Going to Holmes County, Mississippi

Ever since I started Food Babe a year and a half ago, I’ve made it my mission to spread as much information as possible about organic living, the chemicals in processed food that are making us fat and sick and the truth about our food supply. Tomorrow, I will have my chance to share this information with one of the most desperate communities in the nation.

Earlier this year I was contacted by Daniel Seddiqui (famous for working 50 jobs in 50 states in one year and writing the book Living the Map), to help him with “Drop Me In” - a documentary project to examine social issues and marginalization across the country through immersion into struggling communities and environments.

For the next 4 days, I will be volunteering my time in the town of Pickens, Mississippi, which is in Holmes County. As you might be aware, the United States is the most obese country in the world. Holmes is the most obese county in the United States – coining Holmes County as the most obese place in the world according to the estimates. I know I won’t be able to change these statistics overnight – but I am hoping my voice will make a lasting impact on the people of Pickens.

Adult Obesity Rates 2011 – Source: HealthyAmericas.org

I will be visiting local families, taking them grocery shopping, teaching them healthier cooking methods in their own kitchens, and participating in the first ever 5k/10k race in Pickens history.

Daniel has been in Pickens for the last couple of weeks, preparing and conditioning the community for the race. We have been talking daily about what I can expect and what obstacles I need to prepare for… he reports that people in the community have shared with him that someone dies almost weekly of an obesity related illness, the average life expectancy being 42. He also warned me that many people only eat processed food, fried food or the cheapest thing they can buy with their limited incomes.

The Side Effects of Obesity – Source: MedaCad

It may seem obvious that people living in Pickens don’t have easy access to healthy fresh food, but I want to find out for myself.  When I get down there tomorrow, I’ll be doing my best to find food for the community that I feel comfortable eating myself – I know I may have to put aside some of my own principles to make this happen (i.e. not eating everything organic, etc), but I hope to inspire them to think outside their limited resources to find or even grow healthy food.

So far from the looks of the produce department at their local Piggly Wiggly grocery store, Daniel says there is not much available – he did not see fresh greens – only a few apples and bananas, and everything was bagged or packaged. Luckily, there is a Walmart and health food store about 40 miles away… which prompted me to ask my facebook fans today, what organic products they buy at Walmart. I received several strong opinions about people not supporting or shopping at Walmart due to their corporate practices. I personally have shopped at Walmart only once before for food (coincidentally, it was the last time I was in Mississippi for a wedding). Putting these opinions aside, I hope we can all agree that the issue the people of Pickens (and many others across the country) are experiencing is bigger than a grocery store choice – it’s about what they have access to and can affordably purchase to feed their families.

A saddening reality for me is that many of these people don’t have computers in their homes or readily available internet access to get the education and information they need to break free from the cycle of poverty and obesity. They have to rely on whatever food manufacturers are telling them on the package in grocery stores, main stream media in the form of TV commercials or news or what they learned briefly about nutrition in school (which as you know – isn’t much or even correct sometimes).

I have to be honest, I am really nervous. I know this project will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before… To build up my confidence – I keep reminding myself “to be the change I wish to see in the world,” hoping it will motivate and inspire others to help towns like Pickens all over the country learn the truth about food.

Almost 50% of us are projected to be obese by 2030… I can’t just sit back and do nothing.

Projected 2030 Obesity Rates – Source: HealthyAmericas.org

A big thanks goes out to Nature’s Path Foods who has already donated a truck load of food for this struggling community. When I discussed this project with them and asked them if they would like to get involved – there was no hesitation. Nature’s Path immediately sent down 2 bags of organic cereal for every single family in the entire town of Pickens to try. Their generosity and willingness to get involved in small community projects like this one speaks volumes about their brand and values.

Smoothie King also kindly donated gift cards – I am a huge fan of their organic wheatgrass. I can’t wait to do wheatgrass shots with who I hope to be my new friends.

I ask for your well wishes for me and this community as I experience first hand what it is like to live in a food desert.

Your support means the world to me.

I promise to keep you posted…

Food Babe

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80 Responses to “Going to Holmes County, Mississippi”

  1. Annette Standrod

    Thank You for what you are doing and are about to do!!!!!!!!!!!!! People need the correct education and the truth! I am from Greenville, MS. If I were you, I would encourage them to grow their own garden because like you said their isnt many healthy choices. MS is an agricultural state.I think another reason they are overweight is because there is not much to do in most parts of MS. No gyms or no money for a membership. Not many parks or safe recreational spots to encourage excerise. Not much for kids to do unless they are involved in school sports/activities. I now live in KY and have access to whole foods,trader joes, and earth fare. Praise God! and I grow a small garden. Motivate those people. They truly need help!!!!!!!!!!!Thanks again! can’t wait to hear about your story. annettestandrod@gmail.com

    Reply
  2. Tammi Goff

    Education, access & affordability are key. Wishing you much success on helping to educate folks about food and big kudos to Nature’s Path for their donation! I LOVE their cereals & granola!

