Problems Briefing – Group Project
25 April 2014
Nutrition: The Big Picture
The Problem (Kass and Ashwak)
Consider the vast, and seemingly immeasurable existence of the generic urban food desert; an impoverished area defined by a lack of access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other nutritional foods. Generalizing the social, economic, and political problems that a food desert cultivates, the nature and extent of the struggle first lends itself to an assemblage of societal synopses. First of which, the majority of people living in food deserts are of the lower class; citizens defined by, not what they can purchase, but what they cannot, with the access to healthy food being cost prohibitive. Intriguingly, the lack of proper nutrition affects both citizens and the environments around them, with studies showing that increases in malnutrition lead to increases in crime and blight (Gallagher 7).
As of late, the economic damages of food deserts are becoming more apparent in the public eye, with modern subsidies being provided so people can afford more nutritional choices (Reinberg 4). Of course, the high costs of nutritional foods also acts as a major avenue for change, considering the present-day contrast that exists between low-priced fast foods, and the less-affordable nourishing options. In effect, the lack of nutrition can eventually lead to a variety of health problems, such as obesity and diabetes, increasing the pressure on governments and their healthcare subsidies. Many present-day urban food deserts include southwest Chicago, northeastern Cleveland, and nearly half of Atlanta. Even more notably, more than half of Detroit is labeled as being an urban food desert, with 92% of food distribution being through so-called “Fringe Retailers” including gas stations and convenience stores, leaving a measly 8% of wholesome food delivery through “Mainstream Retailers” such as grocery stores or supermarkets. The importance in defining an urban food desert lies in the proximity of these mainstream retailers to significant populations, as well as the expenditure involved with fringe retailers. It is here where many additional problems lie, as food costs, retailer distribution, and healthcare find themselves situated under different jurisdictions. Thus, as an overview problem statement, there exists a major lack of nutritious and wholesome food access for low-income, underprivileged individuals living in expansive urban food deserts. Although these concepts only act as the tip of the iceberg in the problem that is current American nutrition, they help to lay the foundation upon which plausible solutions are built.
As aforementioned, low-income households have little-to-no choice in the matter of where to actually purchase food, let alone what types of food to consume. In relation to the location of food deserts, retailers of fresh and healthy food are of a distant proximity. Thus, anyone who may desire to purchase healthier foods must travel a farther distance, with accessible transportation becoming an increasing problem. When considering the vastness of many urban food deserts, transportation is amidst primary struggles, either through the incompetency of public transport or the high maintenance of a privately owned car. According to the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approximately 2.3 million US residents lack access to healthy food because they do not own a car, living more than a mile away from a standard grocery store. When most citizens then take the option of purchasing and consuming high-fat and processed food, not only are poor health conditions a result, but consequently, high sales in unhealthy foods simply means an increase in future supply. While heart disease and diabetes are among the leading causes of death in America, the main problem is, not the initial placement of these products on shelves, but that they are continually being purchased. This sort of barrier can act as one of the main difficulties in solving public problems, causing policymakers to consider different values, from radically different perspectives (Barbour and Wright 459). For example, with unhealthy food sales being high for a particular fringe retailer in the middle of a food desert, certain policies can work against the business in lieu of healthier choices, but there now exists a second perspective from which to consider the problem. Coincidently, more of those of low income then begin to apply for Medicaid and other forms of governmental aid. If the federal government had taken more dramatic precautions to prevent this chain reaction beforehand, higher subsidies for health care would not have been required, with fringe retailers not being able to get the better of citizens.
Policy Solutions (Kass and Trazell)
Presently, there exist numerous programs, bills, and acts, that have been funded, passed, and proposed to combat the need for a more nutritious United States of America. The government can have the greatest impact in solving this problem because so many people who are affected by the lack of nutritious options rely solely on the government for help. There are approximately 3 million children and 114,000 adults that receive their daily meals by participating in the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP), provided by the government (Reinberg). There are also more than 9 million women and children that receive benefits from the government program Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (Whaley 204). The government has now taken on the task of revamping programs already in place like WIC, as well as coming up with new ways to increase nutritional levels. It seems that the federal government has confidence in the success of these programs, considering less and less nutritional aid agendas are to be established in the coming years (Whaley 207). This means that the primary focus is in altering currently recognized programs to fit the needs of the public, rather than to create new programs or policies that do the same thing.
In 2009, 37 years after its establishment, the WIC program was changed to align with 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Being funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WIC works to provide nutritious food and increases nutritional education for new and expecting mothers, as well as their children. Women selected for the program must be of low-income, meaning that WIC has successfully established a set of criteria for who qualifies for aid, something that was a problem in the past. By aligning with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the WIC program has become the strictest of the government food programs, in which there are strict nutritious standards and only specific food items that can be purchased with WIC benefits. WIC serves as a source of nutritious food for the half of the nations children that will receive their benefits before the age of five (Whaley 204).
