November 3, 2009

Assessing the Nutrition Initiative

[Cross-posted at the DC Food For All!]

A couple of years ago, after a series of conversations about the need for more healthy food in our client communities, Bread for the City decided that our food pantry should walk the same walk that our medical clinic talks. Thus began a nutrition initiative that ultimately led to an overhaul of our entire pantry menu.

Changes to the menu included fewer processed meats, and less red meat. More whole grains, dry beans, fruits canned without heavy syrup, as well as low sodium canned beans and vegetables. We’ve changed our wish list of donated foods to promote healthy eating by discouraging foods that can contribute to disease and encouraging foods that are consistent with the advice patients get from practitioners in our medical clinic. And of course, one of the most dramatic changes: the inclusion of fresh produce in every bag. (This was largely made possible through our gleaning program, Glean for the City.)

Input from our clients was and is essential in this process. Two surveys were administered to gauge client interests -- one in 2008, as the transition began, and one last month. During this second survey process, we've found some results that we'd like to share.

One of the most revealing questions was, "What item do you appreciate the most?"

In our recent survey, meat/chicken/fish had the highest frequency, receiving 101 responses, or 26 percent of the selections. That's to be expected - given the cost and societal value associated with meat in our society. However, this result reflects a decrease of 16 percentage points from our survey last year, when meat/chicken/fish received 42 percent of the responses. Though meat remains at the top of the list of our clients' preferences, we can our community has begun to take more interest in the variety of our other offerings.

In our 2009 survey, fresh fruit and vegetables came in as a close runner-up to the top choice of meat/chicken/fish with about 20 percent. But when we combine preferences of fresh or canned options, preference for fruit+veg rises to 36 percent -- higher than meat! Additionally, this statistic rose by 12 percent throughout the year, potentially because of the increase in fresh fruits and vegetables due to our gleaning program. (We must also note that this question’s format differed slightly from year to year, which likely affected the results to some degree.)

Another question that received interesting responses was, "Would you choose to get less meat/chicken/fish if you instead got a larger amount of food overall?"

Meat is the most expensive kind of item in our pantry, and our hope is that we could reduce the quantity of meat we purchase in order to purchase more of a variety of other items. At 55 percent, a majority of respondents circled “yes”: they would prefer less meat in exchange for more food, whereas 41 percent responded “no,” and 4 percent provided no response. These numbers are slightly different from 2008, in which 49 percent responded “yes,” 37 percent responded “no" (14 percent no response). The gap between “yes” and “no” widened by only 2 percentage points between 2008-2009 - but we are encouraged and will continue to look into the opportunity for more individual choice among the various items on our menu.

As an endnote, it was wonderful to receive many positive comments about the food pantry: “I really appreciate what you are doing for the people, thanks!”

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