    Reply
  3. Tiffany

    I know how important organic food is but I also know how hard it was to make the switch to all organic food only because of the price. If you do not want to turn these people off I would highly recommend you talk about the importance of healthy food first, healthy produce and fruits and vegetables and to stop using processed food. For people that have a bit more money introduce the dirty dozen. Some people will turn you off if all you preach about is organic foods because they don’t have the money to buy organics but I am sure everyone could find money in the budget for fresh fruits and veggies. Good Luck and I am hoping you can help these people make some changes in their diet. Little changes equal big changes in the long haul.

    Reply
  4. Deborah

    You go girl!!!! I know this takes a lot of courage…. I love educating people about healthy foods, especially raw, but in this case for you, just healthy. Wow! Hopefully Daniel has paved the way and people will be open and want to learn. The statistics seem pretty grim and maybe that’s enough to have them listen, especially if they can see how it could work financially for them to eat healthy. Sending you lots of supportive energy for wherever this project takes you and Pickens….

    Reply
  5. Kathy

    We have a walmart, which is basically the only large grocery store in our town, besides two discount grocers who only carry basic food items – and no name brands. Our walmart carries very little, if any organic products. None of their fruit is organic, and very few, if any that I have seen, of the veggies are organic. So best of luck to you. I commend you for making an effort to help this town. I know I have written walmart and asked them to stock certain items, but received no response from them.

    Reply
  6. Hailey

    Good going! I am from Mississippi, so I know from experience the poor health of the state. Especially in rural areas (where my extended family lives), you’d be lucky to find a WalMart, let alone a health food store. The grocery stores in small MS towns tend to be piled high with Coca-Cola and potato chips, and have a very limited selection of fruits and vegetables. I live in one of the bigger towns and still drive two hours to get my groceries.
    Mississippians might be hard to reach because they’ve been brainwashed by marketing into thinking that healthy eating is for rich, snotty people, but I’m so glad you’re reaching out to them. As Tiffany said, it might be more effective not to push for organic food yet, but instead encourage them to cook more and buy fewer pre-packaged items, and to buy at local farmers’ markets (farms are one thing Mississippi has a lot of).

    Reply
  7. Jo Boykin

    You rock foodbabe! The south has a healthy diet: greens, pinto beans and cornbread. They have just abandoned it for packaged convience. Sounds like time to rediscover their roots.

    Reply
  8. Jessica

    Your an inspiration!

    Reply
  9. Sonja

    I think that as long as you reach out with compassion and realize where these people might be economically you will make progress. Slow moves Food Babe.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth

    I’m from Mississippi too and the key thing is education. I never had any kind of nutrition class until I got to college and even then it was an elective class. As you said, cost and availability are other big issues. It’s true that we don’t have any kind of organic store like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s but even those would be too expensive for most families to shop at. A lot of people I know have their own gardens so they have access to fresh vegetables, but almost everyone fries their vegetables. Good luck, and I hope you’re successful!

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  11. Sonja

    We have lost the agrarian gene in our DNA and rely to much on what agribusiness feeds us. I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It made me again realize how much I rely on the grocery and I shouldn’t. I live in the south and see the need for education. We need to bring back the family vegetable garden and learn to live off the land. It will take some education as to what grows at what time of year and healthy preparations. But it would benefit each person in so many way’s not just food.

    I hope you find it a rewarding experience and the community open to change. It will not be overnight change or success on all fronts but so worth the effort for those who want knowledge and change. I look forward to hearing what happened.

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  12. Eco Mama

    Go FoodBabe!! They need you down there. I’ve lived in a food desert before–I learned how to be a great vegan cook because I had to make everything myself to get anything healthy! Shopped mostly in Asian markets for my food. I now live in a place where organic food is everywhere and a day does not go by that I am extremely grateful for this. I’m sure you will do some great things and that people will be receptive–not everyone–but even if you can reach a few people, it will be worth it.
    xo
    Eco Mama

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  13. Emily

    It’s wonderful what you’re doing! Education is key, but also compassion and empathy. Food shopping on a strict/tight budget is increasingly difficult…I know because I’m in that situation myself. I can’t buy everything organic (way too expensive), but I wish I could. Good luck!

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  14. ElleX

    I wish you well in Pickens!

    Reply
  15. althea

    Will purchase Natures Path because of the generosity! Keep up the great work. Perhaps looking into grocery stores who might donate their throw away food (bruised, spotted, day old expired dates) to local foodbanks. Great way to access fruits, veggies. :)

    Reply
    • Food Babe (to althea)

      Great company! I love the heritage flakes they sent – one of the best cereals on the market. Also try their new superfood cereal made with buckwheat.

      Reply
  16. Wendy

    Thanks Food Babe for having such a wonderful attitude. There is enough condemnation and inflexibility around and it really does no good. By teaching folks what is good for them and educating them, they can then request that their communities change, it has to start with the people. They can do it!

