Neighborhood Nutrition Centers attended the Francis Parker Community Action Fair: Faces and Voices of Democratic Power. It was an extraordinary opportunity to practice the “elevator speech” and tell kids why neighborhood nutrition centers are important – and also, to see if there is any interest to come be an intern as we develop. Community asset mapping will be a strong part of our research (see: A Day With Dip).
The two most interesting questions that came out of the fair had to do with price and economics. One young lady asked the question: “isn’t organic food more expensive?” I’d like to answer that by saying real food is more expensive, and we should be paying a better price to get good nutrients, good calcium, good vitamins, from the food we’re eating than from pills, and shots, and medicaments.
The other interesting thought came out of a feedback questionnaire as students were leaving. They were asked to identify two organizations/projects whose work you would like to see Parker students learn more about. What is it about that work that is important to you? The response selected for Neighborhood Nutrition Centers was “…because everyone deserves quality food, but people in low-income communities often can’t get it.”
What is most interesting about this response is it assumes neighborhoods that lack grocery stores are “poor.” Not necessarily the case. Many areas lack grocery stores where there is plenty of affluence. I tried to think if I had ever said throughout the day that I was going in to serve poor areas. I said the areas most needing the nutrition centers would be on the west side or the south side. I mentioned that grocery stores had left the areas, and weren’t returning in these economic times, but I didn’t say that I wanted to go in and serve the poor.
The issue is bigger than being poor. Without access to good quality, healthy food even the more affluent will rely on the fast foods and the convenience store junk. Who wants to walk two miles, or wait for a bus while dragging a cart behind, or spend the money on the gas to get to the grocery store? Many middle income people don’t. It’s just as easy for the affluent to avoid shopping for real food, when real food is not convenient.
Neighborhood Nutrition Centers goes beyond economic factors. There are social factors involved, as well. Central to the core of NNC is gathering people through classes, events, and projects at the center to learn from one another about what’s going on in the community, and what’s the best recipe for this head of cabbage I got from Mr. Dip?
If we don’t have access to healthful food, we run risks to our health. Studies can demonstrate on the west and south sides of Chicago where the grocery challenge is most prevalent there is increase of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity… because the food that is available promotes these types of issues. Food that is high in salt content and sugars and fats.
I enjoyed my morning at Francis W. Parker school, and I learned a great deal about myself. From the kids I learned that it is easy to assume the message is just about helping the poor, while I must craft the message to be about food access – for everyone.