March 2011 Archives

Food Deserts in Houston--many families lack access to fresh produce

Sharon Siehl
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While I normally post blog entries about gardening with children, I felt it was important to bring some attention to a serious problem here in Houston: food deserts.  A food desert is a neighborhood or community that lacks access to fairly priced, quality, and healthy food items, particularly produce.  These communities tend to be in low-income areas, where unhealthy food choices abound, such as fast food (cheap, but high in fat, sugars, and calories), and convenience, corner, and liquor stores (where food is prepackaged, such as chips and soda, and produce is overpriced, frequently not available, and/or of poor quality).   The nearest grocery store may be miles away, and for people who don't own a car, it may mean taking the bus with a transfer to reach that store--clearly limiting many families from accessing fresh foods.

All of the schools and centers where Recipe for Success (RFS) currently provides programming are in food deserts.  We see the impacts of this every day with the students we work with--it's faster to walk to the fast food joint and get a burger and fries than to search out fresh produce that may be expensive or in bad shape.     

This is not a new problem to Houston, and many other major cities across the United States.  So we felt fortunate when during the summer of 2010, the Food Trust, a non-profit based in Philadelphia, contacted RFS, the Houston Food Policy Workgroup, the City of Houston and many other groups, for information on the situation in Houston. 

The Food Trust visited Houston, put together the data, and created many powerful maps illustrating the serious problem of food deserts to create their report, titled Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Houston.    

In the maps, data related to supermarket sales, income levels, and diet-related deaths are combined to find the areas of Houston most in need.  Diet-related diseases include diabetes, hypertension, certain kinds of cancers, obesity, and others.  Some of the areas most affected include Sunnyside, the 5th Ward, and the Northside--something many people assumed, but now is validated by data.     

Consider this statistic from the Food Trust's report:  nationally, there is one grocery store for every 8,600 people.  In and around Houston, there is one grocery store for every 12,000 people.  And remember: nearly two-thirds of Texans are overweight or obese.  Other studies have shown that the closer one lives to a supermarket, the healthier they tend to be.  Clearly, there is a relationship between income level, access to supermarkets, and diet-related diseases and deaths.  

As part of my position as Director of Recipe Gardens and Agricultural Outreach with RFS, I serve as co-chair of the Houston Food Policy Workgroup (HFPW).  I contacted Miriam Manon of the Food Trust to present to the HFPW about the report, where she highlighted some of the next steps that need to be taken.  A task force is being put in place that includes leaders from the city, public health, the supermarket industry, and other stakeholders.  From there, the Food Trust advises to "create a grant and loan program to support local supermarket development", similar to the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative that was so successful in their home state.  Creating public policy to promote building supermarkets in low-income areas is another avenue to help solve this problem, and encourage economic development. 

A quote at the end of the report struck me as the heart of the issue: "People who can only access poor food choices eat poorly."  Many of these people are children.  We need to make supermarket access a priority, to improve public health for those who need it most.

For those who need an even quicker solution: get outside and plant those spring seeds in your vegetable garden! 
Many happy harvests, 
--Sharon Siehl 

Access the Food Trust's report here: Food for Every Child: The Need for More Supermarkets in Houston, and The Houston Chronicle's food desert editorial.   


A Gala in Small Bites Kicks off on a High Note

Gracie Cavnar
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Gorgeous voices of Houston Grand Opera performers filled the air in our apartment transformed for the occasion into a Venetian palace, where iconic Chef Tony Mandola wowed us with his delectable dishes on this Mardi Gras. 

Enjoy my photos from the event and consider coming to one of the eleven other dinners that pack the season.  We're Cooking Now! a gala in small bites celebrates friends and food, but most importantly raises critical funding for Recipe for Success efforts to combat childhood obesity.  Thanks to generous underwriting, 100% of the ticket sales go toward our Seed-to-Plate Nutrition Education™ programs in Houston elementary schools.  See the spring schedule and book your tickets here.  See you at the table!

Dress for Dinner with Nicole Miller a Huge Hit with Recipe for Success Fans

Gracie Cavnar
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Thumbnail image for D4DMar2Chairs.jpg

Thanks to an enthusiastic turnout of supporters and generous underwriting from Neiman Marcus, Catering by Culinaire and Central Market,  Dress for Dinner and Dinner with the Designer, Nicole Miller on March 2, raised $13,200 to benefit Recipe for Success Foundation's programs to combat childhood obesity.


Always up for a stylish time, Event Chairs Roz Pactor and Isabel David along with Neiman Marcus General Manager, Bob Devlin recently threw one of the season's most fashionable parties to benefit Recipe for Success Foundation.  The second event in this year's series of three, the show and dinner took place at Neiman Marcus Galleria and featured canapĂ©s and a three course meal by popular Chef Barbara McKnight. 


But the biggest hit of the night came when gorgeous Neal Hamil Models strutted down the runway in Nicole Miller's latest collection, sending her fans into rapturous rounds of applause for dress after dress.  Phone cameras were clicking and guests were live tweeting in the electrified room.  D4DMar2crowdapprove.jpgIn addition to the chairs, host and designer, the 150 guests included Recipe for Success founder, Gracie Cavnar, Dress for Dinner founding chair, Jeff Shell, Janet Gurwitch, Yvonne Cormier, Claire Cormier Thielke, Leisa Holland-Nelson, Susan and Annie Criner, Kim Bartee, Linda Kuykendall, Elsie Eckert, Lenny Matuziewski & Tamara Klosz Bonar, Karen and Roland Garcia, Heather Pray, Amanda Crump, Laura Tinamus, Jennifer LeGrand, Lynn Guggolz, Shannon Hall, Marcus Sloan.  Ann Coffey and Sheldon Kramer, executives with BBVA Compass, treated twenty of their clients to the show.

The nearly forty guests, who donated a premium to attend the Dinner with the Designer immediately following the fashion show, were well rewarded with a beautifully executed meal created by Chef McKnight who extensively researched the designer's favorite foods.
D4Dmar2dinner.JPG "How did you know?" exclaimed Miller when perfectly crusted lamb appeared as the main course framed by a brilliant array of spring vegetables.  Fashionably svelte guests including Nancy Golden, Crystal Wright, Amy King and Audrey Cochran practically licked their plates clean.  Appearing for a standing ovation after dinner, McKnight--who is an very active member of the RFS Chefs Advisory Board--shared her experiences volunteering with the program and her view of its impact on children. 


Pleased Neiman Marcus executives are already planning their Dress for Dinner benefit for 2012.  "We were thrilled to have such a fantastic turnout for Recipe for Success--having  Nicole Miller with us just made it that much better.  Everyone keeps telling us how much they loved her stunning dresses!" enthused Stacey Swift.   


More images from the evening can be found here.