Why Health-Conscious Vegans Should Take the Pledge of Solidarity with African People
Ruby Gittelsohn, member of African People’s Solidarity Committee
by Ruby Gittelsohn, member of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, Philadelphia, PA
The city of Philadelphia, known for its active night life and sidewalk cafes featuring every type of food imaginable, also houses the district with the second highest rate of hunger in the US where almost half of families with children regularly do not have enough food to eat.
This area is majority African, with vast “food deserts” where no healthy food is available, no access to health care, no trees, toxic air pollution, the daily ongoing stress of poverty and the military lock down of the notorious Phila police department.
As a white person who has lived in Phila for almost 20 years the disparities are striking and increasing daily as the economic crisis in this country unfolds.
Being over 60 years old, I take my health seriously, I have been a vegan for over 15 years. I feel great. I ride my bike around town, go to yoga, run etc. While the majority African population in this same city suffers disproportionately from curable diseases including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and aids. There are too many funerals for people who are dying way too young.
Health and the pursuit of a healthy life style is the right thing to do for everyone who wants to be part of a positive life and future. But as white people in the U.S. what does it mean that our ability to live healthy and fit comes at the expense of the starvation and poverty others?
When Europeans came to this land, Indigenous people were healthier, happier, cleaner, taller, stronger, and better looking than white people. Now Indigenous people have a life expectancy in their 40s and as a white woman I will most likely live at least twice that.
In this country health like everything else is a commodity—if you have the money you can buy good food, fitness, relaxation, new teeth, but if you don’t have the money they will let you die in the overcrowded hospital waiting room. Overwhelmingly the people who don’t have are the African and other colonized people.
As white people who want to face the truth about racial injustice, we have to examine every aspect of our lives. We can’t ignore that our food is picked by Mexican farm workers who are underpaid for back breaking work on land that was stolen from their families only about 150 years ago. The organic baby lettuce in our fancy salad is grown by prison labor.
If anyone needed evidence that as white people we enjoy healthy lifestyles on the backs of African people, you need look no further than Whole Foods. Underneath the bustling Whole Foods store on South Street which is laden with organic fruit, vegetables and pricey health treats, there is a jail packed with young African men. The justification for the majority of their arrests was that they attempted in some way to take back the resources they see all around them but never have access to.
A genuine healthy life starts with admitting the wrongs that we have benefited from. The food, the technology, the access to health alternatives come to us at the expense of the starvation, the early death, lack of resources and stress of those whose labor built and continues to create wealth for this country.
But now the African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement shows us the way forward. African people are organizing to build a new social system, setting up a new economy to benefit African people worldwide, not at their expense. Building economic development, collective community kitchens, health clinics, schools and community gardens, Africans are creating a system that will involve every African person in a positive future.
The Days in Solidarity with African People is an open call to the white community to hear the truth and see what a positive future led by African and other oppressed peoples can look like and how we can all participate in creating that transformation. I call on white people to Take the Pledge of Solidarity with African People, as a concrete expression of support for the African community’s struggle to reclaim their resources, land, and health.