by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
A telephone interview I had a few weeks ago with an official from the US Department of Health and Human Services from the Chicago regional office has stayed with me.
I told the official I had just been on a one-week assignment covering the Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes. I told her how the Longest Walk 3 visited to Indian reservations in southern California and held forums on diabetes on its way across America. At each reservation, clinicians set up kiosks with full-color brochures with all the right information about healthy eating, eye care and foot care for those afflicted with diabetes.
Access to Healthy Food?
I further told the official, even with all the well-written information and material, somehow the “rubber is not hitting the pavement” when it comes to curbing diabetes in Indian Country. The rates of diabetes among American Indians should be in the decline. Unfortunately, on some Indian reservations, the incidences have doubled - and even tripled - during the past decade.
She told me prior to her assuming her position with HHS, she spent time in third-world countries and after seeing living conditions on Indian reservations, she found the conditions as bad, if not worse, than those of third-world living conditions.
It was her quote about eating habits that has stuck with me:
“You cannot expect American Indians to eat healthy when they don’t have access to healthy foods.”
Admittedly, I grew up as a Potawatomi in an urban setting - removed from reservation life. So, her point about access was somewhat confusing to me.
Then on a recent Saturday night, I rode six-miles from where the Longest Walk 3 - Reversing Diabetes was camping out to a trading post on the Navajo Nation. Set in a remote area, where there was not cell phone or internet service - at least not by Sprint.
I walked into the trading post, which at best, had convenience store prices. A half-gallon of milk cost $2.99. Back home, this is the cost of a gallon of milk. The cost of a pound of frozen ground beef was almost $6 per pound. Back home, the cost for ground beef is about half the price.
Two days later, I walked into another trading post in Fort Defiance. I saw the same thing. I saw the following prices for milk: $3.19 for a half-gallon and $5.29 for a gallon.
No one of us would go to a convenience store to buy our groceries on a weekly basis. The costs of doing so would be too cost prohibitive.
At the trading post in the remote area of Navajo Country, I talked to some people, they said the nearest grocery store is over an hour away. Navajo elders - senior citizens - with the high cost of gasoline have to pool their resources to get to the grocery store over an hour away.
While I do not suggest my two visits were scientific research, but it was the reality of what I witnessed as part of the Longest Walk 3, which visits Indian reservations with the goal of bringing awareness to the epidemic problem of diabetes among American Indians.
From what I could see the ownership of the trading post needs to re-evaluate what is stocked on the shelves. American Indians deserve opportunities to purchase healthy foods at favorable prices.
American Indians deserve access to healthy foods. American Indians deserve to be able to healthy eating.
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