Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Can Feel It in My Fingers

(Photo Credit: Tiffany Ho via facebook)

Joy's Note:  In this holiday edition, Food & Obesity Expert in Training Michelle Wong takes you on a tour of our local farmer’s market (i.e. where I go for my weekly habit of biscuit & gravy… and vegetables).  A health policy doctoral student at Hopkins with a background in drug policy research and a food blog of her own, Michelle is basically a better version of me*:

I feel it in my toes. Love Christmas Public Health is all around me, and so the feeling grows.

One of my favorite places to see public health in action is on Sunday mornings at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market and Bazaar.  The market, located under the I-83 freeway is a smorgasbord for the senses: a rainbow of color from the vegetables; delicious smells emanating from coffee to pulled pork; and the buzzing of voices interrupted periodically from the rumble of the freeway above.  Stocking up on groceries for the week here, I see public health all around me.

Have you ever notice that the ice cream aisle is usually right in the middle of the supermarket, with the chips and soda aisles next to it, while produce is relegated to the side and the milk and eggs in at the back?  More than one third of Americans are considered obese.  But farmers’ markets like these are an antidote to our startling obesity rate.  Unlike a big box supermarket, cleverly designed to steer you towards the Chunky Monkey, the produce takes center stage here, from hardy winter greens like kale to wispy carrots still crowned by a tuft of leaves.  Sure, there are milk and eggs here, but getting to them is not “treacherous” and doesn’t involve passing the Hot Cheetos aisle.  If you’re craving something sweet, there are slivers of apples from Reid’s Orchards to sample – naturally sweet without high fructose corn syrup.

Leafy greens in hand, I pass by the welcome booth, which offers information on using federal food stamp benefits (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) at the market. This is the first year that this farmers’ market is accepting SNAP benefits and making the bounty of the market available to everyone. The market even doubles SNAP benefits to make the produce more affordable. Hunger, like obesity, is a very real public health problem. By accepting and doubling SNAP benefits, the market helps to improve fresh food access.
(Romanesco Broccoli; Photo Credit: Michelle Wong)
A little farther ahead, a peculiar looking vegetable catches my eye, Romanesco Broccoli, also known as fractal broccoli. It’s bright green, but instead of round florets, each floret is cone-shaped. I ask the farmer how to prepare such a bizarre vegetable and our conversation quickly turns to his farming methods. He says he tries to avoid synthetic pesticides. Here, public health meets environmental health: synthetic pesticides threaten the health of farm workers, who come in frequent contact with pesticides in large quantities, and those who consume the produce over long-periods of time.  Moreover, pesticides degrade the local ecosystems.

Obesity, hunger, and environmental health— keep your eyes out, because public health really is all around us, even on a sleepy Sunday morning at the farmers’ market.  

*Except that she's a Yale grad.  So no, not a better version of me.

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