In my last blog post I talked about the complex public health and social justice issue of whether and why economically disadvantaged people do not eat as nutritionally sound meals as people with more financial resources.  As I noted, the reasons for this apparent inequity are many and interrelated, with lack of access to healthy and affordable food in poor neighborhoods (“food deserts”) cited often.

Policy wonks, public health professionals and others propose many approaches to reshape the food distribution and consumption system and policies.  Some examples:  require nutritional labeling of restaurant food; make it easier to use food stamps at farmers markets; limit food stamp usage to healthy foods; beef up nutritional standards for foods marketed to children; put healthier foods (e.g., fresh fruit) in vending machines and in school cafeterias; provide financial incentives for grocery store chains to locate in poor neighborhoods. 

One idea that has been getting lots of attention is taxing “sugar drinks” (i.e., soda or as we say in the Midwest, “pop”) to decrease consumption.  Sugar drinks are being targeted because they are responsible for at least 20% of the weight gain in the United States since the 1980’s. Ideally, the revenue raised would go towards programs that would help improve nutrition for all.  Many of these approaches are controversial or at least political charged – but there certainly is good logic to many of them.

Some resources for further reading:

Public Health Law Center, at William Mitchell College of Law
Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

At the other end of the spectrum is a community-based nutrition education program called Neighborhood Takeout, which is designed to help immigrant and refugee families in St. Paul adapt to American ways of eating, while maintaining their traditional values around food and hospitality.  National Council of Jewish Women, St. Paul Section, a volunteer service organization, runs the program with help from Neighborhood House and the University of Minnesota Extension Service. 

I recently attended an event featuring this program where project participants from Ethiopa introduced an American group to their traditional ceremonies and healthy foods (lots of beans, breads and strong coffee).  The challenge, which presumably plays out more with children and adolescents, is melding those traditions with what the broader culture offers, without sacrificing tradition or health.