Health, Lifestyle

The challenge of healthy eating

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Thinking about putting food on the table for ourselves and family members can be challenging.

What should we have for dinner tonight? Are we eating a balanced, nutritional meal? Will my partner or children like the food I put in front of them? And, didn’t we just have this same meal last week?

Finding the right spice of life to bring to our individual and family mealtimes can be daunting enough, and that’s before we even consider what it cost to put the food on the table. Let’s face it. It cost a lot today to eat nutritiously, whether we stay at home or stop at a restaurant to take-out or eat in. A trip with the cart around the grocery store tells us meat prices have shot up, vegetable prices have skyrocketed and purchasing fruit often seems financially unattainable. It seems the only things in neighborhood grocery stores that seem affordable are boxed foods, processed foods and junk foods.

In the urban core of our cities, we are stuck with having no real grocery stores within walking distance from our homes, and if there is a grocery store within driving distance, there usually isn’t more than one. Instead, thousands of residents across the Twin Cities landscape are forced to try to do their basic grocery shopping by running in and out of corner stores, where the produce is often dated, the meat choices are scarce, and the costs for such food staples rival that of trendy, organic grocers.

So often, we are admonished to keep fresh vegetables and fruits on the table for ourselves and our children, with the folks doing the admonishing knowing full good and well that it is next to impossible to make food budget ends meet when our grocery carts include the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables recommended to keep us in tip top shape. The plain truth is it costs an arm and a leg to try to stock up on enough fruits and veggies to meet the daily recommended allowances of the necessary nutrient and vitamin intake we need.

Reading this, a natural conclusion one might come to is that medium and large-scale grocers are making a killing off charging exorbitant and excessive prices for healthy and nutritious foods. But, the truth is, grocers, on average, have an extremely low profit margin, averaging only a one to two percent profit from the goods sold in their stores. So, the challenge of providing consumers with affordable fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods goes way beyond any blame we can lay at the feet of medium and large-scale grocers, which is a shame, because, it would be great if we could enthusiastically support the rare grocery stores that do land in our neighborhoods.

A remedy for white, suburban families facing the challenge of acquiring enough healthy foods for them and their families has been to shop at the warehouse clubs, such as Sam’s Club or Costco. Black folks have not flocked to these big box stores to save money at the same rate as their white counterparts. The exception to this is Black folks who make $100,000 or more annually. The Nielsen research company reports this group actually does more shopping at these warehouse clubs on a regular basis than do their white counterparts.

In our community, we constantly hear we’re supposed to eat healthier, but I never hear anybody break down the actual money savings individuals and families can accomplish by doing our grocery shopping at these gargantuan warehouse clubs. This is probably because you will find nary a Sam’s Club or Costco in one single urban area in Minnesota or the rest of the U.S. These sprawling cost-saving hubs are usually found in suburban areas.

What the proverbial “they” often fail to tell us in urban American is that when suburban folks leave a Costco or a Sam’s Club, they are smiling from ear to ear, knowing their shopping carts are filled with quality meats, veggies, fruits, healthy snack items, toiletries and household cleaning items, for about 40 percent less than the rest of us are paying for the same goods in the inner city. And, just to stick the meat clever in a little deeper, these same suburban folks know that because they’re buying in bulk, these same items will last them the entire month.

Folks who shop at these warehouse clubs know that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables, so they stock up for the month with foods that will keep them and their families healthy at a 30-day pop. They also know that these same stores can also be advantageous to senior citizens and single folks because they are now offering oversized meat packages that come with perforated individual packs that can be torn off the larger pack for individual meals. So, now, you don’t have to bring these huge meat packages home and break them down into smaller, individualized packs. This tedious work is now done for you.

This week’s column isn’t meant to be an infomercial for warehouse club stores, but rather a reminder about an option that is available to us just miles from our inner-city homes. For those without cars or transportation, shopping at these stores may require some creative carpooling. Memberships at these warehouse clubs range from $30 to $50 per year. Costco even sends their premium members a dividend check at the end of the year. If you don’t have your own membership, you can borrow someone else’s.

It would be great to have less admonishment and more ideas in our community to address the kitchen table issues that keep us all up at night. It would especially be great to feed ourselves and our families with the healthy foods we deserve.

Gloria Freeman is President/CEO of Olu’s Center, an intergenerational childcare and senior day program, and can be reached at gfreeman@olushome.com.

October 24, 2016
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