Growing Native: Breaking the Food Industry Addiction

Growing Native: Breaking the Food Industry Addiction

Mary Pember has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Editorial Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1985. Since then, she has worked as an Independent photojournalist and writer and is now based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Date Posted: 
2013-05-13 00:00

Blog Series:


I recall an old television show from my childhood, The Twenty-First Century, hosted by Walter Cronkite. Each week he (Walter Cronkite was a well-known television news journalist during the 1960’s and 70’s) would show us some new wonder from the future that would put an end to human suffering and inconvenience. I seem to recall an episode describing a future in which food was no longer necessary, replaced by super nutritious, ultra convenient capsules that needed to be taken only once per day.  Now that’s a relationship with food that I could embrace!

Food is my final addiction frontier. Unlike alcohol, drugs and smoking, however, it is a stubborn presence that will remain a part of life forever. Hunger is a constant in our lives, returning each day reminding us of our powerlessness over the great force that is life. Like so many others, I struggle mightily with this force.  For the time being I have made my peace with that daily appearance of hunger and its friend food.  Since 2011 I have lost 90 pounds and have managed to maintain my weight for the past four months. I’ve written about my journey for Indian Country Today Media Network and The Daily Yonder.

Like so many Native people, I have type 2 diabetes and have struggled with my weight for years.  Today, however, my glucose levels are normal and I no longer need to take medication. Many people have asked me how I was able to begin this journey after so many years. Truth be told, it is a mystery to me but I’m fairly sure it had something to do with my spirituality and the willingness to admit I am powerless over hunger and food. 

In my recent article for Indian Country Today Media Network, I discuss a book by Michael Moss, “Salt, Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” in which he exposes in painful detail as the food industry’s fight for America’s “stomach share-the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition.”

Moss discusses the massive forces at work among processed food companies to get us and keep us addicted to their unhealthy products. Data shows that the companies are unbelievably successful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of all Americans are obese, triple the rate from one generation ago. As of 2010, 25. 8 million people-8. 3 percent of the U.S. population-have type 2 diabetes, closely associated with obesity.

Native peoples top the list for type 2 diabetes in the U.S; 16. 1 percent of Native people served by the Indian Health Service have type 2 diabetes.

The growing availability of cheap, processed, addictive food has created a perfect bad health storm for our people.

I’ve heard it said that Native peoples are like the canaries used by coal miners to warn of the presence of poisonous gas in mines. What happens to us is a portent for the future for everyone if the same path is taken. Unfortunately, in this analogy, we always end up being the first to die.

Rather than accepting this role of the harbinger of death, we can blaze a new trail to health that can inform other communities. The Growing Native series will help guide all of us on this new path by shining a light on efforts that communities are exploring in their work to live in a good way.   

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