Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

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Building movement toward a nourishing D.C.

This post is the fourth in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

In my previous post about food and hunger in the District, I began to explore the political landscape of DC’s food system. We learned there is no shortage of DC agencies that shape how we get food – at least 13 agencies deal with food in our city! – yet no one agency or governing body is responsible for ensuring that DC residents have access to healthy, affordable food.

Meanwhile, moving beyond the public sector, there are numerous efforts throughout the food system to ensure DC residents can enjoy healthy and affordable food.

Here at Bread for the City, we provide fresh, healthy, and tasty groceries for residents through our new-and-improved food pantry, as well as programs like Glean for the City and our new rooftop garden.

And we know of (and work with) many other exciting programs in the community. Healthy Solutions manages a produce buying co-op and runs fresh produce markets in public housing sites East of the River. DC Central Kitchen combines meal preparation for area shelters with innovative job training programs and employment opportunities for its clients, while also supporting local farmers. Common Good City Farm is growing and selling food right in the city, using its farm in LeDroit Park as a community space for sharing food production and preparation skills with neighbors. These and many other groups are improving both the health of our bodies and the health of our communities. (Emphasis on “many”: more than 460 food-related entities are mapped in the DC Food Finder.)

What if they and others could work together better to tackle the interconnected issues of nutrition, employment, poverty, hunger, and the degradation of our environment? What if these groups had a unified voice in the halls of City Council?

A Food Policy Council in DC?

Cities across the country face similar challenges as those in DC – a fractured food policy-making environment, separate organizations addressing different pieces of a broken food system, and lack of transparency and community input in policy decisions. In response, many areas have brought together some combination of non-governmental organizations, citizens, advocates, and government, forming what are often known as food policy councils. (See this DC Food For All post about the Detroit food movement, and the policy council in that city.)

Food policy councils can serve as a forum for food issues, a network to coordinate community action, and a space to address some of the tangible injustices at work in our food system. They do a wide range of work in other cities, counties, and states — from gathering and communicating information about a food system, to crafting policy platforms, to developing collaborative projects to address immediate needs.

Bread for the City is interested in seeing something like a food policy council form in DC, but we also recognize that it will need to include more than policy wonks and non-profit providers if it is to be truly reflective of the interests of our diverse communities. A food policy council would ideally be born of a grassroots, city-wide movement for wellness and food sovereignty that includes residents who themselves have the most at stake in radically changing the food system.

That’s why we’re part of a larger conversation with groups like Groundwork Anacostia, the Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Collaborative, Ecolocity, and ONE DC. Together, we’re hosting a series of brainstorming sessions around the city, starting 3:30-4:30 pm this Saturday at Coolidge High School, as part of Rooting DC – an annual, free urban gardening forum. (Register for Rooting DC by calling 202-638-1649, or learn more about the whole conference by visiting the website.)

We’ll be discussing and envisioning: What would it look like for all DC residents had access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food? What is an idea you have for moving the city, your neighborhood, or your self in that direction? The hope is that the discussion generated from this and upcoming sessions can then shape the formation something like a food policy council – or something completely new and different – in DC. We hope to see you there!

Numbers Crunching & Food Security 101

This post is the first in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.

What’s up with food and hunger in DC? In what ways is DC “food insecure”?

First, some figures. According to the USDA’s analysis, over one in eight families in DC classifies as “food insecure,” of not having sufficient access to nutritious food over the course of a year. Of all households in DC with children, 40.6 percent have had times when funds were not sufficient to put food on the table. The Capital Area Food Bank, which serves over 478,100 local residents, released its own comprehensive profile of hunger in DC in 2010. They find that 1 in 3 DC residents is at risk of or experiencing hunger. The food bank has seen a 25 percent increase in food clients in recent years.

