I flopped on the couch, picked up the remote, and turned on the television. I saw the classic Sprite commercial, the one where it introduced a Black family enjoying themselves at a family reunion cookout. Ah, the cookout, the staple of the Black community. I sat up straight with both feet on the floor, leaned my body forward, and stared deep into the soul of the TV. I look across the clouds to see patches of the most vibrant green grass. I see the uncles, great uncles, and so forth playing spades, slapping card after card on the wooden picnic table. I see the mothers, aunts, and so on cooking on the grill. I see the grandmothers making their way closer to the buffet line and proceeding to fix the plates, slapping the heaviest slop of macaroni and cheese and yams on the plates. A young girl picked up a Sprite from the cooler, admired it for a second, then popped it open and enjoyed the crisp taste. With that, the commercial ended. My amazement quickly turned into disappointment; I felt used.
I placed my head down shaking my head. I started to think about my family and how we were raised. Big-boned was what we were called as we picked up two cheese pizzas, wings, and a drink from our local pizza shop. We always grew up watching these unhealthy advertisements headlined by Black people being shoved into our faces. Fast food companies featured us, they made us feel special; yet they make weak attempts at relating to the Black struggle or Black culture as a whole. They try to relate to the Black stereotypes so in return big companies, like Sprite, gain the Black dollar. I thought to myself, I have never really seen Black people featured in healthy commercials, and all the healthy commercials showcased white families. That is a problem. Most people would watch this Sprite commercial and see a happy Black family but what I see is avaricious corporations using predacious advertising to exploit and prey on the Black community. Fast food companies are using predatory advertising to coerce members of the Black community.
Fast food companies try to emulate the greasy comfort food that soul food brings to the Black community. Soul food originated in the Deep South— places like Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi—and it is food that feeds more than the stomach, it touches the senses. The smell, the taste, the feel, the culture, it is all there. The mouth-watering, authentic food all started a little bit after slavery. Before, slaves were thrown little scraps of food, but once that ended, the former slaves began to explore the different sugars and spices and began making food for themselves and family. It was the symbol of “Black pride,” reclaiming years of oppression and mistreatment, and it is still being celebrated today.
It expanded, and eventually other races began making their version of soul food. In Andrea Freeman’s article, “Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition,” she highlights how soul food has inspired the CEOs of these fast-food companies to make food like soul food; Freeman states, “[In] 1996, studies found that twenty-eight percent of African Americans had poor quality diets, as compared to only sixteen percent of whites. Part of this shift can be attributed to culturally-identified cooking habits, such as deep frying and the use of fats in cooking. Fast food restaurants often cater to African American tastes by offering items reminiscent of soul food, such as fried chicken and fish” (Freeman 6).
Fast food companies in the South, especially, saw how crazy people would go for this kind of food, so they tried to emulate it. This came with pushing sixty-second commercials trying to show happy Black communities enjoying their version of sweet, savory foods. This is manipulating because it makes Black communities feel like fast food companies are enjoying the cultural food with them, when in reality, they are using us to promote and support their big multinational fast food chain. This puts more money into the CEOs’ pockets and less for the Black community for their own creation.
Former first lady, Mrs. Michelle Obama, saw this big business corruption–these food swamps. She saw our youth’s, especially Black children’s, rates of health problems and obesity go up. When stepping into power with her husband and our former president, she knew she had to do something, so she set a goal to reduce the rates of childhood obesity. Her Let’s Move! project focuses on all kids, but especially Black children, because numbers have proven that obesity rates are higher in Black children than any other race. In Michelle Duster’s article “Michelle Obama’s Impact on African American Women and Girls,” she notes that “the numbers are […] higher in African American […] communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese” (Duster 3). In her Let’s Move! vision, Mrs. Obama wanted to eliminate “food deserts” within seven years. According to her, “23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million kids, live in what we call ‘food deserts’ – these are areas without a supermarket” (Duster 10). Food deserts are sort of similar to food swamps, but with a food desert there are not any healthy supermarkets close by. They are so hard to obtain that they eventually turn into food swamps. This is a major problem because children do not have access to those healthy foods that they need; this eventually is accumulating unwanted fat in their bodies at such a young age. To fix this, Mrs. Obama tries to partner with Walmart to build more stores around these food deserts and increase organic food options. Yet Walmart is not taking this commitment seriously; they only plan on changing the food products. It is a complicated mash-up and a great attempt, but we are still in the same place from where we started—nowhere.
