By Stephanie Harris
September 4, 2015
After eating out way too much for a few days, you start to feel guilty for your food choices, not to mention sluggish and cloudy, so you decide to suck it up and cook a healthy meal. But the task of getting fresh produce and other quality items you need for your home-cooked feast could prove difficult if you’re in certain Charlotte neighborhoods. While some residents are surrounded by healthy, fresh food options, others only have ready access to fast food and junk food.
But, why? And what can be done to make healthy produce more accessible to a wider population?
“These are the questions we are also asking, which is why we have invited our partners at Whole Foods Market to join in this community conversation to inform our thinking about how we collectively can address the issue of food inequality, food insecurity and hunger in our community,” says Robin Emmons, founder and executive director of Sow Much Good.
The event she’s talking about is the upcoming Food for Change fundraiser being held by Sow Much Good on September 17. Members of various facets of the food justice and urban revitalization movements will speak on the work they’re doing in the field, the intersectionality of food and social justice and how you can get involved to help close the food access gap. Speakers include Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, Inc.; Majora Carter, urban revitalization strategist and TED Talk speaker, Byron Hurt, filmmaker and director of Soul Food Junkies; and Chef Clarke Barlowe, Heirloom restaurant owner and proponent of restaurant use of locally sourced ingredients.
“As the leader of a now iconic brand in the food space, we are hopeful to engage our opening speaker, Mr. Walter Robb, Whole Foods Market co-CEO, in a robust dialogue during Food for Change on this topic,” Emmons says.
According to an assessment by the Mecklenburg County Health Department in 2010, the county is home to 60 neighborhoods that are referred to as food deserts. These food deserts, usually in low-income neighborhoods, are defined as parts of the city where fresh produce and other whole foods are largely unavailable for purchase. While impoverished areas often have plenty of fast food and junk food options readily available, they largely lack quality grocery stores and healthy food providers.
With this event, Sow Much Good is bringing together the community with food, social justice and urban revitalization activists for a discussion about how everyone can work together to become a part of the change necessary to make food access equality a reality. While retailers such as Whole Foods Market have their part to play in the change, community members play an essential role when it comes to creating a new normal.
“‘Food deserts’ is a misnomer, they are more like junk food jungles, in my opinion. The food available is not great, but it’s what sells. Retailers will always go where the demand is and they fill it,” says Carter.
“If the demand is for $350 sneakers, someone will sell them. If the demand is lottery cards and cigarettes, they will sell those, too. These things are not cheap and have great profit margins, so our money is being spent and made, based on consumer habits, not some pejorative view of low-status communities by retailers.”
Emmons adds, “Food justice and environmental activist groups have long recognized that building healthy communities is a multi-dimensional affair. It is not just the siting of a grocery store or a farmer’s market; but it is also about the spaces in which people live, work and play.”
For some, food choices and residential surroundings may seem to play a small part in overall health. But medical statistics closely link lifestyle diseases to eating habits and lack of exercise, and residents in underserved communities often lack access to healthy produce and green space necessary for the recommended 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day.
“A plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables coupled with even moderate physical activity has been shown to reduce the incidence of these lifestyle diseases,” Emmons states.
“However, if you don’t have a park or a greenway or even sidewalks in your neighborhood, and if you don’t have the option to access fresh foods in your neighborhood, then poor health outcomes can be expected and quite easily be explained.”
Through Sow Much Good, Emmons is helping communities to take their food choices into their own hands, literally. Rather than waiting for current neighborhood grocery stores and large retailers to bring high quality, fresh produce to Charlotte’s food deserts, Sow Much Good grows pesticide-free produce for underserved populations via a multi-acre urban garden site on Sunset Road. Guests of the Food for Change event will support this work.
“The money raised from Food For Change will benefit the community by increasing Sow Much Good’s ability to continue the work of access, education and advocacy in the coming year, while also supporting the early work of community visioning to bring a full service, scalable and replicable grocery pilot to a food insecure corridor in our city by 2017,” says Emmons.
Get involved with this event and food access equality work in and around the Charlotte area by visiting sowmuchgood.org/food-for-change.