people with chronic illnesses in the Bronx, and you saw that up close and personal. From your perspective, growing up in that environment, seeing what was going on in the food community there, and the challenges around affordable housing, education opportunities, work opportunities, what are the drivers of those poor health outcomes, from your perspective?
Karen Washington (00:04:36):
Well, first of all, when I started growing food, I just couldn’t concentrate on just growing food because so many things were happening around me. Living in a Bronx for over 30 something years and being a physical therapist, I saw the relationship between food and health. I saw the relationship between food, and education, and the environment, and housing, and how they all intersected. Then I realized that, talking to especially a lot of my patients who were older, who came from farms, and realizing that at one time, their parents and grandparents lived till they were a hundred years of age. And now here they are, type II diabetes, hypertension, obesity, succumbing to strokes and stage renal diseases.
Karen Washington (00:05:25):
Right then and there, it clicked in my head that there is something wrong with our food system, because here were people who grew up on farms, who were healthy. Now, all of a sudden, because of what they were eating, were getting these diet-related diseases. When I would go into their homes… As a physical therapist, I was a holistic physical therapist because I couldn’t really work and do my job unless I looked at their medication and looked at the food that they were eating.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:05:50):
You look at their medication cabinet and you look at their fridge
Karen Washington (00:05:52):
Oh, boy, and when that-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:05:55):
A fridge biopsy.
Karen Washington (00:05:56):
Fridge and the kitchen cabinet, and open that cabinet door and would see cookies and chips, in the freezer, ice cream, in the refrigerator, soda. And it was like, “What the heck is going on here? Like I said, going to my neighborhood and going to the bodegas and seeing the colors of fruits and vegetables, but yet it was potato chips, it was cookies, it was sodas. Then I got to thinking that, wait a second, there’s got to be some sort of thing that is going on, especially in low-income neighborhoods, because when I would go to my White friends’ neighborhoods and go into their stores, I’ll walk in there and you would see fresh vegetables and fruits. You would never see the type of food that I would see in my neighborhood.
Karen Washington (00:06:54):
That’s number one. Number two, on my block and my area, you could go every block to see a fast food store, but when you go to my White neighborhoods, to the suburb, you’ve got to take a car. And so, it just got me thinking about the food system and what it was happening. Not only in my neighborhood in the Bronx, but in so many of my friends’ neighborhoods that lived in Detroit, and Baltimore, and Philly. We were having these same conversations about what we’re seeing in our food system in low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:07:31):
The people who are suffering from diabetes, your patients, do they understand that what was in their fridge and what they’re eating was causing them to be sick, or were they just trying to just get by and trying to eat the best they could?
Karen Washington (00:07:41):
The thing about it is that when you’re on a fixed income, you try to stretch those dollars. And so, you try to be somewhat proactive in what you can spend, getting a buck for your dollar. We know most unhealthy food is cheap. And so, I didn’t want to go there and be the sergeant and reprimand. I just wanted them to see the relationship between food and health, that’s number one, but also to understand that if you’re a diabetic, there’s a whole concept with diabetes. You should know about that, because when you’re diabetic, sugar becomes like a drug. You want it more, you want it more. You want more sugar.
Karen Washington (00:08:28):
If you’re a dialysis patient, you’re limited to amount of liquids, but you want what water and more… And so, even though you would try to talk to the patient… They would understand. Don’t get me wrong. They understood their disease and what was happening. But when depression sets in, and when you’re trying to stretch your dollars, sometimes you just say, “What the heck. What the heck.” So-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:09:00):
You think it’s a lack of education or a lack of skill or knowledge or…
Karen Washington (00:09:04):
I don’t think it’s a lack of education. What I think it is, is that if you gave people healthy food options, they would take it. But there’s no healthy food options. You know what? I used to get upset is, time and time [inaudible 00:09:18], people will tell our community, “If you want to be healthy, all you’ve got to do is give up soda, drink water, eat fruits and vegetables, plant a little garden,” without looking at the systemic problems, the institutional and structural problems that reinforce racism in our society.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:09:42):
Yeah. It’s true.
Karen Washington (00:09:42):
And no one talks about that.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:09:46):
No, it’s true. I mean, I remember working with my friend, Chris Kennedy and Sheila Kennedy in South Side Chicago, where they created a program called Top Box. It was a nonprofit that got food, basically at wholesale, from distributors, right from the meat packers, the farms. They packaged it up in boxes. It was fresh food. It was 35 bucks for a family of four for a week of fresh food. They brought it into the churches in South Side, Chicago. You could see from the church, there was a grocery store in [inaudible 00:10:16], but you could see literally from the church parking lot, probably five or six fast food restaurants just circling around.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:10:22):
The whole parking lot was filled with people, mostly African-Americans, hungry to get real food if they had access. I think that’s something you probably have witnessed in your community, is when you bring these foods there, people want it. It’s not that they’re avoiding it. It’s just they don’t have access. Is that fair to say?
Karen Washington (00:10:38):
That’s absolutely correcto. That’s absolutely correct. I say that because you can’t tell people to eat healthy, eat fresh fruits and vegetables if they don’t have that option. And so, for me, I’ve been trying for years, started a farmer’s market, low-income farmer’s market in the Bronx, we’re going on our 18th year, to do just that. To provide our community with the access of fresh fruits and vegetables. And why does it always have to be in affluent neighborhoods and not in our neighborhood?
