Keecha Harris

Keecha Harris on Race, Class, and What’s on the Table

Keecha Harris, a Birmingham, Alabama based dietician and maternal-child health consultant wants all people to have access to fresh, affordable, fair food, but she says we are not there yet. “The problems are mostly structural,” Harris says. “We have to address the fact that urban neighborhoods have less access to healthy food. And when food is available, it is sub-optimal.”

She encourages people to remember that the lack of healthy food extends beyond urban areas. “Food may be grown in rural areas, but it is being taken to urban areas,” Harris says. “The potential profit margin in rural areas is smaller than in urban areas.”

Harris thinks that the obstacles to getting good food are classist, and racist. “Kimberly Moreland at University of North Carolina did research looking at disparities in who got food and who didn’t by census tracks,” she says. “The study showed that if you were white, you had more access.” She says that it is important to remember that not all people of color are poor, but they often have access issues as well. “Intentional or not, the disparities are real.”

The food revolution in Cuba is on Harris’s mind after a recent visit there. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s system for getting healthier food for children changed. It helped put the local farmers in a position to make more money. She contends that it is starting to happen in the United States, more because of the fuel crisis. “We have a tendency to be reactionary in our actions and policies.” She says that the food system that now exists in Cuba shows us what can be done.

Harris is also concerned about the growing epidemic of obesity as a public health issue. “Even as we have seen obesity continue to grow, we still see people spend money on things that are not nutritionally sound,” she says, but adds that it is not always because consumers don’t know better. She worries when she hears experts talk about “choices people make when they care about their families.” She sees this as another form of racism and classism. “The information is out there, but people don’t always have the options to buy the most healthy and nutritious foods. It’s not very fair.”

Keecha Harris, of Birmingham, Ala, is a registered dietitian and maternal and child-health consultant with experience in a variety of community-based organizations, including Head Start, health advocacy groups and professional organizations. Her work is dedicated to public health policy and child-nutrition programs that link agriculture, nutrition and health. Harris is a consultant to the Food and Society initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, working on issues related to youth, nutrition and diversity.

Interview with Andrea King Collier