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Q&A: An Oklahoma conversation about access to vegetables, affordability of food

Access to healthier food is often a conversation topic among lawmakers and health leaders. Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of Food Tank, says what's missed in the conversation is whether people can afford that food once access is improved.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: February 20, 2013

Even though Oklahoma has its roots in agriculture, studies show many residents do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.

In fact, the state ranks worst in the nation for fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 1 in 7 Oklahoma adults eats fruits and vegetables five times or more per day, according to the state Health Department.

Danielle Nierenberg is co-founder of Food Tank, an organization that promotes sustainable solutions to alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty. Nierenberg answered questions on problems people face in maintaining a healthy diet.

What are some barriers people face to eating vegetables?

Nierenberg said people are not as healthy as they could be, in part because of cost, lack of access and lack of education on how to cook vegetables properly.

“You and I assume every apartment has a working stove and a working refrigerator,” she said. “That's not the case for a lot of people in low-income housing. Telling someone, ‘Oh, why don't you cook lentils instead of buying fast food?' — that's just insane to them because they don't know when their appliances are going to be working or when they'll be home to cook those things when they're juggling three jobs.”

Also, people aren't growing up learning how to cook. In schools, there's less of an emphasis on home economics and teaching people how to prepare meals, she said.

“Parents are losing those culinary skills as well, especially if they're working two or three jobs,” Nierenberg said. “It's much easier and often a lot cheaper to stick something in the microwave or stop at a fast-food restaurant, instead of cooking and putting more of an emphasis on vegetables, other than iceberg lettuce and potatoes.”

What are some examples of gardening programs in cities?

Over the last 15 years, the U.S. has seen a rise in urban gardening, Nierenberg said.

“People who have started shopping at farmer's markets have now decided, ‘Hey, I can grow some of this in my own backyard or on my window sill or on the roof of my building,'” Nierenberg said.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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