Last week UGA’s Fight Against Youth Obesity organization hosted a “Food for All” panel discussion at the University of Georgia’s Zell B. Miller Learning Center.
As reported in The Red & Black, the event featured eight speakers from the Athens and Atlanta area who are involved in food education and distribution at different capacities.
The panelists included Athens-Clarke County employee Craig Page, AmeriCorps vista at Clarke Middle School Rosemary Gay, chef Jeremiah Lemons, FoodCorps representative Ashley Na, UGA peer nutrition educator Samantha DeHart, and Athens based Community Supported Agriculture managers Rachel Vaughn and Amanda Holmes.
They talked about nutrition, food distribution, and nutritional and agricultural education in Clarke County schools.
“My relationship with agriculture as a middle class white woman is different from the majority of kids that I work with," Gay said. "The reality in Clarke county is that there is a lot of poverty and racism and the food system is just a really big issue that is hard to navigate in middle schoolers."
According to a United States Census Bureau 2017 study, 35.5 percent of residents in Athens-Clarke County are living in poverty.
Local farms and organizations hope to address the problem of the lack of funding and resources to obtain healthy food in the area.
Collective Harvest, a collaboration of local family farms in Athens, provides sustainably grown vegetables and fruits to Athens-area communities.
“We have a program called the fresh food fund, which is a donation-based fund and these apply, and basically subsidize produce shares to people that otherwise wouldn't be able to afford them,” CSA manager Rachel Vaughn said.
In terms of nutritional knowledge, data from a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey showed that 59 percent of college students had food insecurities, or some concerns over accessing healthy food options.
Samantha DeHart, a peer nutrition educator at UGA, works with students who have similar concerns over healthy eating.
“College students don’t have a lot of money and they don’t have a lot of time," DeHart said. "We try to educate them and help them eat healthy foods on a budget and how to cook food. We have a nutrition kitchen here that students can come to for very inexpensive prices and learn how to try healthier options."
Page hopes the upcoming mayoral elections will result in increased food awareness.
Page also suggests multiple changes that could bridge the gap between cost and nutrition, such as setting up a farmers market at the Athens Multi-Modal Transportation Center, to lower stress of buying groceries for low-income residents.
“We need to have professionals from different areas coming together and looking at this complex web of how food interacts with our lives, our society, and our environment, so that we can say, 'OK, this is where we are, and this is where we need to go,'" Page said.
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