WASHINGTON, DC—Meet the activist who wants the Biden Administration to adopt a Food Bill of Rights, to be more inclusive of Black Americans when adapting our nation’s food and nutrition policies, and to challenge our leaders to be transparent about the importance of food & nutrition.
Just as our government is run by a democratic process, Tambra Raye Stevenson knows Black women must have a seat at the table of our food democracy for us to have our say in what’s on the menu in our own homes and in our local markets.
Tambra Raye Stevenson is the founder of WANDA, an acronym for Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics, and Agriculture. Launched on International Women’s Day in 2016 and based in Washington, DC, WANDA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen economically disenfranchised communities by the power of Black women leading in revitalizing our food systems through education, advocacy, and innovation. Appointed to the USDA NAREEE Advisory Board and the DC Food Policy Council, Tambra has a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Public Health degree from Tufts University School of Medicine. She is the principal author of the Black Health Bill of Rights for the Council on Black Health.
Food is Cultural.
Black men and women of the African Diaspora consume a diet based on cultural traditions passed down over generations. Yet, cultural foods are rarely researched to understand the health benefits, and instead of being required as part of a broader curriculum, cultural foods are often shamed by medical schools and omitted from dietetic programs. Meanwhile, African Americans inform their primary care doctors of family health history, impacted by chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, renal failure, cancer, and high blood pressure. Genetics play a factor, but the real culprit behind these health conditions may be discriminatory practices within our nation’s food systems and the Standard American diet, compounded by food policies that values profit over people and the planet.
Across the country, WANDA hosts signature Sisterhood Suppers, allowing women to gather as a collective and discuss how to take action to transform what’s on their kitchen tables. In June of 2022, at a WANDA Sisterhood Supper organized for Juneteenth, one member, a grandmother, shared, “I think a Food Bill of Rights is just like the human bill of rights. It’s a necessity! I think that if we can recite our Food Bill of Rights, then we can stand up for what we’re supposed to have.”
Food is Power.
Historically and thanks to Redlining practices, Black neighborhoods have inherited long-term effects of unequal distribution of resources, ranging from poor quality foods, inferior public education systems, and substandard housing due to discriminatory policies. The policies that determine where grocery markets should be placed and how healthy food resources are disbursed is predicated on who holds the power and how they choose to retain control through their decision and the policies they create.
Food deserts are just one result of these policies. The USDA defines a food desert as a place where at least a third of the population lives greater than one mile away from a supermarket for urban areas or greater than 10 miles for rural areas. By this definition, about 19 million people in America live in a food desert. Our nation has not solved the issue of food deserts which is an appendage of the food apartheid—an obesogenic environment structurally designed based on race, income, and geography—experienced in most underserved areas.
Nutrition-related illnesses are more common among members of some racial and ethnic minority groups and groups with lower socioeconomic status. A 2013 report from the National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information [NCBI] confirms that cognitive development is influenced in part by nutrition.
According to the CDC, diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, more aggressively impacts Native Americans and Black Americans. In this country, both ethnic groups have been uprooted from their ancestral regions, culture, and the original diet.
Research has supported the correlation between the foods we eat and our medical conditions that impact the Black community, namely diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Few Americans understand how to read food labels or get confused by inept food and nutrition policies. For instance, policies have subsidized foods that increase healthcare spending or the 1990s Food Pyramid that encouraged Americans to indulge by recommending up to twelve servings of bread and starches for a ‘healthy diet.’
Food is also Medicine.
Just as a diet based on processed foods, loaded with sodium, white starches, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial sweeteners, nitrates, and saturated fats can impact health, changing eating habits—a diet rich in raw green leafy vegetables, healthy fats like Avocado, Omega-3s, and spices like Ginger and Turmeric—can improve how we feel overall. However, those without access to affordable and nutritious food, culturally competent providers, and education remain vulnerable.
So what’s on the Menu?
The White House has slated the nation’s Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health for September 28, 2022.
On WANDA’s agenda is the adoption of a Food Bill of Rights at this upcoming 2nd ever White House conference. WANDA would also like the opportunity to address the lack of inclusion: Black women who lead households are not and have not been included in policy making and leadership in constructing our nation’s food system.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) is one policymaker who thinks that should change. “I believe Black women are keenly poised to be knowledgeable not only to lead and make policy but to embrace other women and to be able to give other women the confidence they need,” she shared during a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill this summer. “Let us unite to come to the table to share your genius and embrace all women so that we can be the voices that direct this policy for our children and families,”
In a recent listening session by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Tambra discussed ‘the elephant in the room’ in 1969 during the Nixon administration.
An embarrassing CBS Special Report exposed that America, ‘the Superpower’ and greatest country in the world, was grappling with widespread hunger and malnutrition. The news feature, having just garnered a Peabody Award, prompted Congress to act. South Dakota Senator George McGovern offered a resolution that passed a new senate committee to learn more about hunger and malnutrition in the U.S.
This White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health provides a critical chapter in our nation’s food history. Who is at the table may determine what foods we can access and eat. This summer, WANDA sent the White House Conference conveners a policy report that included the Food Bill of Rights and contributed to the recently released Task Force report to preempt further embarrassment by granting all Americans equal access to an affordable and nutritious diet and resources.
WANDA membership is composed of women leaders, advocates, and entrepreneurs working to transform our food system for the better. WANDA is committed to pushing agricultural, food, and nutrition policies forward by working with groups like the DC Branch of NAACP, Food Tank, the Task Force on Informing the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, and Black Ladies in Public Health, along with other allied groups to share the experiences and recommendations to address the food and nutrition crisis here in the United States.
WANDA’s Asks the White House Hunger Conference Organizers
1. Adopt a Food Bill of Rights
2. Create a White House Nutrition Security Council
3. Modernize Nutrition Communication, Education, and Extension Programs
4. Include Nutrition and Public Health in Loan Repayment Programs
5. Expand Medical Nutrition Therapy Coverage
6. Ensure Equitable Research Funding and Reporting
While food is medicine, food has always been our birthright. WANDA aims to shift the power back to those that matter, ‘we, the people,’ so that all people can access good nutrition. A bag of potato chips should never be cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables. Tambra explains, “The only way to determine the future of food and nutrition policy is by having a seat at the table and coming onboard while the doors are still open. Who knows? We may not get this chance again for another 50 years.”
This Conference is just the beginning. Share your feedback on the Food Bill of Rights and other proposed recommendations by completing the State of Food Democracy Survey. Get involved now by signing the petition in support of a Food Bill of Rights. Learn more about how WANDA strives to make food in America better for everyone by visiting online at http://iamwanda.org/foodbillofrights.