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:11:18):
Yeah, that’s so true. I think most people don’t realize the extent of health disparities, and it’s often a passed off as genetic or whatever. But if you look even in America in the 1960s, African-Americans had healthier diets than Whites. And if you look at pictures from back then, on the marches, there were no people who were overweight of color back then. It was pretty much everybody was slim and it was not an issue. And all of a sudden, in a generation, we’ve seen the incredible speed of these diseases ravaging this community.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:11:49):
If you’re African-American, you’re 80% more likely to have type II diabetes, four times as likely to have kidney failure, three and a half times as likely to get amputations as Whites. Same thing if you’re Latino. And in COVID-19, we’re seeing incredible racial disparities where we’re African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to get it and die of it as Whites. It’s not just because of genetic susceptibilities. There’s these structural racism issues that I think are embedded in our society, whether it’s the essential workers who are mostly Brown and Black, who have to endure commutes and working in close quarters, and whether it’s food packing plants, or farms, migrant farmers, they’re the ones who are getting sick.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:12:31):
Or whether it’s because they live in more crowded housing and can’t isolate, or whether they just don’t have access to the same kind of healthcare. They’re not getting the same type of healthcare and testing. You’re less likely, if you’re African-American, for example, to get tested for COVID if you have symptoms than if you’re White. So there’s all these embedded problems in our system, and I think that the framework that you have described is quite different than we typically think of this whole idea of food deserts.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:12:57):
Talk about food deserts as this natural phenomenon, like a desert, as a natural thing. But it’s not a natural thing. It’s a designed problem you refer to as food apartheid. Can you talk about this concept of food apartheid, and how do we begin to break down this food apartheid issue?
Karen Washington (00:13:18):
Mark, I don’t understand why, especially during this climate right now, here in 2020, when all of a sudden people just woke up and realized black lives matter, you know what I’m saying? That’s number one. People know for a fact, where does the cheap, subsidized processed food go into? They know. I mean, it’s not rocket science. They know for a fact that it goes into poor neighborhoods, mostly neighborhoods of color. So let’s cut the BS when it comes to this conversation because everyone knows, because it’s not going into their neighborhoods. So everyone knows that there is a difference between what is in White affluent neighborhoods and what is in poor Black and Brown neighborhoods. That’s number one.
Karen Washington (00:14:09):
I’m infuriated by that conversation because, all of a sudden, people act like they’re dumb, like they don’t know. And they know exactly the difference when it comes to food, and housing, and education based on color demographics and how much money you make. And so, when the term food desert was first brought to our attention in my community, I backed off of that. I’m saying, “Wait a second. We live in a food desert?” First of all, who coined the term? That’s number one.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:14:41):
White people probably.
Karen Washington (00:14:42):
Why is it being used… There was some woman in the UK coined it. And then, of course, the US, yeah, and everyone picked up on it because when you say food desert, it softens the tone of the food disparities we see in our society. And so, for me it says forget food desert because people in the desert would say, “Wait a second, we’ve got food.” And so, I coined the term food apartheid only because I wanted people to first of all, “What does that mean?” But also look at the food system along race, the color of one skin, look at the food system demographic, where does one live, and look at the food system on how much money you make, your affluence, and economics and wealth.
Karen Washington (00:15:38):
When you start talking about food apartheid, I wanted people to start having that conversation around these issues, because if time and time again we’d go over and over again about this school system, when we all know for a fact where does the cheap and subsidized school enter each and every day? I’m sick and tired of having that conversation, because, for me, it’s about action. How do we change it? How do we stop spinning our wheels talking about hunger, and poverty, and food deserts and preexisting diseases, and diet-related diseases?
Karen Washington (00:16:18):
At one time you look at this country, and even just the world, was more plant-based. And as we started to add more animals, we’ve become more animal-based in our food. And as result, at one time, we were 2,000 calories per capita, now over 3,800 calories per capita. And you can see what was happening in other countries as we’ve grown from plant based to animal-based, the intake of calories. And as a result-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:16:49):
Because it’s mostly starchy, sugary calories, that’s it.
Karen Washington (00:16:51):
Sugary calories, how we pay farmers to grow subsidies such as corn. Corn is a billion-dollar business to turn into high-fructose corn syrup. That corn that you see is not for us, it’s for food and it’s for feeding cows, like really can’t digest it.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:17:10):
And ethanol, which is stupid.
Karen Washington (00:17:12):
Right. Let’s get off this bandwagon about the food system. And yeah, it needs to be fixed. Doesn’t need to be fixed, because this is exactly what it’s supposed to be doing, because we know for a fact. You ask any person in this country, “Well, would you rather shop at a low-income neighborhood or would you like to go to the whole foods which are in affluent neighborhoods, Trader Joe’s, and see?” So I’m done.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:17:43):
It’s fascinating. I saw this clip on Instagram of a woman talking to a largely White audience, I think most all-White audience, saying, “How many of you in this audience would like to be treated in the way that African-Americans are in this country and have their experience?” Not a single person stood up. She said stand up. She said, “I don’t think you understood my question. Would anybody who would like to be treated as an African-American in this country just stand up?” No one stood up.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:18:12):
She says, “Well, you all know the problem then. You’re just pretending you don’t know.” I think it’s easy to look aside and ignore it. It’s easy to blame people. And I think there’s a lot of focus on personal responsibility. People just aren’t eating well because they don’t want to. But there really are structural issues of access, structural issues of skills, of knowledge, of tradition, that just obscure the ability for people to reclaim their health and their traditional food ways. And I think that’s what you’re doing in the Bronx. That’s what you’re doing with your farm.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:18:46):
I think it’s interesting to hear from you, what has that experience been like over the last few decades of being in those communities and trying to change the way people think about food and their health and access? How has that given you insight into maybe how to solve this problem on a bigger scale?
