November 12th, 2014, Cotati, CA—A new report released by Food Empowerment Project discusses the unequal access to healthy foods that exists in communities of color and for low-income communities in San José. The report, titled “Bringing Community Voices to the Table,” was developed through feedback from community focus groups.
“With the release of our first report, we knew that lack of access to healthy foods in communities of color and low-income communities of San José is very real. However, we wanted a better understanding of the problem and the needs of the community, so we organized focus groups to make sure the voices of those in these areas would be heard,” said lauren Ornelas, Executive Director of Food Empowerment Project.
Local community groups Somos Mayfair, Sacred Heart Community Services, and CommUniverCity recruited participants from their own members for the focus groups.
Focus group participants cited high or expensive food prices as the biggest barrier to access to foods in general—healthy foods, quality foods, and organic foods. Participants also described how the lack of supermarkets near their work and homes influenced where they shopped and what they bought.
While good nutrition was identified as a top priority to participants and their families, participants expressed the frequent need to adapt their meals because certain healthy food items are difficult to obtain due to distance, lack of time, or limited availability. One participant described her attempt to buy fresh tomatoes in her neighborhood. After finding only rotten tomatoes at convenience stores, she bought tomato sauce.
Participants also discussed the challenges of access to non-dairy alternative foods for themselves or family members who may be lactose-intolerant or vegan. Some participants claimed that dairy alternatives were difficult to find. Others were enthusiastic about the lower cost and longer shelf life of non-dairy alternatives and preferred them to dairy products for these reasons. Other participants found that agencies such as WIC were unable to support a diet that excludes dairy products.
Several participants reported that they ate healthier and grew much of their own food in their native countries. After coming to the U.S., they had to adjust to eating more processed foods because their access to healthier options is limited.
The consequences of long-term constrained access to healthy foods is one of the main reasons that these communities suffer from statistically higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions when compared to the general population. “This isn’t simply a public health issue, it’s a social justice problem,” adds Ornelas.
“Bringing Community Voices to the Table” lists several recommendations to help improve access to healthy foods for all San José residents. A key finding from the report is that focus group participants are very aware of what is taking place in their neighborhoods and how the importance of what they eat impacts their health.
When asked how access to foods can be increased, focus group participants’ most common response was the request for more information on farmers’ markets, nutrition, and how to prepare healthy foods. They also expressed interest in learning more about organic foods and the opportunity to grow their own foods at home or at community gardens.
“Food access is important to the health and well-being of all of our families. This report highlights key recommendations for how our community can work together to make sure that everyone, regardless of income or race, has access to healthy food,” said Zelica Rodriguez, Director of Programs at Somos Mayfair. “Access to healthy and nutritious food has been a long-time barrier and challenge for low-income communities of color. Talking about food access is an equally important social justice issue as human rights and access to quality health care.”
The report is available in English and Spanish:
Founded in 2006, Food Empowerment Project seeks to create a more just and sustainable world by recognizing the power of one’s food choices. We encourage healthy food choices that reflect a more compassionate society by spotlighting the abuse of animals on farms, the depletion of natural resources, unfair working conditions for produce workers, and the unavailability of healthy foods in low-income areas. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, F.E.P. is based in Sonoma County. For more information, please visit www.foodispower.org.