The USDA also subsidizes school meals through the Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP) and the National School Lunch Program. Participants in programs provided by the USDA are low-income individuals in need and students that qualify for free or reduced lunch. Included in the program is an afterschool meal, supper, that include only nutritious food items. Again, it is this sort of strict set of guidelines that federal nutritional programs are beginning to adopt, meeting substantial success by doing so. Schools, daycares, and adult care facilities that are under the CACFP program are reimbursed if they serve foods that meet the nutritious guidelines set forth by the CACFP guidelines. Schools are reimbursed using subsidies that can range from rates of 38 cents per student to 78 cents per student, if at least half of their students qualify for benefits. The CACFP program has proved to be so beneficial for both families and participants that congress has extended the program to all states (Reinberg), a triumphant feat in itself.
Again, it seems that this technique of altering previously established policies is where the federal government is reaching the most success. The “Healthy Food Choices Act” of 2013 is an undertaking that has been proposed to continue the schools involvement in providing nutritious options to children. This act is an amendment of the “Food and Nutrition Act” of 2008, proposing an encouragement of local and regional grown food by schools. To carry out this proposition, the government is permitting school food authorities to purchase foods grown locally and regionally for their school meal programs. The school offices would be given a low annual commodity entitlement value to purchase the food items. The schools that would qualify for these benefits are those who have a greater amount of students, who receive free or reduced lunches in schools. This act also supports the education of nutrition in schools across the country. As proposed by Garfinkel and Smeeding, the U.S. is a global leader in education, which is truly a testament to strong foundations in proper educational reform as well as currently established educational policies. By labeling nutrition to be a problem based on education rather than health, the government is shifting the focus of the solution, which is something that seems to be working. In essence, nutritional reform policies benefit most from educational policies of similar propositions, the matter of health being a problem because of poor education. Of course, this stems directly from the propositions of Garfinkel and Smeeding who elaborate on the true meaning of “American Exceptionalism” which, in nutritional policy language, means associating policy change with successful educational reform of the past (Graham 255).
The “Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act”, which is also an amendment of the “Food and Nutrition Act” of 2008, takes on a different approach to solving the nutritious supply problem, especially when compared to the “Healthy Food Choices Act”, by targeting food retailers, as well educating these food retailers. This proposal, which has been passed by the House of Representatives, includes incentives that would decrease the low access to healthy foods in areas that show a greater need. These incentives would be provided in the form of loans and grants to retailers that supply healthy food in areas with greater low-income population, encouraging retailers to increase their amount of healthy choices and embolden other food retailers to follow suit.
Schools of Thought: Before and After (Kass)
In principle, the past, present, and future solutions to the problems that arise from the existence of urban food deserts remain unchanged, as the majority of meaningful efforts for amendment are tackled by the federal government. For the past 74 years, national programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) both attempted to make healthy foods more accessible for the underprivileged, with government spending acting as the primary method used to invoke change. However, an equally noteworthy assertion can claim that the government itself is the cause of nutrition disparity, their aid being a simple misuse of the word.
As noted by Segal of Columbia University, the federal government invests a great deal of money in the food industry to ensure that large corporations create the most amount of food at the cheapest price, mostly in the form of corn and soy (199). This cost-effective food ends up on store shelves in abundance, depriving divested communities from healthy food choices. Segal claims that taxpayer money is wasted, being used to discourage farmer’s involvement in a justifiable food system, and thus, it is reasonable to assume that government intervention through food stamps (SNAP) aids in the problem of malnourishment, but fuels the problem of malnutrition.
In more practical terms, although the government is helping citizens across the country gather food to combat hunger, the poor access to healthy food itself is meager, and so, people are left using government assistance on unhealthy options. This helps to shift the federal-oriented problem to state, or even local, institutions. The problem itself is far too immense and becomes relatively unmanageable from a national standpoint, and so, it is important to narrow the magnitude of the telescope (Graham 39), at least to the state level. Contrary to popular belief, there is much that can be accomplished by the state that can help to eliminate, or drastically subjugate, urban food deserts.
For example, in 2009, Pennsylvania launched an initiative for in-state cities to assist in the mitigation of environmental concerns such as wastewater management, heat reduction, energy conservation, and, of course, attempts in creating a sustainable food system. Philadelphia, in particular, created a regional food system involving a network of farmers and food producers within a two hundred mile radius of the city itself, an operation that generated communication and cooperation among the various citizenries (Giang). Food was made more accessible, and by cutting out federal intervention, several food delivery steps were eliminated, contributing to healthy food arriving quicker, across a shorter distance, and at a lower price (Hinrichs, Jensen, and Schaaft 157-171).