Karen Washington (00:19:02):
Well, I think, for me, I see myself as an agitate, as well, I’ve been gifted, I guess, with the ability to say what I want to say. I’ve never been beholden to like a nonprofit or a job that’s like, “You know, Karen, you can’t say that.” Or, “The funders are not going to like that.” So I’ve always been a person very independent in what I’ve been able to say and do. And so, that conversation I would have with my patients was really, really mind blowing because, after a while, they would sit down and said, “Miss Washington, you’re right. My parents were never sick a day in their life, and look at me.”
Karen Washington (00:19:48):
They would want to change and I would bring them fresh fruits and vegetables from my farmer’s market at the end of the day, because I think I wanted them to take care, have someone to care about them. But then also to take action. I mean, talk is cheap. People talk about food justice and food sovereignty. But for me, in order to do this work, you have to be actively involved in dismantling some of the social injustices that you see. And so, for me, doing like the farmer’s market, going around and speaking at different venues, I think my biggest accomplishment has been through the BUGS conference, is the impact that it has on young people, on the younger generation of Black and Brown youth.
Karen Washington (00:20:39):
I say that because growing up as a youth, if I was to tell my parents that I wanted to be a farmer, or anybody, they would look at me like I was crazy. I mean, even to think about going on a farm, or visiting a farm, or wanting to be a farm, because for so long growing up, farming was equal to slavery. You’re working for the man and this and that. That was the history that was embedded in my head. But since I’ve been older and really been in a food world, and to really understand the history of the African-American experience in this country and how African-American enslaved people built the agricultural system in this country, would season our hairs and knowledge around crop rotation, and irrigation, and medicinal herbs, and tools, all of a sudden, there’s a resurgence of inquiry, especially from our youth, getting the history right.
Karen Washington (00:21:43):
Once you plant that seed in their head and understand that what we’ve done wrong as African-Americans is that we moved away from the land. And as we moved away from the land, you can see what has happened to us. Our history is that we are agrarian people. This is in our DNA. This is our blood. We are people of land and food. And so, when you start talking to young people and have them understand their place in history, their place in agriculture, all of a sudden a light bulb goes off, and then says, “Wait a second, I’ve been taught that farming has been slavery, when in fact, it’s my people who brought farming to this country. I should embrace it. I want to embrace it. I want to understand more. And then, I don’t want to be like my parents and grandparents who are now stroke, end stage renal diseases, amputations, you name it.
Karen Washington (00:22:42):
I want to lead a more healthy life. That’s number one. But then I also want to go back to the land. I want to go back to men because there’s a history around stolen land. There’s a history around wealth building that has been taken from us.” And so, we’re trying to right that wrong and put that knowledge back into the hands of young people so they understand the importance of growing food, the importance of going back to the land, the importance of what it means to be in community, what social capital and communal wealth means to us. And so, the whole dialogue has shifted, and the concentration has been on our youth. So, for me, to see the overwhelming youth that want to farm is extraordinary.
Speaker 3 (00:23:30):
Hi, everyone. Hope you’re enjoying the episode. Before we continue, we have a quick message from
Dr. Mark Hymanabout his new company, Farmacy, and their first product, the 10 Day Reset.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:23:40):
Hey, it’s Dr. Hyman. Do you have FLC? What’s FLC? It’s when you feel like crap. It’s a problem that so many people suffer from and often have no idea that it’s not normal or that you can fix it. I mean, you know the feeling. It’s when you’re super sluggish, your digestion’s off, you can’t think clearly, or you have brain fog, or you just feel run down. Can you relate? I know most people can. But the real question is what the heck do we do about it? Well, I hate to break the news, but there’s no magic bullet. FLC isn’t caused by one single thing. So there’s not one single solution.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:24:12):
However, there is a systems-based approach, a way to tackle the multiple root factors that contribute to FLC. And I call that system that 10 Day Reset. The 10 Day Reset combines food, key lifestyle habits, and targeted supplements to address FLC straight on. It’s a protocol that I’ve used with thousands of my community members to help them get their health back on track. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a system that works. If you want to learn more and get your health back on track, click on the button below, or visit getfarmacy.com. That’s getfarmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y.com.
