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Mykki Blanco on Nutritional Classism

Photo by Benedict Brink

I came across an interesting interview with Mykki Blanco during the week in which he discusses what health means to him and issues such as nutritional classism and nutritional racism. I’m a fan of his music and found it very interesting to read about how his HIV diagnosis has impacted his life and made him more aware of the effect healthy food can have on his body.

There are things that I’ve done healthwise — like become a fanatic about raw garlic or wheatgrass or blueberries or about fasting — because I’ve seen what they’ve done for my overall health.

Blanco discusses how he went from being a teenager who thought the idea of living fast and dying young was cool, to someone who believes in wisdom and wishes, not just to survive, but to thrive. He describes how touring has made him aware of the body’s ability to repair itself, but also the amount of damage we can do to our bodies.

I tried to be vegan, but I didn’t last long enough because I didn’t really give myself the time I needed for my body to adjust. I mean, not to go on a tangent about veganism, but being vegan is actually, in my opinion, one of the most healthy ways you can be. I want to get there one day soon, but I just need to figure out the discipline.

I found this quote particularly interesting as it echoes my own ideas and experiences when speaking to others who have tried or would like to try a vegan diet. Blanco hits the nail on the head I think, when he acknowledges that he didn’t give himself enough time to adjust to the lifestyle. I admire anyone who tries to eat less meat, or less dairy at all. Everyone is different, and cutting out meat is much more of a challenge for some people than it is for others. I find it inspiring that Blanco still wants to ‘figure out’ veganism.

I wish that the conversations about nutritional racism and nutritional classism had entered the mainstream already. That is a real thing that affects Hispanic Americans, African Americans, white Americans who live in Appalachia — places where the government and the economy just forgets our citizens. It’s a fucking epidemic.

It’s easy to ignore or forget the fact that many people advocating vegan lifestyles are privileged people with the money to buy expensive substitutions for meat. I don’t exclude myself from that. I am lucky enough to live in Europe where I have access to high-quality fresh produce. Too often people struck by poverty are blamed for not eating healthy, as if it’s actually their fault. Until a few years ago, I didn’t realise that there are places in America where people simply do not have access to shops that sell wholefoods. We’re talking, basic foods like fruits and vegetables. I find that shocking. America is referred to by its citizens as the ‘greatest’ country in the world, yet there exists extreme poverty and huge stress on an inaccessible healthcare system. If ‘your health is your wealth’, then I cannot see how America is a wealthy country. I admire Blanco for raising this issue and challenging the mainstream media to start a discourse about nutritional racism.

It’s sad that other countries literally taunt us about the fact that we think that we’re such a superpower and we poison our citizens with the quality of our food because we’re more concerned with making money than the health of our citizens.

Blanco further explains the lack of knowledge about healthy food amongst certain minority communities in America and sums it up succinctly;

And people are like, “Oh well, it’s just cultural.” But it’s not cultural, it’s fucking classism

The more we hear influencers like Blanco discussing health and issues like nutritional classism, the more familiar the public will become with the problems many Americans face. Hopefully people will begin to understand that not everyone has access to nutrition and that eating healthy is not always a choice. It seems to me that for far too many Americans, the choice is between eating unhealthy foods, or simply not eating. I think privileged people look down on people, who can’t afford or can’t access healthy food, and imagine scenarios where these people are deliberately choosing to eat unhealthy food. That’s not the case.

In America if you become ill for any reason — and not even seriously ill — there’s such an apprehension to seek care because you know that it’s gonna be expensive. You know somehow it’s gonna put you into debt. So you get sicker or you figure out a way to make it work, but the level of stress that you’re put under as a citizen who is already feeling ill is just nuts.

Blanco highlights a vicious circle that American people are facing. People are living in poverty, unable to access nutritious food to keep themselves healthy and then unable to access treatment when they become sick. Growing up in Ireland, I learned to be very critical of our health system. There was a time when there was nowhere near enough beds for patients (which may still be the case to a degree), and there were headlines about patients being kept on trolleys in hospital corridors instead of in beds on wards. Learning about the health system in America, however, makes me less critical of the Irish one.

Finally, I find this quote from Blanco very poignant;

Really the way that I navigate the American health care system is to do everything I can to avoid it. I literally do everything that I can to keep my body and my mind healthy so that I can avoid going to the doctor or avoid actually engaging with the health care system because it’s so fucked.

Perhaps this is a rather bleak note to end this post on, but I’m not writing this blog for it to be just aesthetically-pleasing and superficial. I want my content to be engaging and topical, and to raise interesting questions. I have opinions and I like airing them because I believe these issues must be discussed if they are to be changed.

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