Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Recently, some studies have been published with findings that contradict our understanding of food deserts. The New York Times article where this is covered cites two studies. One published last March that used national data (multiple locations) found that poor urban neighborhoods had more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more wealthy areas, but also had more grocery stores. This study also did not find a connection between proximity of grocery stores and fast food venues to child BMI or eating habits. Additionally, a study on California youth did not find a relationship between proximity of grocery stores and fast food venues and BMI and eating habits.
It’s tempting to jump to conclusions from research studies like these. After all, that is what they are for. However, the concept of food deserts was not created out of nowhere. There is data supporting the existing of food deserts and the connection between food access and health outcomes. See this link for a great literature review if you’re up for it (see pg.s 51-59). One thing I noticed in the existing research, though, is that while there might be an association between proximity of fast food and grocery stores and health outcomes like BMI and fruit/vegetable intake, the connection is small. The difference is on the order of about half a serving of produce or one BMI point, depending on which study you look at.
So, now that I know some of the facts, here are my initial thoughts:
For me, the main question is: IF EVERYONE HAD ACCESS TO FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WOULD THEY EAT THEM, AND WOULD THE OBESITY RATE GO DOWN?
I don’t know the answer, but I know that there is no such thing as a panacea for a complex problem such as unhealthy eating. There needs to be a multi-pronged approach including increased access to healthy foods, less access to fast foods, better pricing of healthy foods, education about how to cook and eat healthy foods, and an overall change in our food culture.
Ilana Barach is an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Presbyterian Hunger Program, working on food access and security in Indianapolis. When she's not thinking about food, she enjoys tearing through books, yoga and meditation, and anything outdoors.
I am going to share with you, a poem:
and cheese powder,
and ammonium sulfate,
and yellow number 5
Okay, it is not really a poem. Just a selection of ingredients you’ll find listed on the back of the store brand cheese-its box in my recycling bin...
It’s the dirty laundry of this food justice advocate. But I air these treason in favor inclusion and the prevention of burnout.
My shoulders sag under the weight of my grocery bags. Sweat drips down my back as I peer down the highway, my eyes scanning traffic for the number 17 bus. It’s five minutes late and the afternoon sun has all but melted me and my fellow bus riders into steaming puddles on the cracked sidewalk.
Last week I arrived home one evening to find, much to my surprise, a little offering of neighborly kindness. On top of the compost bin outside the kitchen door sat a baby fennel plant with a note that read,
“Some fennel starts if you’d like them. From: your neighbor at Apt. #81.”
What a thoughtful random act of kindness from a neighbor who I have never met. I decided such an act should be returned with a personal face-to-face thank you and formal introduction. After a few tries I finally was able to put a face to that kind ...
I apologize in advance for ruining your lunch or latte or whatever dairy confection you are enjoying. No, I’m not going to go into gruesome detail PETA style about how your milk is produced, although there may be a few nuggets of information you would prefer not to know. Actually, the purpose of this blog is to encourage you to question your food-related assumptions and beliefs. I mean, it would be great if you eat less conventional dairy (dairy coming from mass-production factories which are not pretty places), or alternatively it would be nice if you at least gave ...
What it is: Food Justice Fellows are a cohort of spirit-based organizers connected to the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP). They are young or young-at-heart folks working to build local food economies that are sustainable and just, and people who make connections (and help others do so) between local food and hunger issues and related global concerns.
PHP will arrange for at least one training/networking opportunity for the Fellows. Small support grants from PHP (given through the presbytery, a congregation or local organization) may also be available to help the Fellows with food justice/local food economy events they may organize in their region. PHP will correspond with and do conference calls with the Fellows regularly (currently 2nd and 4th Mondays at 4:00 pm (eastern time)) to exchange ideas, share best practices, discuss readings and provide updates on the U.S. and global food sovereignty movement and related work inside and outside the church. The Presbyterian Hunger Program staff and Food Justice Fellows will provide each other with mutual support, accountability and camaraderie. Hunger Action Enablers, Mission Advocates and other leaders throughout the PCUSA are potential resources and connectors.
Why it is: The purpose is to connect Presbyterians to the agrarian roots and lessons of the Bible to inspire and equip them – together with their congregations and communities – to fight hunger and poverty by rebuilding local food economies here in the U.S. and to support the same overseas through advocacy and campaigns.
If you are selected, work plans will then be developed for the year in consultation with PHP. Call Andrew at 502.569.5388 for additional information.
Frequently Asked Questions
Actual questions asked by real people...
1) Is this only for Presbyterians?
* Presbyterians and persons of other faiths are invited to apply. The majority are Presbyterians (so you must be able to tolerate them), but we have other faiths represented as well. That said, Fellows must be currently doing or be willing/planning to collaborate with Presbyterians and Presbyterian congregations in their food justice/local food economy building work.
2) I am wondering about the work/job component. Can the applicants have any job in the food industry?
* If the Fellow is employed, the job doesn't have to be food-related, but they would need to also be doing food justice/sustainable ag-related work (either paid or unpaid) as part of their life.
3) Does the fellowship come with a stipend so I can look for internships?
* There is no stipend. There is some funding available for events or activities that the FJF coordinates or is active leading around food justice, i.e. a program with community, churches, presbytery, government, etc. (for example, the Fellow organzes a county-wide Food Justice Teach-In with a tour of local farms, 'food deserts', a processing plant and city hall to talk with government officials about starting a Food Policy Council. PHP could provide a matching grant of $1000 or so to help make that possible.)
4) Can I be located anywhere in the U.S.?
5) Where and when would the face-to-face gathering be for the Fellows?
* We will meet face-to-face at least once a year as part of the Food Justice Fellows Program. The 2013 gathering was in DC at the Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference on Food Justice in April. The 2014 gathering has not been determined yet. Participation in this gathering is very important for the Fellowship.
6) Would you provide funding for transportation to this gathering?
* There are scholarships available based on need, but we will expect the Fellow to raise some funds. The lack of personal funds will not limit participation.
7) Is the fellowship a year long program?
* We will do annual work plans, but those that wish to and who are in good standing would continue on year after year if so desired.
That evening I sat on my front porch and stared at my green grass and budding bushes. I wanted to throw a 2 year old style tantrum, of not understanding why the world was so unfair. I was ready to take control of my food system. I was ready to get back to the dirt and simpler times. I was ready to turn my yard into a demonstration of how to do so. But for reasons beyond my control, I could not.
How was it that the ecological revolution I saw budding in myself and my backyard was so easily derailed by the previous industrial one of my predecessors?...
Thanks to my roommate’s luck with winning tickets, we attended a great film series event the other night showing the documentary, Eating Alabama. The premise around the film was to capture all the trials and tribulations that the filmmaker and his wife had while trying to eating only food found in their home state of Alabama for one year. This concept is nothing new to the food movement in fact people have been doing it for a while now, take Barbara Kingsolver and her record in, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” However something in particular moved me that night. Granted it ...
What are you eating?! To be honest I don’t really know. Quite often it is wrapped in paper and plastic and has unpronounceable ingredients listed, but that still doesn't answer the question.
I had a conversation this last weekend that highlighted the root of the problem we face in trying to change our food system: lack of understanding. My friend’s husband asked me what I was doing in my new job. As soon as we clarified that I was not in fact working at a nursing home (I’m not sure how he got this idea!), I began the monumental task of explaining what I do. What I do is not easy to explain.
I do a mixture of community organizing and support capacity-building at a variety of food justice organizations ...