Speaker 3 (00:24:47):
Now back to this week’s episode.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:24:49):
Again, when you think about what happened after reconstruction, after the civil war, I mean, Lincoln promised the freed slaves, 40 acres and a mule, and that land today would have been worth $6.4 trillion. But Rutherford Hayes to get his election secured after Grant was president, who was very much against the institutions of slavery. I mean, he actually created a whole movement against the Klu Klux Klan when it was on an upsurge after the civil war. But Rutherford Hayes basically had to agree to move out the troops from the South, which allowed all the segregationists and the Jim Crow stuff to happen. And they went back on the whole 40 acres and a mule deal. That led to the farmers that were getting going, about 14% of the farms back then were African-American farms, to now 1% of farmers being African-American, and not having access to land.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:25:48):
There’s all the economic struggles around getting access, right? It’s not easy to own land. It’s expensive. There’s an economic issue around it. So how do we break through that and keep going back on the farm? Because I think it seems to me, with all the levels of unemployment in those communities, with all the levels of poverty, with all the levels of lack of access food and sovereignty, wouldn’t it make sense for a resurgence of a farming movement to actually happen?
Karen Washington (00:26:16):
They need to fix the heirs property laws that is really stifling families that have land in the South, especially those that don’t have a will. I’m struggling out with my family. We have 18 acres down in South Carolina, and looking for the will from my grandmother, it’s hard. And so, you have to go to probate, there’s so many things you have to do. They need to fix it so that people that are on the land have a way of succession, have a way of getting that land and holding on to that land, that people know that’s in their family, without all the hurdles of trying to find a will and trying to go to probate and trying to testify that it just belongs to your family, because, as we speak Black land loss is being done each and every day.
Karen Washington (00:27:08):
And so, we need to fix that system, the heirs property systems, so that Black families can maintain and maintain the legacy of the land that has been given to them. That’s number one. Number two, I try to have this conversation with young people, Black and Brown young people, if they have land in the South, if they have land in Puerto Rico, Latin America, you name it, is to hold onto that land because a lot of times, the land also is being lost for nonpayment of taxes. And so, getting people to understand, pay those tax…
Karen Washington (00:27:42):
Even if you live up in the North and your land is in the South, or your land is in Latin America or the Caribbeans, make sure that you pay those taxes. I think people are starting to understand the importance of land ownership. Also, we talk about reparations now. I mean, that’s something that is a conversation that’s being brought up. I know Whites don’t like to hear that conversation, but it’s going to happen anyway. There is land that people know, stolen land, that people have in their family. And there’s a lot of Whites that understand, that need a reparation, and are willing to give back land ownership to people of color.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:28:24):
Let’s talk about reparations, because I think there are different concepts of it, right? One is like in the Nazi, Germany, there were reparations paid to the Jews in monetary compensation to each family. But it seems to me that you’ve talked about a different way of helping these communities, by empowering them with investment, with entrepreneurship training, with helping them start businesses, with creating autonomy within their communities. Providing these services allow them to thrive and be autonomous, as opposed to being dependent on social services and all these other prop-us that don’t empower these communities to emerge from their situation, right? Wouldn’t reparations be better served by paying for those types of investments in those communities and empowering those communities to do it for themselves?
Karen Washington (00:29:12):
Well, I think it’s a double-edged sword. I mean, my mantra has always been economic development, fiscal responsibility, communal wealth, and social capital. I’ve always talked about that. I always say, “Give us three things. Give us opportunity, give us access to capital, and give us land,” and people who once deem powerless become powerful. But I think also, there are people that know that within their family, that that land has been stolen. You know what I’m saying? I mean, this is a new generation that’s starting to surface, again, “Black Lives Matter.”
Karen Washington (00:29:47):
And so, I think, in the best interest of history, that those people that feel that they would like to give back land or have land that they feel that they can part with, why not? Why not have that opportunity of family members, especially if there’s no legacies. You’re one person, you have no children, you have no one to read that land to, why not leave it to Black and Brown people who know that they will take that land and do well with it by farming it?
Karen Washington (00:30:22):
And so, we talk about the reparation conversation, a lot of people are fearful, number one, is that, “Oh, it’s the monetary value.” But I’m trying to look at it as, get back to land, get back doing it. There’s so many people have so many acres of land. You mean to tell me, if you have thousand and thousand acres of land, you can’t give at least a tenth of that land back to people who want to grow food, especially young people? Or if you are the lone survivor of a family, instead of having that land go to a state, why not donate that land to young farmers, especially farmers of color, that want to farm that land?
Karen Washington (00:31:06):
So there’s different ways of looking at reparations, but at the end of the day, I mean, we’re having this conversation about stolen land. We’re having this conversation now about land equity and what that means, and we need to have those hard conversations. We need to have those hard conversations about how this country was built on. It’s going to be a difficult conversation, but it’s a conversation that we need to have. Right now we’re in the midst of taking back the history that for so long that has been taught in our schools, that had been drilled into our minds about attitudes around land, and racism, and wealth, and getting people to understand that the history of this country was built on the backs of indigenous and enslaved people. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but we must have that conversation because we have to right a wrong that for so long has been going on with false narratives.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:32:09):
Do you think, Karen, that we can do this through grassroots efforts like yours alone? Or do we need to address some of the structural problems on a policy level? Because you’ve got, for example, our agricultural system that is designed to do exactly what it’s doing, to produce a lot of cheap disease-causing calories in a way that’s harmful to humans and harms the environment and climate. And it’s not broken. It actually is working exactly the way it’s designed. And in order for the kind of thing you’re talking about to take hold, it really requires a change in the financing of our agricultural system and the ways in which farmers are supported to do the right thing, as opposed to the wrong things. And in changing some of the policies that are undermining the development of a new agricultural system that’s regenerative, as opposed to destructive and extract. How do you see that happening in a way that’s parallel to what you’re doing?
