Hidden within the positive narrative of Detroit’s comeback is a problem that stands at the forefront of my own professional ambition. Health and wellness, primarily nutrition, has long been an obstacle for those living within city limits, and despite progressive reinvestment in Detroit, it detrimentally persists. For this reason I’d like to touch on the problem at hand, discuss a current initiative aimed at ameliorating the issue and suggest an additional remedy.
In regards to the problem itself, two recent experiences stand out for me. While exploring Detroit for our first challenge, I found myself scanning the area in search of a quick lunch. I recognized a disproportionate number of party stores and gas stations relative to grocery stores, and ultimately decided on a Coney Island (an establishment that also seems to outnumber grocery stores). As I contemplated the issue, a friendly Coney Island waiter approached me and offered chili cheese fries with four different types of cheese (squeeze, shredded, liquid and sliced). According to the 2015 American Fitness Index (2015 American Fitness Index), the CDC ranks Detroit 40th out of 50 major cities in regards to overall health and wellness. Despite ranking relatively well in the areas of farmers markets per capita and park space, Detroit fell behind in overall exercise and consumption of at least three vegetables per day. In addition, I recently volunteered at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI). Amidst a strenuous day, I had the opportunity to chat with their founder as he shared a story about a simple misunderstanding that involved an erroneously synonymous association between Faygo orange pop and orange juice. In short, a well-intentioned young woman was feeding her baby Faygo as a substitute for orange juice, thinking they were equivalent. For me, hearing this story highlighted the complexity of the problem as one entrenched in deficits of both food supply and nutritional literacy.
With an absent supply of fresh and healthy food options in the city, improving access has been a primary objective of the (MUFI). Their framework is grounded on the idea that cultivation of vacated land serves as a synergistic and mutually beneficial method to remove blight and produce food. With labor provided by local volunteers, the efforts signify a symbiotic approach to providing nutritious food for the community. In addition to the expansive efforts of the MUFI, other recent endeavors have spurred the urban farming movement (Detroit Food Justice , Detroit Food and Fitness, Gleaners Food Bank and Earth Works Urban Farm)
Adequate supply is just a part of the equation however. Effectively admixing assorted ingredients, varied by season and supply, is a challenge that can’t be ignored. To help counter this problem, I believe providing creative and resourceful recipes along with an “ingredient box” would allow people to achieve better utilization. As an example, DTE partners with a local farmer to supply produce for an employees farmers market from July through October. Rather than just provide food, they also partner with a local chef who uses only the presently available ingredients to formulate recipes that can be packaged together to provide meal kits. One of the popular dishes, carrot fries, provides a “sweet potato” twist that transforms a simple vegetable into a delicious and nutritious meal option. A similar, non-profit based initiative would help educate residents on how to best utilize seasonal produce.