The war against food deserts: Children march over Brooklyn Bridge calling for healthier options

Children marched over the Brooklyn Bridge on June 15 to call for healthy food in their neighborhoods.
Photo by Dean Moses

The sight of children dressed up as fruits, such as strawberries and bananas, in protest had many Brooklynites smiling Tuesday morning. But Nancie Katz, journalist and founder of the not-for-profit Seeds in the Middle, said there’s a serious side to the cute demonstration.

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in New York City and normalcy rests just over the horizon, some are fighting to make sure the new normal is better than the pre-pandemic ordinary. One of the aspects that activists are looking to alter as the Big Apple emerges from the ashes and builds a post-pandemic world is greater access to healthy food options, the lack of which Katz believes contributed to higher numbers of deaths from the novel coronavirus, especially in Black and Brown communities.

Heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity and other ailments were comorbidities that made individuals more susceptible to the deadly consequences of COVID-19 throughout the last 16 months.  

The group marched over the Brooklyn Bridge in an attempt to spread awareness. Photo by Dean Moses

“We know that since Michelle Obama started tilling the soil in 2009 and sounded the alarm that the obesity and diabetes rates related to bad food have only gone up among the most vulnerable people, mainly people of color,” Katz said. She emphasized that political leaders have not paid enough attention to the detrimental toll caused by eating processed and junk food since those are the more affordable and accessible items in their neighborhoods. 

Katz stated that many of these ailments are preventable with healthier eating habits, and by giving communities the tools necessary and empowering themselves to both grow and have access to the food would make a world of a difference.  

Seeds in the Middle works with Farmers Market throughout Brooklyn, selling Hip2B inexpensive nutritional snacks. They are now calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the New York City Council to provide $150,000 in funding to build 8 to 10 community-run farm stands in Central Brooklyn—an area they say is a food desert.

Additionally, they are requesting free fresh coupons so that individuals can purchase produce near their homes at a more affordable rate.

Beginning at Brooklyn Borough Hall, the assortment of children and adults marched through the streets yelling “Healthy lives is a human right!” and “Eat green!”

Led by pre-teens, the protest garnered applause and admiration by many pedestrians who also whipped out their cellphones to capture the moment. The 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students took their rally over the Brooklyn Bridge, calling this fight a battle against food injustice, citing their focus on getting funding to local healthy businesses, schools, and communities to provide fresh produce and nutritious meals. 

The students voiced their call for healthier food options. Photo by Dean Moses

“We are out here today to tell the government and the president that they need to stop putting more junk inside the stores in the city and get more fresh food and vegetables for us,” 10-year-old Aniyah Jackson said.

Jackson has been trying to eat better prior to the pandemic, but after learning about all of the comorbidities that contributed to COVID-19 deaths, she concentrated on eating fruits and vegetables over candy.

“It’s important to do this because we can get healthier and not have diabetes or heart conditions,” said nine-year-old Selayria Fortune, wearing a banana costume. “When I started eating better and only drinking water it felt good, like I’m becoming healthier. It feels like stars in your stomach.”

Onlooks were excited to see the protest, filming the action on their phones. Photo by Dean Moses

More from around NYC