I recently came across a very informative article about why people are unable to access healthy, affordable food options.
The article lists the top ten reasons that attribute to this issue and was compiled by the staff at Local Foods Connection which is a non-profit organization that purchases produce, meat and other products from small family farmers and donates this food to low-income families. They are based out of Iowa and their website is http://www.localfoodsconnection.org/.
After you have read the list below, give us your own thoughts on the issue of food deserts and how you would alter the list below to fit the barriers in your city. The article in its entirety can be read here: http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_11228.cfm
The Top Ten List:
1. Financial Restrictions
Most of us know that purchasing organic and local produce and food is more expensive than purchasing processed food. This is one of the reasons people buy less nutritious foods or opt for fast food where they get more for their money. In food deserts there are no healthy options that are affordable.
2. Preparation and Storage of Food
Low income families do not have all the kitchen gear needed to prepare meals that are healthy and can be stored for several days. In addition, the storage of foods is difficult due to the fact that these families usually live with multiple people or other family members and have lack of space in the refrigerator or freezer. They may also encounter appliances such as stoves and ovens that do not work properly or may be broken altogether.
3. Distribution of Food
Food Deserts, and the main topic of our blog and website, is number three on this list. Knowing where to find healthy option in these food deserts as well as getting to areas that do have some option are true barriers. Most low income families cannot afford vehicles so are forced to take public transportation which is not always a simple task especially when trying to negotiate five bags of groceries or more and sometimes having children in tow.
4. Lack of Knowledge and Education - Low-Income Individuals
Low income families may not have the knowledge in preparing fresh foods because of their culture and lack of education. They may also have low family values, i.e. no interest in showing children how to prepare food or the desire to throw something together.
5. Cultural Values and Lifestyles
Some cultures develop habits early in childhood to prepare meals using lard, sugar, canned and processed foods even for special meals like holidays. Even public schools do not enforce healthy eating and do not serve healthy options in the school cafeterias.
In addition, low income families are a target audience for fast food chains in terms of advertising. This is all some people can relate to because there may be one of these chains a few blocks from their home.
Many disabled individuals also fit in the low income category. It is even more of a challenge to get these disabled individuals the food that will sustain them. For one, they are unable to go and get food and two, they are unable to prepare themselves meals in many circumstances. Some are unable to take care of themselves and rely on individuals to care enough to feed them good food. Using a microwave and delivery take out are sometimes their only options.
7. Preparation and Storage of Food - Social Service Agencies
Many social service agencies who are willing to help the low income population may lack the time, funding, experience and education to do so. Food pantries, neighborhood centers, churches, homeless and domestic violence shelters, family resource centers, and environmental action groups are some of the groups that are great at doing their part in curbing this barrier but there is only so much time, money and volunteers to help. These agencies often lack appliances to prepare and store foods safely or may not have the manpower to prepare the foods necessary.
8. Fulfillment of Government Nutrition Standards - Agencies & Institutions
There are stringent state and federal restriction on the foods in which agencies can serve to people in, for example, senior centers and schools. These foods must meet government nutrition standards, which means healthy, sanitary foods which may not be in the price range of what some of these agencies can provide. They are only able to help so much due to funding issues. It certainly can be a burden to meet these standards and this prevents many from moving forward with their efforts.
9. Lack of Education - Social Service Agencies
Social service agencies may believe that no matter what they serve they are helping the lives of those less fortunate. That may be the case to some degree but if they are not educated in nutrition and are feeding these people processed food they are truly not doing them any good.
In addition, without the knowledge of nutrition they are actually increasing the financial stresses as well as health stresses on these low income people as they find themselves with diabetes and heart issues due to poor diets not to mention medical bills.
10. Lack of Education - General Population
This is where Ecopol comes in. This is #1 in terms of what we are trying to accomplish. We are striving to get the word out to the general public and create awareness of these barriers. Our hope is to educate and inform the general population as to how they can help and make a difference.