Written by Jennifer Montgomery, Executive Director, Loudoun Hunger Relief
Why did the tomato blush? I’ll tell you at the end….
We all know that healthy eating is better for us. Most of us have the means to eat more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins along with heart healthy, whole foods. We just need to think about it, make a plan, and shop for the foods that meet our nutritional needs.
At Loudoun Hunger Relief, we firmly believe that the neighbors we serve should have access to healthier options too. We are trying to move beyond providing just calories to providing quality food. The families who must come to the pantry for food don’t have the choice to make a list and shop for the most nutritious foods. They come to us and must accept what we have to offer. What we have to offer is driven by what we are given. Frequently what we are given is often high in fat, salt, and highly processed. These food options lead to chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes. Chronic disease leads to higher health care costs, lower workforce productivity, and more poverty.
The contents of a typical food pantry grocery bag would make a nutritionist cringe. It is shelf-stable, easily portable, and has a long shelf life. It is the traditional food that people donate to food drives—it doesn’t spill, break or spoil. It is something and it is better than hunger. Our families are grateful. But our Loudoun community can do better.
The Washington Post published an article last week about Feeding America’s efforts to correct this problem and provide better nutrition for all. The article linked here, talks about efforts to help food banks and food pantries like ours secure, store and supply more nutritious food.
At Loudoun Hunger Relief, we began this process two years ago. We acquired a new walk-in produce refrigerator to store fresh foods. Our local Loudoun farms and farmers markets began helping us with more fresh produce in season. Our grocery store partners have been wonderful in beginning to shift the food they send to us out of from the bakery aisle and into to the produce aisle. Our local residents are donating excess produce from backyard gardens. Our donors have begun to understand that monetary donations help us enormously, and provide the ability for us to purchase milk, eggs, lean protein, whole grains and produce when we don’t have those items donated in sufficient quantities.
We have a long way to go. We all know that health begins with access to sufficient, nutritious food. Our vision is a community in which all have the same opportunity to eat for health. We need the help of every person in our community to achieve better nutrition across all socio-economic conditions. The end result is better health, better school attendance, less work absences, lower health care costs. It’s the community we all work towards in our own ways every day. Food is just the most basic starting point.
So the next time you get a food drive donation together, think healthy. We can turn that nice green cash into nice green spinach—we promise. And the next time you make a personal food choice, think about how lucky you are to have that choice. If you eat the chips, it’s not because they’re cheaper than the apples.
And why did the tomato blush? Because he saw the salad dressing.
Jennifer Montgomery, Executive Director, Loudoun Hunger Relief, www.loudounhunger.org