As Ward 8 residents continue to bury loved ones, young and old, who have succumbed to acts of violence, dialogue about how to prevent future deaths continues, with increasing police presence, dispatching violence interrupters, and expanding enrichment programs often touted as key solutions.
However, the organizers behind a burgeoning grassroots movement to curb violent crime argue that the answer to violence reduction lies in recognizing the connection between poor diet and deficient cognitive abilities that make conflict resolution nearly impossible in low-income communities with few, if any, healthy food options.
“Bad nutrition doesn’t allow people to develop like they would if nutritious food was a dietary staple,” said Stuart Anderson, Ward 8 resident and principal coordinator of the Don’t Mute My Health Movement.
Anderson launched Don’t Mute My Health in conjunction with community food education nonprofit The Green Scheme in late June as a follow-up to a community grocery walk he and food justice nonprofit DC Greens hosted two years prior.
In organizing Don’t Mute My Health, Anderson expressed a desire to draft a ten-point platform by the end of the summer that articulates Ward 8 residents’ concerns about food access. That project started on Saturday when he facilitated a conversation about the meaning of Don’t Mute My Health during a community event at Check-It Enterprises that featured the Future Band as the headline act.
Organizing around Don’t Mute My Health will continue on the corner of Wheeler Road and Valley Avenue in Southeast on August 17 during a back-to-school event. During another function on Aug. 19, people at the African-American Civil War Museum in Northwest will discuss yoga as a life-saving measure. Anderson also announced plans of hosting an intergenerational dialogue on August 24 where elders can reflect on the gradual downgrade in food quality over the decades, particularly with the takeover of sugar as a staple ingredient.
“We gravitate toward items with high sugar content. It’s the first addictive habit we develop,” Anderson said, at times stressing that quality of food intake dictates how people respond to trauma. “Don’t Mute My Health is about all of that: access to grocery stores. It’s an expansion that lasers in on stuff that can help change our community culture.”
During the Grocery Walk in 2017, More than 500 people wielding colorful signs marched two miles to the Giant Food on Alabama Avenue, Ward 8’s only supermarket, as a demonstration of the struggle some residents endure for groceries. The event reaffirmed the reality that people often rely on proximate corner stores, chock-full of food high in sugar, salt, and preservatives, as a source of sustenance.
Such an inequity poses significant health consequences.
A Virginia Commonwealth University study last year found that residents of upper Northwest live at least 15 years longer than their counterparts east of the Anacostia River. Compared to Northwest which boasts a litany of walkable grocery stores, Wards 7 and 8 have only three supermarkets for more than 150,000 people. In May, the Fresh Food Factory celebrated its opening in the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road. Earlier this year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and others broke ground on a Good Foods Market on South Capitol Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Within the same time period, Ward 8 experienced double-digit murders, including those of 15-year-old Maurice Scott and 11-year-old Karon Brown, indicative of the link between food insecurity and violence that Clemson University researchers highlighted in their 2016 report. That document likened conditions in American food deserts to that of conflict zones in third-world countries.
That’s why for Don’t Mute My Health organizer Ronnie Webb, time is of the essence in organizing D.C. residents around food security in a manner similar to how Don’t Mute DC has advocated for the preservation of go-go.
Webb, founder of the Green Scheme, said both movements give people more latitude to address matters dealing with their livelihood.
“We’re getting people excited about their health, [whether it’s] exercising, not eating meat, or drinking more water,” said Webb, who sat at the table with Anderson and DC Greens shortly after the Grocery Walk.
Later this year, the Green Scheme and DC Greens will operate a farm in Oxon Run Park. This project follows the Green Scheme’s previous endeavors at Lincoln Heights and Lederer Gardens in Northeast, and Stanton Elementary in Southeast.
“We want to get people connected to advocacy for health, and help them make an impact with ‘Don’t Mute My Health’ as a convening space to do so,” Webb said. “There is a gap in the health between residents of the upper wards, compared to Ward 8. We’re in the middle of a food apartheid.”