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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. This is great that you are traveling to places to help people see that they really are what they eat. We struggle with that as well in Kentucky and is disheartening to hear of young people in their teens and 20’s struggling with diseases like hypertension that used to only affect the elderly. I struggle myself with how to buy wholesome and organic food for my family and still remain within a food budget when the prices are so much more higher than the so called “fast” foods. I look forward to hearing more about how you helped the people in Pickens, MS stay on a budget and turn their lives around with better food choices.

  2. What an amazing opportunity and challenge! I’m giddy for you! Seriously, I can’t wait to hear how things turned out for you and the families in PIckens.

  3. Food Babe I admire you for going into the lives/homes of families to teach them a new and better way of eating. Thanks for being so brave and caring for everyone literally!

  4. I was wondering why you had asked that about Walmart on Facebook today! Good luck, this is really awesome what you are doing and I hope that you are successful in educating them 🙂

  5. I think this is a good idea. You’ll learn more from them, if you listen, than they will from you.

  6. Wow, this is so inspiring. No matter what happens, remember you ARE making a difference. Local awareness can create global changes. Sending lots of good energy and strength to you and the people in Holmes County, MS.

  7. You are such an inspiration and I applaud you in your efforts……….today is World Diabetes Day and while obesity effect on our health in a lot of different ways I think your challenge goes perfectly hand in hand with the Focus we all should have on the diabetes pandemic

  8. Best of luck to you. This will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before, no doubt. I look forward to reading your updates. I know I’m so lucky to have Trader Joe’s, Earth Fare, and Whole Foods all within a 20 minute drive from my home. I hope you can find ways for these folks to eat better, given their choices of stores.

  9. This sounds like a great project! I live in Arkansas and am aware of how hard it is to get good food locally. But I have searched and found several great sources. We have Walmart, Brookshires, a store similar to Piggly Wiggly, and Save a lot. So not much to choose from. I have been ordering from Azure Standard for several years now. We just recently got a drop 30 miles from me. I travel to buy bulk grass fed beef. There is a source for goat milk that is local. I have a small garden and friends that have free range chickens for eggs. So I do what I can. I do buy some organic food but not a lot. Walmart is much better than it used to be as far as having organic items. There may also be a Kroger in Pickens or close by. Kroger has a good selection of organic items and normally have nice produce.

  10. So I grew up about 30 minutes from Pickens and still only live a couple hours away in Kemper County. I completely support this. Honestly, I’m really afraid you might not know just how serious the situation is. I remember thinking to myself as a teenager, “I’m pretty thin and fit now, but when I’m an adult I will be fat like every other adult I see. It cannot be avoided.” People here quite literally do not know how to eat food. It wasn’t until just under a year ago when my husband and myself started to learn about food that I realized that my favorite “food,” Kraft mac and cheese had to be produced in a lab, not grown. I had never heard of GMOs.

    I don’t mean to be so depressing about the whole thing, but you don’t become the fattest state by eating your vegetables. It definitely won’t be easy, but even trying will be worth it. So thank you. Thank you so much.

    Also, when is the 5k and how can I sign up? My husband and I would love to support Pickens!

  11. My husband and I lived in Lowndes County Mississippi (about 2 hours away) for a year through no choice of our own. I fully believe that the poor food choices available to us led to my body breaking down and attacking itself, after 20 years of an incredibly healthy life. Now, 4 years later, I feel like myself again and I give credit to the fact that I am able to find healthy food choices for my family. Thank you for helping out a state that is home to many I still hold dear from that short year. Mississippi is a sad place to be, healthwise.

  12. You are the greatest! There certainly aren’t many people that would do what you do and are going to do! Any and all of us that follow you could be in a situation of not having the funds to purchase or access to healthy “real” food at anytime. We just never know what life will send our way. I am so greatful for the time that you give to teach us all and I’ll be sending prayers and best wishes your way! Don’t be nervous……I believe you were called to do this!

  13. This is a great project, good luck. I’m from Mississippi and have been to Holmes County. You will be shocked at their limited resources. It is a very, very poor area – as is alot of Mississippi.

  14. I sure hope you are planning on taking a load of your own food, just as if you were traveling abroad. Isn’t it sad that we must think that way in these great states of the United Americas in 2012?

