Organic and healthy foods are typically more expensive than conventionally produced goods, and are therefore viewed as being reserved for wealthy and well-educated individuals. However, not eating healthy foods because you think they are expensive is part of the problem in America today and not much of an excuse anymore in large cities, which have developed initiatives to increase access to fresh foods.
Americans should be concerned about the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods, because as a nation we have seen the consequences of not eating well — heart disease, diabetes, and obesity to name a few. Eating healthy can be affordable through smart budgeting — such as comparing prices and shopping in season — and programs like Cooking Matters.
While there are currently no national initiatives to ensure access to fresh or healthy foods, some cities have come up with clever ways to “bridge the food gap.” Chicago has a program called Fresh Moves, a mobile produce market that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to undeserved communities. Innovative programs, like Fresh Moves and others, have contributed to Chicago seeing its “food deserts” decline by 39% in the last five years.
Around the nation, programs are sprouting up in order to raise awareness and affordability to healthy eating.
Vend Natural, a California-based company, is expanding its efforts to Dallas, where they have created an ingenious way of providing consumers who are on the go with access to fresh fruits and vegetables through vending machines. New York City has many green markets which provide people with affordable local foods: some organic, some not. These green markets accept EBT/food stamps and are located in lower income neighborhoods such as Washington Heights, Kingsbridge Heights, Corona, Jackson Heights, and Brownsville. The goal is to provide all shoppers with affordable and accessible local produce.
In addition to the greenmarkets, GrowNYC has many community outreach and education programs – i.e. youth markets, fresh bodega, and fresh pantry. Fresh Bodega is a program that allows fresh foods to be more accessible as regional farmers distribute their fresh produce to bodegas or local stores in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where local residents already do their shopping. Youth markets have also become an effective way for educating the community by training teens on how to run their own produce stands. Teens earn money and gain work experience, which they can use to help them run their own businesses in the future. Through the Fresh Pantry Project, farmers donate fresh produce to City Harvest and local shelters weekly in order to reduce hunger and increase access to healthy foods in the community.
The issues of access and affordability are much bigger than farmer’s markets or vending machines that distribute fresh foods. However, fresh foods is certainly becoming more accessible in major cities and becoming increasingly affordable.
The USDA recently released the MyPlate program to raise awareness of consuming fewer calories and eating a more balanced meal. However, this program does not address making healthy and less-processed foods more accessible across the country. Therefore the question remains, what would a national healthy food distribution program look like and how can healthy foods reach “middle America”?
Photo Credit: NatalieMaynor