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Episode 493
The Doctor's Farmacy

How Fast Food Companies Coopted Black America

Open the Podcasts app and search for The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’re viewing this site on your phone, you can just tap on the

Tap the subscribe button and new shows will be added to your library.

If you’re using a different device, our show is available on the following platforms.

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Food and racism are heavily tied, and the history of fast food franchises in America is one of many examples.

In order to continue the fight for civil rights and name the social and racial disparities that we continue to see in our time, it’s important to learn how we got here. Today on The Doctor’s Farmacy, I’m excited to dig into all this and so much more, with Marcia Chatelain.

A third of Americans eat fast food every day, and we know that fast food restaurants are hyper-concentrated in lower socioeconomic areas. It’s no coincidence that African Americans consume more fast food than any other population and also have greater risks for obesity and diabetes.

Marcia walks us through the history of fast food franchises in America and how they’ve specifically impacted Black communities. This relationship rose from the notion of improved economic opportunity through entrepreneurship, but the idea backfired and has worked against these communities in myriad ways, which includes increased rates of chronic disease.

Our social policies need to acknowledge that nutrition does indeed impact health outcomes and we need to improve access and education for healthy food to higher-risk populations. Marcia and I discuss the true cost of food and what shifts she believes are needed to change the trajectory of poor health for Black communities.

While it might seem like an impossibly large topic to tackle, Marcia and I are hopeful. She shares that the intersection of COVID and the Great Resignation could be an incredible moment for raising awareness of the human toll of the food system. We’re seeing people fight for justice in ways we’ve never even thought of before.

We also talk about the power of working in community to solve collective problems and thinking of how to get the same things for your neighbors that you’d want for yourself.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Here are more of the details from our interview (audio):

  1. The history of African American owned fast food franchises in the 1960s and 1970s
    (6:01)
  2. The connection between African American food culture, access, health, and economic opportunities
    (11:24)
  3. How the food industry targets African American and Hispanic communities regarding junk food consumption
    (16:44 )
  4. Creating a society in which the healthy choice is the easy choice
    (18:19 )
  5. Social determinants of health and policy changes needed to improve health outcomes
    (24:55 )
  6. The true cost of the food we eat
    (34:22)
  7. The dark side of corporate social responsibility spending
    (36:49)
  8. Overcoming the power of corporate food and agriculture lobbying
    (39:07 )
  9. Food sovereignty, traditional foods, and community experiences around food
    (47:16)
  10. Changing our relationship to societal systems and institutions to improve health outcomes
    (54:37)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Marcia Chatelain

Marcia Chatelain is a Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University. The author of South Side Girls: Growing up in the Great Migration, she teaches about women’s and girls’ history, as well as black capitalism. Her latest book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America examines the intricate relationship among African American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities, and the fast food industry.

In 2021, Marcia received the Pulitzer Prize in History, the Hagley Prize in Business History, and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) Lawrence W. Levine Award for Franchise. An active public speaker and educational consultant, Marcia has received awards and honors from the Ford Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education named her a Top Influencer in academia in recognition of her social media campaign #FergusonSyllabus, which implored educators to facilitate discussions about the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

Show Notes

  1. Get a copy of her book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America

Transcript

Introduction:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy:

Marcia Chatelain:
When people have the financial resources, when they have the security and stability of housing, when they know that their kids are going to a good school where they’re safe, they’re able to make the best possible choices. And so I think that it isn’t just about the food. It’s about all of the stressors in a society that allows injustice to continue and benefits from it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy, I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, that’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And today’s conversation is going to be an interesting exploration of the intersection of racism, food, civil rights, fast food and lots more that I think is important to talk about, particularly in the face of what we’re seeing today, particularly around COVID and its disproportionate effect on the African American community, the Hispanic community and some communities where there’s 30% population of African American accounts for 70% of the deaths and there’s a reason for that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think it’s embedded in the conversation I’m going to have today with someone, I’m very excited to talk to, Marcia Chatelain, who’s a professor of history in African American Studies at Georgetown University. She’s the author of Southside Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration and she teaches about women’s and girls’ history as well as black capitalism. And her latest book, which we’re going to talk about today, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, examines the intricate relationship between African American politicians, civil rights organizations, communities and the fast food industry. And she won the Pulitzer Prize for this book. So this is a very important book.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
She speaks, she teaches, she’s won many awards and I’m so excited to have this conversation with you about the intersectionality of food and racism and civil rights and fast food in America. Welcome.

Marcia Chatelain:
Thank you. I look forward to this conversation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
All right, so let’s get right into it. I think every day about a third of Americans eat at fast food restaurants, and yet, fast food isn’t really the same in terms of its meaning and its place in our culture among different parts of our society, for example, in suburban areas versus lower socioeconomic areas. And for some, owning a franchise can be a pathway to wealth. And it’s been that in part. There’s some very focused efforts of the food industry to bring African Americans and others into ownership around fast food franchise as a path to Wealth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But it also is a source of disease and suffering and a burden for many of these communities and these fast food restaurants are hyper-concentrated in segregated areas and low socioeconomic areas and it’s part of why we see, for example African Americans be far more likely to have diabetes, heart disease, obesity. And according to CDC, African Americans eat more fast food than any other group of the population. So the question is really, how did we get there, how did this happen and tell us more about the history of how we ended up where we are where we’re seeing just this massive, massive concentration of fast food restaurants in places where people are struggling with their health and with poverty and with challenges?

