Nothing is better for you than whole foods. The closer the apple is to its true self, the more doctors you’ll be able to keep away. An apple-filled PopTart won’t have the same effect as the real thing.
Our grocery stores are filled with great produce options, and organic labels seem to be a growing trend. More and more farmer’s markets are popping up around Akron.
Our fresh produce provides us with necessary vitamins. Without them, our bodies wouldn’t be very happy. Our minds wouldn’t be very happy.
Beta carotene from carrots helps fend off cancer and bulks up our immune system. Without the minerals and vitamins from leafy greens, we run the risk of low calcium and iron levels and increase our chances of frowning because we don’t feel well.
So, chomp up your produce — it’s abundant.
Abundance is relative, however. Many of Akron’s poor don’t quite find produce easily available or necessary, especially when it comes to greens.
Leafy greens like spinach or kale don’t usually make it on the top ten list of items to get for someone whose cash flow is limited. There are more filling, though less healthy, foods out there for the same cost.
For the past six years, I’ve led students each Wednesday night on Project HOPE. Along with my buddy Jason, we drive a van-full of students around Akron with the goal of hanging out with people who are homeless. We drive the tracks, we venture into the woods and we park in back alleys, and in each place, there’s a group waiting for us.
Our main goal is to bring smiles and conversation, but we bring food, too.
We distribute what’s donated to us, and we request from donors items that are filling and go a long way. Peanut butter, bread, cold cuts, chips and cookies — the usual battalion of beige. Sometimes, we’ll get some fruit or veggies, but we almost have to force it into the bags we’re handing to our less-fortunate friends.
Our budget is limited, so we have to make the most of it, and quite honestly, cater to the requests of our friends on the streets.
Many of the people we see on a Wednesday evening don’t have easy access to whole foods. If anything, their easiest and quickest source of food are downtown convenient stores or fast food joints, both limited in whole food options.
Studies show that food-insecure and low-income people are vulnerable to becoming overweight. The Food Research and Action Center reports that people “with (an) annual household income less than $24,000 reported problems accessing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables 2.5 times as frequently” than their wealthier brothers and sisters.
I know a little boy who lives in meager circumstances. His usual school lunch is pizza, chips, cookies, and something called chicken dippers. His health isn’t the best, and he acts out at school. Could it be his diet?
There are plenty of studies out there that show a connection between student achievement and nutrition. Massey-Stokes states in her 2002 study “Adolescent Nutrition: Needs and Recommendations for Practice” that “good health is essential for effective learning.” A number of studies focusing on better nutrition and eating breakfast have been conducted in recent years. In addition, the National Association of Education has a few conducted its own studies on the effects of health and nutrition on learning. And, as a teacher, I can pretty much see first-hand the connection between poor diets and student performance without too much effort.
So what? What’s the answer? Well, decreasing income disparity would do some good, but that doesn’t seem to be something that will change anytime soon.
We could do a couple things, however. The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank already does a fantastic job of accumulating a number of healthy options, such as canned greens — an excellent and cheap option. And given the approaching holiday season, the Foodbank could definitely use the added help.
Beyond this, I’m open to suggestions.