January 26, 2009

Dishin' on Nutrition Initiatives

In her great new Poverty and Policy blog, Kathryn Baer recently linked to a letter that Bread for the City Executive Director George Jones posted here about the need for nutrition initiatives to improve community health. Kathryn's post reaffirmed the importance of comprehensively addressing the matters of hunger, obesity, and other forms of malnutrition – and she notes the challenges involved in such a mission. How can we get people to eat healthier without dictating their diet, item for item?

I want to call attention to two programs that show lots of non-paternalistic promise:

  • The People's Grocery, of Oakland, California. This non-profit organization engages community through their youth and adult outreach efforts, including working their 3 1/2-acre farm, holding regular cooking classes, peer education programs, and monthly community parties that feature health-focused guest chefs, poetry readings, a local DJ, and more. Their flagship program has been their popular Mobile Market, an affordable health food store on wheels that has served West Oakland for years. (West Oakland, like DC’s communities East of the River, is an area deprived of food markets but rich in liquor stores.) The Mobile Market is now on hold as The People's Grocery focuses their resources on opening a brick-and-mortar health-centered grocery store in West Oakland, the first supermarket there in more than 20 years, and the only in the four square miles of this neighborhood.
  • Wholesome Wave's Double Value Coupon Initiative, which started in Connecticut and is expanding nationally. To complement the Food Stamp and the USDA Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, participants are able to receive twice the amount of produce at local farmer's markets. A $3 WIC voucher has a new worth of $6, and $5 in food stamps suddenly means $10 of fruits and vegetables. By encouraging the purchase of healthier foods in this way, private money is being used to augment governmental programs, government is not dictating what to purchase, sustainable agriculture is strengthened, and local economies are supported.
Both of these efforts started with small budgets and straightforward concepts. We'd love to hear of other programs you're acquainted with that are approaching this issue in innovative and holistic ways.

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