Karen Washington (00:33:08):
I think it needs the grassroots voices to change policy. Look what is happening now. I mean, it took the grassroots movement for people to realize, wait a second, we need to look at the system as a whole. We need to look at race in this country and the implications race has woven itself throughout into our institutions, our way of life, our history, you name it. And so, in order for a policy shift to happen, you have to have the voices of the people, the people coming together and being outraged at what is happening, for our politicians to listen. Because listen to me, this has been for 400 years, like all of a sudden, Black lives matter. And the only reason why black lives matter is because of the fact of the outcry, the outcry to grassroots people saying, “Enough is enough.”
Karen Washington (00:34:03):
For all of a sudden, the policy of politicians is, wait a second. We have this huge movement of people voicing their frustration of the system, of a political system, of an economic system. We need to start to listen. And so, what you’re starting to see is a shift in policy starting to listen. This is why it’s so important, in the grassroots level, that we’re trying to get people to understand the power of voting. The power of voting, and not only in the federal level, but also the local level. Understanding the politics around policy.
Karen Washington (00:34:52):
That starts with educating people, having their voices at a local level. Voit. I mean, vote. Make sure that when you do vote, that you make the candidates… First of all, you have to come out and speak on their issues. And then whoever is elected, make them accountable. People ask me, for so long. Like they say, “Karen, why don’t you run for office? Why don’t you run for office?” And I say, “Heck no, because you need people to make politicians accountable.” And so, even though there’s policies and laws that are set, that are made, it’s the people.
Karen Washington (00:35:36):
What we’ve done, we have given up our power. We’ve given up our power to the government, to politicians. We have given up our power, and it’s time, folks, for us to take back that power, because the only reason why they’re in office, the only reason why they can do the things that they do, because we let them. We let them. We’re not holding people accountable. And so, what I try to educate people at a local level, is that when we have people who are running for office, go out, hear them, ask questions. And when they are in office, make sure that they are accountable for the things that they said that they were going to do for your community once they got into office.
Karen Washington (00:36:26):
Two things that will stop any movement is silence and complacency, because just because you voted somebody in, now you’re going to just sit back and allow them to do whatever they want to do without the checks and balances that is needed to make sure that they’re doing the right things. I think that is going to change. I think people are going to be more accountable in the people that they put in office. Then if they’re not doing their job, get them out. Get them out.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:36:58):
Do you know the data on the voting in the Bronx, because in Ferguson, for example, 60% of the community is African-American and 3% of the voters are registered African-American. We look back at the amendment to the constitution after the civil war that gave voting rights to African-Americans. Then we look at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after Selma. We look now what’s happening. For example, even last week with the Supreme Court ruling that they were still making voting difficult by requiring two witnesses, a notary, and a photograph ID. I mean, it’s a pain in the [inaudible 00:37:37] to actually even be able to get registered to vote. Then on top of that, people feel just so disenfranchised.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:37:42):
I work with a very bright young woman at Cleveland Clinic who’s African-American, about 25 years old, said, “You’re going to vote? She’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Why aren’t you going to vote?” She’s, “What does it matter? My vote doesn’t matter.” I think people just feel so disconnected and powerless. I think one of the interesting things as a doctor to note in terms of the risk factor for disease, is that more than diet, more than smoking, more than lack of exercise, the biggest determinant of your risk of death is your social determinants or your lack of a sense of control, your lack of a locus of a sense of control within yourself over your own life and agency.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:38:19):
How do you overcome that piece? Because I agree. I mean, if you think of every disempowered person who, who is in this country, Black, Brown, poor, White, whatever, if they actually voted, overwhelmingly, we’d have a different country. We’d have a government, right? And so, how do we get that sense of empowerment and sense of control back in these communities to feel like they can actually make a difference?
Karen Washington (00:38:43):
Because people have lost their sense of history. We have to start talking about… We are doing that. I mean, I love Stacey Abrams really working on, and checking out on voter suppression. Even with our own community, we have to understand that there’s a history behind voting, that there are people within our community, and this is a conversation that we have within our Black community, that have died for that right, that died for the right. And that it’s scary now, as the country is starting to become more Black and Brown, there is this sense of urgency for Whites to control power.
Karen Washington (00:39:23):
And so, trying to get young people, Black and Brown people in general to understand your vote means power. Things are starting to change in a favor that this country eventually is going to be predominantly Black and Brown. I hate that word minority because pretty soon we’re going to be the majority, because I always tell people, we all the majority underserved. I hate that term minority because I’m nowhere, in my mind, a minority. I tell people I’m the majority underserved. Again, everything is designed for people to feel disenfranchised and saying your vote doesn’t make a difference, because that’s being put in your head.
Karen Washington (00:40:12):
But now taking back that narrative and say, “Yes, your vote can make a difference and it can change. As the population becomes more Black and Brown, we can see better days. We can see our future. We can see our voices. Don’t give up that power of voting because that power of voting, so many people gave up their lives for. And so, now, again, taking back that old narrative, and turning it around, and empowering people, why it’s important and essential to vote, especially this election.
