African American Food Matters

Tasha Banks, "Food Matters."

Tasha Banks, “Food Matters.”

Tasha Banks had some startling statistics and a heart felt perspective to share during her Food Matters talk at the Carver Museum last night.  I met Tasha in 2006.  We were in Yoga Yoga’s hatha teacher training cohort that year.

Since then, Tasha has been to Scotland to earn her Master of Science degree in Global Health and Medical Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh. When she arrived back in Austin last year, Tasha hit the ground running and is now settling into the rhythms of a new job.  She served as Development and Communications Associate for Urban Roots and is now charged with managing a cornucopia of programs at The Amala Foundation, an Austin-based humanitarian service organization.

Tasha tells her family’s east Texas food story with photographs of abundant feasts — Sunday dinners that nourished her soul with a feeling of home.  Tasha embraces the love gift of her ancestors represented in those meals.  When she goes home, she recognizes the smell of food cooking on the stove as the sign of love and belonging.  She knows that the delicious and beautiful buffet of meats, breads, and desserts is wonderful on these special occasions.  She also knows that on a regular basis food high in carbohydrates, fats, and sugars can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In 2001, Tasha lost her beloved father who was just 55 years old. She had enjoyed a close relationship with him especially around their connections to the outdoors, nature, and…cooking.  Like other family members, Tasha’s dad suffered from diabetes and heart disease.  Her loss set Tasha on a path of health, healing, and well-being.  She shared with us what she discovered.

Tasha’s collection of research shows cause for alarm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans suffer heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes in highly disproportional percentages compared to White Americans. In Travis County, 24% of all adults are obese.  That is, all ethnicities combined — and is an alarming statistic for the entire population to consider.  Also, for us all to consider — 41.7% of African Americans are obese — that’s a disproportionately high number of people for a condition associated with diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and early death.

Why do our African American brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers suffer from these diseases at such high rates?

Tasha explains the main causes:

  • Poverty.  Unhealthy food is more affordable and available.  Healthy food often costs more.
  • Health Insurance Rates.  Low income people, the highest percentage of which are people of color, can’t afford proper health care.
  • Housing.  Much of an individual or family’s income goes toward keeping a roof over one’s head for low income people in central Texas.
  • Less Access to Grocery Stores and Parks.
  • Discrimination in Treatment by Medical Professionals.
  • History of Institutionalized Racism.

Institutionalized racism can cause internalized racism. This is the most heart-breaking piece of Tasha’s story.  Tasha observes a resignation in her people that sounds like a murmur of the word sugar — “Aunt Betty isn’t feeling well.  Oh, she’s got a little sugar.”  Resignation means that these health conditions are felt as inevitable for many African Americans.

Tasha believes that African Americans can be healthier and live longer lives.

What can Austinites do about the epidemics of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes?

First and foremost, we can work on undoing racism in all of the many ways possible.

We can support the organizations in Austin that are actively working on positive support systems, that are combating food insecurity, teaching about growing, eating, and cooking healthy food, and the organizations and governmental bodies working toward developing public policies that will confront these problems such as Austin’s Sustainable Food Policy Board.  Tasha’s list:  Fresh Chefs Society, Urban Roots, Sustainable Food Center, Food for Black Thought, Us! – Blackshear Bridge, Lifeworks, American Youthworks, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Tecolote, and the supper clubs that are bringing people together to eat healthy and enjoy community unity!

Last night was a reunion for Tasha and me.  Last time we saw each other was in Angela DiNunzio‘s yoga class.  So Tasha has just heard about our central east Austin organization, Blackshear Bridge.  Maybe you’re hearing about our work for the first time?  Click here to read more about what we do.

For Blackshear Bridge, now is the time for white allies to look at the realities of institutionalized racism in Austin, keep working with our partners, reach out to additional partners.  We are helping while staying out of the way and supporting as our African American brothers and sisters lead on this problem.

Thank you.

Blackshear Bridge is working on creating healthy sustainable food habits, verdant environments,
and sustainable systems in Central East Austin.  We welcome your help!  

In particular, we are looking for:

  • Treasurer to serve on our Board
  • Inch by Inch Volunteers to present occasional or weekly classes to elementary school students
  • Computer Systems Support Volunteer.

Soon we will also ask for a financial contribution via our Inch by Inch online funding campaign.

To help out, email Donna Hoffman, Blackshear Bridge, Sustainability Coordinator,

Or call 512-299-5776.  Thank you.  Love and health!  Donna

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