Thus, a lower price simply means that fringe retailers are able to afford healthier food options and can stock their shelves with a variety of nutritional choices. Additionally, a local, non-profit organization called Food Trust was created, providing nutrition education for inner-city children, essentially spreading awareness. It is interesting to note that the education aspect of the project, outlined by Schaaft, was not nearly as difficult as predicted, as many other non-profit organizations in the downtown Philadelphia area were also willing to team-up with Food Trust in a combined effort at nutritional education. This remains consistent with the propositions of Garkinkel, Rainwater, and Smeeding, in that the U.S. truly acts as the foremost leader in mass education, having direct implications to the concept of American Exceptionalism itself.
In a problem such as nutrition, democracy helps to promote this form of education by simply increasing the upper classes’ interest in educating the lower class, that is, those in decision-making positions allow the free education of nutrition in schools and to the mass public because they feel it will lead to the betterment of society as a whole. Even more importantly, it is precisely these state public school officials that are rising to have the most impact in the world of nutrition because of a more focused effort, and in today’s world, more impact is directly proportional to more power (Ludwig). Thus, it seems that, as of late, the preferred or dominant locus of solution has shifted to the state, and even local, level, as the different echelons of government are informally acknowledging that the problem is simply far too large.
The Pennsylvania Initiative proves this is the future of American nutrition solutions, and more importantly, reminds everyone that it all really comes down to cost. Although it may sound trivial, the initiative worked simply because it was successful in making nutritional options cheaper than unhealthy options, which then allows fringe retailers to stock their shelves with these types of nutritional options. Instead following the route of federal policy, and the establishing of more mainstream retailers in food deserts, the Pennsylvania Initiative acted to embrace the existence of fringe retailers, essentially turning each of them into smaller mainstream retailers (Giang). It is incredibly intriguing, considering federal policy change wants to fight the problem, while state and local initiatives act to embrace the problem. The latter seems far more effective.
By discussing the accomplishments of Pennsylvania, it helps to shed light on the possibilities of state intervention, and with the introduction of Food Trust in Philadelphia, it raises the question of what exactly the state of Michigan can accomplish, or even more importantly, what type of role Detroit would have in the matter.
Service Learning and Barriers: Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (Abdul)
The Detroit Rescue Mission Ministry is an organization that tries to combat the problems of hunger, addiction, poverty, and homelessness in the city of Detroit, changing countless lives in the process. Established in 1909, Minister David Stucky began the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministry (DRMM) from an old poultry shop as a soup kitchen for the homeless and the needy. The location changed several times to accommodate the growing needs of the communities and offered more services. The mission was to help feed those who were in poverty and were homeless, expanding in helping people to the point of them being able to support themselves. Today, they have eight sites in the Detroit/Highland Park area that they use to help serve meals to the homeless and hungry, being repurposed stores and warehouses. The sites serve meals three times a day, every day of the week, with the meals being divided into three groups. First is shelter, those who are housed at the location, second is transition, those who are transitioning into new homes, and lastly, anyone from the local community. This break-up is regulated to ensure that everyone gets a chance to have one meal each meal period and so that no one can have two meals before everyone has had at least one. The organization heavily relies on volunteers and donations, with some of the locals of the soup kitchen being staffed to take turns serving during meal periods.
Some of the many great achievements of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries are their ability to feed more than 1,400 women and children each day and provide about 160 thousand nights of shelter and one million meals annually. They also excel in providing more than 75 recreational and prevention programs throughout Detroit. Many of these programs are provided for teens and children in guidance before they can begin to make mistakes. DRMM has been accredited by Charity Navigator, which is an independent nonprofit corporation that evaluates different charities based on their goals, commitment, and progress.
From personal experiences, the people who received food from the soup kitchen seem very diverse in many different aspects. There were people of all different races that had very different backgrounds and came from very different places. For example, a man from Sri Lanka ended up in the institution because he could not afford life in America and had no one to rely on. He left his family in another country to try and have a chance at the ‘American Dream’. What he ended up with was a work related injury without any legal or medical help. The only place he found shelter was DRMM, and even though he had very poor spoken English skills and almost no understandable background, this man was not denied help and was taken in. The site does not discriminate against race or religion, although it is a Christian faith-based organization. The personnel at the location were very openhearted and many were volunteers as well that give up their day to help out people in need, admirable in all aspects. The volunteers range from students to adults with full-time jobs and families. All the people that are involved in the operation, whether in the receiving or giving end, come from very different cultural settings and have different values, but work together to allow hundreds of people to eat every day. This self-sufficiency works very well on the surface level of the organization, but the DRMM also depends heavily on federal aid as well.
The DRMM is a nonprofit human and social services organization that relies heavily on federal aid to support their services and programs. The organization has many private donors, but it is through federal aid that allows them to function at their current capacity. The locations house substance-abuse patients, which is something that is satisfied for government funding, but even through the use of the government as well as local volunteers, the issue of nutrition would not be without barriers at the soup kitchen.
