A Washington DC-based doctor who is a “noted speaker on the topic of disease prevention through dietary methods” this week explained to a Cornell University audience that yes, food can be racist.
That’s actually part of Ithaca.com’s headline regarding Dr. Milton Mills’ discussion on how the US Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines don’t necessarily serve minority communities, especially African-Americans.
Mills, who “shuns” the Western meal regimen in favor of plant-based diets, told the audience that “throughout its history and its different iterations, the government-issued food pyramid and related dietary guidelines have overlooked and misserved the country’s minorities through a series of decisions fairly subtle to the casual observer, but with a significant impact nonetheless.”
“It turns out that when we look at minority communities within the United States there are some endemic problems that occur over and over again and are troubling,” Mills said, noting that America’s tendency to victim-blame helps perpetuate some of the issues as well. “If you look back at governmental policy and the way the government has dealt with minority communities throughout our history, patterns emerge that it becomes apparent can account for a lot of what we see of these endemic problems.”
One of the doctor’s specific beefs is with the “prominence” of dairy in the food pyramid. While beneficial for Caucasians, Mills says, lactose intolerance rates among blacks and East Asians far surpass that of whites. (Ithaca.com notes that, while Mills disputes the research, scientists overall are divided on the issue of animal dairy’s effect on human bone development.)
Mills related a story of an elderly African-American woman whom he diagnosed as lactose intolerant. The woman acknowledged she was, and in response to Mills’ query as to why she still consumed dairy, she said “Because I have to, the guidelines say I have to eat these foods to be healthy.”
This angered Mills to the point of joining with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegan advocacy group, and begin working to change. The food pyramid has a long history in the United States. It was first adopted by the US Department of Agriculture in the 1990s, was adapted in 2005 and then changed wholesale to MyPlate in 2011. It’s undergone several adjustments and shifts during that time, but Mills said as it currently stands, with dairy still holding daily recommendations of multiple servings, it’s insufficient, at least for minorities. Mills’ primary recommendation was to avoid these foods individually as activism and lobbying continue to attempt influencing change on federal dietary guidelines. Obviously, as an advocate he’s coming from a place of some bias, but he said a plant-based diet is probably the best policy for most minorities, a regimen customized to be low in fat and high in fiber.
“Race and ethnicity dominated the majority of Mills’ lecture,” the article concludes, with the doctor comparing ingestion of dairy to crystal meth: “It’s something you can do for fun, but it’s not necessary for your health and there’s a lot of harm in it.”