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, one of the things that I discovered in my research is that there is a direct line between this transitional moment in the mid to late 1960s in America in terms of the fight for racial justice, the question of the role of the government in responding to people’s lived realities and the pivot in the civil rights movement with the rise of fast food. And so essentially what happens in the 1960s is that after there is a wave of very important legislation around the issue of schools, public accommodations, voting rights, there’s this huge gap in terms of economic opportunity.

Marcia Chatelain:
And as we saw in the George Floyd, summer of 2020, throughout the 1960s, there were these uprisings and rebellions that people said, “Why are people so distanced from the American dream? What’s happening?” And one of the conclusions was that there weren’t enough business opportunities. There were not enough of an array of retailers that were really responding to African American markets and that got interpreted as a growth opportunity for fast food. So after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, months later, you have the opening of the first African American franchise, McDonald’s, and that’s not a coincidence. This was a moment in which big business was supposed to be the solution to the problem of racial justice.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But Ralph Abernathy, who was the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after Martin Luther King, said he didn’t really believe in black capitalism, he believed in black socialism, and yet, he ended up in some ways being coopted by receiving money from McDonald’s. So can you talk about the challenges that this committee face and the idea that there was benefit in the idea that there could be salvation in economic opportunity and creating entrepreneurship in the African American community, but it backfired in a way, right?

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, yeah, I think it’s not designed to do that, right? So I don’t go to my local shoe store to try to see a doctor, right? It’s not made for that. The shoe store is supposed to provide shoes and I think, in many ways, the idea that business could solve these complex problems of housing, of education, of jobs, healthcare and so the weight that a lot of these early African American franchise owners had to carry was enormous and they were doing their best in the context of having businesses that were community serving, that were community facing, that were trying to respond to local needs but also the bottom line.

Marcia Chatelain:
And I think that the fast food industry understood, I don’t know if desperation is the right word, but they understood that the window of opportunity was incredibly narrow and very few people were going to pass through it. And through these businesses, they start coopting and aligning themselves with this idea of civil rights as being delivered by big business.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So the notion was that through improved economic opportunity and by empowerment of African American entrepreneurs that it would raise the boat for everyone and that didn’t really happen.

Marcia Chatelain:
This is a period in the late ’60s, early ’70s that is the nation is being primed for the Reagan era of trickledown economics, the glorification of the small business owner as being the job creator, all of these things that we’re still with us in many ways when we talk about the problem of poverty and we talk about the role of business. That was what was happening in, I think, its most unobscured form. And so people believed and people wanted to see if it was possible.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And we now are suffering the consequence. When you look at the data from the ’60s, African Americans were among the healthiest groups of the population, in fact, far healthier than whites, and now, it’s the opposite. And you think this effort among the fast food companies, and not just fast food but also big food companies, targeting minority populations, African Americans, Hispanics, is to blame for that?

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, I think it’s multilayered. The first thing I would say is that one thing that I really push back on a little bit is, when we talk about African American food cultures prior to the immersion of fast food in black communities, we always have the problem of nutrition. So African Americans may have had lower body weight. There was a moment where the life expectancy differentials between whites and blacks were slowly closing, but the access to good quality …

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Food.

Marcia Chatelain:
… foods that were highly nutritious that were varied had always been a challenge, whether a person was a farmer in the Jim Crow South and they’re harvesting all sorts of agricultural goods, but their families are subsisting on beans, to people in places like Chicago, New York City where a lot of the activism was about the quality of food in the local grocery stores. And so all of this is to say that what we see is a tradition of not being able to access the foods that people need, a tradition of not being able to get the healthcare people need, a tradition of joblessness and they’re all compounding one on top of the other. And then there’s this thing called fast food that is providing a job, even if it’s incredibly low wage, that does provide the opportunity to eat food, even though it isn’t nutritious and well rounded and then also becoming part of the larger culture of the community.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s interesting, when the first McDonald’s were actually in suburban white neighborhoods, they were serving a more affluent white community, and actually, there was segregation in the Jim Crow South. The local populations of African American couldn’t eat McDonald’s, right? They were excluded from there. And how did that all shift? Was it because of this awareness that there was a business opportunity to access a new market share from the fast food companies and they were perniciously targeting them? Is that fair to say?

Marcia Chatelain:
I think that’s fair to say. I think you’ve got a number of things happening. So in the Deep South, you have the student activists of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights organizations that are trying to dismantle segregation everywhere. So they’re targeting McDonald’s in places like Arkansas and Tennessee and North Carolina. And then, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, businesses are now told, “You have to serve everybody,” and there is a growing awareness of a growing affluent African American community. So there’s greater segmentation of markets and people are saying, “Okay, we can pivot towards a new broader audience that can afford our goods, that wants to celebrate access to these experiences in the marketplace that they didn’t have before.”

