Season of Lent

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Limited access to nutritious food is common in U.S. communities that experience structural and institutional racism.

By Marlysa D. Gamblin

Black History Month is a time to celebrate the contributions of Black people across a variety of areas, and that includes individuals who’ve made significant contributions to fighting hunger.

This year, Bread for the World is honoring the work of Black leaders championing nutrition assistance. One of these is Rev. Jennifer Bailey, a Bread member in Greater Nashville, Tennessee, who assists members of her community to gain access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network, Bailey engages with faith leaders to challenge structural inequities in their communities, especially root causes that perpetuate malnutrition and hunger.

Other leaders are part of national and global nutrition networks assisting Black communities. The National Organization of Blacks in Dietetics and Nutrition over the last 50 years has championed best practices and policies to ensure racially equitable access to healthy food. The African American Breastfeeding Network was establish established in 2008 to provide racially sensitive breastfeeding supportive tools and community supports to strengthen nutrition outcomes for African American women, infant, and children. The African Union, a network of 55 African countries established in 2002, recently developed the Africa Regional Nutrition Strategy that outlines how to address malnutrition.

As countless studies show, nutrition is a critical determinant of our ability to survive and thrive. And while it often gets less attention, improving access to nutrient-rich foods is inseparable from the goal of ending hunger. Poor nutrition is harmful to children’s physical and cognitive development, and is a predictor of chronic illness in adulthood, leading to higher rates of depression, high blood pressure, and diabetes among other conditions. All of these put people at greater risk of hunger.

Limited access to nutritious food is common in U.S. communities that experience structural and institutional racism—making the commitment of Black leaders to improve access and simultaneously address the root cause of racism a superb reason to celebrate their contributions.

Honoring Black leaders who have championed nutrition in the United States is especially relevant this year, as we observe the Quad-Centennial—the 400-year anniversary marking the arrival of enslaved Angolans who were taken to Jamestown, Virginia. The anniversary allows us to honor the resilience Black communities while acknowledging how the practice of enslaving them led to the policy of slavery in Virginia and later on the federal level.  

Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor for policies and programs for specific populations at Bread for the World Institute.

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