  15. I’m scared you may be in for a rude awakening. If this community is anything like mine, many are probably on food stamps and can’t afford to drive 40 miles and buy any food after the gas money, much less organic. If you really want to help them, then I think you will have to come up with something available locally and that is also cheap.

  16. THANK YOU!!!! As a Mississippi resident (in the capitol), I can tell you we need all the help we can get. I am a nurse and it is unbelievable the horrible nutritional choices even my highly educated coworkers make. In our hospital cafeteria, it’s way easier to get a burger, fries, fried chicken tenders than a salad. I am trying to educate those around me and encourage people to break bad habits. I know the poorer areas of our state are struggling even more and need people like you to educate them and help them make wiser choices. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Keep up the great work!

  17. Good luck! Even if you just make some people upset, even if you don’t persuade anybody immediately, even if they will look at you like you fell off the Moon… it’s worth it. It will put a seed of doubt in their minds. It will probably take a long time for them to realize that there is really something wrong in the way they eat. Give them your cards, hopefully they call you back one day.

  18. Teach them to grow a garden. A community garden or even tomatoes in a pot on the porch is a great way to eat fresh food

    1. Do schools even teach home economics anymore? If so maybe you can try to meet with a home ec teacher or 2 and try to find an ally, someone who will help reinforce the message that there’s eating and preparing real food and then there’s ripping open a package. Also, there must be local growers there somewhere. Even in the poorest of places there are likely to be small family farmers. See if you can find out who sets up road side stands seasonally and help folks realize the benefit of helping their local growers and establishing local food sources. Maybe a handful of local growers can be persuaded to band together to start a small farmers market. That may be a tall order for a couple of days in MS but you can definitely plant lots of seeds for change. Can’t wait to see what takes root! Good luck!

  19. Great job & good luck. I am thrilled to hear what Nature’s Path is doing. I love their products and am so happy to support a company that is doing good things.

  20. I am so looking forward to hearing of your experience. Ought to make a great book. My only concern is the wheatgrass. In the event that somebody actually likes it, I’m wondering where they would get it and what it might cost.

    1. Wheatgrass seeds don’t cost very much (I think I spent >$2 for a packet) and are very easy to grow since they really only need dirt, water and sunlight. If there’s a hardware store in town or nearby, I bet they could order some.

      Anyway, best wishes Food Babe – I’m really excited for you! Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

  21. BEST of luck to you and know that MANY of us are so 100% behind you and believe in what you do every day. It has to start somewhere and what may be the simplest of information to us is completely foreign to others. It will begin with education. Little at a time and small changes at a time. It will be interesting to see just how limited these people (our fellow Americans) are in having access to the very things that will give them health and wellness. Years ago I lived a life of toxic overload and was so completely cluess even though I am a healthcare worker and “should” have known better. If only there had been a food babe back then my life could have been so different. BETTER LATE then NEVER!! Do you even realize how many people will be FOREVER grateful for you? I know I am.

  22. I also wish you the best. I think I saw a documentary once about that county. It’s so sad that fresh food is so unavailable! Even here in the midwest, people have the mindset a lot of times of “people who eat organic think they’re so much better. Just help the regular farmers out and eat their stuff even if it’s got pesticedes!” There’s not really this understanding or care. I hope you can help them learn what’s best for their bodies and hopefully start some local farmers!!

  23. i just wanted to say thank you for your continued education. you are making progress
    the company i work for – a billion dollar company just blocked your website from our internet access!!
    we are in the food industry and do business with kellogg food, general mills, con-agra etc
    they are also some of our biggest clients – i am an administrator and usually read blogs on my lunch hour only to find yours blocked – i called a friend in IT who informed me you were purposely put on the block list – hmmmm i wonder why..thank you for preaching the truth
    keep going girl – you are making a difference!!

  24. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavor. My hope is that majority of people in Pickens will be ready to hear and accept your message and be equipped to make good choices so that they can take control of their own health and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

    What you do for the town of Pickens could become a model for helping other communities in similar situation.

    It was so uplifting to read your newsletter today in knowing that there are group of people who is going to receive help in learning about nutrition so that they can have a healthy body, mind, and increase their longevity.