Marcia Chatelain:
And so it was just coming together of the fact that so much about the civil rights movement was about the relationship of the consumer and consumer goods. So whether it’s trying to end the segregation in restaurants, whether it’s trying to test the boundaries of integrated travel or ensuring that department stores would serve people on an equal basis, so much of it was about consumer power. And in the late ’60s, people really, they really, really honed in on that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And you’re talking about this intersection of fast food companies, black capitalists and civil rights leaders who thought that maybe opening up these opportunities would help racial inequality, but it did that for a bunch of families but not for everybody else. And it actually led to, in my view, a worsening of the plight of the African American community because it led to rampant obesity, diabetes and chronic illness. And also because of these areas or food deserts, there wasn’t access to their food. It was often the only place people could go, the only place that was safe, the only place that was clean and it maybe had … Now it has services like WiFi or where people could gather.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So it provided a service to community but also has created such devastation. When I look at it from the outside as a doctor, I’m thinking from a health lens what happened when we expanded the fast food industry, when we expanded the heavy marketing of industrial process food to these communities. Really in a sense, it’s a sense of food injustice or food racism or I don’t know what the right term is, but there’s some phenomenon that’s happened in this culture. And guys like Kelly Brownell and others who was from the Rudd Center at Yale that looked at Food Policy, I really documented how the food industry has literally targeted these communities specifically to increase their consumption of these foods and has focused on, for example, African American, Hispanic communities and the kids see way more ads for fast food, way more ads for junk food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
If they’re exposed to it, they’re more likely to consume these foods in larger amounts. You see little kids at two, three or four years old with type two diabetes, which we used to call adult onset diabetes and now we’re seeing these communities at disproportionate rates. So I feel like there’s been this phenomenon that’s happened almost underneath the radar of people’s awareness where this whole phenomenon of food injustice has been going on and is accounting for so much of the challenges that I believe are facing these communities in terms of education and cognitive development. Just developmentally when you eat these foods, your brain isn’t functioning. It’s not developing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you’re obese, your life expectancy as a kid, if you’re obese as a kid, goes down 13 years. You’re less likely to have a successful job and be economically viable. So there’s so many layers to the problem. And the question is really, how do we navigate this now? Because what started out as maybe a hopeful idea that by empowering these communities with businesses that it would help them, it’s done the opposite in my view.

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, I think that there are number of ways to look at this. I think the first one is that we have to get serious about the public sector responding to the needs of the public good. Businesses are not in any position to determine the fates of people. And I think that all of the issues that you touch upon, I think it’s about quality of life. And so if someone says, “Well, what do we do?” And I said, “Well, what if we have healthcare for all, free college, living wage and some type of paid family leave and childcare?” If someone says, “Well, what does that have to do with food?” And I said, “Well, the expectation that people could live in a food system that is varied, that is robust and productive, where’s the time? Where’s the money? Where’s the ability to do it?”

Marcia Chatelain:
I’m not a medical doctor, so I try to stay in my lane. I read a lot of conflicting things about all sorts of health outcomes and social determinants of health and public health, but this is what I do know, when people have the financial resources, when they have the security and stability of housing, when they know that their kids are going to a good school where they’re safe, they’re able to make the best possible choices. And so I think that it isn’t just about the food, it’s about all of the stressors in a society that allows injustice to continue and benefits from it that exacerbates the problem. I can cook every night because I’m a college professor. I have plenty of money and I have a giant kitchen, and if I feel like eating something, I can cook it. The implications are different for me because of the position I have. Well, everyone should have that ability. Everyone should have an hour or two to make something if they want it.

Marcia Chatelain:
But in the communities in which fast food has thrived, I would say that fast food is a sensible choice for people who are constrained with work and responsibilities and don’t have the freedom to have choice and to have a quality of life where things can be equally prioritized.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that’s true and I also think that I’ve had some experiences in the south, in other places, in underserved communities and what strikes me in Cleveland Clinic where I work, we work a lot with African American communities around their chronic health issues, around the food issues and one … It seems there’s a couple things. One is just a lack of awareness and education about the importance of nutrition in terms of determining health outcomes and determining your ability to actually function in life. And two is the, obviously, lack of access and three is just the embedded beliefs and experiences that prevent them from actually even knowing what to do.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So you’re saying you can cook a meal, you know what to do, but if you don’t have the education, if you don’t have the family background, if you don’t have the exposure, you don’t know what to do with the food. In Cleveland, I taught a cooking class for 300. We thought a few people would show up. 300 African American women showed up for the cooking class to make kale smoothies and I was shocked because I thought, “Wow, they really have not gotten access to the right information and they’re just exposed to a food culture that’s driving poor choices where the healthy choice is a really hard choice or they’re not even aware what the choice is and the bad choice is the easy choice.

Marcia Chatelain:
I think that individual relationship to food is so complicated and I think that there’s all sorts of influences on what we eat and what we consume. I think that, from my perspective, the food is often an indicator. The food that is available to us in our most proximate locations is an indicator of what society has determined is right for us or good for us are what we’re allowed to have. And so I think that there are people who … They would love an opportunity for food to be something they can engage with in a kind of fullness, right? I talk to a lot of young professionals who are in the space of food justice and we talk about things like community gardens, nutrition and cooking classes and education.

Marcia Chatelain:
And I say, “I think all of these are great opportunities.” I said, “But let me ask you this, how many of the people that you’re working with, how do you know if they have electricity to keep their foods stored in a fresh place? How do you know that they have the heating gas and the cooking gas that they need all winter long?” And I said, “The information about food, I think, is key and then we take a step back and say, ‘What are the conditions in which people are living and fighting for?'” I’m a Midwesterner. When it gets very cold, the gas company won’t cut off your gas, but once the weather gets to 60 degrees, they will.

