A “whole health” approach to improving access to food and food education

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By Philip Sambol, vice president of operations, Good Food Markets for SSIR |

I grew up working in my father’s restaurant. My father grew up working in his father’s restaurant. Food and food service are in my blood; it’s an intergenerational passion, and it has led me to spend the last few years trying to work out why food deserts exist. The more I have looked into it, the more incomprehensible it has become. There are people crying out for local grocery stores — or any store selling fresh food — and yet not enough is happening. I thought it was because no one was listening to communities, but I have come to realize that listening is not enough; we must do. But doing is tough, and requires that we constantly ask new questions and find new solutions.

If you’re going to think about food in the United States, there’s no better place than New Orleans; “the Big Easy,” as it’s known, is a food lover’s paradise. I arrived there in late 2012, with some savings and an income stream of royalties from my previous life. I spent the latter part of that year and early 2013 volunteering with various “food access” nonprofits, and meeting with long-time food and social justice activists to understand the problems. These conversations kept leading me back to the Lower Ninth Ward, an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — 80 percent of homes were destroyed or demolished. Many of the buildings remained in a state of disrepair, gutted and without electricity, and many of the former residents were still looking for a way to get back home.

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