Monday, June 7, 2010

Crossing the Food Desert

by: Linda Novick O’Keefe

The other day, I asked our programming staff to provide me with a quick summary of what our kids our eating …

•The average diet of a Common Threads child coming into the program is as follows (per our surveys):

Breakfast: Fruit loops cereal, Doritos, pancakes, many indicated “I don’t eat breakfast”

Lunch: School lunches: tater tots and hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, cheeseburger and fries, nachos and cheese, flaming cheetos, mayonnaise sandwich, pasta with meat, Lunchables, Minute Maid fruit punch, chocolate milk

Dinner: McDonald’s, Shark’s, (other fast food), spaghetti, fried chicken, chicken tenders, homemade tortillas/flautas

I am a “problem, solution” gal. So what do we do? Well, pull soda and full-calorie beverages from schools. That’s good. Reinstate gym class? That would be nice. Put healthy snacks in vending machines; another step in the right direction.

Let’s be real. Where we live determines where we buy food, whether it’s Whole Foods, The Jewel, Dominicks, Aldi, White Hen, McDonalds, J&J, or the corner liquor store. Where we buy our food sways the choices we make and what we eat, whether our food is real and whole or over-processed, whether we opt to buy from local farmers, organic, what is on sale, what the special is, or what looks edible and attractive. What we eat factors into whether we're overweight, our physical and spiritual health, our success in school or at our job and our ability to be the best, happiest person we can be.

I am excited that we are beginning to see changes and that people are finally realizing that we have a serious problem here. I am thrilled that Michelle Obama is taking an active stand on obesity prevention; I love that Jamie Oliver is raising awareness on a national level about obesity and trying to fix our school lunch system—which in my opinion is BROKEN. However, I do believe that we are making small strides. For example, CPS, and several private schools, seem to be getting on the bandwagon of tooting whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables (CPS just mandated some pretty big changes that will begin this coming June, Pepsi and Coke are pulling out of all elementary schools, Pepsi is pulling full-calorie beverages out of secondary school). I think that schools that promote fresh fruits and veggies foods as a benefit are positioning themselves for funding, parental support and great PR. Healthy living and social responsibility are in—it is “hot” to be thoughtful.

I am pleased that small steps are being made every day. But I want to point out that we can talk about the energy balance (calories in calories out) and tell people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables until we're blue in the face, but if we don't address the social barriers of cost and availability, as well as crime rates and safety in low-income minority communities it’s change that is only for the rich.

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