Saturday, January 09, 2016

Al Jazeera Report Highlights Nutrition Crisis in Navajo Nation

One way the U.N. hopes to end hunger: encourage sustainable food production among indigenous peoples by 2030. On the Navajo Nation, some tribal citizens are already on that track. “When we raise our own sheep, we’re able to sustain ourselves,” said Aretta Begay. “We’re able to feed our own family, whether it’s big or small.” But progress in Navajo Nation, with its high poverty rates and long-standing lack of access to nutritious food, will be an uphill battle.  article in Al Jazeera America

Source: Diné Policy Institute. Map by Alex Newman/Al Jazeera America.
The problem of hunger and food insecurity in the Navajo nation has been well documented. With fewer than a dozen grocery stores to serve nearly 300,000 residents in an area about the size of South Carolina, access to nutritious food is almost non-existent.

"Gas stations and trading posts fill the vast spaces in between those stores, selling foods loaded with salt, sugar, fat and preservatives. According to the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, a Navajo think tank, 80 percent of food sold in the Navajo Nation could be considered junk," said a report in Al Jazeera America. "One in three residents is diabetic or prediabetic, and recent studies show that heart disease is the second-leading cause of death among tribal citizens living on the reservation."

In a  recent report to Congress, eentitled “Addressing Child Hunger and Obesity in Indian Country,” researchers found that Native American children had “approximately twice the levels of food insecurity, obesity and Type 2 diabetes relative to the averages for all U.S. children of similar ages,” said Al Jazeera America.

The Navajo nation has attempted to address the problem by proposing a tax on junk food in 2014 and eliminating an existing tax on fruits and vegetables. However, making junk food more expensive only solves the problem partially. The supply side of the equation is also important. Even if fruits and vegetables are less expensive, how do you ensure that you increase availability? Some residents like Aretta Begay grow a small vegetable garden and raise churro sheep to feed their families.“We have a huge problem with having access to good, quality food,” she tells Al Jazeera America. “We don’t have access to grocery stores.”

Providing the resources for personal and community gardens would go a long way toward addressing the problem. The dilemma is common not only to the Navajo nation but to many Indian reservations are rural areas around the country.

Fortunately, the recently announced Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and in particular Goal 2 of Zero Hunger, open the door for our public officials at all levels to find creative solutions to address the problem of a lack of food access.

"The question of food access could soon be getting renewed focus," said the Al Jazeera America report. "Starting in January, the United States will be aiming to reach the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals. One of the priorities is ensuring access to nutritious food. In Indian Country, achieving that goal is a long way off."

The Al Jazeera report--written by Tristan Ahtone in Red Mesa, Ariz.,and Jolene Yazzie in Lupton, Ariz., with photos by Jolene Yazzie--is very comprehensive, offering statistics, anecdotes, graphics and other valuable information. (One resident who was interviewed for the article allowed the reporters to look into their refrigerator. Check out the full article to see what was found in the fridge).

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