Natural Foods Merchandiser

Healthy Food Can Empower the Poor

Martin Luther King III wants someday to become a vegetarian. He also longs for a world where poverty, racism and war have been erased.

These aims, he says, are not as unrelated as they seem. King believes an absence of healthy choices within low-income communities has helped sustain the vast divide between the rich and the poor and, in turn, the many social problems this rift has caused.

?A tremendous number of diseases disproportionately affect poor people and people of color,? he says. ?One of the ways to create a peaceful nation and world is to teach people about what they consume.? For King, becoming a vegetarian is something he now considers possible, thanks to the education he has received in recent years on nutrition and health, education that he says is grossly lacking among traditionally disenfranchised groups.

King, the keynote speaker at Natural Products Expo East 2004, plans to dedicate considerable time to talking about the connection between health and social justice. Even when armed with education, poor people still lack the financial resources to buy higher-priced organic and natural products, he says. Particularly in a nation where fast food is ubiquitous and cheap, it can be hard for people strapped for cash to maintain a healthy lifestyle. ?When you?re in a posture of survival, you can?t think about health and wellness,? he says. ?To really live healthy costs a lot of money.?

King, who became president and chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in January 2004, sees health education as part of the center?s mission to create the ?Beloved Community,? a term coined by philosopher Josiah Royce in the early 20th century and popularized by Martin Luther King Jr.. The ?Beloved Community? is a concept in which poverty, discrimination and war are replaced by peace, justice and equality. A human rights advocate, community activist and political leader, King has spent 20 years working to further his father?s vision.

In 1986, he was elected to the Fulton County, Ga., Board of Commissioners. He helped create legislation to regulate minority business participation, purify the county?s water sources and create more stringent hazardous waste requirements. In 1997, he was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization his father founded in 1957. As president, King convened hearings in 11 cities to address issues of racial profiling and police brutality. He also led an initiative to start gun buy-back programs in 15 cities. As a result, more than 10,000 guns were collected. Six years later, he took the place of his brother, Dexter Scott King, as president and CEO of the King Center. In addition to promoting the ?Beloved Community? through its programs and projects, the center also serves as a museum and library dedicated to the life and ideas of Martin Luther King Jr.

King thinks that if his father were alive today, he would be talking less about the right to eat at certain restaurants and more about the need to eat healthy food. ?With all of this country?s wealth and knowledge and ingenuity, it makes no sense for people not to be able to get decent food,? King says. ?I do believe that had he lived, my father would definitely have focused on this area.? In fact, the entire King family has become more focused on health. Dexter became a vegan 16 years ago, and his mother, Coretta, went on a vegetarian diet six years later at the age of 68. ?All of us are trying to eat more healthily than we did in the past,? says King.

He and his mother have also spent time at Sanoviv, a health resort in Mexico that provides conventional and alternative healing therapies and nutrition and fitness programs. ?They cater to the belief that if you get proper nutrition, your body will heal itself,? King says. ?All their food is organically grown, and, of course, there?s no meat.?

But while King is supportive of alternative medicine, he realizes that trips like his to Sanoviv aren?t financially feasible for most people. He also knows that organic and natural foods and products aren?t available to many people in the world who would benefit from them the most.

At this year?s Expo, King hopes to offer some solutions to the health problems caused by poverty. He will also challenge Expo attendees to make their products more accessible to all. ?How do we make healthy living cost-effective? Because masses of people cannot afford the products that are out there,? he says. ?There?s got to be a way to make all of this information and [these] products available to the masses at a reasonable rate.?

O?rya Hyde-Keller is a free-lance writer in Madison, Wis.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 38, 40

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