Marcia Chatelain:
And so if we have people who are in arrears on their utilities, we can tell them to make all sorts of stuff, but we have to make sure that those needs can actually be met.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Absolutely. I want to loop back to something you said that I think is pretty important and I don’t want to pass over it, which is the idea that that business can solve social problems. From listening to it, it sounds like you’re not a big fan of Adam Smith and the invisible hand, trickledown economics and the idea that we have to Look at the structure of the society that we live in. I spent a lot of time in Haiti and worked with Paul Farmer and he talks about this concept of structural violence, “What are the social, economic and political conditions that drive disease?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We talk now about the social determinants of health. They’re the primary drivers of chronic disease and a lot of that has to do with the issues you’re discussing in your book and disenfranchisement through the franchise of all these fast food restaurants everywhere. And I think it’s a very important point because we have a pretty strong cultural view that capitalism and innovation and business will solve all of our problems and that social problems can be solved through business solutions. And you’re challenging that orthodoxy. And I love you to unpack that a little bit, because from your perspective, looking into the details of this, what needs to change in terms of our social policies and our government policies that actually can actually change the trajectory of the ill health and the consequences of better health on everything from childhood development to economic success and viability and the ability to actually get ahead and get out of the circumstance that people find themselves in?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Because I do think and I do believe, given what I’ve seen in other research that the ongoing plight of underserved communities, whether they’re poor white communities or African American or Hispanic communities is really driven off of the underlying inability to actually get good nutrition and that food is the center of the beginning of building a healthy human who’s functional and capable. And I’ll just give you a quick example of what I mean by that. In juvenile detention centers, when they swap out healthy food for bad food that the kids are eating, there’s over a 91% reduction in violence in the juvenile detention centers, a 75% reduction in restraints, 100% reduction in suicides which affects their behavior. And so people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions, capacity to function is really inhibited by the toxic nutritional landscape that we live in.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so I’m curious, from your perspective, looking at this and the history of fast food and its intersectionality with racism and civil rights, how do we get out of this? Because you’ve done a great job of explaining what happened, how do we move through to what we actually need to do to reclaim the health of our communities and society?

Marcia Chatelain:
Living wage, free college, free childcare.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
All right.

Marcia Chatelain:
Medicare for all. All of these things get in the way of people being able to take a beat and make wide decisions about their lives, right? So I don’t have very strong positions on … We also have to care about the supply chain because this is also an environmental issue that I don’t get into in the book, but if I had endless pages to write. It is incredible to me and I tell my students this and they say, “Okay, Professor Chatelain, we hear this all the time.” When I was a kid, you couldn’t get food everywhere and now food is everywhere. There wasn’t food bookstores. There wasn’t food everywhere. There wasn’t prepared food everywhere. There is a landscape that I am troubled by not just by our ability to make choices in varied diet, but someone has to produce and harvest all of this food that we are either consuming or wasting or are using to transform into chemical products to put back into food. This is not good.

Marcia Chatelain:
I shouldn’t be able to get a pineapple at my local grocery right now. It’s January, but I can, right? And so all of this is to say that we have to make different choices about investments in people’s lives. So whether it could be the corn subsidies or it could be military spending, everything needs to be on the table to say, “What are we going to do to improve the quality of people’s lives?” Because food isn’t just about fuel. Food is about emotion. Food is about love and affection. I try to have a very nuanced, nonjudgmental view of how people use food in their lives, but the reality is is that food can become a low priority when you are under the stress and under the gun of so many of these other concerns.

Marcia Chatelain:
So once we have a strong social safety net that actually is geared towards caring for people, I think these other issues will slowly start to fade in our view because it isn’t just the toxic foods, right? It isn’t just the things that may make a person ill. It’s about the stress that they live under and the inability to do anything else but consume and work and worry about your livelihood. It’s expensive, but I think we’ve seen that the cost of ignoring these issues is also quite expensive. So the question is, on what end are we going to pay?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think you’re absolutely right. It seems like it’s a cost driver to do these things, free education, free healthcare, basic living wage, but I think it’s actually a bargain when you look at the downstream benefits of doing these things. The only thing I’d say it challenged us a little bit is that when you say Medicare for all, healthcare for all, that only works if we can figure out how to stop the population from being sick and it speaks to the issue of the supply chain which is all the food that’s being produced is driving this. So 60% of the calories Americans eat are processed food. 67% of the calories that kids eat are also processed food and that is being produced by a food system that’s incentivized by our current policies that really prevent the ability to actually choose and get the right food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
With Medicare for all particularly is that we’re just going to create health care coverage and then we’re not going to address the reason why people are going into healthcare system in the first place. And we’re just going to get crushed. And I think that’s the challenge. You have to fix all of it at the same time. Look at food stamps which is a great safety net, but we say, with the dietary guidelines, “Stop eating sugar and don’t drink huge calories and don’t eat processed food,” and yet 75% of the food stamps are spent on processed food and 10% on soda. And how do you-

Marcia Chatelain:
Can you food assistance on soda? I thought there were foods that [crosstalk 00:27:05].

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, my God, yes.

Marcia Chatelain:
I didn’t know that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No, you cannot buy a rotisserie chicken in the grocery store because it’s cooked.

Marcia Chatelain:
Because it’s [crosstalk 00:27:14].

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But you can buy a two liter bottle of soda.

Marcia Chatelain:
But here’s the thing, I don’t know if I object to the purchasing of the soda, so much as … Because there probably was the work of some type of lobbyists who was working for the corn industry …

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Of course.

