Eating Right – A Health Editorial by William Perry
Low Income, Seniors and Students have easy access to junk food, but not fresh fruit and veggies
Unbalanced Diets are decreasing longevity by tuning down metabolisms.
My daughter, Beth, like myself and my parents were not social workers or eco-activists. My daughter is a single parent of three and sports bar owner by ambition, and she works tending her garden, which she established in a vacant lot next to her Montreal Townhome, during her spare time, sometimes rising early or working between shifts. But on a small scale, she is helping to solve one of the great ills that plague most Canadians.
Every time a family takes greens from her community garden for Sunday dinner, and every time someone picks a bell pepper for salad from her greenhouse, my daughter enlarges an oasis in what many experts call a food desert.
Food deserts are low-income areas where residents have little access to healthy food and produce, often because their neighborhood lacks a supermarket. For urban areas, «low access» is defined as the lack of a grocery store within one mile of home, which can present a barrier to nutrition when a family lives in poverty and does not own a car or inadequate public transportation.
Sometimes kids from the neighborhood will stop by to help tend the small field beside her townhome, but Beth says they›ve got a lot to learn.
«You know they›ve never seen an earthworm,» says she, who started cultivating the empty lot in the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighborhood a year ago. Her idea was to start a community garden where anybody could come tend the field, plant a few seeds, and take home some fresh produce to their families.
Pointe-Saint-Charles, an area located in the South-West borough, south of downtown between the Lachine Canal and the St. Lawrence River. Often referred to as ‹The Point›, it was originally a mainly English-speaking Irish workingclass neighbourhood developed around factories and other Victorian-era industry. Changes in economic fortune in the mid-20th century led Point St. Charles into a decline that has only recently begun to change as a wave of gentrification has given the area new life. The neighbourhood has a documented reputation as one of the poorest in Montreal, and one of the roughest in Canada. Its inhabitants have been the subject of several National Film Board of Canada documentaries.
Ashley, who has rented a house in the same block since October and lives directly next door to the garden, says she has not yet taken Beth up on the offer of free produce in exchange for a little bit of labor. She is a big believer in fruits and vegetables for her two growing boys, ages 2 and 4, but for now, she rides with her boyfriend to buy healthy groceries.
«I›m going to wait until Beth shows me the way, because I don›t want to mess it up,» she says.
As Father McDonald tends his flock from Saint Gabriel›s Parish, he never thought he would get involved in the grocery business, but like several nonprofit organizations that focuses on building affordable housing and running after-school leadership programs, have met the community garden with an open mind.
«We really believe the community is going to know the solutions to their own problems,» McDonald says. In the spring, the church hosted a neighbourhood residents’ meeting, and, the lack of a supermarket – availability to fresh produce, has been the No. 1 problem identified by people in the community.
«Those folks deserve a quality grocery store in which to shop,» said most Council members I spoke to. They said the city was negotiating with two different full-service grocery chains about bringing a new store to the neighbourhood, however the residents have heard these promises before and put little hope toward them.
One solution to food deserts is to build more grocery stores. But grocery chains are not charities, and when access to healthy food is limited, government and nonprofit organizations sometimes step in to fill the need.
Our daily intake of the 40 essential micronutrients—vitamins, minerals and other biochemicals—is commonly thought to be adequate. Indeed, classic deficiency diseases, such as scurvy, beriberi and pernicious anaemia, are now rare among the citizens of developed countries. The optimum amount of vitamins, minerals and essential biochemicals is the amount that maximizes a healthy lifespan, and is likely to be higher than the amount needed to prevent acute deficiency disease. Evidence suggests, however, that much chronic metabolic damage occurs at levels above the level that causes acute micronutrient deficiency disease but below the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs).
In addition, current RDAs may not be sufficient to prevent subtle metabolic damage: if one input in the metabolic network is inadequate, repercussions are felt in a large number of other systems. This could result in an increase in DNA damage (and cancer), neuron decay (and cognitive dysfunction) or mitochondrial decay (and accelerated ageing and degenerative diseases). In addition, the optimum amount of micronutrients varies with age and constitution—the requirements of the elderly for vitamins and metabolites are likely to be different from those of the young—and with genetic make-up.
The poor, in general, have the worst diets and have the most to gain from improving their multivitamin and mineral supplementation and diet.
The poor and low income are clearly not well served if huge resources are put into preventing minor hypothetical risks... while the major risk of poor nutrition is not addressed
There is a need to abandon outdated models and explore more meaningful ways to prevent chronic disease and achieve optimum health. It is becoming clear that unbalanced diets will soon become the largest contributor to ill health, with smoking following close behind.