Health, food justice, and collective impact
Category: The Big Picture

Health, food justice, and collective impact

A few years ago I became very interested in food justice, mainly because of the correlation between poor eating habits, poor foods, and a higher incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer, particularly among communities of color.

Although I don’t think anyone has the right to tell another person what to eat, I wanted to help people be aware of how to eat healthy so if they wanted to eat healthier, they knew how.

In an effort to educate myself, I read articles that stated some amazing facts, such as:

  1. the harmful effects of additives and preservatives
  2. while trans fats and saturated fats are bad, the real culprit is sugar
  3. it really is possible to be overweight and “starving.” Cheaper foods are higher in calories but not necessarily as nutritious. If you spent $1 each on potato chips, vegetables, and fruits, you would get very different amounts of calories.

My child is grown and on his own, and I live alone and have an adequate income. Yet I struggle with the cost of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, free range eggs, grass fed meats, and whole grains.

If I’m struggling, then how does a single mother with two or three children manage? She buys fast food (kids meals and the dollar menu), boxed dinners, canned fruit, and cheaper varieties of foods that contain trans fats, salt, preservatives, additives, and sugar. Sugar is found in condiments, salad dressings, cereal, bread, chips, frozen foods, canned foods, yogurt, and on and on. So her children are overweight, but their bodies are starving for vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and proteins.

I also read about how to cut food costs by doing things like buying in bulk or making your own condiments, broths, vinegars, etc. But realistically, how many of these solutions are possible to this same mother? She works, takes the kids to school and activities, gets dinner, helps with homework and does housework. These kinds of solutions require time, energy, and even space that so many don’t possess.

It has become more and more apparent that the struggle for food justice has many barriers with no easy answers. We must continue to find workable, realistic solutions. To do this requires a Collective Impact effort, which is why I’ve been so excited and committed to being on the GreenStar Community Projects Board of Directors (GSCP recently received a Collective Impact grant from the Community Foundation). Collective Impact is a process of working with government agencies, private industries, and the community to find solutions to a given issue. One of our first steps is educating the community about collective impact, a step that Phoebe Brown and I will begin in the next few months, thanks to a separate grant from the Community Foundation.

We have no choice: our children’s health and lives are at stake.

Image credit: Photo of Michele Jones, by AF


  1. Excellent article – also very nicely sourced, the links are informative. This is a helpful shift in perspective! Onwards in the path towards food justice ~

  2. I hope you find some answers. I would like to share your findings with our 341 low-income households. I work at the Ithaca Housing Authority and distribute a newsletter to our low-income residents each month. I’m sure these families with low-incomes would really appreciate knowing how to feed their families nutritious meals on a budget. Thank you for pursuing this very important matter.

  3. The article is very thought provoking. And Doreen’s response provides contact with precisely those who are of concern in Michele’s article. I know the Collective Impact process takes time, but how wonderful it will be for the adults and children in 341 low income households to have better access to healthier foods.

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