Marcia Chatelain:
… for the corn lobby, right? I think that this is, again, people can have choices, I guess, in these markets. The choice is not what vexes me so much. It’s the mechanism that makes the call on the choices, right? It’s the no household products, but you can certain foods. It’s deciding that ketchup is a vegetable. So when we’re playing with these types of upside down thinking, it really does speak to the heart of the imbalance and influence. And this is why businesses should not be in the game of uplifting people’s lives. They should be regulated to the point where they have to participate in a free and fair economy and focus on what they do, right? They make products and we as a society are tasked with taking care of each other.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When you look at countries that actually have these strong social safety nets, that have healthcare, that have free education, that provide economic opportunity, their numbers are dramatically better all across the board in terms of obesity, the health of the population and much more. So it’s pretty interesting to see that and I feel like we’re really afraid in this country of doing anything like that because it speaks of socialism, right? It speaks of this idea that we’re all going to become communist or something. Really, I don’t see a way out unless we actually create a true fair market where the true costs of the food and the food system and everything else are embedded in the price, but right now, the price you pay at checkout is not the true cost of the food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The Rockefeller Foundation produced a report recently about the true cost of food that showed it was basically three times the cost of the actual price that you pay at the checkout counter for the food in terms of its effect on health, on the economy, on climate, on social justice issues. And that’s a staggering number. If we actually had the food companies accountable for the externalities and that they’re really not externalities, they’re embedded in the very way that we have the food system, then if we don’t do that, we’re really not going to be able to solve the crisis we have now of chronic disease and obesity and all. And I think it’s all linked to injustice across the board, economic injustice, racial justice. It’s all one intersecting problem, right?

Marcia Chatelain:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I think that it’s a shift in focus. I think that what the past 50 years has done is created a space in which the lines between public and private are so blurred, that we actually imagine a world where we go to companies to solve these problems and we forget that people actually have power. And I think that one of the reasons why I wanted to write this book was to talk about the fact that none of these things that we see are inevitable. There is a period of time where corporations are grooming people. They’re ingratiating themselves or finding people at their most desperate moments and they’re capitalizing on that.

Marcia Chatelain:
And so in that process, when we see it happening, perhaps we have the tools to make sure it doesn’t, that we aren’t living in the United States of Coca Cola or McDonald’s, that we’re actually in our position as people who advocate for each other and can actually push back against the corporations.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Marcia, you talked about the ways in which these food companies aren’t really held accountable and they’re actually influencing our communities in ways that are often invisible. And I think talking about in the book, for example, how McDonald’s gives money to the NAACP, I know Coca Cola does that and they fund the King Center in Atlanta and they provide a lot of support for social programs and they do it as their corporate social responsibility activities, but there’s a dark side to it, which actually it creates indebtedness in these communities to these food companies that are actually killing them. How do you navigate that? How do you educate the communities to say, “Hey, how do we thread that needle, because yes, they need the services and the support, who else is going to give it to them?” The government isn’t right, so they’re turning to these food corporations to actually support their communities, but in the other hand, they’re also killing them.

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, I think that it requires two things. One, I think, in trying to engage the conversation about the relationship between corporations and community, the first thing that I hope I did in this book was to come from a place of empathy to say, “These are tough choices. If presented with a million dollars in order for your organization to achieve its goals, I think it’s a really hard thing to turn down. And what power do we unlock and turning down? What does it mean for us to say, ‘No, we are not comfortable with the way that this money is made and we’re going to make a different choice’?” And I think that the tough sell isn’t just, “Don’t take money from this corporate entity,” but rather, “Why does this corporate entity have so much power in the first place? Why if we want to memorialize Dr. King that we need Coca-Cola to help us do that? Why is it when we need these resources that this is the place where the resources come?”

Marcia Chatelain:
And so I think that this is not about telling people who have constrained choices, “You made the wrong choice,” but rather to say, “Okay, how can we create a vision of a world where you’re not in this bind anymore and who do we need to talk to and how do we need to come together to imagine a different way of proceeding in the future?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And that requires massive policy change, right? And policy change in this country is primarily driven by large corporations and huge lobbying budgets. And the food and ag industry dwarfs all other industries in terms of their lobbying efforts and their opposition to any progressive changes in food policies that might promote health or change your agricultural systems or allows ketchup to be a vegetable and French fries to be a vegetable, that’s just crazy, right? And it’s both on the Democrat and Republican side. We saw in Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar is from Minnesota and she lobbied for pizza to be a vegetable because Schwan’s Pizza is the largest supplier of pizza to schools in America and that had to be considered a vegetable in order for it to be served in schools.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So that kind of stuff just really is discouraging to me and other than figuring out how to get some bunch of billionaires to spend billions of dollars in lobbying to do the right thing, how do we get out of this because these education of lawmakers is so limited? I’ve been working on a campaign called The Food Fix Campaign which is essentially an education advocacy group to educate lawmakers and change policies around exactly these issues that we’re talking about. And when we go to talk to them, they’re just so unaware and all their education has come from industry and not from real science. And so we’re battling this problem.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And then obviously, you’ve got these lawmakers who are often funded in large part by these corporate interests that actually affect their ability to have independent thought. I don’t know other than really raising up a populace that is conscious and is able to elect leaders who are addressing the issues in how we’re going to change this.

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, I think one of the things that we’ve seen in our electoral process is that that grassroots intervention is possible, that we have an array of elected officials who have no business serving in Congress as far as I’m concerned, that they were able to touch a nerve, galvanize enough grassroots support and compel their parties to put them forward for good and for bad. And so I think that in the future I can imagine a world in which we are running food justice candidates from communities that have been underserved and harmed by our food system as agricultural workers, as people and processing plants.

