Friday, January 18, 2008

Food & Society Memo: The Poor Get Diabetes, the Rich Get Local and Organic

In an excerpt from his new book, Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, Mark Winne, a writer and the longtime director of the Hartford Food System in Hartford, Connecticut, analyzes and writes about what he says is a dangerous dietary split between those who have substantial economic means in the U.S. and those who don't.

Winne says the residents he worked with for 25 years in the low-income neighborhoods of Hartford knew all about organic and local fresh foods--and desired to have them--but were in the main unable to obtain the foods, not only for economic reasons, but because of logistical ones as well. Chief among these logistical or distribution reasons, is the lack of quality food stores in the inner-cities that offer healthy, fresh, organic and local foods at a reasonable price.

In his piece, Winne argues there are a variety of market-based and government-oriented public policy programs that could bring more fresh and healthy foods to poor people, especially those in the inner-city.

Further, he offers examples and potential solutions from his years running the Hartford Food System, and describes other innovative solutions to this serious problem being successfully implemented in places like Oakland, California, Massachusetts, and other places in the U.S.

Winnie's piece is thought-provoking, and offers some good solutions to this serious dietary problem faced by people living in America's inner cities (and rural regions as well).

The healthy "food gap" between America's haves and have-nots, as Winnie puts it, does continue to grow. Smart, creative and innovative solutions are needed to bridge this economic and social divide. These solutions also need to be provided in a partnership consisting of government, the private sector, non-profit groups, retailers and citizens.

We would also like to see America's food industry, especially retailers, work in partnership with food manufacturers, community groups and others to launch real, healthy food and shopping education programs in communities throughout the U.S., especially in the inner-cities and poor rural regions.

It's amazing how much money a person can save, and how much healthier they can eat, when they have knowledge. That knowledge needs to include a primer on how to shop economically: shopping weekly sales, the fact that "real" foods are cheaper than highly-processed ones, and other facts.

Home food preparation also needs to be a part of the classes. Scientific research has demonstrated that those people who cook and eat at home most often are far healthier than those who eat foods away from home most often. Cooking at home also is at least 50% cheaper overall than eating out regularly, even at fast food places.

Lastly--but far from least--there needs to be a nutritional element in these community-based classes. A primer on the basic food groups, differences between proteins, carbs and fats, and the importance of eating a balanced diet all need to be included.

These three elements--shopping economics, cooking at home, and diet and health--can be tied together easily in a series of community-based classes, and brought to community centers and churches throughout America's inner-cities and rural areas.

If done in a real, comprehensive way, and backed by both the private and public sectors, such classes--along with other private and public initiatives--will go a long way towards helping many people eat better, stay healthier, and live longer.

Read Winnie's piece, The Poor Get Diabetes, the Rich Get Local and Organic, here.

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