Economic hard times in the city exacerbate the impact of an industrialized food system in which lower-quality foods are produced on the cheap. Diseases related to diet and lifestyle are at an all-time high across the country. In DC, where the obesity rate is 22.2% and levels of residents with hypertension reach beyond 28%, these challenges are disproportionately felt in low-income communities and communities of color. For example, Ward 8, which is 92% Black or African American, has a median income of around $25,000 and an obesity rate of 41.9%. This can be compared to Ward 3’s 84% white population with median income of $72,000 and 11.7% obesity rate. (For more on obesity in DC, see the report from the DC Department of Health.)

Communities that are already struggling to afford fresh and nutritious food might not be able to find these staples in their own neighborhoods. So-called “food deserts” result from policies and development practices that have left many lower-income neighborhoods without access to full-service grocery stores or alternative sources of fresh food. DC Hunger Solutions has led the research on the “grocery gap” phenomenon in a 2010 report that identifies the areas in the city, particularly Wards 7 and 8, most impacted by uneven distribution of full-service grocery stores and draws connections to issues of unemployment, obesity, and the local economy. The DC government has launched an effort to combat this phenomenon, though based on experiences with similar initiatives in New York and Pennsylvania, reducing food deserts alone is insufficient to bring down obesity rates.

More than just hunger at a given moment in time, these studies capture the impact of what is increasingly recognized as a broken food system. If recent headlines are any indication, it’s clear that the factors affecting our ability to feed ourselves in a way that is healthy, equitable, and sustainable are complicated and difficult to track, predict, or control: housing and development trends in DC make it difficult for DC residents to access food pantries and federal nutrition programs; battles on the national level over funding for school lunches and for SNAP benefits have been drawn-out and wonky; though farmers and consumer groups across the country have recently been putting up quite a fight, corporate concentration across the food and agriculture sectors continues to result in lower prices for farmers and higher prices for consumers.

So what would it mean to talk about “food security” in DC? According to the standard definition, a community is “food secure” when all residents obtain a “safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice.” This perspective is useful in that it considers all the factors that influence the availability, cost, and quality of food to area households, but gosh, trying to think about all those factors and how to make them work better for DC can be a little overwhelming.

The good news is that, while there’s a lot of work to be done, there are a lot of folks already doing it. Recent developments at Bread for the City, as well as a range of stellar projects, programs, and legislative victories captured on the DC Food For All blog, lead me to believe that DC can take the power of making healthy, sustainable food choices into its own hands.

Check in next week as I begin to explore the federal nutrition programs serving District residents!

Greens, Grains and the Grocery Store with Bread for the City Client Advisory Board Member Dorothy

[Cross-posted from Beyond Bread]

Dorothy Kemp, DC resident and member of the Bread for the City Client Advisory Board, recently took Allison, a Bread for the City intern, grocery shopping. Let’s join them as Dorothy shares her experiences with being happy and healthy with an affordable, plant-based diet.

Dorothy chose the P Street Whole Foods for our grocery shopping tour, because of the bulk food options. But as we enter the store, Dorothy makes a beeline for the vegetables. Tonight she will be cooking a quinoa and winter vegetables dish, but is quickly distracted by the leafy greens — rapini and dandelion greens are her choices today. “Don’t worry, these aren’t from your yard.” These are added to her usual purchase of mixed salad greens, sold for under $5 a pound.

Dorothy, who has for years been eating a primarily vegan diet on a limited budget, laughs about the grief she gets from friends and family for her love of salad. “People are always asking: ‘Why are you eating that?’ Cause it works!”

“For me, not having meat is no big deal – I’m still healthy and hopefully the planet is a little cleaner. We have so much abundance and so many selections to make, and hopefully we can help each other make some of the healthier choices. And it’s not just affordable, but you can save money! Beans over meat, whole grains in bulk, vegetables…. The meat — I don’t miss it!”