  25. What a wonderful opportunity you have before you! I’m so excited about the impact you can make down there! Wishing you all the best and can’t wait to hear your updates!! So exciting!!!

  26. What a wonderful contribution you are making to this community. I wanted to share information about a company (Azure) that offers organic produce and other healthy products that you can order online and have delivered to a drop point…and they deliver all over the US (not every state, but many of them). Families, a group of neighbors, friends, a buying club, a retail outlet, or even just an individual can order and receive Azure products. This is a great way for those who do not live in an area with easy access to healthy choices to have them delivered to them. No internet…call them and they will send you a catalog and you can order over the phone (Phone: 541-467-2230). Here is their website. http://www.azurestandard.com/ Thank you for all you are doing…have fun and never give up, as every little bit of education you offer helps in many different ways.

    ps…isn’t it interesting that U.S. missionaries travel thousands of miles to far away countries (which is great as they need help too) but there are so many in our own backyard that could benefit from “health related ministries”? Maybe that is what your “mission” is, Food Babe? Now all you need are Food Babe missionaries to help spread the word (and educate our people). I agree with momofboys…teach them to grow a garden…I bet there are seed companies that would help with seeds and other supplies…and maybe the local schools (colleges, too) would get involved. There are SO MANY possibilities! 🙂

  27. You can’t imagine what this will mean to these people, the info may take some time to set in so don’t be discouraged by what may appear to be resistance, this is likely Greek language to most of these people…
    This sounds sooo much like my own community that I grew up in, and I try to just share a Lil info every time I’m down and slowly but surely the friends and family are “pickin up what I’m puttin down!”
    I’m so inspired by what you do food babe!
    Keep trucking and keep us up to date!!!
    Xoxo best of luck

  28. This is great!! I would love to know how we all can get involved. Maybe some fundraisers to help get healthy food into some local grocery stores? Maybe volunteers to do some educating? If I lived close by, I would go volunteer my time. I’m glad to hear you care, that’s a start in the right direction for this town!!!

  29. I read your comment about Walmart and a health food store being 40 miles away. Years ago when I was a sales rep., part of my territory was southwest Virginia – Appalachia. There were people in Grundy who had never been to Richlands – 30 miles away. I seriously doubt, in this very poor county, if you would find many people who would want to pay for the gas to drive 80 miles round trip.

    1. Wow, I was just skimming thru comments and saw yours and had to comment! I know EXACTLY what you mean!! I work in SW Virginia. I teach people how to manage their money, about healthy eating, parenting, etc. Most the people that I work with in the Appalachia, Haysi and Grundy area don’t own cars, live off of food stamps, and some of them have never been out of Appalachia, Haysi or Grundy. The other communities I work in surround the coal mines and many of the people are out of work because of coal mines shutting down. Most families have no food, no ways to get food, ways to pay bills, and most don’t leave their houses. It breaks my heart and I’m doing what I can to help them but the resources are so limited. I have run into so many issues with my job and trying to help people because there is such limited “healthy” food in these areas. If this county in Mississippi is anything like these SW Appalachia mountain towns, its going to be VERY challenging. Best of luck Food Babe! I cannot wait to hear how it goes. Maybe it will give more people inspiration to become food activists in their areas. I would love to do more in my area about teaching people about what they eat and how harmful the chemicals are and how to go about it!! 🙂

  30. You are so admirable and helpful. You’ll do great in helping them, and you’ll change their lives. You have already helped so many. It is so great that you’re going there to help them. It should be a special on TV. By it being on TV, even more people would see it, and learn so much. I’m glad you’re doing this, and I wish you the best in your endeavor. I know you won’t let them down. They need you, and I know you will help them to improve their health one step at a time. I’m sure it won’t be easy for you or them, but I know it will be worth it. I can’t wait to read updates! I hope you’ll video some of it, also. Good luck! 🙂

  31. Were you invited to Pickens or did you decide to bring your information to them? It is going to make a big difference in how the information was received. I am also fairly sure that people are not going to drive 80 miles roundtrip to the store. They need to request the PigglyWiggly carry more options.
    I am all for spreading information but I think without any cultural compentency in the approach, your message will fall on deaf ears. Especially since they have all now been publically shamed as the most obese county in the world, which you mentioned several time along with shiny graphics.
    Good luck.

