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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Tag: Food Desert

'I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can'

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A Whopper. Photo credit: Burger King Web site How closely do you read calorie postings at restaurants? There was an interesting article on The New York Times' Web site about a recent study on New York's labeling law. According to the study by professors at New York University and Yale, fast food customers ordered slightly more calories than the typical person had before the law  requiring postings at restaurants went into effect last year, the New York Times reported. So even though there was information saying a Whopper had a whopping 670 calories and 40 grams of fat, most likely people went ahead and ordered it anyway.

The study, by professors at New York University and Yale, examined customers at  McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken in poor NYC neighborhoods where there are high rates of obesity, which is also a huge problem in Detroit. In 2007, Detroit ranked No. 5 on Forbes.com's America's Most Obese Cities, with an obesity rate of 30.4 percent.

The researchers studied more than 1,000 customers' receipts. At a McDonald's, one customer who was in Harlem for a job interview ordered two cheeseburgers for $2. The total caloric count: 600.  

“It’s just cheap, so I buy it. I’m looking for the cheapest meal I can," he told the newspaper.

The Times also reported an advocate suggested low-income people were more interested in price than calories.

“Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

In a city like Detroit, there are many areas designated as food deserts, meaning “areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location," according to LaSalle Bank study on the topic. So without access to affordable and nutritious food, it's easy to grab something at McDonald's. But it's not the best choice for you.

Teaching participants how to make educated food choices is what we try to do in our classes at Operation Frontline. For example, instructors do a fun exercise called Blubber Burger, which sounds as disgusting as it is. Participants choose a fast food meal, for example the typical burger, fries, shake combo and then calculate how much fat is in it. Then using spoonfuls of shortening, they pile on the equivalent of fat grams onto a hamburger bun. Seeing a bun full of shortening makes you think twice about whether to eat that burger!

Unemployment, Changing the Face of Hunger

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It's no secret that unemployment numbers are on the rise. In August 2009, the national unemployment rate rose to 9.6 percent. In Michigan, with the fall of the auto industry and the struggle of small businesses to survive in a beleaguered economy, the jobless rate gained two-tenths of a percentage points last month, hitting 15.2 percent. In Detroit? Well, the unemployment rate in Detroit has hit a whopping 28.9 percent. In a way, Detroiters have become the face of a dispirited America - those hard-working folks who continue to survive in the face of an economic downturn.

How has unemployment changed the face of hunger?

Last week, Assignment Detroit (a long-term feature by CNNMoney.com) put out an article on the changing face of hunger in Detroit. They say, "As middle class workers lose their jobs, the same folks that used to donate to soup kitchens and pantries have become their fastest growing set of recipients." They also point out that Gleaners Community Food Bank, host to Operation Frontline, has experienced an 18% increase in distribution, while the Department of Human Services has seen a 14% increase in applications to such federal asisstance programs as food stamps and WIC.

Like many articles before this one, Assignment Detroit points to urban argiculture as an alternative: "It's not so much that these gardens are going to feed the city, although they certainly help. It's more that they can be used to teach people, especially children, the value of eating right."

What do you think?

We're wondering what you think about hunger in Detroit. Now that more and more people are in the same boat, will we continue to implement more sustainable options like urban agriculture in Detroit? What are those options?

When a nation like ours has an obesity problem, what is the value of knowing where your food comes from, to be able to cultivate accessible fruits and vegetables?

And for those 25 and younger, you can express those thoughts in a film competition called Faces of Hunger in America, a project of Palms for Life Fund. The project is meant to "visually depict in their communities the growing epidemic of hunger in the United States. This national competition for documentary short films... intends to bring the issue of hunger onto the forefront of the nation’s radar screen while at the same time empowering our youth, the future generation of leaders and activists, to facilitate positive change and challenge antiquated principles."

Examining Food Security in Detroit

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What is food security?
After hearing the term "food security" used in the news and by different organizations in Detroit, it may be best to define what it means. The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, a coalition of organizations and individuals interested in battling food insecurity in Detroit, defines the term in a useful, accessible way:
 
Food Security: When all of the members of a community have easy access to adequate amounts of affordable, nutritious, culturally appropriate food.
 
The Detroit Reality: 1. Many Detroiters do not have a grocery store within a mile of their homes 2. "Fast food" has practically replaced home cooked meals in many Black households 3. Detroit's majority African population is dependent on others to feed it

 

Food insecurity, then, would be the situation that many Detroiters find themselves in - without access to a supermarket or to culturally-appropriate, nutritious foods.

Food Insecurity in Detroit: Chene Market. Photo Credit: Nick Tobier

Food insecurity has become a particularly prevalent problem in Detroit not only because of the high unemployment rate, but also because of the lack of chain and independent grocery stores in large sections of the city. Parts of the city have even been called "food deserts" by a study funded by LaSalle Bank, "Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit." Food deserts, it says, are "areas that require residents to travel twice as far or more to reach the closest mainstream grocer than to reach the closest fringe food location." Fringe locations can include gas stations or liquor stores, where fresh produce are not often sold. Larry Gabriel from the Metro Times did an interesting editorial back in 2007 called "Living in the Desert" in response to this study.

Even though the national media has caught on to this "food desert" phenomenon, for Detroiters, it's nothing new. The city lost its last supermarket chain - Farmer Jack - in 2007, and there are still large sections of the city that are not serviced by independent grocers.

The Closing of Farmer Jack. Photo Credit: The Detroit News

What are organizations like Operation Frontline doing to address food security?

In response to this problem, organizations like the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and Earthworks Urban Farm have worked to address food insecurity in a number of ways, by promoting urban agriculture, policy change, collective action, and community building.

Recently, the Eastern Market Corporation, Greening of Detroit, and Gleaners Community Food Bank have formed the Green Ribbon Collaborative to tackle food access in the city. Together, they have created the Fresh Food Share, which is a neighborhood food distribution program in the near east side. Similarly, the State of Michigan has funded a new program called MI Neighborhood Food Movers, which also delivers fresh produce to the residents of Detroit. This program was profiled in both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.

The Fresh Food Share. Photo Credit: Model D

Operation Frontline, however, is different in its approach to address food insecurity. While DBCFSN, Earthworks, and the Green Ribbon Collaborative are doing the necessary work of increasing access to fresh produce, OFL teaches those with limited resources how to cook nutritious, low-cost meals with the materials they have. The classes also push participants to make healthy choices when faced with junk food and fast food. This is an important lesson for both those with access to a supermarket chain and for those who can only go to the corner store.

We do this with the help of our volunteer chefs and nutritionists, who share their knowledge and skills with our participants. The work that OFL does in the community goes well with the efforts of organizations like DBCFSN, working to both use the resources we have and push for change.

For more on how Operation Frontline works in the community, you can view the documentary, "Dash of Change," that Operation Frontline: DC created:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IbHLltufzU]