Dorothy’s number one tip is to get to know the bulk foods section of stores like Whole Foods, with a wide variety of healthy whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts available more cheaply than in boxes or in pre-packaged meals. Whereas in the other aisles, a box of rice can cost $3.00 a pound, in the bulk aisles, it’s only $1.69 a pound. In this video, learn two of Dorothy’s tricks – knowing how much pasta is enough and knowing where to look for grains:

“Once a week or so I would try something different, try a new grain I didn’t know, see if I like it,” Dorothy explains how she came to love quinoa – a seed that cooks like a grain but contains all essential amino acids and is a staple in her cooking throughout the year. (It sells for $3.39 per pound in bulk versus the equivalent of $6.00 per pound in other aisles). We agree all the options might be intimidating for someone who’s never seen this section. “I would start with something that they’re familiar with – raw nuts, plain rice. And then if there’s something that they’d maybe heard of, or something they see on the list of grains, look it up and try to figure out how to use it.”

An incremental approach to eating healthier is something that Dorothy has applied in her own life and does not hesitate to share with friends. “I always encourage people to share what they’ve cooked. If you make enough to share, they’ll usually say, ‘This is not bad!’” She’s found that some of the main obstacles to healthier eating are attitudes about meat and sugar. With no shortage of creative alternatives, Dorothy finds that she can convince friends and family that other options exist. For folks who don’t like beans, she recommends starting with hummus. Not interested in cutting out sugar? Try using less sugar and adding fruit and cinnamon to oatmeal.

“I like being 64 and being able to tell people I can still run for the bus, I can still bend over to tie my shoes, I’m looking forward to being able to live a few more years,” she explains. “Eat what you know is good for your body and makes you happy, and doesn’t clog your arteries. And don’t apologize for it!”

At the same time, the challenges of making healthy choices are not lost on Dorothy. For her, the idea of food justice means “everyone should be able to have the best quality food that you can have, should be able to have a decent meal on the table. In a country of such abundance to still have people who don’t have access to good food – it’s like how people don’t have access to good healthcare. It is a right to eat well, to be able to nurture your body.”

Sharing good eating habits with neighbors sounds like a good place to start. Here are some other tips from Dorothy:

  • Avoid the packaged foods. Why? “Too costly, too much salt, and you can make your own!” Steer toward the bulk foods aisle instead.
  • Take one step at a time: We’re brought up on a lot of meat and sugar and something like brown rice has a texture that someone might not appreciate the first time around. Mixing whole grains in with regular cereals for breakfast or combining brown rice and white plain rice, can be a way to transition towards healthier meals.
  • Explore meat alternatives: Learning about how to sneak beans into meals for friends and neighbors was a highlight of our trip through the aisles – anything from cooking chili with vegan “meatloaf” to offering hummus as a snack.
  • Bleach bath for your produce: Protecting yourself from the herbicides and pesticides on fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to involve spending loads on organics. Mix a teaspoon or so of bleach in with a bowl of water and rinse your produce in it. This removes all the chemicals without leaving any taste of bleach.
  • Olive oil and low sodium chicken broth: Cooking with a little of either of these makes for a cheap and easy way to add tons of flavor to your veggies.
  • Get to know portion sizes: Knowing how much food is appropriate for your body can save you money as well.

The Healthy Schools Act is in jeopardy. Call today to save it!

The landmark DC Healthy Schools Act was unanimously passed into law earlier this year, and fully funded with a 6% sales tax on soda. But Mayor Fenty proposed in his Budget Gap-Closing Plan to eliminate $5.2 million in the FY 2011 budget for the DC Healthy Schools Act, and to delay implementation of the Act indefinitely.

Your help is needed! Please take a moment to join D.C. Hunger Solutions in telling the DC Council to reject the Mayor’s proposal, and ensure that the Healthy Schools Act is fully funded in the current Fiscal Year budget.

Just take these three, easy steps:

1) Sign-on as an individual or organization to our letter urging Councilmembers to fully fund the DC Healthy Schools Act.

2) Call your Councilmember today during our Phone-In between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.

Share how you have been affected by the DC Healthy Schools Act, and why you think it’s important. For example, you can say: “I am a resident of Ward X, and I ask that the Councilmember ensure the full funding of the DC Healthy Schools Act in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.” Follow this link to find your ward.

