Wellness and Social Justice
Wellness has always been about choice for me. What I eat, the amount I exercise, the time I devote to self-care and yoga; these are all within my control. If I’m not in good health, it’s my own fault. When I mindlessly go through daily life, I assume it’s this way for everyone. Deep down I know better, but I often live as though the perspective ingrained in me since childhood is a universal truth. Everyone can be healthy if they make the right choices.
My adult experiences have taught me that food justice and social justice are inextricable linked. I studied sustainable food systems in graduate school and have been involved in healthy, accessible food projects for a decade. Then my son was born two and a half years ago and I retreated into a bubble of personal wellness, focusing on yoga and cooking for my family. Food justice advocacy fell off my radar. My bubble popped recently at the Sound Food Uprising Summit - a gathering of regional and national thought leaders working together to change the demand for unhealthy food in Puget Sound through education, cooking and advocacy. To help kickoff the event, Dr Ben Danielson, a Seattle pediatrician, took the stage. “Wellness is more than what we control,” he said. Wellness is related to social equity and behavioral health. Food justice isn’t just A social justice issue. It’s THE social justice issue.
Did you know about the 14-year life expectancy gap in the Seattle area? I didn’t. Based on where I’ve lived in this city, I will likely live a lot longer than other residents who, for a myriad of reasons beyond their control, call other neighborhoods home. We’re not talking about other parts of the United States or the world, we’re talking about the Pacific Northwest, a region we generally identify as healthy.
Food justice has to be inclusive of both Seattles. While I don’t believe in silver bullets and I'm wary of one-size-fits-all solutions, I do think we’ve got to start somewhere. The Beecher’s Foundation has been working since 2006 to increase kids’ awareness about healthy food through the Pure Food Kids Workshop, a no-cost, commercial-free food education class for 4th and 5th grade students that equip students with information and skills to make healthy food choices for life. To date, more than 120,000 students have completed the Pure Food Kids Workshop and have become “food detectives.”
This year, Beecher’s launched the Sound Food Uprising - a ten-year campaign to change how Puget Sound eats through food, cooking and consumer education. The campaign’s goal is to dramatically reduce the supply of overly processed, heavily sugared, additive-laden food in the Puget Sound region by shifting demand through education, public relations and community engagement.
Rebekah Papé is a writer, yoga teacher and The Riveter member. She consults on food systems projects and co-founded The Seattle Digest to support dialogue around the intersection of food and community for health and wellbeing.
Photos taken by Morgan Schuler and provided by The Beecher’s Foundation.