In the months since my book came out, I've had the privilege of talking to thousands of people—mothers, fathers, teenagers, grandparents and, of course, children—about the role of nutrition in their lives. I wish I could count the number of people I have heard from whose children (and husbands) have eaten vegetables for the first time after using Deceptively DeliciousSM and the sense of relief and elation I've witnessed from moms and dads who feel like they were doing their jobs as parents better.
But I know that there is much more that can (and should) be done to ensure that all children grow up as strong and healthy as possible.
Almost seven years ago, I started a local charity in New York called Baby Buggy (a portion of the sales of Deceptively DeliciousSM goes to support it). Baby Buggy started from a simple idea: With a growing population of families and children without adequate baby equipment, there should be an easy way for perfectly good, but slightly used, equipment to be refurbished and reused instead of being thrown away. We got started with a warehouse and a few volunteers, and now Baby Buggy is an integral part of our city's social service network that has delivered well over 2 million essential items to families in need.
The problems we face in child nutrition are definitely more complicated, immense and critical. But my experience with Baby Buggy taught me that every small step can make an impact, and that small changes can create a momentum that can make a big difference. It taught me that thinking small and thinking big at the same time gets you where you want to go. I also learned that helping one family at a time also matters.
On that note, the challenges we all see in child nutrition can be met—must be met—by action locally and nationally. And, having been inspired by Oprah, Dr. Mehmet Oz, nutritionist Joy Bauer, chef Jamie Oliver, chef Alice Waters and others, I have made it my business to learn all I can both about the problems and about the people who are trying to solve them.
Today, I'd like to share some of what I've learned and some recent stories that bring me hope. Perhaps they will inspire you to encourage similar efforts in your own communities and, with your elected officials, to help raise a generation of healthy eaters.
Fair warning, this will be a recurring theme with me.
In New York City, where I live, there is a huge disparity from neighborhood to neighborhood in the availability of fresh produce. For many, myself included, fruits and greens are practically at every street corner—lots of it even organically grown. But in too many other places in my city, fresh fruits and vegetables just aren't available. So instead, kids are being fed a diet of fast food, preservative- and calorie-laden snack food and highly processed junk. According to city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden, in these neighborhoods, "rates of obesity and diabetes are 50 percent higher than the citywide average."
Fortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city council are doing something about it. The city has proposed a program that will create 1,500 new permits for fruit and vegetable carts in targeted neighborhoods where consumption of these nutritious foods is low and where food carts can be a critical link to good nutrition.
This is the same mayor who was one of the first to ban trans-fats in our city's restaurants. And today as I walked to pick up my son Julian at school, I read no less than a dozen banners hung from street lamps promoting healthy eating, less sugar intake and more exercise. I love that!
Helping People Afford the Food They Need
Just making healthy food readily available isn't quite enough. Unfortunately, studies show that it's still much cheaper to consume unhealthy food. But new research shows that public assistance geared toward purchasing fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets or supermarkets creates immediate, positive and lasting results in what people eat.
And the federal government has taken notice, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture announcing last month new rules governing the Women, Infants and Children program, that will provide assistance for "fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which are essential to a healthier diet." This is welcome news for communities across the country looking to stem the tide of health problems related to poor nutrition. It is hard to believe that up until now, women were not encouraged to buy the healthiest foods for their families.
When Deceptively DeliciousSM came out, my motto for the book was, "One Family at a Time." I believe the same approach can work for taking action in the larger world. Work on one thing at a time—write a letter to your school, your local grocery store or a local politician. Then, when you discover how good it feels to take action, move on to larger goals. Involve your friends and your larger community. Together, I know we can make a difference.
- For more information about Baby Buggy, visit www.babybuggy.org