Tell them: “I also believe that DC Council should take a balanced approach to closing the budget gap – it should choose to raise revenue rather than cut the Healthy Schools Act and human services. Other vital programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Adult Job Training, Grandparent Caregiver, Childcare Subsidies, Interim Disability Assistance, and the Local Rent Supplement Program are on the chopping block. I encourage the Council to vote for a one percent income tax increase on income above $200,000 to help fund these programs.”

3) Email your Councilmember directly to tell him or her you fully support the Healthy Schools Act and a balanced approach to closing the budget gap.

And share this Action Alert with your networks. We must act now! The Council will vote on the Budget Gap-Closing Plan on Tuesday, December 7.

Thank you for your continued efforts and support.

(For more information, please call me at (202) 986-2200 x3041.)

Healthy Holiday Helpings

Most of the food in Bread for the City’s pantry is purchased directly by us from the Capital Area Food Bank – putting your donated dollars to great bulk-scale use. (And it’s not too early to give to our Holiday Helpings campaign, which starts next week!)

We also receive private donations of food, through organized food drives and individuals’ pantry-purging — especially during the holiday season.

We truly value the generosity of our donors. Yet because we also highly value the health of our clients, we hope to channel the energy and commitment of our donors to ensure that clients receive foods that best support their health.

This year we want to remind our community that not all foodstuffs are nourishing – and there are some that we simply cannot accept.

Research shows that there is a much higher incidence of diabetes and heart disease among populations that include our clients . These diseases are largely preventable through lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. By contributing foods that do not contribute to these diseases, donors can help Bread for the City be a part of the solution to this community health crisis.

With this in mind, we respectfully share our updated nutrition guidelines for donations.

Please keep in mind that we cannot accept the following:
• canned or boxed soups that are not labeled low-fat, low-sodium
• ramen noodles
• pastry items, candy, other sweet snacks (cookies, Jell-o)
• drinks that are highly sweetened or artificially sweetened (sweetened fruit juice, soda, sports drinks, sweet tea)
• cake and brownie mixes
• boxed macaroni and cheese

Instead we encourage:

• canned vegetables and beans that are labeled low-sodium or no salt added
• olive oil
• dry beans
• fruit canned in natural juices
• canned salmon, tuna, sardines, or chicken, especially unsalted and packed in water
• 100% pure juice
• whole grain flour and cereal that is whole grain, not highly sweetened (plain oatmeal, original Cheerios)

And we discourage but will accept:
• canned vegetables and beans that are not labeled low-sodium or unsalted
• fruit canned in light or heavy syrup
• sweetened cereal (Raisin Bran, Honey Nut Cheerios)

Thank you for joining us in this broad effort to improve the health of our community! To sign up to run a Holiday Helpings drive in your workplace or community, please contact Nathan LaBorie at or 202.386.7611.

Family Food Fun

The most lasting habits are those learned young, something BFC Nutrition Consultant (and mother of two) Sharon Gruber knows well.

Sharon, who conducts nutrition classes and cooking workshops with Bread for the City’s adults clients, featured a Family Fun Party at each of our centers (Northwest in Shaw and Southeast in Anacostia). “I thought it would be great to provide a fun, health-focused outing for families the week before DC public schools start for the year,” said Sharon.

About 25 mothers, grandmothers and children of all ages were in attendance. Children and caregivers alike enjoyed bananas rolled in sunflower seeds and whole-grain cereal, “sandwich on a stick” and “stuff your own tacos”, just to name a few. By Sharon’s count, one of the crowd favorites was “plain, low-fat yogurt that the kids sprinkled with cinnamon themselves. The then dipped apples into it, and for extra fiber and nutrients, the apples still had the skin on. No need for the sweetened stuff!”

For many of Sharon’s clients and their families, meat is the central element of each mean– and sometimes diets can lack the proper balance of vegetables and fruits. These classes were designed to explore the possibilities of fruits and vegetables and they were a hit with both children and parents. One mother remarked, ” I’m filled up….Who knew it was possible? You really don’t need meat.”

Recent research suggests that activities like these may be an effective tool to change childhood eating habits permanently….

