Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Food Security...the freedom to eat well.

After my latest attempt to start posting regularly to this blog, I got side tracked....again. But I promise you, it's all been for a good cause!

Since March, I've been slowing ramping up on a project called State of the Plate. It's a comprehensive food assessment for Mecklenburg county, which is where I live in North Carolina. I'm on the board of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council and the State of the Plate is a core effort to bring the most up-to-date information on food access, food security, and, more generally, the public health and economic development aspects of the food system to the policy community. That community includes government officials, non-profits, food entrepreneurs, and citizens.

We are deep in the weeds of data collection right now and it's pretty fun stuff. I'm not quite ready to share what's coming out of the study. I'm still recruiting for focus groups (so if you live in Mecklenburg county--contact me!)

What I will share is that as an anthropologist, collecting the systematic data through focus groups and surveys has also "primed the pump" of my participant observation skills.

I've been paying my bills by working on some contract projects for a market research company and while the products I've been researching have been pretty disconnected from the State of the Plate, they have been about food. I've been in inner city and rural Family Dollar stores and in a super Walmart collecting survey data. 

Aside from the fact that people will truly wear ANYTHING when they go to the Walmart, I've noticed a few things about how people shop for groceries.

In a Family Dollar store, I observed an interaction that shifted my perspective on how people think about food. A mom with 3 kids in tow was coming down what I would have called the "junk food" aisle--candy on one side, chips and cookies on the other. As the kids began to gravitate towards the neon sour gummies, I
"junk food" or just "food"?
heard her say, "No, no. None of that candy. Pick out some chips." It was clear from the context that they were picking out something to go with an upcoming meal. The mother wouldn't even turn her head to glance at the candy, eyes fixed on the crackers and chips.

My first thought was, "Wow, is she putting chips in the 'food' category and candy in 'snacks'?" In my adult life, chips and candy have become interchangeable as junk food. Well, except tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole...because those are vegetables. Right?

After a few more hours I remembered that I used to eat chips as a vegetable on hamburger night as a kid.
Even my fancy tuna burger came with a "side" of chips!
Along with fresh tomatoes and pickles, potato chips were a quick and easy vegetable "side" dish at the end of a long summer day.

A few days later, I realized that chips are offered as a vegetable with a lot of meals. I just choose not to eat them most of the time (though I do eat the pickle every time!) and I still think about them as "junk food" when I do.  

Watching that one, simple interaction in the Family Dollar store helped to erase my own narrow set of categories in thinking about food. Everyday we make choices about what to eat. Some days these are more difficult choices than others. I suspect that some foods shift categories (like chips shifting from "junk food" to "vegetable") depending on what else is going on that day.

I'm looking forward to moving in to the next phase of our research with an even more open mind about how people make food choices. Taking something like food, that is so deeply engrained in our psyches, and trying to understand all that we take for granted is a great challenge. And I hope in becoming clearer about how we make these choices that we will get closer to offering up options that make healthy choices easier and more affordable.

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