  32. You always amaze me Foodbabe. Your generosity and drive to make a difference is aspirational. I lookhave forward toto hearing thethe result ofto your trip. Stay positive and your personal experience and others to make a chance. I have lost 27 lbs to date with clean eating and working out regularly. I wasnt losing as much when I was eating “regular” food and then when I found clean eating it was like everything I had been looking for and I feel like a new person. It’s indescribable. Just yesterday at my local grocery store i was able to educate someone on “fat free” and “nonfat”, and I hope that I made a difference as well.

  33. One person can be a difference and a change…will pray for you and know that even if one person changes their eating habits that person will change another and so on…

  34. We are sending loads of good wishes for the Holmes county project! May the Mother’s blessings be with you!!
    love
    Mom

  35. Wow, good luck, Vani! I can’t wait to read more about your visit and what you find. Do the people know you’re coming? Will you get to speak with those who want to speak with you only, or everybody? Very exciting adventure….

    And your fellow (corporate) helpers sending cereal and gift cards are awesome. Kudos to those companies!

  36. All the best in your efforts. I hope the results will amaze everyone! I think speaking with the buyer in the produce department at the local grocery would be a good idea. Let him/her know the demand is going to be high for fresh produce in the upcoming months. Everyone should have access to good food. It’s nice to know about Nature’s Path. I really look forward to reading about the progress here!

  37. This effort reminds me of that show with Jamie Oliver where he was trying to make changes to food served at school cafeterias. If you watched that show you may remember he met some challenges and skepticism.

    The problem in Pickens probably goes so much deeper than just lack of information but lack of access and resources. If you know all about healthy nutrition yet your closest grocery store doesn’t sell any vegetables and you can’t afford to drive 40 miles to Walmart then what are your choices? We have discussed this topic of food deserts in one of my urban geography classes and did a quick study about this in our city. We compared the location of grocery stores (any grocery store, not just health stores) and Census data on mean income and it was very clear the areas where poorest people live do not have any grocery stores within reasonable distances. Your choice when you can’t afford to make the distance is to good to a convenience store, which does not provide the any real food at all…except water. From your description and reading people’s comments about the situation in Pickens I bet most people just get what they can afford, which is unhealthy food.

    Props to you for your attempt and props to whomever organized the 5k/10k!

  38. I would recommend finding out what they like to eat and then slightly altering many of those to be healthier… maybe use beans instead of fried meat so it’s cheaper and healthier. I would hesitate to encourage them to make any drastic changes because it probably will not be lasting. At least that’s the advice I gave my daughter who is putting together a recipe book for students/families on free lunches in our area. Gradual changes will come with more willingness than a complete overhaul of their diet. I think a community garden is a great idea. Best of luck. This is very inspiring to read about.

    1. Another suggestion… maybe you can get an organization who does bulk truck deliveries to deliver good food to the people of the town and then they could split it out. A way for them to get bulk flour, etc. plus produce monthly might help them or even a large coordinated delivery from Amazon.

  39. Awesome Vani! Maybe you could look into the possibility of a community garden? Seems more sustainable than driving 40 miles to a grocery store… just a thought. Good luck, and cant wait to see the results of this visit!

  40. I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and I have been so impressed with the great information you have posted. I already shared your Panera post on my FB site and this article is great too and disheartening. I am so happy there are people, food activists, like you making a difference in our country. I would love to be part of something like this! Keep up the great work 🙂

  41. I am not in disagreement with you, and think what you are doing is great. After looking at your map, I have to question the standard by which we are measuring obese. Has the standard changed recently? My daughter in law was recently told that her 9 year old daughter is considered obese, after her fitness test at school. Really? I find that label more damaging than helpful. She is not fat, at all. She runs 5k’s with her mom. Could she be more active, certainly. Could she eat better, certainly, but as in most homes with both parents working, food is whatever is fast. Labeling her obese is more likely to cause her problems than to help her. You may find resistance from the good folks of Pickens, due to them already being labeled, “…. Holmes County the most obese place in the world.” It’s very easy to be so devoted to a cause, that you actually push people away with your zeal, rather than help them, as you really want to.

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