The more you follow the news about childhood obesity, the more unusual facts you learn. For instance, think of all the fruit and vegetables eaten by the Americans. An awful lot of that farm produce is grown in the “nation’s salad bowl.” Yet the San Joaquin Valley is California’s worst locale in terms of “food security.” Food security occurs when food is available and accessible — in other words, it’s not only around, but people can afford it. Food security is when people are neither hungry nor at risk of starvation. Food insecurity is the opposite, and that’s what they have in this bountiful agricultural area.
One of the strange things about the childhood obesity epidemic is that food insecurity often coincides with obesity, in the same ethnic groups. The minorities who often live below the poverty line, blacks and Hispanics, are the same groups where obesity thrives. At the same time, many people in these same groups don’t have enough to eat. Even more strange is the fact that many individuals are simultaneously obese and malnourished.
A lot of oil comes from the San Joaquin Valley, too, but all the money from that goes to a few people. Everybody else gets air pollution officially recognized as equal to the rankest smog of Los Angeles. The population of the bioregion is heavily Latino; with a large assortment of recently arrived and barely assimilated Europeans and Asians; and a sizable black population; and plenty of descendants of “Oakies and Arkies” whose families sought a better life on the coast back in the 1930s. Stockton, the large city mentioned here, is home to many Filipinos.
Recently, an event was organized at the facility operated by the Community Partnership for Families. It was made possible by PhotoVoice, an international charity whose purpose is to teach disadvantaged and marginalised people to record their experiences, via photos and narratives, as a tool for advancing social change. Joe Goldeen, staff writer for the Record, tells us what he learned at this presentation made by teenagers:
In southeast Stockton, when a youth goes to a corner grocery store, chances are he or she won’t find fresh fruit and vegetables. What’s prevalent instead? Sugared sodas, candy and chips — all hawked up front, all devoid of good nutritional value and all with ingredients that contribute to childhood obesity and, often times, diabetes.
Southeast Stockton is a neighborhood of blight and crime, abandoned vehicles, poorly maintained public spaces, vandalism, and deprivation in the midst of plenty. Way back in 2004, National Public Radio did a show exposing the prevalence of junk food in southeast Stockton, along with a scarcity of healthful food choices, and apparently the situation has not changed since then. It is what some call a “food desert.”
Seventeen-year-old Jacqueline Acosta intends to put together a presentation for elementary school kids, to give them information about sugar-sweetened drinks. Acosta says:
I’ve given up sodas since Nov. 14. I seriously found no need to have soda and chips in my system. During Lent, I gave up candy and it lasted until Halloween. I’ve been drinking V8 juices and more water and stuff. I don’t feel a need for sugar.
Acosta belongs to a group called the Anti-Obesity Krew, or A-OK. These teens already tackled one problem, Williams Brotherhood Park, which had become a gathering ground for gang members and a frightening place for children and worried parents. The A-OK kids painted over all the graffiti and reclaimed the park. Why? Because children need at least an hour a day of active play, and they can’t get it if their park is all messed up.