Systematic racism is well and alive when it comes to food oppression, and it plays a major role in where fast food industries are located. In more Black communities, there are rows of fast food restaurants lined up right beside each other: these rows of companies are called food swamps. One does not see this in a white, suburban community because of the amount of healthy supermarkets they have. These restaurants are purposely placed where they are because they know how to align with the Black consumers.
Peter James, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard University, realized there were higher cases of complex diseases, like obesity, coming from minorities and lower-income families. He and his team wanted to test the hypothesis to see who had closer access to these fast food restaurants by measuring the driving distance from each population to the closest top fast food restaurants; they found some startling results. He states, “predominantly black neighborhoods had higher access to fast-food while poverty was not an independent predictor of fast-food access” (James 10). This makes sense as to why fast food companies are aggressively pushing and advertising Black families, because they know this will create a higher demand for their product from the Black community: it is manipulation. In Naa Oyo A. Kwate’s article “Fried Chicken and Fresh Apples: Racial Segregation as a Fundamental Cause of Fast Food Density in Black Neighborhoods,” she talks about how the Black community is sought out by these fast food companies. It is all a business to them because she states, “Fast food operators clearly perceive ‘‘minorities’’ as a valuable market (Bunn, 1997;Perlik, 2005), and market their products to this population in a variety of media (Harrison, 2006; Tirodkar and Jain, 2003).” The Black community is purposely being attacked, it is evident. There is no big thought-out plan for white families in the suburbs; this is systematic racism. It just repeatedly shows the patterns of unjust history. No one seeks help for the Black communities in need, and it shows.
Fast food companies use Black creators, rappers, and athletes to promote their food. This is an old technique in the book because young Black kids admire these influencers, they want to be just like them, and fast food companies use this fascination to their advantage. It is not about the kids, it is about how the kids convince their parents to take them to the nearest fast food place. This promotes obesity. Obesity is a major problem for people in America, and it is pretty scary to think about. Blacks have the highest rates of obesity among any other group, and this is why. We are feeding our children poison and expecting them to grow. It does not make sense to have greasy hands on fresh apples. One cannot replace junk food with fresh fruits every day. It has to be taught from the beginning; it has to be fresh fruit over junk food every day. That is what we need, Black children need to be told that, so we can eventually eliminate fast food restaurants. They cannot use us for their advertisements when we no longer fund them, but it all starts within.
Growing up, I have seen it all. I have been taught to butter my biscuits with perfection, to add sugar to my grits to make them sweeter, to season my food to my liking. With this, I have gained a bit of weight, in fact, a lot of weight. Being a part of the class type I obesity rank, I realized I needed to take control of my health. I wanted to learn more about my body so I can take care of it. I wanted to love it properly, so I decided that when I grow up, I want to be a physical therapist. I want to learn about the muscles so I do not strain them: I want to learn about the bones so I do not break them. As a physical therapist, I have to be health-aware. I want to be able to help inspire young Black children, emphasizing that it is okay to take control of health. The media and the government are working hand and hand to work against us, but they will not win.
Duster, Michelle, et al. “Michelle Obama’s Impact on African American Women and Girls.” Sociology & Anthropology Faculty Book and Media Gallery, 65, 2018, https://digitalcommons.fairfield.edu/sociologyandanthropology-books/65
Freeman, Andrea. “Fast Food: Oppression through Poor Nutrition.” California Law Review, vol. 95, no. 6, 2007, pp. 2221–2260. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edshol&AN=edshol.hein.journals.calr95.73&site=eds-live&scope=site.
James, Peter, et al. “Do Minority and Poor Neighborhoods Have Higher Access to Fast-Food Restaurants in the United States?” Health & Place, vol. 29, 2014, 10-7. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.04.01
Kwate, Naa Oyo A. “Fried Chicken and Fresh Apples: Racial Segregation as a Fundamental Cause of Fast Food Density in Black Neighborhoods.” Health & Place, vol. 14, 2008, pp. 32-44. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2007.04.0011