Urgent Evoke

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The biggest food security issue I identified in New York City is a cycle of poverty which leads to malnutrition and obesity.

While searching for information about this, I stumbled upon this somewhat venomous (if only frustrated) blog, which I hold up in the interest of the rule "listen to the right people", because it provides a first person account of the problem. Simply stated, it's hard to live on a food budget of $1/day in the US. To survive, you live on cheap, high calorie food. This makes you obese.

Moving over to more wonky sources... it turns out one in eight Americans is on food stamps, and they provide each person in a family of four a maximum of $1.85/meal.

While it's generally hard to eat healthy on this amount of money, there's an additional problem reported by the Gotham Gazette:
Currently, an estimated 3 million New Yorkers live in "high-need neighborhoods," defined by a lack of supermarkets and a prevalence of diet-related health problems. These areas lack food security, meaning that people who live in them have difficulty getting "nutritious and affordable food." An estimated 750,000 city residents live in "food deserts" -- areas more than five blocks from a supermarket. Often food deserts are located in low-income and minority communities with a prevalence of diet-related disease, such as obesity and diabetes."

In place of supermarkets are primarily bodegas, selling junk food at inflated prices. Not only is it difficult to afford healthy food even with food stamps, it's difficult to find it for many residents. Talk about food insecurity!

Views: 18

Comment by Ronald Kasendwa on March 30, 2010 at 5:06am
Hi Dr Pete,

Thanks for sharing with us about the biggest food security issue in New York. This is really a good example of Local Insight. EVOKE's goal is to train people that can solve the world's most pressing issues... but this move should start from our own communities.

What do you think can be done to help the New York-ers?
Comment by Shakwei Mbindyo on March 30, 2010 at 6:08am
+1LS. What a contrast living on US$1 in a developing country as opposed to developed country. Many in Kenya, rich and poor grow their own veggies in a shamba (garden patch). I have blogged about the garden in a sack that is used in urban slums where space is a real issue. One thing I see here is people who have no access to their own land grow veggies even on the roadside. I have seen quite a few blogs on urban gardens. Perhaps getting the poor in NY involved in growing their own healthy veggies may be an option that feeds them but also gives back dignity?
Comment by Shane M. Wheeler on March 30, 2010 at 7:00am
It's a pretty complex issue when I break it down in my mind.

Sugar is very cheap, unfortunately. Same for a lot of fast foods.

Garden in a sack is a good idea Shakwei.

I think education can matter to a degree- oatmeal is very cheap and as a wh*** grain can increase insulin sensitivity to offset diabetes. Promotion of cheap, healthful foods through educational packets or seminars might be necessary to help promote change. With sufficient promotion, it could create some market change to focus on these health problems.

Safe public transport allows low income people access to better stores. Not sure how to promote this though.
Comment by Dr Pete on March 30, 2010 at 2:34pm
Thanks for the comments! It's a hard problem, obviously. New York City does have excellent public transportation, but it costs money ($2.25 each way), time and aggravation (how many bags of groceries can you carry on the bus?). Incremental steps that I see as positives include... expanding farmer's markets to these neighborhoods and providing them with the means of accepting food stamps, encouraging bodega/convenience store owners to stock perishable fruits and vegetables, expanding the number of produce carts serving these areas, and so on. Make nutritious food more available and affordable, in other words. According to this, though, fruit is the lowest yield item on a cart

A few years ago, I visited a school in the South Bronx, and I admit I was shocked that most of the kids came in to their first class with a small bag of potato chips and a soda as their breakfast. Such a breakfast would cost about 2 dollars, and is easily available everywhere.
Comment by nomadHAR on April 13, 2010 at 10:17pm
the junk food cartels destroy the planet and destroy people. they KNOW how harmful their foods and additives are; they just don't care. for example, high-fructose corn syrup causes diabetes because it does not chemically break down properly. so why is it used so much? the corn industry gets MASSIVE subsidies for corn, making corn by-products cheaper.

if people had access to markets with proper foods, this wouldn't be such an issue. fresh produce and raw materials are much cheaper than processed junk foods. i live on less than $1.00 a meal, and eat very healthy. my last meal was salad, beans, bread and orange juice.

the lack of accessible markets has been worsened by the 'WalMart effect'; where a WalMart (or similar) moves into a town, kills off all local businesses, then leaves.
Comment by nomadHAR on April 13, 2010 at 10:22pm
being truly 'obese', as opposed to overweight, means that one regularly eats FAR more than one should. junk food leads to health problems, but massive over-consumption of food leads to obesity. when i know that an obese person doesn't have any sort of thyroid or other condition (these conditions are VERY rare), i am disgusted by their greed.
Comment by Dr Pete on April 14, 2010 at 12:13am
Agreed... if there was better access to quality, healthy foods, a bunch of this would decrease.

As to the moral element of obesity, I wouldn't go that far. It's true that even people who can afford and access healthy food still eat junk food, but there are several reasons beyond simple gluttony for that. Since being obese is correlated with being poor, it's sort of like saying "I think they're disgusting for eating like a poor person", isn't it?
Comment by nomadHAR on April 14, 2010 at 12:43am
being obese is correlated with being poor? i've never heard that, actually. i think they are disgusting because they eat as much as four people; totally greedy.

someone that weights 500 pounds of mostly fat is not just eating a few meals of junk food. to truly gain that much weight, one has to each much, much more than one needs.

example: if a person ate an average non-ultra size meal from a fast food restaurant, that is around 800 calories. three of those would be 2400, which is a normal amount of calories; while it has too much fat, this can be burned off in the course of a day. the problem is that people buy two burgers, a large fries and a milkshake; and then eat that 4-5 times a day. all-you-can-eat buffets make this even worse.

tip #1 to maintain weight and stay healthy: EAT LESS! if you need help, seek counselling and support. there are some people out there with diseases and conditions that cause them to gain weight, but these are quite rare and generally those people are getting treatment.
Comment by Dr Pete on April 14, 2010 at 3:44pm
Ok, to get a sense of what I'm talking about, try eating all of your meals either from a 7-11 or a McDonalds. What can you swing on a few dollars/meal? It's not healthy food. While many urban poor are faced with these (or equivalent) as the only choices nearby, others eat from them by choice. Both result, for most people, in obesity.

If you doubt the relation between obesity and poverty, check out this page of links to data, especially this graph.

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