Dozens of women hailing from low-income communities of color in Southeast Seattle gathered on Sept. 24th to discuss the difficulty of accessing healthy foods amongst other health and environment-related issues they believe their families are facing. The organization behind the event, Got Green, is working on using environmental awareness as a tool to better the lives of this demographic.
A recent survey conducted by Got Green indicates that women in Seattle’s Rainier Valley consider access to healthy foods their top concern by a 2:1 ratio, ranking higher than green homes, green jobs, and public transportation. About 15 percent of those surveyed were of Asian or Pacific Islander background and nearly 82 percent were women of color.
“We’re trying to empower the women of the community because when you are low-income and go to the grocery store you know you have to make do with the money you have,” said Violet Lavatai Ueligitone, a single mom who was laid off due to the recession and a speaker at the “Green Women, Green Voices” event.
She said that the Samoan community, which she is a member of, struggle with health problems such as diabetes and colon cancer has intensified because of the cost of healthy foods.
“Sugar is actually cheaper than fruit — per pound. You have access to a bag of sugar, but you can’t afford that bag of grapes,” she said. “This is crazy to me.”
It is no secret that the healthier choice is often the more expensive. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh apples have a weighted average price of 83 cents, a sharp contrast to processed food such as Top Ramen, which can be priced for as low as 10 cents a package. Of those who chose access to healthy foods as their top priority, 67 percent cited cost as the main restriction.
About 23 percent of survey-takers who chose access to healthy foods as a top concern did so because they found these foods inaccessible due to location. Ueligitone said that local farming must be encouraged either in the form of a communal garden, a fruit stand, or local organic farmers selling produce at farmer’s markets.
Ueligitone said that the neighborhood of Skyway, where she resides, has no grocery store. To access fresh produce, she has to travel down a hill into neighboring areas.
State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos also attended the gathering and said that she agrees that policies and programs in the federal, state, and local governments have made it so that the inexpensive approach is also the least healthy.
“We actually have policies working in opposition to one another,” said Santos in regards to programs that focus on diabetes and obesity prevention. “Most people who are in need of food assistance have to rely on foods that are purchased in bulk that are very often inexpensive and high in fat and other fillers.”
The high cost of healthy foods has been attributed as one possible consequence of gentrification.
“Systemic wholesale change is going to require time and persistent effort,” said Santos. “I think this [forum] is a very valuable first step.”