• Photograph by thebittenword.com

'Groceryships' for Healthy Eating

Solving downstream problems often requires systems-level change, but today we’re looking at an upstream solution being implemented at the household level.

"So much of food movement and policy is focused on top-down stuff. And rightfully so, because that impacts the most people…We are coming from the opposite direction. We know that if you empower one family, the ripples through concentric circles of people they know can have profound effects.” - Sam Polk

The ground-up solution proposed?

Groceryships: scholarships for healthy food and healthy eating courses.

Read on and then tell us what you think – should your community get on board with ‘groceryships’?

In recent years, a consensus has been taking shape among food justice advocates, as well as nutrition and public health experts. While access to fresh, healthy food is important to changing dietary trends, these groups tend to agree, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

A new project in South Los Angeles has set out to prove that another piece of the puzzle—educating people how to cook whole foods—can work wonders.

Like many parts of the country, the area has been described as a “food desert.” Fresh produce is hard to come by and fast food or packaged snacks are often easier and cheaper—at least at first glance—than the ingredients required to prepare a balanced meal.

Enter Groceryships: scholarships for groceries.

Here’s how it works: For six months, 10 South L.A. families receive weekly allowance to spend on plant-based groceries, in the form of gift cards allowing them to buy fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds, and nuts. In addition to financial help, the families attend weekly classes on health, nutrition, and cooking, focusing mainly on plant-based foods. They also get some back up, including “group support, a peer-buddy system, and mentoring.”

we want to give families a little bit of breathing room to experiment with new foods and develop new habits

The program, which will wrap up its first six-month session in August, is based on the idea that healthy eating is a spectrum and it’s almost always possible to find something better to eat than fast food and junk food, even in under-resourced areas.

“We’re dealing with poor families that are struggling to get by and we’re saying, ‘try this quinoa salad.’ If you’re really stretched, that’s a big risk,” says Sam Polk, founder and director of the eponymous nonprofit behind the Groceryships program and a former Wall Street trader. “During the course of our program, we want to give families a little bit of breathing room to experiment with new foods and develop new habits.”

That makes sense, but what happens at the end of the six months, when families no longer receive the stipend?

The goal is to teach families how to shift their food dollars over the long-term. These are folks who were not going hungry before, they just weren’t eating with health as a top priority.

Over half of them have reported that their food budgets have gone down since they started eating this way

“Most of the families we’re working with do have food budgets. And so now those budgets are going towards whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, and less towards fast food,” Polk says, adding that he has seen the first round of participants making exactly those changes.

“Over half of them have reported that their food budgets have gone down since they started eating this way,” he adds.

Foods like grains and beans are not only healthy, they’re inexpensive. If those become the foundation of a meal, they pack a ton of nutrition for your dollar. And packaged and processed foods can really bring grocery bills up. So one of the Groceryships classes talks about how oatmeal is cheaper than boxed cereal—and suggested the idea of serving brown rice in the morning, which Polk says has become a breakfast favorite for many of the participating families.

Read the full article at Civileats.com 

This initiative has got us thinking about programs here in Canada that work from the ground up to help families obtain and prepare healthy foods. 

Check out the list of community kitchen programs below, and let us know about others near you! 

Community Kitchen Program of Calgary

Collective Kitchens - Edmonton - Alberta Health Services

Collective Kitchen - CHEP Saskatoon

Community Kitchen - Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre

Community Kitchens at Food Share Toronto 

Community Cooking at the Stop Community Food Center in Toronto

Community Kitchens, Gardens and Other Food Programs in Vancouver - list by Vancouver Coastal Health 


Connect upstream.