Tackling the Urban Food Desert Crisis


Jeff Kramer of Real Food America


Aug 06, 2018

Nearly 40 percent of American adults and 20 percent of adolescents are obese – the highest-ever recorded rates. While obesity remains prevalent throughout the country, rates are even higher among lower-income individuals.

Jeff Kramer, CEO of Real Food America, joins Sheila Hyland to discuss a program designed to make affordable, healthy and nutritious food options easily accessible throughout urban America.

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland:The National Center for Health and Public Housing reports that while obesity rates continue to cause concern throughout the United States, public-housing residents face a disproportionate prevalence of this serious health condition. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. For those in public housing, access to healthy foods can be limited, resulting in food deserts. Joining me is Jeff Kramer, CEO of Real Food America. And, Jeff, let´s start off by explaining what food deserts are.

Kramer:Okay, well, first of all, Sheila, thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. Food deserts -- there´s a number of different definitions. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts, and that´s kind of the definition people, you know, try to work with. But for the most part, what people understand food deserts being is areas of the country where you just don´t have access to healthy food, to good food. Many times, you´ll find there´ll be convenience stores or supermarkets that really don´t carry a wide range of fruits and vegetables, or the distance is such that people can´t really get to them. So, in a sense, there is no food available to them, and so they´re forced to find other places.

Hyland:What are some of the contributing factors to obesity in public-housing residents and, you know, having the lack of supermarkets and just access to fast food? What´s happening there?

Kramer:Well, I think you´ve hit the nail on the head. That really is the issue, the fact that they don´t have the food available to them. Most cases, people have limited budgets, so they really don´t have the resources to travel distances to get fresh food. So they are relying on the convenience stores, the fast-food outlets to get the food. And as we know, over time, that´s just not a healthy diet.

Hyland:So if there are no supermarkets nearby for many of these public-housing residents, what are the ripple effects of that on public health -and the economy in general? -

Kramer:Sure. Well, the ripple effects on public health is certainly -- it increases the cost of public health and of people to live longer and to live healthy. I mean, people are coming down with all kinds of diseases. Certainly, diabetes is a big one, but there are other kinds of health concerns that are part and parcel of people not eating healthy food.

Hyland:What are the effects particularly on children, Jeff, because I imagine they´re a mainfocus.

Kramer:Right, they are a main focus. And there are some dire effects to people not eating healthy. I mean, it starts with -- in fact, by not eating a healthy diet, you obviously have the health concerns, but then there are also the concerns about their education. We´ve found out that people who aren´t eating properly either aren´t going to schools regularly or certainly aren´t performing as well in school. So their education levels are impacted and their ability to get jobs down the road.

Hyland:So Real Food America now has these pantries, these food pantries that you operate. Explain to us how this is helping resolve the problem, and where are these food pantries located?

Kramer:Sure. Well, Real Food Pantry is a project of Real Food America, and we´re in the process now of putting these pantries in place. What the Real Food Pantry is, is a demonstration -- a training kitchen. And what we´re doing is we´re bringing -- what makes us unique is that we´re bringing these kitchens into the distressed communities. So whether it´s low-income housing in their community center or whether it´s in a rural area, you know, a community center, somewhere along there, we´re bringing the kitchen to people so that we can teach them how to eat healthy food affordably and efficiently.

Hyland:And you´re providing that healthy food, as well, and then teaching them how to prepare it, too.

Kramer:That´s correct, and we´re providing recipe cards, and then they´ll be able to purchase those ingredients so they can learn how to do it up in their own apartments.

Hyland:And I understand you´re also working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on another program, as well.

Kramer:Well, this is part of it, yes. I mean, under the direction of the president, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson has started what he´s calledEnVisionCenters, and the goal of theEnVisionCenters are really to kind of empower individuals to kind of bring them out of poverty, to not be so reliant on government programs, and that´s what Real Food Pantry is. We´re a 501(c)(3) that´s not reliant on government funding. We raise our own money, and so we´re part of theEnVisionCenter in that we´re going into locations that HUD has identified as distressed communities in need of services.

Hyland:And what are your plans for expansion? Because you´re not everywhere at this point.

Kramer:No, we´re not everywhere, but we can be everywhere. I mean, the model works no matter where you go, but our plans so far are to follow HUD´s footprint. They´re beginning in Detroit, and I´mgonnabring up Inkster, which is an important part, because Secretary Carson´s mother grew up in Inkster, and the secretary spent some time in that housing development. And so what we´re doing is we´re bringing it to Inkster, and it´s a small, distressed community that´s essentially forgotten. It´s in between the airport and the city of Detroit. And their services are -- you know, they really have few services, and over the years, the community´s just kind of fallen on hard times. So we´re going to Inkster and some other locations in Detroit. But HUD has also identified 15 to 17 other locations that we´regonnabe looking at. But, as I mentioned, we can go into rural areas, as well. So we´re actually working collaboratively with the Innovation Center at the US Department of Agriculture to identify some areas in the rural communities that need this service, as well.

Hyland:Where can people go for more information, particularly those who might want to donate, because, as you mentioned, you´re not a government-sponsored program.

Kramer:I appreciate that. They can go to realfoodpantry.org. Our website has all kinds of information, a great FAQ section. They can contribute, but they can also contribute their time, too. We´re looking for people who can volunteer, who can provide resources, whether it be utensils or just their time, and also who have ideas. We´re looking for people who have ideas, perhaps recipes that are healthy and affordable that they can put on the website and that we can start to, you know, use social media to stimulate.

Hyland:We wish you well with the program.

Kramer:Well, thank you very much.

Hyland:Jeff Kramer with Real Food America, thank you for being our guest today.

Kramer:Well, thank you for having me, Sheila. I appreciate it.

Hyland:And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland.

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