A Rooftop Garden, One Pot at a Time

[Cross-posted from Beyond Bread.]
Local. Organic. Sustainable. Great buzzwords. But for an organization dedicated to meeting so many urgent immediate needs, “going green” can seem like a daunting prospect.

Yet even the smallest seed can, with care, grow into great bounty. So, recently, at our Southeast facility, we’ve started planting some seeds in the one part of our building that isn’t already bursting at the seams: the roof.

Up to this point, the roof has primarily been known as a great place to get locked out on. But now it features the budding of a small experimental container garden. So far this season, we have been growing radishes, tomatoes, and several types of herbs, including parsley, mint and oregano. Someday soon, we hope this garden will be the inspiration for lots of inter-generational learning, as well as “some darn good cooking.”

Sherita Evans, Community Resources Coordinator

So says Sherita Evans, our southeast community resources coordinator and all-around community advocate, who sees this new project as a logical next step in the evolution of our services to the community. “We lack these kinds of green spaces and educational places here in the community,” she explains. “We’re hungry down here– not just for food but for nourishment of the mind and the spirit. And here at Bread for the City, we’re not just feeding people’s bodies–we feed souls.”

Sherita adds that the recent loss of Food Program Director Ted Pringle has motivated her to redouble commitment to the garden project. “As a site of rebirth and growth,” she says, “this is a proper memorial to Ted.”

Though its productive capacity will be limited, the garden can produce ample herbs to complement the food from our pantry, which will be especially great for our new cooking workshops. This makes it a special complement to our Nutrition Initiative: an opportunity to demonstrate the cooking process from start to finish. “We want to show clients that growing your own food isn’t hard even in small spaces like balconies and window sills,” says Sharon Gruber, our Nutrition Consultant. “And the results are that much better!

Sharon’s workshops can include basic gardening and the use of fresh herbs and veggies

Despite the small scale of the project, we see big implications — like the opportunity for parent-child gardening classes, which could bring families closer together while bringing them closer to the food they eat.

[Click below to read the full post. You can support the development of this garden by donating pots, among other things! Contact me Anna at to learn how you can help.]

We’re so over salt

[Cross-posted from Beyond Bread.]

Last month, Gary Imhoff of DC Watch had some salty words to say about health and nutrition. Just as the innovative, promising Healthy Schools Act was making its way to become law, Gary objected to the efforts to reduce the consumption of sugar and salt in our schools. These ingredients, Gary claimed, “pose no real dietary or health dangers to the average person.”

Unfortunately, one third of Americans are far beyond average: they are either overweight or obese. A major factor in this health crisis is overconsumption of sodium, which contributes to heart disease among other illness. The Washington Post recently reported that the Center for Disease Control estimates that an average of 77 percent of our sodium intake actually comes from packaged food — the canned, boxed, and bottled foods we buy at the market. That article also reports that the federal government is taking this health threat seriously with a new effort (not yet officially announced, but planned to span a 10-year period) to curb the amount of sodium in processed food and restaurants.

It’s great news, and I hope the federal government follows through. Indeed, here at Bread for the City we’ve already started down that path. In the past few years, we have greatly reduced much of the sodium in the items in our food pantry.

Yet Gary objects to “food police” who he says wants us to live in “a world without flavor.” The good news for Gary is that ours is a wide world full of flavors, with many ways of preparing food that is both tasty and healthy.

Here at Bread for the City, we’re able to go beyond the pantry to explore this world of healthy food. Each month at both the NW and SE sites, BFC holds nutrition and cooking workshops, geared toward helping clients make tasty, easy-to-prepare, healthful, inexpensive foods at home.

Just a few weeks ago, I gathered with Bread for the City clients from age 3 to about 73, as we spent an hour peeling, chopping, stirring, and laughing. We talk a lot about salt in these classes. With chili pepper flakes, vinegar, garlic, onion, and lemon as the seasonings on these dishes, the flavor was plentiful — all without using any salt. Participants knew that if they chose, they could add salt to the food on their own plates. But, remarkably, every participant declined to add any.