by Jean Blish Siers *
March is National Nutrition Month, according to the US Department of Agriculture website, and a time to celebrate healthy eating! There should be much to celebrate. Most of us are familiar with the “My Plate” logo, adopted in 2010, which puts greater emphasis on vegetables and fruits, with smaller portions of grains, dairy, and proteins. And earlier this year, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its report acknowledging that the American diet remains too high in sugars and refined grains, and encouraging us to eat more of what we have come to call “the outside of the grocery store”: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and low-fat meats. Knowing we have work to do is the first step to moving forward, and these are great recommendations!
The problem? As wages and government benefits remain largely stagnant for whole swaths of Americans, the prices of the very foods that are recommended for a healthy diet have increased, creating an even greater barrier to good nutrition and food security. According to the USDA, for example, the price of fresh vegetables increased by 4.3% between January 2014 and January 2015. Beef increased by 19% and eggs by 8.2% in the same time frame. Fresh fruit rose by 1.7%, and is expected to increase an additional 3.5% in 2015.
As prices on the foods we should be eating have increased, the minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009. (Someone working full time at minimum wage would earn about $15,000.) The cost-of-living increase for those on Social Security was a mere 1.7% in 2014. Our seniors are some of our most vulnerable citizens: one quarter of seniors in the Charlotte area are food insecure, putting them at risk for a variety of health problems.
So let’s celebrate National Nutrition Month by working to bring healthy food to those who need it most and can afford it least! Better jobs and better pay are part of the solution. Better education is also needed. And saving the food that would go to waste is a no-brainer! A dollar donated to Society of St. Andrew will put about 42 servings of fresh fruits or vegetables on plates in our communities. Cheers!
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator, and a regular contributor to this News & Events blog.