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The slow/local/fresh food cravings of the United States have been growing steadily for the past 20 years. Going to grocery stores and seeing shelves, freezers, and refrigerators filled with highly processed foods that have the nutritional value of a blade of grass is sparking concern with even the least health conscious among us. Not surprisingly, the last two decades have also found the US grappling with innumerable health problems and the realities of a seriously questionable (read: scary) food industry. In 2010 the obesity rate for adults in the United States reached a whopping 26.6% according to Gallup.com.
Like most societal issues, a lot of this problem can be traced back to early education. The importance of a well-balanced diet has not exactly been at the forefront of schooling for the young ones in this country and continues to be downplayed in most institutions (witness the recent Congress, tomato paste/pizza brouhaha). Not until recently have cafeterias been required to adhere to certain guidelines so as not to stuff the youth with mounds of Twinkies and milkshakes. But kids aren’t the only ones suffering from poor dietary habits. Sometimes eating at McDonald’s or Wendy’s is a necessity due to budgetary constraints and busy schedules. However, Wendy and Ronald obviously don’t have our best interests in mind.
Buying fresh, local food seems to be the answer to the question “What can we eat?” But the question then becomes how?
Many households are turning to farmer’s markets and CSAs to purchase produce that is a lot less likely to be pumped full of pesticides and hormones, though, this option is not available to everyone. In many neighborhoods, people are subjected to a a very limited selection of healthy options, if any at all, and therefore are more prone to choose foods that are affordable but not necessarily healthy. Programs all around the US have been battling this abominable discrepancy and there have been a few initiatives that have offered aid to many families (phew!).
People’s Grocery in California
Organizations like the ever-growing People’s Grocery in West Oakland, California have made a huge improvement in their community.
“Over the last nine years, People’s Grocery’s urban agriculture, nutrition, and enterprise programs provided healthy food access while setting the stage for a systemic conversation about healthy food in West Oakland. Organizations across the country have replicated our work, and our leadership development models represent innovative strategies to catalyze resident power in the creation of health equity through food. Our work has raised the profile of food issues within movements addressing health, the environment, economic development, and cultural competency.”
The organization does so much more than just provide food. There are classes available and guides to follow, along with many activities to take part in such as helping out in the garden and the ability to help fortify solutions to secure safe, local foods.
Green Cart in NYC
In New York, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law a program called Green Cart, which funds fruit and vegetable stands in neighborhoods that don’t have ready access to produce in the five Burroughs. The initiative began in 2008 and has since grown but faced some criticism because of it’s band-aid-esque solution—think, “set it and forget it.” However, many neighborhoods have benefited from its existence.
The most popular, efficient plans for encouraging healthy eating stem from more of an all encompassing approach that makes healthy food available and also provides information and a system that not only continues to bring fresh foods to neighborhoods but keeps it there. Even First Lady Michelle Obama is following this path with the organization she started called Let’s Move, which aims to battle childhood obesity:
Combining comprehensive strategies with common sense, Let’s Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping children become more physically active.
Political leaders are encouraged to adopt this initiative and make it a long-term goal for schools in their district(s). The program is meant to involve not just schools but families, and the entire community. Having a collective of people focusing on one goal (go team Healthy Living!) helps everyone stay the course. Little Jimmy can no longer devour 3 cheeseburgers a day—maybe just one, and make it a veggie. It’s a great way to get kids involved and take responsibility for their eating habits and can be made into a fun family activity. There’s even a program where kids can learn the importance of farming and better their understanding of where food comes from.
Eat well, America!
The simple fact is, eating healthy should be a a realistic option for everyone and these programs are taking the first step toward that goal, now you should take the next step. If you’re looking for a local farmer’s market or CSA there are great websites that provide comprehensive information no matter where you are. Take a minute to dig around and see if there are viable opportunities in your vicinity. If not, let your local legislators know. Together we just might be able to concur obesity and other health related diseases.
All this talk about food makes me want to go and whip up something healthy and delicious!