Building Healthy Communities with Michelle Obama
On this day last week I was at New Roots Farm, a community owned and run patch of acreage incongruously located at a major intersection cutting through a low-income neighborhood, that produces fresh produce for residents of City Heights, in San Diego. First Lady Michelle Obama was about to arrive from Mexico, to launch her childhod obesity prevention "Let's Move" campaign in California in conjunction with The California Endowment's 10-year Building Health Communities Initiative. As we waited for the festivities, we heard how Somali, Kenyan, Rhodesian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants started the farm because there was no fresh produce available in the "food deserts" of City Heights and many urban neighborhoods like it throughout California.
In introducing the First Lady, TCE President Dr. Robert Ross spoke about how place and prevention matters in improving health; Mrs. Obama described how the Let's Move campaign had one simple message: "that healthy children come from healthy environments". I watched the children and farmers from the community smile proudly as their accomplishments were recognized, giving them uncomparable validation and encouragement from leaders who looked like them and grew up in similar urban settings. I recalled how my parents grew fresh vegetables and fruits in our backyard for our daily meals; "growing locally" out of necessity, and composting before it was considered "green living". As I grew older, I became increasingly uneasy about bringing friends over to eat with the family, not just because we ate filipino food and they didn't, but because we ate products from our garden and not from the supermarket like they did. No canned goods, no snack foods or soda, little fatty meat or packaged meals. Fresh home cooked food every night, dinner around the table (to my dad's chagrin--7 females to 1 male--unfair odds). I didn't realize then we were living healthy because I was embarrased at the difference between our table food and that of my friends'.
My dad and mom passed away a couple of years ago at 98 and 88 respectively. Though my mom succumbed to the diabetes that is common among older Filipinos, she lived a long, rich life and all 7 daughters relish the cooking skills she passed on to each of us. Except for demetia that began around 95, and until he fell and broke his hip shortly before he passed my dad had no health problems requiring a doctor's care or prescription drugs, ever. At 52 my knees may be bothering me a bit--blame decades of high heel vanity--but I can honestly claim that my vitals and overall health status is comparable to someone several years younger than I am. As I reflect on the connection between New Roots Farm and my family's garden, I celebrate with a father--Bob Ross, and a mom--Michelle Obama, who have created an inclusive vision for healthy families; and I feel blessed, not embarassed that I am a product of a healthy environment.