Mother is (Almost) Always Right

[avatar user=”doller” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”” target=”_blank”]By: Denisse Oller[/avatar]Since early childhood, I was encouraged to finish everything on my plate. My mother would invariably say, without batting an eye: “Are you about to throw away all that food? Don’t you know that there are kids your age starving in Biafra?” As if eating all I was served in Puerto Rico somehow would help those needy children in the farthest reaches of Africa. Thank God we had plenty of good choices, from lean meats to salads and vegetables and fresh fruit; my mother even insisted on preparing school lunches that were nutritious and balanced. So yes, I had to clean the plate, but at least it was a healthy plate.

As a chef and advocate for healthy eating, I have learned to believe in food as medicine and in good nourishment as prevention. I know the more we practice healthy eating and reap its benefits, the more we can touch others, especially those with chronic diseases, to educate, guide, and empower them in the process of becoming healthier versions of themselves.

Looking back, I appreciate the access I had to a good life. And now, at this stage of my life, I have the privilege of paying it forward. At Advocate Community Providers, I have the opportunity of collaborating with dedicated Community Health Workers to spread a healthy message, especially in the Latino community.

Latinos are the largest minority in the United States — it is estimated that nearly one in three American children will be Latino by 2030. Latinos are also about 50% more likely than whites to die from diabetes or liver disease. We have disproportionate rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease in comparison to other groups. We are also very fat. 

There are many reasons for this unhealthy picture. Inequities in access to quality health care and opportunities to make healthy food choices all contribute to higher rates of obesity for Latino adults and children. Underserved Latino communities also experience higher rates of hunger and food insecurity, reside in so-called food deserts, have limited access to safe places to be physically and mentally active, and are targets of marketing campaigns promoting less nutritious foods. In a society where we are in a constant state of rush, and where fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny, from schools to hospital cafeterias, it is no wonder the food many Latinos purchase is calorie-dense, low in fiber, and high in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. That is, fewer fruits and vegetables, and more pizza, burgers, French fries, ice cream and soda.

The results are dismal, with communities plagued by chronic diseases that could be prevented and that often lead to early mortality, and contribute to ever skyrocketing U.S. health care costs.

Addressing these disparities, be it in the Latino community or on a larger scale, is an extremely complex process involving the active engagement and commitment to change of major stakeholders in health care, including corporations, government, faith-based organizations, and education, to name a few. Change of this magnitude might or might not happen in my lifetime.

But that won’t stop me — nor other advocates like me — from our commitment to make a difference. That means, for my co-workers and I, going to our neighborhoods to educate about healthier, affordable options. I can close my eyes and imagine the positive ripple effect.

As my mother would also say, almost like a daily mantra: “Don’t wait for change to happen, if you really want it, make it happen. You only have this one life. Make it count for something.”

I hear you, Mom, I hear you.