Tony Wafford (Courtesy photo)

I enjoy playing golf on Fridays and hanging out with my buddies as well as using that time to get in some exercise.  I can hear some of you saying now, “Golf and exercise, is that like jumbo shrimp?”  We have a standing 7:15 a.m. tee time at Los Amigos Golf Course in Downey, CA.

Last week, after we finished playing, I was feeling nostalgic so I decided that I would skip driving the freeway and just take the surface streets home.  What made this drive nostalgic for me was that many years ago when I first moved to Los Angeles from Detroit, I worked in construction and our construction yard was in South Gate and I would ride the bus from Inglewood to South Gate five days a week.  So, this drive was not only a walk down memory lane, but a celebration of being blessed from looking out of a bus window for miles, to looking through the windshield of my car.

I remember looking out that bus window for miles, seeing Black people going to and coming from work. Seeing all the Black businesses, up and down Manchester, and I would be derelict if I didn’t mention all the brothers and sisters hanging out on the corner near the liquor stores, sitting underneath the trees in Walnut Park.

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So, what the hell does all of this have to do with fat shaming?  I’m so glad you asked.  As I drove down Firestone (by the way, which turns into Manchester at Central Ave.) it wasn’t until I got to Western Avenue that I saw the first major grocery store.  Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of mom-and-pop stores, but NOT one major grocery store for miles where our people could access fresh fruits, vegetables, choice cuts of meat, poultry, and fish that didn’t smell like fish!  This is a cold thing to say, but for those 5+ miles, the one thing that I can assure you of, that was accessible, was the ability to eat fatting and unhealthy food, alcohol, weed, sex, and religion.  For five miles, all I saw was fast food restaurants, liquor stores, weed shops, short-time motels, and storefront churches.

Like many of you, I have heard of food deserts, we’ve all seen stories on television and in the papers talking about food deserts, but I never really thought about what that really meant or what it looked like until last Friday.  For me that’s the beauty of nostalgia, it helps us remember, not where we are but how far we’ve come and our responsibility moving forward.  Out of that responsibility I had to ask myself why is it that in my community, I’ve never heard of, or seen a weed or drug desert, I’ve never seen a fast food desert, a liquor store desert, a short time motel desert, and God knows (no pun intended) there’s no drought of churches in our community.  How is it that I can get food that will kill me, countless brands of weed, alcohol, a place to get a quicky, and Saved by God, all in the same block, but I can’t find a fresh cucumber?

Did you know that obesity is a growing public health crisis in this country and obesity disproportionately affects Black people regardless of our socioeconomic status.  So, just think about this, if you see a fat (or should I say plus size individual, for you sensitive readers) well-to-do negro that has access to a cucumber and some jicama, you know most poor black people hardly stands a chance.  Many people including some of our own, don’t want to except this truth, but structural racism remains a major contributor to health equities between Black people and the general population because it limits access to healthy foods, safe spaces to exercise, adequate health insurance, and medication; all of which impacts obesity prevalence, and outcomes in our community.

As a fat guy myself, yes, I said it, because that’s what I see in my mirror, I’m both ashamed of myself for allowing myself to get in such poor health.  I’m disappointed, because I can do better, and I don’t always do my best to lose this weight.  I don’t look as good fat as I did 50lbs ago, but that’s just me—if you’re happy being the size you are, hey…do you.  One thing I do know is that I’ve yet to see an overweight (fat), 80–90 year-old person and I have a grandson that I love more than air, and fat Tony Wafford won’t get to see him graduate high school if I don’t pay closer attention to my health.

That drive made me think about just how hard and expensive it can be for so many of our people just trying to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle.  Not to mention that for many of us, food can sometimes be the only comforting thing that we experience in the run of a day.  Think about this, you have a mother with three or four children living on a limited income and she can get ten tacos, five orders of french fries and five sodas for $10.00 and its between catching the bus to the grocery store and burning that little bit of gas she has, versus walking down the street to the nearest Taco stand  and we all know just how far that $10.00 is going to go in the  grocery store, so which one would you choose.  Before you say she shouldn’t have had all those kids, well they are here now so what is it we can do to help her…. with your good Christian self, but as usual, I digress.

I work every day in the health industry and there’s not one clinical trial, research project or health initiative that doesn’t begin with healthy behavior, starting with what we put in our heads and in our mouth.  Over the past five years I’ve been working with UCLA on a project entitled, Healing our Hearts, Minds, and Bodies (HHMB).  Enhancing patient and organizational readiness for cardiovascular risk reduction among ethnic minority patients.  One of the cornerstones of this behavioral study is that our participants use The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 to improve their risk for cardiovascular disease. The tools in Life’s Simple 7 are 1) stop smoking, 2) eat better, 3) get active, 4) lose weight, 5) manage blood pressure, 6) control cholesterol and 7) reduce blood sugar.  These seven steps are a few things, but “simple” ain’t one of them!

The shame is not being overweight, the shame is that we live in a society that has historically overlooked the social conditions that created this epidemic of obesity in our communities in the first place.  The shame is that we’ve forgotten those hidden in plane site, you do remember them don’t you, the vulnerable, and the poor amongst us.  Let’s not confuse shame with social neglect, personal responsibility, and oppression.