Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hungry for Better Answers

In today's NY Sun columnist Alicia Colon takes a look at the issue of hunger and asks some politically incorrect questions that certainly need to be asked. The one point that really deserves mention is the question of the affordability of healthier foods. It is an issue we have seen come up constantly in the discussions of poverty, obesity and health.

As Colon indicates, however, there is no reason why poor folks can't eat healthier foods. As she points out, "The idea that nutritional foods are too costly for the poor is ridiculous. Potatoes, rice, beans, flour all cost less than the takeout foods from the restaurants that populate the inner city. The problem is, of course, that they require cooking, but why cook if you don't have to?"

What we have here is the reality that the culture of inner city life needs to be taken into consideration. Putting calorie signs up on menus, as the Health Commissioner wants to do, means absolutely nothing if the awareness and will to be proactive on issues of health and nutrition is lacking. This is the demand side of the equation that we have been emphasizing in the discussion of health and food access.

We need to also be aware that the emphasis on charity and "taking care of" the poor can have unintended negative consequences. The more we take care of folks the less they may be prepared to take care of themselves. People need to be empowered to change but, as Colon points out, "but then, without the hungry, wouldn't the anti-hunger advocates be unemployed?"