Marcia Chatelain:
I think we see what is happening with grocery workers and their vulnerability to COVID. I think that there is a potential political movement based on a broadly defined idea of food justice that isn’t just about what we consume, but the conditions under which we consume and who is producing the foods that we consume. I think it could be incredibly powerful, but this is where we need to put some of our energies as well.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think you’re absolutely right. When you look at the legacy of racism in this country and slavery, it was embedded in the Fair Labor Standards Act which, under the New Deal of Roosevelt, set labor standards that provide safe working conditions and a fair wage and reasonable working hours and vacation and sick leave and all these benefits that we take for granted. The only way he could get that law passed and fight the Southern Dixie Democrats who are all racists was to exclude food and farmworkers which were primarily black. And that legacy still continues today. It’s why we see tipping in restaurants. It’s why we see farmworkers not have the same labor protections as other workers and it perpetuates this whole vicious cycle.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So you’re right, it’s a much bigger problem than just the food people eat from the grocery store or in a fast food restaurant. It’s really the whole embedded racism within the entire food supply chain.

Marcia Chatelain:
And I think that this is … We’re having this conversation on January 6th-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There’s that.

Marcia Chatelain:
The PBS documentary about January 6th airs later tonight and these things are not unrelated. And I think that for us to get to a place where we are adequately addressing all of these disparities, we also have to be in a place where we are willing to acknowledge the persistent and relentlessness of racism in shaping policy decisions, in framing the ways people live and the ways that they are told they should live or allowed to live. This is a racial reckoning. We often think of racial reckoning as dramatic events, dramatic confrontations, uprisings, but anytime we have a conversation in America about inequality and we’re serious about looking at the history of it and the roots of it, this is racial reckoning in talking about our food system.

Marcia Chatelain:
And at the same time, as much as we can point to the many things that are wrong, I think that we can also be confident in the fact that everyday people are growing and learning and they’re pushing back and challenging a lot of hegemonic ideas about society, about food, about food production. A group of Starbucks workers in New York were able to unionize their store because they’re saying no more. What we’re seeing right now with the intersection of COVID, the great resignation, these battles about reopening, this can be at an incredible moment for labor and for raising consciousness about what it really costs, the human toll of our current food system.

Marcia Chatelain:
And I’m incredibly optimistic that as we move toward an understanding of what COVID has done, that we’re going to get people who are going to fight for justice in ways that we had never imagined before.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that’s really true. I think there is an awakening and I think that the Black Lives Matter Movement is really important and I think it raises awareness about just racism in general and police violence and gun violence is a real problem, right? It’s accountable for 1.3% of all deaths in America which is real that needs to end and we’re very aware of it. We’ve got George Floyd. We’ve got so many people who really know the names of the people who are or have been victims of this, Tamir Rice and so forth. But what we really don’t think about is that the food system and the food we’re eating is responsible for 70% of the deaths, so it kills far more people than then gun violence, and yet, there’s a lack of framing of the problem as a social justice or as a food justice issue.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think you bring that out in your book, but to me, unless we name it and call it out, it’s like, “Black lives matter, but black health matters too.” And I think we’re not going to get to connect the dots for people to go, “Wow, maybe this is part of the reason why these communities are so burdened and unable to emerge from the conditions in which they live. I’ve seen this over and over again when you start to create awareness in these communities, there’s a level of internalized racism around food like, “This is our food, right?” And I tell a story in my book, Food Fix, about a Native American man, a Hopi Chief, I was on a rafting trip with him to raise awareness about the tar sands mining in the tablets plateau in Utah and how that would affect the Colorado River Basin and so forth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He was very overweight and he was diabetic and he was throwing up on his way down. The exercises might kill him. And we’re in the boat and I said, “Howard, you can fix this.” He said, “What do I have to do?” I said, “Well, you have to sort of cut out all the sugar and the soda and all this starchy foods and the flour and you can fix this.” He says, “Oh, wow. I don’t know if I can do that.” I’m like, “Why?” He says, “Well, we have our traditional Hopi ceremonies.” And I’m like, “Yeah?” He says, “Well, we have our traditional Hopi ceremonial foods.” I’m like, “Okay, well, what are those foods?” He says, Well, cookies, cakes and pies.” That was eye opening to me because it highlighted the fact that these cultures has a lot of identification with a food as being their cultural food, and yet-

Marcia Chatelain:
I don’t think that’s distinct to communities of color though.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
No, particularly, I think it there has been … If you look at the history and I think Leah Penniman talks about this, I don’t know if you know her work, but there’s this has been this evolution of the African American food culture from slavery to the present that has led them to believe that these are their foods, right? All the Southern foods, the super healthy-

Marcia Chatelain:
Yeah. I’m going to push back on it. I think every [crosstalk 00:43:34] … I know. I think you’re right. Every group has their foods. The question is the opportunity and the desire to depart from one’s foods, right? So because I think that if … Because we have holidays, we have … Every group has something that is a celebration food, a special occasion food, an everyday food. So I don’t think those two ideas are necessarily in opposition, that a person can have a varied and complex diet and there can be a set of foods that that have value and meaningless.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Of course. And I agree, but my point is that the Hopi traditional foods is not cookies, cakes and pies. That’s not what their ancestors were eating 500 years ago.