Karen Washington (00:40:47):
When you have a president that says to Black and Brown people, that he’s been the only president that has made Black people’s lives much better, you’ve got to say, “Are you drinking a [inaudible 00:41:02] Kool-Aid?” So, again, we have to be very careful about the distortion of narratives that are being played out and really hold on to the facts. The facts is that our vote will make a difference.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:41:22):
Yeah, that’s so powerful. I think this is going to be an interesting moment in history we’re going to look back on and see, did we actually stand up and make the changes we need, or did we just go back to the same old, same old? Then I think-
Karen Washington (00:41:34):
We can’t go back. First of all, we can’t go back. COVID has changed everything. Let’s look in terms of a health. We can’t go back. So many people have died. This is a disease that has really woken up the world globally to prepare that this is not the first pandemic that’s going to happen, or disease is going to happen. It has opened doors for us to question the way we live, our planet. It’s questioning all these things, all these dynamics, all these intertwined, and how globally we’re all connected.
Karen Washington (00:42:15):
And so, we cannot go back in isolation and think that whatever happens, it’s just going to happen to China, it’s just going to happen to the UK, it’s just going to happen to… We’re all interconnected, and this pandemic has shown that. And so, how do we prepare ourselves for the next wave? That’s number one. And then, also, how do we, again, look at what is happening, how this disease has ravaged people of color, low-income people, and how do we move on from that sort of narrative to start looking at our health system, and now our food system, and economic system? Because it all interconnects.
Karen Washington (00:43:07):
The world has changed, we’re not going back. People know who the essential people are, “essential people” are. And then, so how do we move forward in such a way that justifies a new economy for people, a new way of living, addressing some of the racial injustices, the health injustices that we see? Because mark my word, Mark, we’re not going back. We’re not going back. Things have-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:43:36):
If that’s true, help me understand something that I struggle with, which is, as I look at whether it’s Native American communities, Hispanic communities, African-American communities that are ravaged by chronic disease at a far greater rate. And as a doctor, I see this. I do understand that there are the structural issues around access to employment, education, opportunities, capital, land. Those are really embedded structural problems that have to get fixed. But this story keeps going in my head that I want to just bounce off you to see if it’s true, which is that the food that is in these communities is creating such dysfunction biologically, that it affects kids’ ability to learn and have academic achievement. It affects behavior. And we know the violence and behavior we see in kids and adults is driven by food. The evidence is there. I write about it in my book, that affects their brain function.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:44:41):
We know that these diseases cause disability and inability to work and function in society. And so, if all this is true, if it starts basically in the womb with what mothers are eating and then what kids eat in their communities and what they struggle with academically, and then behaviorally. The whole incarceration rates for African-Americans is five times out of Whites. I mean, is that related to the food, and do people actually in the communities understand that the food is keeping them down and preventing them from thriving and being successful? Is that a dumb idea or is this something that actually people are starting to think about?
Karen Washington (00:45:29):
It’s inherit racism. You just can’t talk about the food. I mean, it’s the food, it’s the water. I was just watching I think was 60 Minutes. Yesterday, 60 Minutes was just talking about Flint and Newark, the water and the impact lead has had on children.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:45:48):
Yeah. Well, environmental racism. Yeah.
Karen Washington (00:45:50):
Right. And so, we just can’t just focus on the food. We have to look at systemic racism that has been weaving in this country for so many years. It has hit on every aspect of people’s daily living. And it comes from racism at the workplace, racism at education, racism at food, environmental racism. All the -isms that are there, it’s based on racism. And so, for me, if we want to deal with the food system, get the junk food and the processed foods out of our community. Plain and simple. Plain and simple.
Karen Washington (00:46:38):
I even went to my council person and I said, “You know what? There need to be laws for zoning.” Zoning. Why in low-income neighborhoods do we have to see every block within walking distance, a fast food restaurant? Zone it. Zone it.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:46:55):
Around schools. I mean, you wouldn’t let drug dealers set up around schools.
Karen Washington (00:46:59):
Exactly. Zone it. Get it out. Get it out. I say this time and time, I would love to see a vegetarian restaurant in my neighborhood, a vegan restaurant, a juice bar. Why, why, why? Why don’t we see those things? Again, it’s planned. It’s planned, the next McDonald’s, the next Wendy’s. It’s planned to come into low-income neighborhoods. And so, again, we have to bring that attention, is to get these things out of our communities. Stop talking about problems with our food and problems with the environment.
Karen Washington (00:47:44):
You know what the remedy has been in our community? Now that you’re seeing so many fast food restaurants, you see now mom and pop drugstores. You see CVS, you see… Because, okay, so now we have this food condition, and we have these diet-related diseases, and we’re going to fix it with medication. Yay.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:48:04):
Yeah. You’ve got the drug store and the fast food restaurant next to each other. So they can-
Karen Washington (00:48:10):
Without a doubt, because used to be the liquor store. So that’s like, “Move away, liquor stores. Now we’ve got something even better. We’ve got the CVSs, and the Walgreens, and you name it, and the mom and pop pharmacies. And it’s like it’s out of control. So, folks, like I said, now is the time to start thinking about your civic duty. Your civic duty is to start getting these people, start electing these people that are going to benefit and change our community.
