As everyone is well aware, the Great Recession that characterized the end of our first millennial decade caused hardships for most Americans. However, those who faced food security issues were faced with the dire problem of figuring out how to continue to feed themselves and their families with a thinner pocket book. No parent wants to send a child to bed or school hungry, but in some families this is inevitably what happens.
According to the Center for American Progress, food insecurity — lacking consistent access to healthy, affordable food — cost Minnesotans around $2.25 billion in 2010, up from $1.93 billion in 2007, in lost economic productivity, higher public education costs, charity and preventable health care costs. Clearly, this is no small matter that we can afford to brush aside.
The past few years have seen a handful of initiatives to expand access to nutritious food to Minnesotan families. In 2010, benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) began to be accepted at the Minneapolis and Northeast farmers markets and that program since expanded to include 13 additional farmers markets across Minneapolis (Midtown Farmers Market has accepted them since 2006). While obtaining food is undoubtedly the first step toward full bellies, it is by no means the only factor.
Anyone who is in charge of putting dinner on the table will tell you that the preparation of a home-cooked, nutritious meal is much more time consuming than throwing together a processed supper or buying fast food. Keeping this in mind, parents are at the mercy of time constraints and for those with less experience cooking fresh produce, the learning curve can be steep and time intensive. They may not be able to devote an evening to meal preparation, which may lead to falling back on what is familiar and fast, often frozen dinners or a fast-food chain.
More attention must be directed toward educating families in the preparation of healthy food. There’s only so much good that can be done by giving someone a bag of fruits and vegetables if they do not know how to make it tasty for themselves or their family. As a state, we must find a way to provide resources for healthy food education and preparation in our communities.
One step toward this goal would be to institute food education curriculums in schools. This would allow children to learn about healthy choices and how to cook and enjoy fresh produce from an early age. Also, offering community programs (particularly during evenings and weekends) in which families can learn to prepare a healthy meal together will encourage healthier food choices and take some of the edge off of cooking with unfamiliar food items. An added benefit is that this level of engagement is sure to foster healthy family interactions as it spreads ownership of the meal across the familial spectrum.
Controlling the costs of hunger and ensuring the right to high-quality food for all citizens will benefit all Minnesotans. The rising monetary and social costs of food security are not sustainable. For Minnesota to prosper as a state and reduce the direct and indirect burdens associated with food injustice, the lack of educational resources surrounding food must be addressed.
Providing families with the necessary tools to feed themselves and their families goes beyond the procurement of foodstuffs. A more encompassing view of what is needed to actually get the food on the table is needed.
Gina Allen us a student in the Master’s of Public Health program at the University of Minnesota.
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