It is the time of year when we see some of the best produce at the farmers markets. In September, pumpkins are ripening in the fields. This season’s crops of apples and pears arrive in the produce departments at the local grocery stores. The colors and smells of sun-ripened fruits and vegetables are so vibrant they can almost overwhelm the senses.
September (and all year round, really) is also a time to be aware that there are many without enough healthy foods to eat. As we start the slide into the holiday feasting season, we are reminded that, yes, malnutrition exists in the US. Here, however, it doesn’t look like starving children with swollen bellies and sunken eyes, the way it looks in some war-torn or drought-stricken countries. In the United States, malnutrition manifests itself as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Here, malnutrition can be the result of conscious choice or financial, emotional, physical, or even geographical circumstances.
Geographically speaking, there are “food deserts” in the United States. The USDA defines a food desert as an area devoid of “fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” Food deserts are usually found in impoverished areas where there are no large grocery stores or farmers markets within walking distance. Food deserts typically lack fresh produce, or the only food available is highly processed junk. While the causes of food deserts can be debated, their existence cannot be denied.
Even though food deserts are usually found in impoverished neighborhoods, I want you to consider that many of us create food deserts in our own homes. Because of this, I invite you to look critically at your food buying habits. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you bringing home enough fresh produce, whole grains, beans, nuts, and other healthy plant-based foods?
- Do you consume them daily to help prevent diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes that can come from poor food choices?
- When you eat at a restaurant, what kinds of choices do you make?
- Are you talking with your children and other family members about healthy plant-based food choices and why eating more plants makes sense for the well-being of the entire planet?
Interestingly enough, in the United States, September is also known for several National Recognition Days related to health and nutrition. September is officially Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, Fruits and Veggies-More Matters Month, and Whole Grains Month, and the week of 9/23-9/27 celebrates Malnutrition Awareness Week (yes, it is a 5 day week). It is amazing to me how well all these national observances coordinate. Just consider that childhood obesity and malnutrition could both be nearly eliminated if adults focused on making sure all family members had more fruits, veggies, and whole grains to eat. How much pain and disease could we eliminate with that one powerful commitment? Now, on a national level, that might mean doing a lot of work to get healthy nutritious alternatives into every kitchen. On a personal level, it might just start with correcting a food desert in your own home. It could mean speaking gently with loved ones, friends, and coworkers about the importance of healthy food choices. It could look like getting a few people together to share a plant-based meal.
Positive changes like this often start small. They occur one serving, heck, one mouthful at a time. We invite you to partake in any way that you can. Thank you in advance for digging in.
It’s Thyme to Turnip the Beet,
Meryl Fury MS, RN