Karen Washington (00:48:43):
Start at the local level. Make these changes at the local level. Come out and stand up, and shout like, “Get these fast food restaurants out of our community. Bring in more healthy food options in our community.” Elect officials that will stand with you in making sure things are done.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:49:04):
So Karen, you get to be mayor for a day, and you get to create sweeping policy changes in your community, and in New York, that would have the most impact to change the system. What would be the top things that you would focus on? Because I think there’s so much needs to be done. I think you’ve been on the ground. You’ve been literally in the dirt figuring this out for decades. What would be the biggest impact in terms of the policy change that could happen quickly, that would make a difference in your community?
Karen Washington (00:49:34):
Well, definitely, first thing, in all school system, take out these microwave delivered foods, put in back the [inaudible 00:49:42] ovens. Every kitchen in every public school should have a chef.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:49:50):
Yes. I love that.
Karen Washington (00:49:52):
Should have a chef. Every school should have a chef where they are cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No, that’s what I would do immediately. Boom. Get the sodas-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:50:11):
By the way, Karen, a friend of mine has done that in Boston and she’s done it with top chefs, creating delicious food within the school budget and the school nutrition lunch guidelines, that the kids love and don’t throw out, that makes them perform better in school and have better behavior.
Karen Washington (00:50:27):
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:50:28):
Karen Washington (00:50:29):
Number two, do a lot of financial education and entrepreneurship for people within their communities. I say that because, with gentrification happening, what happens is that the people that live in a community don’t have the opportunity to stay in their community and build jobs and build businesses. An incentive is to train or incentivize the next generation of people businesses that live in their community to stay in their community, with job training, with capital backing so that they stay in their communities.
Karen Washington (00:51:11):
Why do I have to see people move out of our communities, that have been there for years and have people come in with these new ideas of breweries and restaurants without the faces, the people that live there? So [crosstalk 00:51:27]-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:51:26):
Yeah. I mean, one of the most transformational economic initiatives in the developing world was the micro loans for people to be able to start their own businesses and small businesses, and mostly for women, actually it turned out.
Karen Washington (00:51:40):
At least micro loans, or low interest, or grants where you don’t have to pay back. And then, the third thing, listen, third thing. The third thing is thinking about communal wealth, and how do we build wealth within communities of color? This is a conversation that I have all the time, because, again, poor people collectively, we have wealth, we have power. And so, now educating people to start understanding the power of that monetary value that they have, I would say 90% of poor neighborhoods spend that money outside the neighborhood, extract it.
Karen Washington (00:52:26):
So let’s start thinking about people, about reinvesting in our community, that have our faces. You know what? We talk about food. I go into my community garden, I go up and down the street and I see so many people who can cook. They’re out here with their barbecue. The street vendors are out there selling their wares. And it’s like, “Wait a second. We need to hone that, hone that expertise and make sure that they’re given the licenses and the proper training so that they can have a business and sustain the community with our faces.”
Karen Washington (00:53:06):
So street vendors, people who know how to cook, making it as such a way as an incentive, that their ideas are shaped so that they can run their own businesses. And instead of buying food from them and a vendor on the street, they have their own brick and mortar or online sales. So yeah. Come live in my city, in my world.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:53:30):
I want to come visit. When this all calms down, I’m going to come visit. I want to take a tour of what you’re doing.
Karen Washington (00:53:35):
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:53:35):
It’s pretty amazing. I think you’ve really taken on almost an insurmountable problem, and that you’ve shed light on some of the real challenges we have in America around our food system, around the health disparities we have, around the economic disparities, around the structural embedded systems that keep the problem perpetuating. I think maybe it’s Pollyanna of me, but I do think the food issue is a way to link a lot of these things together, and to empower people to really create change. And it seems like that’s the work that you’ve really been focused on.
Karen Washington (00:54:10):
Without a doubt. One last thing I would like to say to my White friends and allies, because for years, they have been coming to me asking for advice on how to change. And I said, “You know what? It’s time for White people to have those hard conversations within their communities, to sit at the table and have White people understand why is there hunger and poverty, why where I live is so different than where other people live.” I always tell people, I have had the dual experience of living and working in the White world and living and working in the Black world.
Karen Washington (00:54:51):
Whites, they don’t have that Black experience. And so, if you want to know what that means, have that Black experience. But Whites need to have start having those hard conversations amongst themselves, why in the greatest country in the world, where we grow enough food, we waste enough food, but yet that food is not getting back down to the people that need it the most.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:55:18):
That’s true. I mean-
Karen Washington (00:55:18):
Have those hard conversations.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:55:20):
It is hard. I mean, and it’s a bigger conversation. I’d say it’s about health and economic disparities across the board. I mean, the New York Times just did an incredible analysis of global economic and health disparities, and America has just got the most disparities of any developed country in terms of health, life expectancy, economic opportunity, wages. I mean, just all of it. It’s just so warped in this country. And I think it’s going to have to break down before we can break through, it seems like.
