Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I have this idea

One of the things that has bothered me for a very long time is how poverty interferes with healthy eating habits and is a leading cause of childhood obesity. When a family relies on food banks and low-income food choices, fresh vegetables and fruits are usually the first items to disappear from their grocery lists. Veggies and fruit are very expensive and most people who are living in poverty can't afford to eat them in any guise, even frozen. Food pantries usually disperse rice, pasta, cereal which are all inexpensive foods that fill bellies but don't provide much in the way of nutrition. Canned fish and peanut butter are both provided for protein, and canned vegetables are also given out. But the high sodium in canned vegetables negates any healthy additions to a diet.

On the other hand, there are many community sustainable agricultural programs that deliver healthy vegetables and fruits to it's members. Organically grown, the veggie box is filled with whatever is in season, providing excellent sources of fibre, vitamins, and low calorie eating.

So why aren't these two types of institutions combining to create good, healthy and inexpensive diets for families in poverty? I don't know, but it's something that seems to be an obviously great relationship, if the two differing groups can find a common ground.

In our city we have a working farm that sells veggies in a roadside stand. The farm is owned by the city, which has a food pantry that gives out monthly parcels of food. The food pantry occasionally does contain some offerings from the farm, but certainly not enough for a family. My feeling is, if the town owns the farm, and is providing foodstuffs for quite a few poor families within it's boundries, why aren't they giving out healthier food? Why does the town need to sell their proceeds, especially since we have a farmer's market twice weekly in the summer and fall. Patrons of the farmer's markets pay through the nose for organic fruits and veggies. I'd be much more impressed with the farm if they would look after the poorer members of our community.

But it's not just our city, I don't know of any food pantry that gives out fresh veggies. The poor have notoriously poor diets because they rely so heavily on donated foods. The agencies that run the food pantries don't want to deal with foodstuffs that do not have a shelf life. I can understand that, but why can't the agency arrange with a CSA to bring boxes of produce to the food pantry on the day food is distributed? How hard is that?

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Blogger Jendeis said...

Hi, long time, no comment. I think that I remember from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that there are some cities that allow food stamps to be used at farmers' markets to facilitate the purchase of organic foods.

What do you think of that? I'm not really familiar with how food stamps work, so I'm not sure if it would be easy to do.

2/1/08 4:03 PM  
Blogger Dave2 said...

If the government stopped subsidizing the mass-meat industry which is poisoning our planet and making people sick with steroids and crap, a Big Mac would cost $7.50 (or something like that, depending on the study you believe). Fast food that's bad for you is MADE inexpensive by our government, which then carries over into a health epidemic which is spiraling out of control.

Why healthier food that's ultimately cheaper to produce and doesn't poison our natural resources can't get the same subsidizing is beyond my ability to comprehend. But it's the government... what do you expect?

2/1/08 4:30 PM  
Blogger Daisy said...

It's even harder in the winter. I love fresh produce from my garden in summer, but in winter? I'm stuck paying through the nose or going without. I like your idea of using city farm produce for the pantries.

2/1/08 5:23 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I LOVED "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I hope to eat "more local" come spring.

2/1/08 7:08 PM  
Anonymous CresceNet said...

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2/1/08 8:57 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

I also heard a story on NPR about some group that is trying to make food stamps redeemable at farmer's markets.

Also, I know the gov't would never tell people this (the meat lobbyists would have a coronary), but cutting back on meat would have a profound effect on people's grocery bills. A couple of cans of beans, canned tomatoes, a few veggies and you can make soup or veggie chili that is good for you and tastes great. Portobello mushrooms, TVP or veggie crumbles, beans, etc all are much cheaper than many types of meat.

Finally, the schools should follow the lead of one I saw in Vermont which started its own garden for fresh vegetables and herbs (the kids manage the garden during the warm months and plan it in the cold months). I realize that space is an issue in many schools, so maybe start small with potted herbs, or tomatoes or salad greens. Did you see "Supersize Me?" What is fed in the schools is truly horrifying and sets kids up to crave those high-fat, high-sugar/salt foods.

3/1/08 7:19 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

It really should be a no-brainer to let people use foodstamps for fresh food. You'd be horrified how much gets thrown away in the supermarket.
I made collard greens for New Year's Day and planned to buy the prewashed bag, but they were sold out. (This is the south, mind you.) So I grabbed two humongous bunches of collards as they were being unpacked at the store and chopped those instead. So much better than even fresh pre-washed. Amazing flavor.

3/1/08 12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In D.C., where I live, the problem is that the vast majority of the poor live in areas of the city that do not have grocery stores, and they do not have cars--they have to rely on public transportation and "riders," a sort of unofficial taxi system. The result is the predictable worsening of the health crisis already rampant among the poor here and deepening of poverty as people try to subsist on what they can get in their neighborhoods--milk for $4.99 a gallon, bananas for $3.99 a pound, no vegetables, and food stamps not accepted.

Every farmer's market in the city accepts food stamps here, but there is the problem of getting people to their food and home again, particularly because most of these poor are working at the times when the farmer's markets are open.

The best answer that these people have had has been, surprisingly, city councilman Marion Barry--yes, that Marion Barry. He has a number of initiatives going to help poor neighborhoods attract mainstream grocery stores.

3/1/08 11:01 PM  

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