Although the DRMM offers meals three times a day for its frequent visitors, nutrition is not the priority of their mission. A barrier that the soup kitchen has for nutritional foods is due to the organizations receiving food from donations. The food that is made for the needy comes from the donations of patrons. A big donor for the food is “Forgotten Harvest”, but even that support is not enough for the volume of people that the sites receive on a daily basis. Another barrier faced by the organization regarding nutrition is the amount of volunteers available. All the food is prepared at the sites by volunteers. Many people feel unsafe around the locations that the sites are located, which restricts many volunteers from helping frequently. This ties to the donation of food from private donors as well. The issue is to help feed the hunger, not to fight malnutrition.
Being a nonprofit organization also hinders in advertising for the organization as well. Since all of the help and funding comes from federal aid and donations, prioritizing funds becomes a key barrier in deciding what problem gets resolved and when. The lack of advertising hurts gathering new volunteers and donations. The publicity would help raise awareness and would attract people to help the cause, and would also help cultural misnomers about the organization as well. For example, at the site on Third Street, the staff was a little shocked that they were receiving Muslim volunteers. Since the organization is tied to the title of ‘mission ministry’, and is Christian-based, attendants do not expect to see volunteers of other backgrounds at the area volunteering. Even though it is Christian-based, the organization’s main goal is to help whoever they can. Many of their services do not put an emphasis on religion because they wish to help as many people as possible without discrimination.
A long-term barrier for Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries would be receiving federal aid and attention for many of their services. The organization receives federal aid for housing substance abusers and other services, but not much for nutritional needs. With a better funding system, better foods can be distributed to those in needs, but all of the barriers for the organization in regards to nutrition are connected and can be dealt with enough support and time for a plan of action.
As far as overcoming the barriers, the solutions revolve around the amount of attention and help that the organization receives from supporters and federal aid. Fighting quality over quantity depends heavily on the amount of donations that Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries receives. Not only that, the people who prepare the food at the locations should try to incorporate different food groups at the meals so that the people can receive balanced meals. Focusing some of the funds and resources that the organization has on trying to recruit more donors can also widen the variety of sources they receive food from. Targeting healthy foods from donors can come from knowledge and understanding via presentations describing the importance of healthy foods, not only helping them live healthier lives, but also changing their moods and perspectives of life drastically. This can, in turn, change the lives of these people and help them get the opportunity to help volunteer at these other donor organizations to make a cyclic chain of mutual support for all the involved organizations.
Another use for the funds would be advertising. It is difficult to advertise because it has to answer the question that comes with helping, being “what’s in it for me?”. In that respect, target advertising can work with people who need community service hours and to people who enjoy helping others. The many locations of the organization are not that far from many schools, and is very close to Wayne State University. If advertisement was done for students in the Honors College that need volunteer hours, this place would be an ideal location because of its involvement with the community and its close proximity to the university. The organization should also advertise on websites feature organizations that require volunteers and donations. The DRMM does have its own website, but being featured in others would help immensely in attracting other people.
Many of the places that the organization’s buildings are located at are often termed “unsafe”. This is a difficult issue to target because the soup kitchens are located in areas that many homeless and poverty stricken people live in that give the neighborhood a bad reputation. With healthier foods, the people of the area would be improving and would have a better outlook on life, making the environment around them change as well. Many volunteers would then help because they would not feel threatened at the location. Better security would also help volunteers. From experience, not many security personnel were on location around the building to help regulate the area, which can also act to scare potential volunteers away.
Gaining governmental support for the issue of nutrition is definitely more arduous, but can be done with time. A long-term solution would be to convince the government that nutritional foods would be more beneficial to the government as well as the people to help gain better funding for the issue. This can easily be argued due to the many beneficial aspects of healthy foods. Healthy foods are not as expensive as society thinks. With better funding for nutrition foods, people would be healthier, therefore would need less medical support as well. Many of the people who go to soup kitchens are people who are in poverty and receive Medicaid because of it. The use of Medicaid could be lessened by the fact that people are healthier and need it less. This along with the safer neighborhoods would make funding nutritional foods that much more beneficial to every party involved in the transaction.
All of the solutions are interconnected in the sense that changing nutritional diets for a community of people can change the life and outlook of all the people involved in the volunteering, donating, and running of the DRM. As simple as it may seem, the administration of all of these processes are very time consuming and very difficult. These decisions are also very risky due to the fact that nothing is certain. This makes the fact that the organizations stands and helps in any way it can that much more admirable. The only feasible way of helping the organization flourish would be to receive all the volunteering support it can so that it can focus on making the other goals a reality.
Service Learning: The Process and Overcoming Alternative Barriers (Ashwak)
Our experience with the DRMM provided us with bountiful evidence and observations. Serving or volunteering at the DRMM is through a simple process of registering online. Once all information is submitted, you are free to select a location and time in which you are able to provide your services. We faced a slight setback with the registration and volunteer times. On the exact webpage where it is required to register for volunteering, there were times where we were available and willing to volunteer but the times were marked as full. After discussing and talking with many staff at our location, it was revealed to us that the times were actually free and there was however, a miscommunication between the main office and their various locations.
