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.
People are becoming more interested in where their food comes from and how it's produced. There aren't good statistics on how many people grow their own food, but it's estimated that 1 billion people in the world grow food for home consumption or to sell.
“In the United States, this is sort of the result of foodies and hipsters wanting to gain a closer connection to their food source, so what's better than growing it in your own backyard?” she said.
Nierenberg said there are organizations that help build food systems in cities. Growing Power, formed in 1993, helps provide communities with safe, affordable and healthy foods.
In Oklahoma City, CommonWealth Urban Farms is a local food network that works to redevelop vacant lots. Its website is commonwealthurbanfarms.com.
Sustainable OKC, at www.sustainableokc.org, also has information about local efforts.
How can cities improve food access?
“It's not just about putting grocery stores in urban food deserts,” Nierenberg said. “It's about making sure that people have access to the food that they want and are able to afford it.”
Nierenberg said the fact that people can't afford food is often lost in the conversation about accessibility to food.
Regardless of whether a community wants to bring in a grocery store, a farmer's market or a mobile food truck with fresh vegetables, the food provided must be affordable enough for the residents, she said.
“If you think about food as a human right, and all people can afford is chips and soda, and they can't afford brown rice and vegetables and humanely raised and environmentally sustainable meat, then we're not doing something right here,” Nierenberg said. “We want everyone to eat well, but we're not making it happen for them.”