Written by Sarah Lansdale Friday, 04 December 2009 00:00
Food plays such an important role in the holiday traditions of so many families. As we come off Thanksgiving and celebrate the start of the holiday season, I think about how more Long Islanders than ever are seeking assistance for basic necessities, including access to food.
During the holiday season and, in fact, all throughout the year – there are plenty of communities on Long Island characterized by limited availability of healthful foods. A growing percentage of our neighbors lack access to affordable, fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables and other minimally processed foods that are necessary to sustain a healthy lifestyle.
On Long Island, this is an issue of access and of equity.
Not all communities have access to healthy, affordable food in the best of times—not to mention in these difficult times. Long Island’s economically distressed communities that are suffering the most from this economic downturn, additionally suffer from food redlining - a trend that segregates low-income communities from access to high-quality nutritious food like milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. In each of these communities, the issues related to food are similar - there is a lack of quality, affordable sources of food and a glutton of fast-food restaurants.
When a neighborhood lacks access to fresh, healthy food, there is an over-dependence on fast-food restaurants and local convenience stores, which tend to charge higher prices and stock limited supplies of perishables. Non-perishables tend to retain less nutritional value adding to increased risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer—all of which are in higher prevalence in lower-income communities.
So why not just get in the car and drive to the nearest market? Supermarket closures usually occur in low-income communities, this means that those who can least afford it, are forced to pay more for their groceries and travel further to get them. When times get tough, as they are now, people not only purchase less expensive and often less healthy food, they also change their consumer behavior: waiting to buy food until payday, stretching the paycheck as far as they can.
In our region, so rich with agricultural productivity, this lack of access should not exist. So, in response to this immediate and critical need, Sustainable Long Island has launched a brand new regional advocacy initiative, our food equity program. We have begun working with local governments and communities to make sure we, as a region, are providing all Long Islanders with access to healthy, fresh and affordable food, all the time.
We have convened a committee of experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Long Island land trusts, leaders in the “slow food” movement, and many more, to guide us in our goal to create a region where all communities have access to fresh, affordable food sources.
This holiday season, think about the turkey on the table; the potatoes and the green beans and consider where they came from. Were they fresh? Were they difficult to get your hands on? Were they affordable? In many communities across Long Island, the answer to these questions is no. Join us in continuing this important dialogue and increasing access to healthy, fresh and affordable food for all, here on Long Island.