Upon our arrival at the first location, we were received by unsuspecting staff members who then lead us to our duty of serving lunch. As aforementioned, of the food we handled, it was observed that the main goal of the individual locations of the DRMM was quantity rather than quality. They informed us that all the food was prepared in the basement by various staff members. A positive note we took was that, although nutrition was not the main priority, there was still a variety of food groups. The locations of the DRMM are specified to the kind of assistance needed. There are many substance-abuse homes that range from detox to transition. They still provide help to those who approach, although their shelters are located elsewhere. People in need can first apply to in-house recovery which is temporary and is from 14 to 120 days, they can then apply for permanent housing which extends up to 2 years. Of the staff we spoke to, all of them were former residents of the shelters who were trained and provided with an opportunity to assist others. The staff explained to us that in order to be considered for a position, they must go through many evaluations, and take a community college course funded by the DRMM. Once they prove their competence, they are assigned to one of the 14 locations and provided with a stable income.
According to their webpage, the DRMM’s mission is to “…to find permanent solutions for the disheartened and disadvantaged so that they can look to the future and not look back at their past.” When following through with their mission, they face many obstacles that range from medical aid, to funding, to helpers. As we spoke to the staff they explained to us the difficulties of providing physical and mental care to their residents without any suitable supplies or reliable transportation. The highest percentage of the income for DRMM is through individual donors (37%) and federal aid (32%). The DRMM has received over 300 thousand dollars in grants and funding from Congress but when divided among the expenses the primary revenue is not enough to satisfy all needs. With the assistance of various representatives such as both Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow and Congressman John Conyers, Jr, the drawback of limited funding is slowly diminishing. With these federal aids, however, come many criticisms and imposed regulations. There have been complaints filed to the U.S. Department of Justice on the restrictions and disadvantages of continuing to fund a “faith based” organization. This example of a reproach lead us back to our mindset upon volunteering at the organization. We assumed different presentations and tension would arise because of the set religion. On the contrary, we observed an unbiased acceptance to any form of assistance. Although, DRMM is a Christian based organization, it does not restrict nor turn away from those in need who affiliate to any other religion or no religion at all.
When investing long-term into its residents, the DRMM collaborates with the local government and other acquainted private sectors. These collaborations help the DRMM provide their certified members with various job, educational, and residence opportunities. With this comes a cultural barrier as well. It is hard to find employers who are willing to employ these members with their past as “ex-cons” or struggling with substance abuse. Other barriers of education and jobs that arise are in the form of the lack of reliable transportation or permanent address. In return for their help, DRMM provides assistance to other major organizations. In the last year DRMM has collaborated with Blight Authority, Neighborhood Services Organization, and Coalition on Temporary Shelter. All of these organizations have a similar mission or goals as the DRMM. One of the DRMM’s own limitations is having help or volunteers, so they can only assist other organizations to a certain degree. Help and volunteering seem as though an easy and uncomplicated thing that anyone can offer. The DRMM however, faces a barrier due to its locations and faith based assumptions. Many people do not feel safe spending time in the “shady” and dangerous parts of Detroit, nor do they consider the notion of volunteering at a place where they may be criticized or judged based on their religion or lack thereof.
Conclusively, it is not only the funding and assistance that is provided by the DRMM that shapes the organization or the lives it affects. When the role of individual agency is transcribed it can either be an advantage or as a barrier. Constricted by polices and rules at the shelters or programs, many homeless or people battling substance-abuse problems choose to not use the support of the DRMM. On the other hand, those who choose to develop and change, becoming one of many DRMM success stories in motion.
Service Learning: Windsor Homes Coalition Inc. (Kass)
The Windsor Homes Coalition Inc. (WHCI) is a non-profit organization located in Windsor, Ontario. The main goals of the WHCI are three-fold: to provide the underprivileged with food, to provide counseling for those of substance abuse, and also, to provide temporary homes for the homeless. For the last 44 years, the WHCI has been functioning to change the lives of those in need living in the city of Windsor, expanding and growing in influence with each passing decade.
The personal volunteer experience at the WHCI was one of true satisfaction, as there nothing more gratifying than helping those who are truly in need. Delivery vans delivered donated and ordered goods to the community food bank shelter, which were de-loaded and sorted. In comparison to the DRMM, the WHCI food was both donated and supplied by the organization through reserves based from fundraisers. This means that the organization actually has control over the types of foods being distributed to its people, a type of power that the DRMM does not have. Interestingly, upon opening the back door of each van, it became immediately apparent that the food transported was far more nutritional than expected, having a wide assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other packaged items. In comparison to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, the food was definitely far more nutritious at the WHCI.
