Welcome to my blog! As the coordinator of the Ingredients for Change Campaign, I am spending this year visiting 30 low-income communities throughout the USA that are actively working to create more equitable and accessible healthy food systems to combat food insecurity and disproportionately high rates of obesity and diabetes. It's my job to partner with community groups that help low-income populations gain greater accessibility to healthy food sources. I assist each group in planning a community screening of the feature documentary Food, Inc., in order to create a public engagement and action opportunity, and reach audiences "beyond the choir." The Campaign is being run by Active Voice - my organization - and Participant Media (the film's producer), and is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This blog will provide some snapshots of what I've observed , and some of the inspiring projects and people I've met. I hope you enjoy it - and please feel free to contribute and/or contact me with your questions and perspectives. Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: The views and perspectives expressed in this blog are those of Matthew Green, and do not reflect the positions of Active Voice, Participant Media, or The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Deserts in the Rust Belt: Pittsburgh, PA - 4/13/2010

On April 13 I visited Pittsburgh, PA. The city was a longtime powerful industrial force in America, a major center of steel and iron production. The economic collapse of these industries in America that began in the 1970’s, left the city’s air much cleaner, but it’s economic health and vitality in a fragile state.
Yet, unlike a number of other Rust Belt cities – like Cleveland – that are still trying to pick up the pieces, Pittsburgh has since undergone an impressive degree of urban revitalization and to some degree seen a renaissance in the city’s arts, culture, and educational institutions. Yet, in what is an all-too-familiar story, this revitalization was not shared by all the city’s communities. A number of primarily African American neighborhoods, hit hard by the collapse of the steel mill – notably Homewood and the Hill District - have never recovered, and to this day, are afflicted by high levels of poverty and disenfranchisement that have led to the common consequence of food insecurity and rates of diet-related health problems so much higher than neighboring communities, that on a spreadsheet they’d be could be confused as being in different countries entirely. The city’s poverty rate exceeds 20 percent, and many of the poorest neighborhoods are food deserts, lacking full-service supermarkets and virtually no direct access to nutritional food sources.

Just Harvest, an anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocacy organization, and the lead local partner in the IFC Campaign, recently joined several other organizations in the city to form a food policy council. The council has advocated for the city to undertake a variety of policy initiatives to strengthen production, distribution, and access to fresh, sustainable, and local food. It also has worked for the incorporation of EBT at local farmers’ markets, making fresh produce available to food stamp shoppers.

The film screening, which will take place on June 9 in the Homewood neighborhood, is intended as both a forum to engage community members about issues of food security and nutrition, as well as a opportunity to promote the ideas advocated by the food council, and to gain the necessary buy-in from residents that might potentially benefit from the council’s proposed changes. Currently, the council’s members are largely white and not from the neighborhoods they are advocating for, a fact that presents a variety of dilemmas.

As Just Harvest Co-Director Ken Regal explained: “The Food Policy Council has been working on strategies for brig our message to a wider and more dives audience, and this event would be an ideal opportunity to begin implementing this plan.”

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