Wake up your taste buds! March is National Nutrition Month….a time to focus on eating right and how the food we eat can profoundly affect our health and wellness.
However, putting together a healthy diet is easier said than done in some parts of Arizona. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study a few years ago showed that a whopping 14 percent of Arizonans live in what is known as a “food desert.”
Food deserts are areas that have little or no access to grocery stores, outdoor markets, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy foods. They are often located in low income and rural communities. It is believed that as many as 700,000 people in our state live in one of these areas.
Efforts are underway to provide healthy food alternatives to Arizonans living in food deserts. For example, a mobile grocery store selling fresh food and produce out of a city bus now makes its way through a number of neighborhoods in downtown Phoenix. From AZCentral.com:
The Fresh Express bus launched in 2014 and typically makes about 15 stops at community gathering places each week. Last year, the bus had 7,497 sales, almost half of which included customers paying with food stamps. On average, the bus has about 15 to 20 customers at each stop.
The Arizona Daily Sun highlighted what is being done in some rural communities near Flagstaff to bring healthy foods to the people who live in that area.
There are many groups in northern Arizona that are trying to give food desert residents healthier choices. St. Jude Food Bank in Tuba City is running a gardening program, providing healthy food boxes and attempting to fund a traveling farmer’s market that would take locally grown produce to remote sites on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Flagstaff supports many food banks on the Navajo and Hopi Nations and they also do monthly “rural drops.” Finally, the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Tuba City is running a program that provides gardening supplies if rural families want to start their own gardens.
So as we kick off National Nutrition Month, it is important to remember that making healthy food choices can be difficult for many people living in our state. Share your thoughts on what else can be done to wipe out food deserts in Arizona. Finding innovative new ways to bridge the healthy food gap, will help us take another step toward our goal of making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!