Additionally, many of the service hours were spent speaking to homeless and underprivileged individuals at the WHCI food bank, hearing their stories, and simply giving these people someone who was willing to listen. A great deal of insight was gained within these conversations, as the attendees were asked on why they were in their situation, and what they want to change. Interestingly, most of them provided the same answer to both questions: they simply stumbled into their situations following a series of unfortunate events, and that they truly did not know what they wanted to change.
This, of course, helps to tie the WHCI service learning to the prior investigation of the importance of education, and how it acts as a catalyst for change. In essence, these people did not even understand their own problems, let alone comprehend possible solutions by which to combat these problems. This means that, regardless of what they expressed, most of the attendees lacked sufficient knowledge on the matter, and could not come up with simple plausible solutions that could work. In other words, although nutrition may act as a major problem, if the people are not able to fully comprehend their situations and understand the possibilities of solutions, then the people themselves act as yet another problem. This is the proposition that ignorance builds tall internal barriers, structures that can only be surmounted through proper education.
By taking the time to convolutedly analyze these two organizations and how they work, another major comparative aspect becomes of focus: namely, the use of federal aid. The WHCI is a locally run and operated organization, having no affiliation with the federal government. The DRMM, however, relies on governmental aid in order to carry out its various activities and undertakings. It is understood that the WHCI seems to be more successful in implementing nutritional options into its donations, which is mainly because the organization itself is involved in all major operations involving the acquiring, transportations, and distribution of the food. By removing federal intervention, several food delivery steps are eliminated, contributing to healthy food arriving quicker, across a shorter distance, and at a lower price (Quintanilha). This is precisely what was done in the Pennsylvania Initiative, which again implies that this is the future of nutrition solutions, moving away from federal aid, and having more focused local approach. It is interesting how the successes of a state in the U.S. can be connected to that of a city in Canada, and it is fascinating how simplified their approaches are to such a major problem. In comparison, the DRMM, with its heavy reliance on federal aid, seems to be struggling with implementing healthier options. In suggestion, the DRMM should follow the models of the WHCI and the Pennsylvania Initiative in order to implement a more reliable, and nutritional, urban food system.
Institutional Change and Policy Advocacy (Trazell)
The service-learning projects primarily introduced and established the goals and values of multiple food banks, as well as how they differ in their effectiveness. The main goal and focus is to make sure that no one is left unfed each day. During the last day of service at the DRMM there was not enough of the prepared dinner for all the homeless. The staff resorted to passing out sandwiches to everyone that was left. With the lack of food supply, soup kitchens like DRMM cannot always focus on the nutritional quality of their food. Tackling this issue of nutritious food access can only be accomplished if the issue of food quantity is also tackled.
The long-term action is to work with the local government to become involved in helping to change the structure of DRMM and many other food banks, then work with the local government to push for new policies in Congress. The current structure of food banks is one of quantity over quality. Donations to food banks come from many businesses and the public. Due to the fact that all of the food served is donated at the DRMM, the practices of its donators have helped to create the structure of the food banks. Donators usually donate canned goods and other things that can be gathered and donated in large quantities. These items donated are also usually the things that are the least expensive and not the best in nutritional quality. This is contrasted to organizations like the WHCI, which have both donations and organizational intervention to supply healthier options.
The local government usually leaves nonprofits to their own affairs and focuses more on small businesses that can profit the economy. The proposition is to get the local government to propose a government policy that encourages the donation of more nutritious foods. The government currently gives businesses tax deductions for charitable donations to nonprofits. This policy should be altered to give tax deductions based on the quality of the donations. With the lack of nutritious foods available in Detroit, businesses that donate more nutritious items should receive a higher tax deduction from the government. The local government itself does not have enough power to make such a large policy change, so we will just use the support from the local government to get the policy passed in Congress. This policy would be best put in place with the power of Congress, because Congress has the power to amend and change regulations already put in place. By supporting local government to help gain support from other government officials, it will lead to more officials supporting this policy change, which translates into a greater likelihood of it passing in Congress.
Students and the local government can work toward gaining support for this policy and even helping the issue before a policy is put in place. The local government often helps and works with small business within the city. Local policies have lead to the largest amount of growth of small businesses (McFarland). The local government can promise small business more growth policies in exchange for more health beneficial donations. Students can target non-business donators during the holidays. Around holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, many different groups and organizations put on food drives for the homeless. Our group plans to have healthy donation food – awareness drives in coordination with the local government. We will only take healthy donations for a 21-day healthy food drive. It takes twenty-one days to form a habit and we want to make people form the habit of making healthier donations. The drive will take place starting November 21st until December 11th, 2014. Flyers will be posted in local government buildings and around campus, bringing awareness to the need for large quantities of healthy foods. These donations will be taken to the Detroit Rescue Mission and other food banks across Detroit.