Marcia Chatelain:
Well, that’s interesting, but I think the point you make is really interesting because we are in an era with the popularity of 23andMe and all of this kind of finding your root about what we understand as traditionally ours, right? And so yes, I’m sure you know, within 1,000-year frame, what we consider a traditional food is radically different than a pie or a cake, but I think that story is really illustrative though about this whole conversation we’re having. Well, pies and cakes are introduced by the forces of colonialism, of processed food coming to reservations, about broken treaties and sovereignty. So you can say, “Well, I want to think about expanding maybe the variety of foods that you engage with.” But for this guy, that is a traditional food and I think that that’s important.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I guess so, but their culture is so oppressed, and to me, it’s a second genocide. We killed them all with guns and killed all their food supply and took away their food sovereignty and gave them food commodities from the government, basically flour, sugar and trans fats and then we are seeing this massive epidemic of disease in this population that’s worse than any other in the culture, right? So we see 80% of Native American like in the Pima Indians are diabetic by the time they’re 30. Their life expectancy is 46. This is really in a third world in America. And I think a lot of it is driven by that, the loss of food sovereignty and loss of their traditional foods and their ability to actually have the ability to grow and create and make the foods that actually are designed for their biology.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think African Americans the same way. I think there’s a food culture that’s been foisted on them by the food industry that has been internalized and is leading to this massive pandemic of chronic disease. It’s what we’re seeing with COVID. It’s we’re seeing just in general. You’re African American, you’re, I think, about 80% more likely to get type two diabetes, four times likely to have kidney failure, three and a half times more likely to suffer amputations. The data is pretty compelling from a medical perspective of how … The inequities in our food system are driving a lot of these chronic health issues and all the downstream consequences that affect people’s ability to have a happy, healthy, vibrant life. Do you think so or am I missing the mark?

Marcia Chatelain:
No, I think that health disparity, life expectancy, chronic disease is absolutely important to think about, but I guess what I would offer is, on the level of interventions and engagement, where do you meet people? Do you meet people in a place and saying, “Well, everything that you’re eating is garbage and you enjoy it”? That’s not going to work. No one wants to hear that. No one needs to be treated that way. The question is, what are the opportunities in community, what are the opportunities and family, what are the opportunities in everyday life to create a variety of experiences around food?

Marcia Chatelain:
And I think that this is about the context we’re coming from. As a medical professional, you have to get people to change behaviors, and as a historian, my job is to contextualize human behavior to put it in a place and a setting. And I think that in the middle of that are ways for us to think about there are histories that are tied to food that are sources of pride and sources of places in which people point to say, “This is something I’m proud of,” or, “This is something that is part of a legacy,” and I think what I’m reacting to is the possibility that comes in recognizing that even as there is a desire to change that relationship.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
For sure. I’m Jewish and certainly some of the stuff that we eat is not that healthy, but it’s part of our cultural tradition and we do it in special holidays. It’s not an everyday thing. And I think the challenges that we really have to change the structural conditions from a policy level down and we also have to name the problem. And I think you did a great job of bringing these issues out in your book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America because very few people in my perspective are talking about this. Very few people are actually talking about food racism or food apartheid or the inequity in our food system that’s driving and perpetuating inequality across our society.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And I think that that’s what really drives me to start to think about these things which is, “What are the steps we need to take?” And you mentioned, obviously, things like the basic social safety net, healthcare, education and a basic living wage, but those things are really changing to put forth in our current political environment. And I’m wondering, from your perspective, from a historical context, what are the things we can start to do as individuals, as families, as communities, as business owners if we own businesses, as voters and citizens, what can we do to start to move this in the right direction? Because from my view, this is getting worse and worse. We’re seeing worsening rates of all these diseases, despite the best medical care and I think it’s because we haven’t dealt with the unknown root causes which you elucidated in your book.

Marcia Chatelain:
Yeah, I think it’s about changing relationships to systems, so that people could actually trust systems and believe that there’s something there for them. I was having an interesting conversation with my husband about vaccine hesitancy. There’s all sorts of theories about why people don’t want to get vaccinated, why they do want to get vaccinated. There’s a lot there and I’m actually not that interested in that conversation, but he said something that that was interesting. He said, “One of the things that medical professionals and people from the CDC keep saying is, ‘If you have any questions about the vaccine, go talk to your doctor.'” And I said, “Who has a doctor?”

Marcia Chatelain:
I’m a professional in my early 40s, I don’t really have a good primary care doctor where if I had a medical concern, “This person is who I trust.” Occasionally, I’ve gotten good doctors here and there, they move, something happens. My dermatologist I see every six months, but a doctor that I have a good relationship with, that I feel like … I don’t know who does. And so just that framing that there are institutions and that there are people you can turn to when you are in a moment of indecision or hesitation, I thought, “Who is this advice for? I have excellent healthcare, I don’t have that. So who is this imagined doctor?”

Marcia Chatelain:
And so in the same way, who do you trust to make important life decisions with, I think we’re a society where we don’t have that on so many levels. And so strengthening our institutions, strengthening the care that our institutions provide, I think will transform the ways that people walk into the world. And if they feel like there’s actually a human that they can get good information from and so I think it’s an all these places. There’s something going on with my kid, my kid’s teacher might be good this year. The next year, the teacher may be checked out or the school might be running really well this year, and then next year, something happens. It’s the inconsistency.

