Listening To Communities To Improve Food Access
A report by Food Empowerment Project aims to find solutions to food access issues from within the communities most affected, using focus groups to hear about the situation and food access needs of residents of lower-income areas, more specifically in San José, California. The authors acknowledge that the barriers to food access can be very complex, encompassing proximity, financial difficulties, and time constraints.
Food Prices And Store Location
High food prices were identified as the most frequently experienced barrier to foods in general. Food prices influenced both store choice and type of products purchased. Participants often identified nutrition as an important priority for them and their families, but said that the high costs often prevented them from getting healthy, nutritious foods.
The second most experience barrier was location of stores in relation to the home or workplace. Some participants did not have any transportation, while others felt gas was too expensive for the journey, which were often over 20 minutes long. Many said that corner or local shops did not stock fresh produce at all.
Almost all participants said they had to shop at multiple stores in order to buy all the food and products their family needs or to find the lowest prices available. Many also mentioned having to adapt and alter meals based on ingredient availability and that this was often due to the distance to stores. Canned vegetables were often cited as an alternative even when recipes called for fresh varieties. Others said lack of time caused them to not be able to buy all they needed for meals, and this again came back to store location and proximity.
Organic And Home-Grown Foods
Many participants expressed interest in organic food, and opportunities to access it. Several also said they want more education about organic foods. The overall consensus was that if they had access, they would prefer to purchase organic foods for health reasons.
Those participants who did not already grow their own foods also expressed interest in buying from the community garden, or growing produce there themselves. Many indicated that they believed involving their children in this process would help them make educated choices and healthy habits as they grow up. However, the majority of participants said they did not have access to a community garden or a garden of their own.
Dairy And Meat Alternatives
Several participants said they currently buy dairy alternatives such as soy or almond milk. A few different reasons were given for this – for example, lactose-intolerant family members or the longer shelf life of non-dairy products.
Many also said they consume meat-alternatives, mostly those made from soy. Again, many reasons were given for these choices, including economic and nutritional benefits and the flexibility of the soy products in many recipes.
Quantifying The Barriers To Food
According to a survey by the authors, there were twice the number of large supermarket stores in higher-income areas than lower-income ones, but these lower-income areas had 50% more meat markets than the higher-income communities. Fresh produce was available on average at twice as many places in higher income areas, as well as having up to 14 times more locations with frozen fruit than lower-income areas.
There was virtually no access to organic food in lower-income communities and, in these areas, the prices of fresh and canned goods were often not marked.
Meat alternatives were available in just 2% of the lower-income locations that were surveyed, compared to 22% of those with higher-income. Vegan alternatives to dairy products were available at 21% of locations in higher-income areas, but only 1% of those in lower-income areas.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that up to 95% of Asian people, 60-80% of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, over 80% of American Indians and over 50% of Latinos are lactose intolerant. So, access to non-dairy products and alternatives is potentially vital for communities composed of these groups.
Many said that more information about market opening times and product availability would help increase access to food. Others also stated that being able to learn more about nutrition and how to make healthy meals would positively impact them and their families.
Furthermore, several participants said that the main way to improve their access to foods would be to have grocery stores in their neighbourhoods.
Food Empowerment Project also aims to make sure people can access food that aligns with their personal ethics. A few participants had children who follow vegan or vegetarian diets, and said they had adapted their shopping and food habits to accommodate this.
The importance of information in a bilingual manner was considered very important. The study involved and focused on communities of colour and lower-income communities. Many of these groups do not use english as their first language. Therefore there is also a language barrier in accessing food.
The authors suggest various methods of increasing access to varied, healthy foods. These included creating more community gardens, giving cooking classes, more education surrounding organic food and nutrition, increased teaching about health in schools and changing governmental recommendations to include vegan and dairy-free options.