Throughout the United States, millions of
children live in so-called “food deserts”, places where healthy, nutritious foods are
very expensive or difficult to find. In food deserts, most people eat highly-processed
foods that contain large amounts of fat, salt, and artificial chemicals. Worse still, many students are not taught
healthy eating habits in the home. When asked how often they ate breakfast, almost half
of our students reported that they often skipped breakfast. When we asked about breakfast preferences,
the majority of our students favored foods heavy in sugars and fats over healthier options.
School lunches are supposed to supplement the home environment with healthier options,
but in many schools they are little more than prepackaged processed factory food with little
nutritional value. Yet another kind of food desert. For children, the consquences of living in
a food desert can be lifelong- obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and perhaps most troubling,
slower brain development. This can have a profound impact on students’ ability to learn,
get a good job, and earn the money to make sure that their future children never have
to live in a food desert. Here in New England, we are blessed with an
abundance of family farms only a few miles from city centers. Many urban neighborhoods
are hosting farmers’ markets to bring fresh, organic produce, lean, pasture-raised meats
and dairy, and wholesome, additive-free foods into the heart of food deserts. Most of these markets now allow impoverished
families to pay using public food assistance dollars, and many farmers offer a discount
to those in need to help those dollars go further. Because of this, for many students today,
their personal food deserts are neither physical nor economic. Instead, they live in a food
desert of the mind. At NEARI, we want to spend this summer helping
our students to teach themselves and each other how to escape from their personal food
deserts. We want to buy farm shares from local farms
and work with our students to develop a healthy cookbook for children and by children. A cookbook that embraces their cultural diversity
and appeals to young peoples’ tastes. With your help, our students will not only
eat healthy this summer, they will create a legacy for the children who follow- A guide
to help other youth navigate out of their own food deserts.