Another policy that would help to change the quantity of nutritious food long-term is the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, that is currently being proposed to Congress. The Nutritional Reform and Work Opportunity Act targets food retailers. This proposal includes incentives that would decrease the low access to healthy foods in areas that show greater need. These incentives would be provided in the form of loans and grants to retailers that supply healthy food in areas with greater low-income population. This would encourage retailers to increase their amount of healthy choices and will also increase the amounts of nutritious foods available to purchase. (“Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013”). With cheaper and more available nutritious foods, individual donators will be able to change what they donate. People will be just as willing to donate healthier food as canned goods.
Direct Action: What and How Should we Do? (Faten)
Our objective when we first began researching the issue of eliminating the food desert in Detroit was to find an organization that already had the experience, funding, support, and a plan that was already in action. As stated in the Policy Solutions section, this seems to be the trend of current government intervention, altering already established programs rather than creating new ones. We knew that if we could align ourselves with such an organization, we would be able to learn what worked and what did not. However, we soon found that it was much harder to get a hold of the representatives from each of the organizations we contacted. Even beyond that, we found once a representative was reached, the online system for volunteers they directed us to was inefficient in informing us of the days and times available, as stated in the Service Learning sections. This had many consequences, such as limiting the number of volunteers that would be able to attend because the system claimed the day was “too full.” This brings us to our direct plan of action. Our aim is to recruit a number of honors students by starting a Wayne State University Organization that would directly work with nutrition-related organizations based in Detroit. This way, we can have an efficient system and recruit as many diligent, and hard-working volunteers as each organization requires.
Our goal is simple: increase nutritious food in Detroit and inform the public of the importance of having good eating habits etc. However, the journey requires time, dedication, funding, and the support of not only Wayne State students, but the people of Detroit.
Starting September 2014, we would like to establish our organization, Raising Awareness for Nutritional Needs (RANN) in Wayne State. This organization will be open for anyone to join. Our aim is just to raise awareness about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and the constraints that Detroiters have to face because of the lack of nutritious food available. There is a lot of information that Detroiters do not know because it is not widely talked about it. Add in the fact that the majority of Detroit’s residence lives below the poverty line and the task of purchasing healthier options just does not seem possible. This goal is too big for one organization to handle. Thus our plan is to bridge the gap between our organization and other Detroit organizations by bringing in volunteers and working alongside these organizations to help provide them with the resources they require. We hope to achieve this by enlisting the help of incoming honor students and overlapping our overall plan with the goals of the Honors College for incoming freshmen.
How does Honors 1000 and RANN overlap? Looking back at our syllabus from last semester, and from my own experience, we concluded that some of the questions Honors 1000 raised could be answered by RANN. One of the course goals of Honors 1000 is to “think critically about the cultures and social structures that define city life.” This connects with what RANN is trying to establish by forming a partnership with other major organizations that allows students to delve into the cultural and historical aspects of each organization, their mission and standards they set. In doing this we not only can accomplish something for the city of Detroit, but the incoming freshmen class will have the chance to be able to answer all the questions that might possibly be raised.
Honors 1000 also attempted to answer three main questions by the end of the semester: “Who are we?”, “Where are we going?”, “What should we do?”. When it comes to “who are we?”, RANN can help answer this question by allowing the student to define “who are we?” as a collective unit and as individuals in terms of a health-related criteria. Students often only are exposed to the major vulnerabilities that a city like Detroit faces: poor education system, lack of access to food, poverty etc. However, we would argue that lack of access to nutritious food coupled with lack of knowledge about the importance of having a well-balanced diet is an underrepresented issue that, if left unnoticed, can lead to the problem getting out of hand, as discussed in
Our plan is to hold a seminar for incoming freshmen honors students starting Fall 2015. During this seminar we will give the students information about RANN, our purpose, and background knowledge of the state of Detroit. This will directly link with what they are learning in the classrooms at that time. In addition, we want to implement an Honors day of service where a group of students will be assigned to dedicate four hours of their time to one of the organizations we work with. They will report back to RANN of what their particular organization needs. This will be like a passport event the students would have to attend as part of the class.
We have three organizations in mind that we would like to directly work with: Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Keep growing Detroit, and Forgotten Harvest. Within these organizations there are a number of sites ranging from soup kitchens to market gardens that each student can volunteer with. There are also programs within Keep Growing Detroit that give students first hand knowledge of skills like gardening. They also have an Urban Garden Education series that each student could take if they are interested to learn more about nutrition. Forgotten Harvest directly deals with farming and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries has a number of soup kitchens within Detroit. Not only will this allow the students to have direct contact with the victims of this growing problem, but also they will be able to increase their knowledge regarding this matter. Each group of students will be tasked with a job of reporting back to us of what their particular organization/site needs and if what they are serving is healthy, on a scale from 1 to 10. Upon receiving these reports, we in turn can help out by raising awareness and funds for these organizations.
