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Healthy food sometimes hard to come by

 The Contributor (USA) 21 February 2019

For those living in Nashville’s poorest neighborhoods, finding healthy and affordable food can be a near impossibility. But programs like Mobile Loaves and Fishes are trying to meet people’s health and food needs the old-fashioned way - with neighborhood gardens. (781 Words) - By Allison Woods


THeContributor_ healthy food sometimes hard to come by

 Photo Credit: Tallu Schuyler

Each day two trucks full of healthy meals and fresh produce travel to the food deserts of Nashville and distribute food for free. Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF) Program Director Tallu Schuyler works every day to provide healthy options to families who would not otherwise have access.

"When people think about hungry people, maybe we think of really thin people, like famished," she said. "Hunger, I think, needs to be reframed, as many of us are hungry for nourishment."

A food desert is a section of an urban area, usually a poor neighborhood, that has little or no access to healthy food. Edgehill, North Nashville/Charlotte Pike, and East Nashville/Shelby Avenue are the three Nashville areas crippled by poor access to healthy food and therefore poor health. Families in these areas struggle with putting healthy food on the table because of proximity, affordability and food knowledge.

Proximity can mean how close a well-stocked grocery store is to the neighborhood or whether transportation is readily available to get there. These three neighborhoods have few grocery options, so people spend their food stamps at convenience stores that have only the bare essentials and often no fresh produce.

Not only do families struggle to find stores but it is also difficult to manage buying healthy food on their budget. Expensive transportation costs due to numerous bus changes and high prices on fresh produce limit families' desire to pick healthier options, as well.

One major deterrent keeping grocery stores from moving into these areas has to do with economics. Food has become a commodity; grocery is a business, and so these low-income neighborhoods struggle to support large chain stores.

Bill Martin Food Store is a small grocery located in the East End neighborhood. Having served the area for almost 50 years, they offer more variety than the closest convenience store-and they have fresh produce.

Bill Martin, 96, hasn't missed a day of work since the store first opened. He grew up in the area and is very familiar with the community.

"The area is a lot better than it was," he said. "The food stamp and WIC [women, infants and children] programs help keep people from starving."

Bill's son and daughter work in the store as well. Billy Martin knows much of the store's income comes from food stamps, and his sister cashes WIC checks in the store.

"It has affected our business, but not so much that it is hurting us," he said. "We have a lot of loyal customers that have been here since my dad opened."

Save-a-Lot has opened up a new store in North Nashville on Charlotte Pike, donating $5,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank at the grand opening. The company is making a statement to the community about the importance of nutritious food.

Many organizations have taken the route of education to battle the problem. A major gap to bridge is in food knowledge and nutrition. This is where Mobile Loaves and Fishes steps in. In addition to daily food truck runs, MLF is taking significant steps in educating the communities they serve.

This past summer, MLF started a youth program to educate students on sustainable agriculture, nutrition and cooking healthy meals. Students from the Cayce housing project worked in their garden, harvesting food and preparing meals. The fresh produce was distributed in their community and the students took home recipes to their families. It was extremely successful, and MLF has plans to expand it next summer.

Schuyler made the point that knowledge is not just about healthy recipes, however. Food deserts often have higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

"A lot of us in low-income neighborhoods maybe get enough calories, but we're not getting food that nourishes," she said. "There's obviously a very distinct difference."

Families must buy their groceries at corner or convenience stores where the cheapest options are most often the unhealthiest options. As a result, fast food replaces a healthy meal more often than not in these neighborhoods.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a plan to ban the purchase of soda with food stamps. Many health officials support his proposal on the basis of cutting health care costs and lowering obesity rates. On the surface, it seems like a first step to solving the nutrition problem. However, it also says that those who are poor cannot make good food choices on their own.

"Once you start saying you can't buy soda with food stamps, what are you going to say next?" Schuyler asked.

Educating these areas of Nashville includes nutrition and health but also mutual respect. There is not a quick fix for food deserts. "Any progress will be a long process," Schuyler said.

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Originally published by The Contributor ©

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