On Blacks and Fat: Will Allen

This urban farmer and author says that growing your own food is neither "slave work" nor a passing trend.

Will Allen (Pete Amland)
Will Allen (Pete Amland)

Obesity is more common in African Americans than in other ethnic groups. But when it comes to black people and weight, that’s where the agreement seems to end. Is food the culprit? Is exercise the solution? Is there even a real problem to begin with, or should we be focusing on health — or even self-acceptance — rather than the number on the scale?

Against the backdrop of the first lady’s mission to slim down the nation’s kids, black celebs getting endorsements after shedding inches and a booming weight-loss industry, The Root will publish a series of interviews with medical professionals, activists and fitness enthusiasts that reveal the complexity of this issue and the range of approaches to it.

For the fourth in the series, The Root talked to Will Allen, author of the Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities. A former professional basketball player and executive at KFC and Procter & Gamble, he now runs Growing Power, a nonprofit organization that has several urban farm sites in Wisconsin and Illinois, including one farm half a mile away from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. He has made it his mission to spread the word about the health and community benefits of local food systems.

Read the rest of the interviews in the series here, and check out the rest of The Roots obesity coverage here.

The Root: According to the latest statistics, African Americans are 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites. What’s going on, from your perspective, with black people, obesity and overall health?

Will Allen: I have the opportunity to travel around the country to major cities, smaller towns, places in the South, small towns where agriculture once ruled. Most people who lived there, back in the day, were involved in agriculture. We’ve unfortunately kind of lost agriculture as an occupation. And now, in states like Mississippi, for example, 50 percent of citizens are obese.

But today I’ve seen more African Americans wanting to go back into production for a lot of different reasons, and one of the main reasons is health. They want to survive, to have their children live healthy lives, to have to grow food, from a legacy standpoint. Especially with the first lady kicking in and putting in a small garden at the White House — after that, over 10 million people started gardening for the first time.