Karen Washington (00:55:50):
Yep. I mean, when you first had this conversation, and I had this similar conversation when I was speaking to a group of predominantly White audience, and I said, “If you had a chance to change places right now with me as being a Black person, would you do that, and raise your hand?” And not one person rose-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:56:15):
Right. Exactly. That’s the conversation. Right. People know it ain’t that great. I mean, and people don’t realize how bad it is. I mean, just in New York City, if you start in Midtown Manhattan, you go on the subway, for every subway stop from Midtown to the Bronx, your life expectancy goes down by six months, for every subway stop. That’s how bad it is. In some communities, we see life expectancy, 10, 20, 30 years less than in other communities in this country. It’s really like living in the developing world, and it’s because of these embedded issues.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:56:49):
They’re complex and they’re historical. And I think, as a White guy, I’ve been just trying to understand the historical context of this because it’s not in this vacuum that we find ourselves. Then the roots of it really start obviously in slavery, but they start after the civil war and what happened to the rights that were given to the African-Americans at that time. They were totally usurped by all these other Jim Crow laws, and segregation, and lynching, and the disenfranchisement from the land.
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:57:24):
Now I feel like this food oppression issue, for me, is just so striking. When I look at it from the outside as a doctor, I see, well, we have given some ground in terms of civil rights, but they’re being almost quashed by the level of disease, and the disability, and lack of ability to learn and function that’s because of the food system. And so, it’s almost like an invisible form of oppression. It’s almost in some way internalized, because these communities, from my experiences, aren’t always aware that… They think, “This is my traditional food.”
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:58:04):
I mean, I remember one guy. He’s a friend of mine, African-American guy in New York City. He works in the Bronx and does community efforts, and kids, and schools, and food and nutrition education. And he goes to visit his family in the South, and it’s like, “Why are you eating all that White people food?” Like eating vegetables and fruits. And I’m like, “There’s these embedded patterns that I think are really hard to overcome.” I’d love to hear your thoughts about, how do you overcome that?
Karen Washington (00:58:28):
Again, getting people to understand of the history of the African-American experience when it comes to food. It has been embedded. The [inaudible 00:58:40] has been embedded for so long in terms of what we’re eating now. And the only way that is going to really change it is really to educate people to understand that food for so long has been used as a weapon against the Black community, Black and Brown community. It’s used as a weapon against us. And as a result, you’re seeing the diet-related diseases that is happening, that’s killing our population.
Karen Washington (00:59:11):
I even make this statement that our food is killing us as part of a genocide that is happening. I hate to have to use that strong word. But I’m just saying it, it’s part of a genocide that’s happening within our communities, as food is being used as a weapon against us, because it’s something that we all need to have, but yet in communities of color, that food is processed food, junk food, and fast food. Making people aware of that fact, hopefully… Like I said-
Dr. Mark Hyman(00:59:44):
It’s true. I mean, people don’t realize that, while gun violence is horrible and needs to stop, that it’s a fraction of the amount of people that die in these communities compared to diet-related diseases that are totally preventable. I mean, it’s staggering when you look at the numbers. It doesn’t feel like it’s an issue that’s really being spoken about, like, “We’re dying at the hands of this food system that’s created a really untenable situation for our communities, we can’t get out of.” I think that, to me, is the biggest heartbreak, because it’s solvable. I mean, if you changed your diets, you reverse their diabetes. We know how to do that.
Karen Washington (01:00:23):
Right. We know how to do that. Like I said, zoning changes laws. Get these fast food, processed food, get it out of our food system. As soon as it starts coming in the border of the Bronx and Manhattan, the low-income neighborhoods, stop these trucks and turn them around. Again, the power of the people. It’s like, “Who’s going to stand up? What legislator is going to stand up and have that vocal recognition? Then something needs to be done.” Throughout these presidential elections and congressional elections that is happening, even when Hillary and Trump were talking, were running for president, again, food was not an issue that was brought up.
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:01:16):
Karen Washington (01:01:16):
Even with the New Green Deal, again-
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:01:20):
Karen Washington (01:01:21):
Food is not being really lifted up, and we have been working behind the scenes to make sure that when we talk about New Green Deal, that you’ve got to put food, and the fact that food is essential if we’re going to talk about health within the Black and Brown community, and that needs to change. And so-
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:01:40):
Well, that’s in. Well, I’m on your team, Karen. That’s my goal. I wrote the book Food Fix as a way of connecting the dots and creating a roadmap for how we can start to reshape what happens at a grassroots level, as well as the policy level. Your work is just so important in highlighting some of the challenges, and being on the ground, and showing how it can be done. It’s really inspiring and I just thank you for all you’re doing, for the incredible wisdom you’re bringing to this conversation, and to your community, which is paddling upstream to try to make those changes. But I just love your energy, your spirit, and you’re pretty awesome. I want to visit your farm.
Karen Washington (01:02:18):
Yeah, definitely. Open invitation. But thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:02:22):
Of course. Well, Karen, thank you. You’re great. People can learn more about Karen at her website, karenthefarmer.com. You can go to riseandrootfarm.com, blackfarmerfund.org if you want to support and help out what they’re doing. She’s on fire and she’s doing the work, and I’m so glad to have connected with you, Karen.
Karen Washington (01:02:42):
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:02:42):
Thank you so much for being on the Doctor’s Farmacy.
Karen Washington (01:02:45):
Thank you so much and have a great day.
Dr. Mark Hyman(01:02:47):
Okay. If you love this podcast, please share with your friends and family on social media. Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.