How can we provide each organization with the necessary funds it needs? We plan on using donations, having bake sales, increasing the number of volunteers and organizing events that raise awareness and funds. These events would take place twice a month. Some of them would be free admission because our purpose is to raise awareness about our problem. In addition, we will have organized events that want to raise money for the organizations RANN is collaborating with. We believe, with the right funding and student support, RANN is capable of being at the forefront of this increasing problem.
How can we hope to kick start this whole program? What is the approximate budget we need to make sure this organization starts off successfully and remains so throughout the years? We came to the conclusion as a group that RANN will be in charge of transportation for students, fundraising, seminars, and any other events we hold. One limitation that might arise with our proposed plan is whether we can get sufficient donations or grants to actually have it begin this upcoming fall. Also do we have enough time between now and August to obtain the right amount of funds to support our plan? It all depends on if we get the support we require and how hard we work.
Another huge factor that we had to take in consideration is whether we wanted to work alone or partner up with other organizations. We knew that working alone would be easier to handle, but the alternative was so much more beneficial. We would be able to tackle our problem alongside people who already have the experience of what works and what does not, and according to Graham, coalitions can build valuable relationships that further the aims of all parties involved.
Below is a table of budget we calculated for RANN, which, of course, are composed general approximations regarding different aspects of our plan and projected budget.
|Transportation For Students:||$610 per bus|
|Fundraising: T-shirts, Bake sales, advertisements (brochures/flyers)||$500|
|Orientation For Freshmen (Healthy Snacks)||$200|
|Organized events (bimonthly)||$200|
In addition to all of these goals, RANN has its own set of objectives we would like to carry out within the next three years. We want to set up a Wayne State Organic Garden to provide our fellow students with the opportunity to understand the importance of eating healthy. We believe if students are presented with the opportunity and responsibilities of growing their own food, it might influence their future judgments and cause them to question their daily eating habits, and thinking about influencing future generations is just as important as fixing problems of the present. They might come to understand the long-term effects that might accompany someone who does not have access to healthy food. We want our community garden open to not only Wayne State students, but to the general public as well. There’s never a shortage of people who want to learn. We also want to have our own Wayne State-Sponsored soup kitchen events down the line. This way we can give directly give back to the community. Finally we want to hold seminars/events for the residents of Detroit about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. We believe that our problem does not have the support it needs because not enough people understand the implications of it or they have not been given the opportunity to learn about it. With our help, we want to increase the number of nutrition food in Detroit and get rid of its food desert status. Below is a timeline for our planned events throughout the next academic year, which is both practical and effective in its approaches.
|April 2014||Contact Organizations’ Representatives|
|May 2014||Collaborating with Detroit Organizations|
|September 2014||Seminar For Incoming Freshmen|
|October 2014||Honors Service Day|
|October 2014||Student Project: Proposed Possible Sponsors|
|October 2014||Fundraising for different organizations|
|April 2015||RANN Community Garden|
Conclusion: The Big Picture (Kass)
Consider the vast, and seemingly immeasurable existence of the generic urban food desert; an impoverished area defined by a lack of access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other nutritional foods. There are many currently implemented solutions in the works in terms of federal policy, including structural shifts in the CACFP as well as WIC, as the problem of American nutrition is moving to the forefront of the minds of policymakers. As discussed in preceding sections, organizations such as and WIC, all have had tremendous failures in recent years with respect to nutrition reform, but by reevaluating the agenda, and reworking policy implementation, drastic improvements can be made in each of the three areas of government discussed. Although various schools of thought claim to have the direct solution to malnutrition, none of them have had reached the successes of programs like the Pennsylvania Initiative, which has resulted in the establishment of a sustainable urban food system. Additionally, by taking the time to actually volunteer at organizations like the DRMM and WHCI, the real problems and barriers of nutrition became far more clear, introducing the barrier of a lack of proper nutritional education to the public, as well as a very limited supply of resources. The personal experiences acted to remind everyone involved that this problem is real, it is happening, and is affecting countless lives every day.
In terms of institutional change, it all comes down to changing the structure of organizations like DRMM, followed by a coordinated effort with the local government to push for new policies in Congress. As stated in the Schools of Thought section, it is important to narrow the magnitude of the telescope (Graham 39) in order to have a more focused effort in localities, rather than to tackle this relatively unmanageable problem of policy at the national level. Small steps must be taken to affect as many people as possible which, as unintuitive as it may sound, means focusing on local and state governmental intervention, rather than federal policy.
In the end, it all rests on direct action from the people of the community, and in Detroit, it means Wayne State University Honors students must be involved. By establishing a University-affiliated organization like RANN, awareness can raised about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. Through an organized projected budget and timeline, the proper audiences can be targeted, and organizations like the DRMM can be supported. Regardless of what people think the solution should be, the massive problem of U.S. nutrition is not going to solve itself, and any action is better than no action at all. If the final goal is policy change then the first goal should local public support, because if one is clear from Robert Graham’s writings, it’s that “effective citizen participation in democracy makes all the difference” (16). It’s time to make that difference.
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