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Discussion of "Sugar Highs, Racial Lows" Kicks Off MLK Week 2019

Wesleyan University professor Anthony Ryan Hatch, author of Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America, spoke at an all-school convocation on Saturday, January 19, kicking off a week-long program of events honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

"Equitable access to healthy, nutritious food for all people was ... a centerpiece of Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign," noted Mr. Hatch. But, he said, decades after Dr. King's proposed equitable policies, racism and racial injustice remain.

These injustices include the ill effects of poor nutrition on black people, an issue Mr. Hatch studies. Due to a pattern of institutionalized racism around the consumption of and commercial hyper-production of sugar, and a lack of access to healthy food, he said, African Americans suffer from the bad health effects of sugar and unhealthy diets at an alarming rate that is on the increase.

In his talk, "Sugar Highs, Racial Lows," Mr. Hatch pointed to a history of global sugar production beginning in the 16th century, when sugar began to be seen as a luxury for white Europeans. That production grew exponentially from a colonial industry in the late 1890s to an extensive global production by the 1960s. The worldwide increase in sugar production surpassed population growth, creating a "sugar high," according to Mr. Hatch, which resulted in an accompanying "racial low," in the form of the enslaved black people who were the main labor source for the industry.

Today, Mr. Hatch said, we should think about food in terms of environmental racism and food justice. The glut of sugar production has led to the creation of "food landfills," which he describes as food ecologies developed to create a consumer market in which to dump vast quantities of excess sugar.

"Black bodies have become biological landfills for all the added sugar," Mr. Hatch said. He cited studies that show that black people are least likely of the populations studied to stay within the dietary limitations for added sugar and have seen a disproportionate increase of Type II diabetes and other ill health effects that result from a diet high in added sugar.

Companies that produce sugar-laden food and beverages spend heavily on advertising targeted specifically at young, black consumers, he said.

As a sociology professor and an author, Mr. Hatch continually asks why black people in America have such high rates of disease, and he questions "the role science plays in shaping the ideas about what constitutes health and racial equality," he said. Teaching in in Wesleyan's Science & Society interdisciplinary study program, Mr. Hatch looks at how people work together in social groups to produce science, medicine, and technology and how those disciplines pattern, shape, and condition the world in which we live. In his book he analyzes how scientists use ideas about racism and ethnicity to study, predict, and treat heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

"The global process of discard and racism that has been facilitated through a sugar ecology" has created a "sugar high" and a corresponding "racial low," according to Mr. Hatch.

Following the convocation, the discussion continued across campus with students and faculty in workshops addressing several topics related to social justice and food insecurity.

MLK Week 2019 continued on Monday, January 21, with a convocation featuring several student performances in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. On Tuesday, sophomore Thierno Diallo will lead a panel discussion of "Race as a Social Construct" in Hubbard Performance Hall at 7 p.m. The student organization People Rising In Support of Multiculturalism (PRISM) will host an open meeting and dinner on Thursday, in the Nee Room at 6 p.m., and on Friday, a poetry and spoken word event will take place in the Scanlan Campus Center beginning at 9 p.m.