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  November 20, 2015

Cancer-Causing Processed Meats Largely Affect Low Income Neighborhoods

According to a recent WHO study, processed meats cause cancer - but in many Baltimore neighborhoods, that's the only food that's available.
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ANGEL ELLIOTT, TRNN: I'm Angel Elliott for the Real News Network in Baltimore.

According to a study done by the World Health Organization, processed meats like bacon, sausage, and ham cause cancer. But in many Baltimore neighborhoods, like Sandtown-Winchester, there's limited access to fresh food. One in four Baltimore residents live in food deserts.

VIDEO: A "food desert" is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.

BREEZY, SANDTOWN-WINCHESTER RESIDENT: Like, what do we do? Because that's the only food that we have access to is fast food, fried food.

STEPHANIE HARRIS, SANDTOWN-WINCHESTER RESIDENT: What they have in there really is junk food, and like, fast foods. And you still have to pay an arm and a leg for that. It's nothing really healthy. They have some stuff [you call it] healthy. But then it's not no good, it's bad. Because nobody's really buying it, because it's too high.

ELLIOTT: But the lack of access to healthy food is just one symptom of a much deeper problem. People in Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods have life expectancies nearly two decades lower than Baltimore's wealthiest.

LAWRENCE BROWN, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: Food deserts, I think, really are a function of sort of the apartheid structure that we have in America. When you have disinvested, redlined communities then you don't have the investment from grocery stores, you don't have the investment from fitness facilities and other things that make people healthy.

ELLIOTT: The corner stores that dot these neighborhoods have exorbitantly high costs of food with little produce.

EARL WILLIAMS, JR. SANDTOWN-WINCHESTER RESIDENT: There stores are high--I don't know what we're buying, paying high prices for things that can cause us harm. You know, and I find, I personally find that to be ridiculous.

HARRIS: A lot of us, including me, we don't have transportation. We don't have car [inaud.] to get to the markets or pay for a [hack] to bring us back. We're not that fortunate, most of us. And it's really hard for those with kids, with little kids. It's hard to get somewhere to get fresh foods and whatnot. And on top of that, the prices that they charge us for what they do have is five times what we would pay at the market.

ELLIOTT: I'm here at a local grocery store that's about a five minute drive from Sandtown-Winchester, but many of the residents there, they have to take the bus. Here you have produce and pasta, say, for a dollar. But in their neighborhoods it costs five times that amount.

WILLIAMS: We don't have a market. We have to go all the way, like to Mondawmin or go out and to like, what is it that, the county. And that's crazy. Why do we have to go so far to go to a market? It's ridiculous.

ELLIOTT: The best way to understand the perils of processed food in neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester: to take a walk, or in this case a ride, in their shoes. I boarded the bus from the West Baltimore neighborhood to the closest grocery store that sells fresh produce at a fair price. That happened to be in Mondawmin. The time it took from waiting on the bus stop to arriving at the grocery store that's just two and a half miles away? An hour.

BROWN: In these neighborhoods we know people are struggling economically, struggling financially. So it's no easy undertaking. And so I think we do have to be very concerned about what's the health impact of living in a community where healthy, affordable food is not readily available.

ELLIOTT: And while the world's concern is cancer-causing bacon, perhaps what deserves more immediate attention is this: according to a study by University Purdue, University Indianapolis, higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke are evident in communities that are food deserts. Sandtown-Winchester has an excess prevalence of high blood pressure, or hypertension. They polled over 2,000 adults, and of those 30 percent had hypertension.

VIDEO: Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure.

BROWN: It's a very powerful concern, because hypertension is a risk factor for so many diseases, especially cardiometabolic. When we're talking about heart disease, when we're talking about kidney disease, when we're talking about anything that deals with the heart and blood.

ELLIOTT: Another study done by Baltimore City itself found Sandtown-Winchester ranks high among other Baltimore neighborhoods in heart disease and cancer-related deaths.

SPEAKER: Our bodies embody the impact of not only the neighborhoods in which we live but the foods that we eat.

WILLIAMS: They're holding us in and doing what they want to do to us, you know. And I don't think that's right.

ELLIOTT: And according to Prof. Brown, those diseases produce chronic stress that wear down the immune system and induce premature aging for the residents living in these redlined black communities.

BROWN: From everything including police brutality to violence that's within the community, these things sort of induce stress within our neighborhoods. But now we're learning that of course even the food we eat, especially if it's high in sodium, highly processed, you know, highly unnatural and artificial, that is also causing real issues in terms of the health of the community. So it's sort of a chain, a link between the communities in which we live, how they were structured historically, and then the impacts that are in our bodies right now.

ELLIOTT: One way to combat food deserts and health-related illness in low-income communities like Sandtown-Winchester? Brown says banks lending at a fair rate and giving money through the Community Reinvestment Act.

BROWN: Then it would help finance everything from what we're saying in terms of community gardens, it would help finance food co-ops, it would help finance worker-owned grocery stores, even. So that people would be able to finance and build up their own healthy food infrastructure.

WILLIAMS: They should drop some of their prices. And they need to bring food, real food, up in here. Stop giving us all this processed stuff. They know what it's doing to us. They don't care.

ELLIOTT: Reporting from Sandtown-Winchester, for the Real News Network, I'm Angel Elliott.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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