Marcia Chatelain:
And so what happens is media starts to fill that gap, and depending on what part of the internet you’re living on, it can be real good or can be real bad. So I think it’s about trying to create trusting structures on the local level within our communities that are down the street that we can actually believe in. And I think it’s a crisis of community in many ways.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think you’re right. I think this is a community issue. So one of the closing questions that really I had for you which is that we are in a sense in this unique moment in history where there’s an increasing awareness of racism and structural racism and the Black Lives Matter Movement, but you say in your book that fast food now more than ever before is a battlefield in the fight for racial injustice. So how do you connect the dots on that for us and how do we how do we start to bring that into the discourse, because to me, unless we name the problem and create awareness of it, we can’t solve it?

Marcia Chatelain:
Absolutely, I think what happened, in the same ways that in the 1960s, the fast food industry coopted the ideas of civil rights to implant themselves as the extension of Dr. King’s dreams, we are now in an era because of so many reactive responses to talking about racial injustice that the racism is now just embedded. It’s a hidden part of how the structure operates, the rules that are made, the people who are engaged, the people who are left out. And so I think that at its most basic level, wherever I am and whoever I’m talking to, I ask people, “What do you want for yourself? What would you want for yourself?” Most people want long life. They want a place to live. They want opportunities for their family and community. Most people want that.

Marcia Chatelain:
And so you can say, “If you want that, if someone else wants that, how does that make you feel?” And someone’s like, “I don’t care if someone else wants that.” “Okay, well, how are you going to want that together?” Because this idea that we can innovate, we can earn, we can privatize our way out of social problems, it’s not going to happen. Trust me, there’s been a deep attempt with COVID to try to buy your way out of this problem, but at the end of the day, it’s on everyone. And so I think that we have this incredible opportunity, I think especially with the pandemic, to get people into a place of healing and empathy to say, “If this is what you want for yourself, how do you get it for yourself and how do you get it for your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor?”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think that’s a beautiful closing thought. Really, we have to work in community to solve our collective problems. And I think the overemphasis on American individualism has prevented a lot of the thinking that actually is needed to solve our social issues. And the idea of trickledown economics, of the invisible hand, of entrepreneurship and innovation solving all our problems, it’s good for a lot of stuff, but it ain’t good for things like this, which really to me, the whole idea of a free market and a free market capitalism as what we have is a joke. We really don’t. We have a whole bunch of incentives and policies that support corporations to do the wrong thing and people to not be able to access the right thing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so part of the story is, “How do we make the right choice, the easy choice, the healthy choice and the unhealthy choice, the hard choice?” That’s really the question. And like you said, it’s really embedded in a much larger context of the entire supply chain of the food system, all the policies and everything else that’s embedded in, and of course, all the other issues around racism. This is just one sliver of it, but I think it’s an important one and I think my hope is that this is going to become more of an awareness within these communities and then they’re going to stand up and go, “Oh, hell no. No.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There’s a really great book, I don’t know if you saw it, called Join the Club by Tina Rosenberg who’s a New York Times reporter, and essentially, it’s about how change happens through the power of community. She talked about all across the world where this happens. She talked particularly about kids where they woke up to the fact that the tobacco industry was manipulating them and targeting them through things like Joe Campbell and they created a campaign called Rage Against The haze. And they actually were anti-smoking, where a lot of kids are into smoking. So how do we create that kind of a movement, almost akin to the civil rights movement that includes this conversation about food? That’s what I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Marcia Chatelain:
I think it’s happening. I think in small ways, Oakland Food Collective, I think DC Greens here in DC, I think it’s happening in the small scale. I think that there are groups that, especially again with COVID, are creating mutual aid networks that are thinking about food and doing the work. I think it’s hard to scale up, but I think that when you have a community where there’s multiple models of how people are getting their needs met, you can draw people in to one that is responsive and thoughtful. I think that the future has a lot of hope in it because I think that there’s a lot of people who are really bringing their creativity and saying that, “You don’t have to do it any one way.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I agree. I actually feel hopeful. I see a rising tide of consciousness and awareness in conversations and pockets of innovation like you mentioned Karen Washington in New York City and gardens and farms and the Oakland Food Collective you mentioned and many other groups that are starting to try to bring this like Ron Finley in LA with his Gangsta Gardener and Urban Food Forest. So there’s definitely things happening that are raising awareness. So this is not going to be an easy fix, but I think your book is an important contribution to understanding the role of food and civil rights and racism in America. And I just can’t thank you enough for writing the book and bringing that to our attention. And my God, congratulations for winning the Pulitzer Prize. That is [inaudible 00:58:47].

Marcia Chatelain:
Thank you.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Really. Keep up the good work. I can’t see what you’re up to next. Everybody should definitely get a copy of this book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America. It’s available everywhere you get books. Check out Marcia Chatelain’s work. She’s got a lot of stuff going on. And where can they find out more about you and your work?

Marcia Chatelain:
You can follow me on the socials. I’m on Twitter @DrMChatelain, Instagram and my website, marciachatelain.com and I have a newsletter on Substack called Your Favorite Prof where I talk about the fast food industry, teaching and ways that we can imagine a better world.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thank you and I subscribed to it. So I encourage everybody to subscribe to it. And thank you so much for what you’ve done and raising awareness. For all those you listening, if you love this podcast, share with your friends and family. Leave a comment. We’d love to know what you think about this conversation and how it’s impacted you and made you think. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Closing:
Hi, everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search there Find a Practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner and can help you make changes especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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