Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why is my lettuce brown and my meat green?

On site at one of City Green’s market a customer spoke to a staff member about the issues she was seeing in her community. The customer spoke of how she wished she could buy fresh produce closer to home and she enjoyed trying new vegetables like kale. It has been estimated that 37% of Passaic county residents like her would buy their food somewhere else if they could. The City Green employee asked her why she wasn’t able to purchase or find fresh produce in her hometown. The reply was simply stated,  “the lettuce is brown and the meat is green”.
So why is the lettuce going bad? Is it because 17% of Passaic County residents buy most of their foods from corner stores? Is it because it is so hard for communities dependent on SNAP benefits, or any other government benefits to purchase fresh, healthy, and nutritious foods in their own home? A go to answer is always “ because eating healthy is so much more expensive than eating unhealthy”. To further understand that issue I did some research on the topic and found that there was a lof of discussion on the issue. Firstly, when comparing the availability of fresh foods to processed foods, which has the longer shelf life? Not the fresh produce, these spoil, cannot be purchased in bulk, nor stored. Because of these reasons people with little money to spend on food tend to sway away from foods they know will go bad in a few days.  Another reason fresh produce is so expensive comes down to the government. The government does not subsidize produce because they cannot mass produce it. Unlike, high fructose corn syrup which has been found to generate $16.9 billion in federal subsidies sharing the profits with other companies and organizations in the business of producing and distributing corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils.
However just lowering the price of produce and fresh goods isn’t enough. Habits need to be formed, from the people and the government. People need to understand why they should incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets. The government should create incentives to buy healthy foods, suggestions to help create these incentives include placing taxes on foods with low nutritional value, and linking the purchase of fruits and produce to SNAP benefits. In an article by Carla Williams she proposed using the taxes collected from the foods with low nutritional value to subsidize fruits and vegetables. This is an amazing proposal that needs government intervention and policy implementation. The government also needs to educate the people. They need to be educated about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, about the connection of nutrition and overall health, and the importance of developing budgeting. Learning how to budget will help people spend the right amount of money on nutritious foods in turn saving them money in the long run because they will be healthy and won’t need medical care. That’s a great save that is worth all the Swiss Chard on the planet! But it’s not that simple, the biggest issue we’re facing is "both food stamps, now SNAP, and health insurance for the poor are government subsidized programs; the government is paying people to eat poorly and then is paying to deal with the health consequences.”  says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. This is a cycle and a connection that has been going on for years and can only end with proper education, of the body, food, and health. 
Now that we’ve found out why the lettuce is turning brown, why is the meat turning green? It has been estimated that the average American spends about 10-15% of their income on food. This estimate is a little low in comparison to Passaic County residents who have been found to spend about 30% of their net income on food and about 30-40% of their income on rent. That is a lot of their money that gets taken up too quickly to survive and feed a whole family. Especially with prices of meat increasing now more than ever “Retail beef prices have risen by an average of $1 per pound since 2007. Prices for cattle have jumped by as much as 25% in the past two years”. This is an that will hurt the producers and cause people to drive away from consuming meat because it is too costly. So what food does that leave the average family? Processed junk, not at all!
There are many ways to get your belly full at a low cost, there are many articles online about finding ways to eat well on a low budget, but the easiest method is to reduce meat consumption and increase grains, legumes, and beans into your diet. These are cheap, versatile, can be stored, and most important filled with nutrients!  Other nutritious foods that should be incorporated into your diet, and are cheap, are “yogurt, eggs, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, citrus juices and fortified cereals offer high nutrient density.” Incorporating these foods and skills will not only help keep you healthy, but it will also help you save some money. So give it a try, because with these changes you won’t be seeing too much brown lettuce or green meat (and if you need some help getting started, the Huff Post had a good article with some useful tips on eating well on a low income.)
-ZG

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