Steven Thompson grew up poor on Navajo Nation. After nearly three decades on a diet built around potatoes, lunch meat and canned goods, he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes; his right leg was amputated as a result of complications from the disease eight years ago.
Now, at the age of 54, Thompson tries to stay active and eat the food his doctor recommends to prevent further complications from the disease, but it’s not easy: the closest grocery store is 32 miles away and he has chronic pain.
“It’s really hurting, but you don’t to heal no more, you know, and then your whole leg aches like your leg’s still there … They gave me this [medicine] to try to help it, but it don’t really help me,” he said.
The nearly 300,000 residents of the Navajo Nation — an area roughly the size of South Carolina — are served by only 10 grocery stores. Gas stations and trading posts fill the vast spaces in between those stores, selling foods loaded with salt, sugar, fat and preservatives. According to the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, a Navajo think tank, 80 percent of food sold in the Navajo Nation could be considered junk. One in three residents is diabetic or prediabetic, and recent studies show that heart disease is the second-leading cause of death among tribal citizens living on the reservation.
But the question of food access could soon be getting renewed focus. Starting in January, the United States will be aiming to reach the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals. One of the priorities is ensuring access to nutritious food. In Indian Country, achieving that goal is a long way off.
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