Closing the Food Gap

Last night a group from Leah’s Pantry attended the panel discussion hosted by Slow Food USA, called “How do we close the food gap?”   Paul Ash, Executive Director of the SF Food Bank, began by saying that the food gap only exists because of the income gap, not because low-income people don’t want to eat healthy.  He continued by saying that by using governmental programs, we might have a chance at closing the gap. Programs currently in place, such as Food Stamps and the Nation School Lunch Program are headed in the right direction but are underutilized or poorly executed.

There was also a lot of talk about Michelle Obama’s push to abolish food deserts, and the Obama administration’s announcement of putting $400 million toward its “Healthy Food Financing Initiative.” However, as Martin Bourque (the ED of the Ecology Center) pointed out - it is not enough to provide healthy food to people, they must also be educated. This was the most interesting part of the discussion for me and also the most relevant in regards to the work we do at Leah’s Pantry.

An audience member asked how one could teach people about eating healthy, without coming off as patronizing. Bourque agreed that this is a challenging task, and he has experienced people becoming offended when an “outsider” comes into a group, claiming to know better than them. He believes that the best way to educate a target group would be to have an insider be the teacher. People who see “organic” or “farmer’s markets” as something that is not a part of their culture, are more likely to change their minds if one of their own is promoting them. As Josh Viertel, the President of Slow Food USA, said, the most successful movements have had the most in-need groups at the center. So in the case of the food gap, the low-income population must be directly involved, as well as supported.

Nikki Henderson, the ED of People’s Grocery, concluded the discussion by taking Viertel’s idea one step farther. She believes that the food movement needs to really work out what issues need to be addressed, and how we need to address them (with the help of the government). Only then, can we start to protest outside city hall and force the government to make some real changes. Overall, I felt this discussion suggested that we are moving toward change. While hunger and obesity are at their highest, we have urban gardens popping up in low income neighborhoods, farmer’s markets’ popularity soaring, and of course, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative all moving us toward at least minimizing the gap. There is hope!