Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation
By Kristin Beharry, J.D. ’16 and Rosana Aragon Plaza, LL.M. ’15
Fundamental Navajo law includes the concept of ho’zho’, loosely translated to “balance.” In a workshop hosted by the Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) from February 9-11, Navajo Nation food advocates described how their current food system is out of balance, leading to environmental, health, and economic challenges among its residents. Over three days, the Navajo advocates and FLPC staff and students talked through strategies to change laws and policies on the federal, tribal, state and local level to improve the food system and gain back this sense of balance. These discussions will play a key role in FLPC’s work to develop a toolkit that identifies the main food policy and advocacy challenges that the Navajo Nation faces today, and strategies to overcome these challenges through policy change. The FLPC has been working with the Navajo Division of Health for the past two years, exploring ways in which Navajo leaders can address health and food sovereignty challenges in the Navajo Nation through food policy change.
In Navajo Nation, healthy food is often costly, difficult and time-consuming to find, while heavily processed, high-calorie and nutritionally poor foods are far more prevalent. The biggest Native American reservation in the United States, Navajo Nation includes large “food deserts,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as low-income communities that have “low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet.” Food insecurity is estimated to affect a staggering 76% of households in Navajo Nation. The lack of fresh, healthy food perpetuates health disparities, as over 40% of the total Navajo population (which stands at over 180,000 people) are overweight or obese.
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