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  17. Mary

    I saw the link to this article from GMO Inside and I must say I am so happy to see you are doing this! It is about education and showing them options given their circumstances. I would love to hear stories of people growing their own food and sharing with neighbors. For example, you need tomatoes, go to Annie. Susan has zucchinis now, Oh and Sarah and Dave have lettuce and onions. Bob has carrots now…they are small but oh so good! That’s my idea of utopia! Good luck and enjoy the journey!

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  18. Wayne

    Mississippi, like all other states could solve this poverty / obesity problem by legalizing gambling, tax reform, deregulation, more prisons and 10% tithing. Even some preachers are preaching against gluttony and slothfulness to the wealthy. MS public tv and radio are addressing the obesity problem. Networking with local health advocates would be a good starting point, since they have business connections trying to help too. The lack of good food and exercise point to gardening, which will help some. There are countless other ways to get healthier.

    I think a health food truck could be as successful as the musical ice cream trucks are now, and if EBT food stamps are accepted, it would require larger trucks. This could lead to more meals eaten at home, even driving pa$t the drive through.

    The school cafeteria, has always been a tool of the Dept of AG, and aren’t known for their fresh vegetables. Schools should teach the local history of home economics, sustainable gardening, and craft$, even if it’s only an invited guest presentation.

    Farm work has been shamed for its pay history and its monoculture crop labor has mostly been replaced by machines there anyway. On the other hand, vegetable farming, (especially organic), if it keeps growing in price and sales, will become more than a healthy hobby for some, especially in areas where jobs are scarce. A friend with a garden could be part of a rewarding exercise / diet routine.

    If you’ve ever started from scratch, then you understand, that a successful garden takes a substantial cash investment, even with a free plot. Waiting for it to fill a table is like an eternity, if it survives bad weather and pests.

    The community garden, should be encouraged, with a paid administrator with implements, greenhouse, canning facilities and excess produce should be purchased, for a food bank / truck.

    Free for all, large fields of pick your own greens, fruit trees, corn etc, could compliment the individual plots, that could be spread around the county. The free produce would draw many who might otherwise ignore the project, and provide training and exercise for future produce farmers. Special privileges and raised beds for physically challenged gardeners would help. Prizes, playground / exercise / game area for children, and their families. Medical checkups / economic education and music at the garden, regularly, would be helpful also.

    Some make their living off of the status quo and would oppose it, but with enough fund raising parties, it could happen. Remember Johnny Appleseed.

    Reply
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  20. Erika Schwartz

    Jamie, OMG I live in MIssissippi and I know exactly what youre talking about. I have to drive into Memphis to go to a whole foods and I dream of being about to go to a vegan restaurant :) Everything is fried and processed and the hunting mentality is “if it flies- it dies” they eat so much meat and processed food. They don’t see the value in organic food and a plant based diet. If I knew you were gunna be in Mississippi, I would have loved to have helped in any way I could. You were only a couple of hours away. We have strength in numbers :)

    Reply
  21. Brandy

    I just found your website, and when I knew before I even clicked on the link that you had to be talking about MS. I was born, raised and live in central MS, and until just recently starting digging myself out of the processed food addiction. Unfortunately, in our small town of 1200 people, there isn’t much in the way of fresh produce, and most people haven’t even heard of organic. I try and shop at the Wal-Mart, 45 minutes away, but that is once in a blue moon. My family and I do have a garden every year, but to grow enough to feed 3 for an entire year, its another full-time job on top of the 2 I already have. Its just an endless cycle, and honestly most people do not know any better or different. In May 2013 our town decided to start having a local farmers market, but it was very small and mostly foods like fried apple pies and banana bread. Its just a sad situation.

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  22. Anne Marie

    Thank you so much for coming to Mississippi! I live in the county just next to Holmes, in the town of Greenwood. It is certainly hard to change the mindset of any adult, so that is why we are starting to build gardens in the elementary schools with Food Corps. Nutrition is so very important and it just so unknown here! Obesity and diabetes are more common and expected then having a car. Thank you for coming to the Mississippi Delta! I would love to host you if you would like to come again!

    Reply
  23. Tori

    Wow, this post brought tears to my eyes! What you are doing is amazing! :) Thank you for all the tips and inspiration.

    Reply
  24. Ashley (to Laura)

    I truly believe this speaks volume on your character. I don’t believe you’re going into this with a mindset of being demeaning or insulting. Not only is this an issue about weight, but it’s also an issue about sustainability for this town. Some people just do NOT know alternatives, but that doesn’t represent an overall lack of intelligence on their part. I think what you’re doing is great, but just try to keep as open of a mind as possible. I’m from a small town that has to drive 45 minutes to the nearest grocery store. I know how small town mentalities are, but I’m sure a compromise can be reached when you’re speaking in terms of life. I definitely support this and if there is any way that I could some way help, let me know.

    Reply

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