On Tuesday, June 24, an panel came together for a discussion about food in our neighborhoods – where it comes from, what barriers keep healthy foods from some communities, and solutions that are working. Kaiser Permanente and Elevation DC hosted the discussion right here at the Center for Total Health.
Food writer Mary Beth Albright moderated a lively conversation among Laine Cidlowski, an urban sustainability planner for the D.C. Office of Planning; JuJu Harris, culinary educator with the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture; and Ted Eytan, MD, physician director at the Center for Total Health. Panelists shared different perspectives about D.C.’s food system and considered the economics of good health.
This discussion was a prime opportunity to consider the consequences as well as the opportunities related to food in neighborhoods. According to Cidlowski, communities of high poverty that are more than a 10-minute walk or one bus transfer away from a full-service grocery store are considered food deserts. D.C. liquor stores and fast food restaurants dominate some of the most vulnerable communities where grocery stores have gone out of business or have never existed. This condition leaves residents wanting – and to a large extent, vulnerable to chronic illness and low quality of life.
Organizations such as Arcadia farms, with its mobile market, are filling the gap by bringing fresh produce to people where they live and teaching residents about food selection and meal preparation. Harris, Arcadia’s culinary educator and SNAP outreach coordinator, hosts cooking demonstrations at the markets to help engage customers about what to do with the produce once they get home. She shared that even a 10-minute walk can sometimes be too much for people living in poverty.
Community gardens, gardening plots and urban farms are also part of the solution, however Cidlowski shared that with so much demand, there are now wait lists – some as long as three years – to use some green spaces. But with revitalization efforts in the city, much consideration is being given to food access in the District.
Eytan offered the physician perspective. He highlighted the connection between food and health and why this issue is integral to Kaiser Permanente’s total health mission. “We want to provide health care, not just sick care,” said Eytan, who encourages patients to make time for physical activity and healthy meal preparation, but acknowledges that healthy choices are difficult to make in many neighborhoods.
Enjoy more food for thought—read Elevation DC’s full story.