The Doctor's Farmacy with Mark Hyman, M.D.


A Way Out Of Food Racism And Poverty with Karen Washington

A Way Out Of Food Racism And Poverty | This episode is brought to you by ButcherBox and Bioptimizers

Food is a way to empower people and create change. It’s time for us to use it as a tool for changing racial injustice and helping Black, Brown, and low-income communities achieve better health, economic opportunities, and even generational legacies in the form of land ownership. 

Many of us have heard the term “food desert” as a way to describe places where fresh, healthy food is not accessible within a certain distance. On this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy, my guest, Karen Washington, takes this concept to a greater level with her coining of the phrase “food apartheid,” to really portray the overarching inequalities in our food system when it comes to the demographics of race, location, affluence, and economics.

Karen Washington is a farmer, activist, and food advocate. She is the Co-owner and Farmer at Rise & Root Farm in Chester, New York. In 2010, Karen Co-Founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS), an organization supporting growers in both urban and rural settings. In 2012, Ebony magazine voted her one of the 100 most influential African Americans in the country, and in 2014 Karen was the recipient of the James Beard Leadership Award. Karen serves on the boards of the New York Botanical Gardens, SoulFire Farm, the Mary Mitchell Center, Why Hunger, and Farm School NYC.

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Here are more of the details from our interview: 

  • How Karen came to see the relationship between food and health growing up and working as a physical therapist in The Bronx (7:44)

  • Lack of access to healthy foods in low-income communities and issues of structural racism that are driving health disparities in our society (12:57)

  • The notion of food deserts vs. food apartheid (16:39)

  • Encouraging Black youth to embrace farming (24:12)

  • The broken promise of 40 acres and a mule, Black land loss, Black land ownership, and reparations (27:20)

  • The power of grassroots efforts, voting, and holding elected officials accountable (34:40)

  • Why there is no going back from this moment in history (43:55)

  • Recognizing the impact of structural racism in our food system and beyond (48:00)

  • Improving communities by implementing school kitchens, financial education, job training, and community wealth building (52:06)

  • Understanding the history of how food has been used as a weapon among BIPOC communities (1:00:59)

Learn more about Karen Washington at Follow her on Facebook @KarenWashingtonNY, Instagram @karwasher, and on Twitter @karwasher.

Learn more about Rise & Root Farm at

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