LGU Students and Pheed Philadelphia Explore Nutrition with La Salle University

For the past few months, La Salle University and local associates have set out to better understand, educate, and provide helpful solutions to the issues with malnutrition in the Germantown area of Northwest Philadelphia.

Part of those efforts have led to the creation of Exploring Nutrition. The program, which actively includes students and faculty, seeks to address many of the problems that Germantown currently faces.

Just a few years ago, the area around Germantown was known as a “food desert”. Tom Wingert who previously founded the Germantown Hunger Network, noted that “One of the identified problems with this neighborhood is that there’s not enough access to produce or fresher, healthy foods.”

One of the defining elements in combating the hunger issue came with the establishment of local Fresh Grocer stores. While in many ways this helps, there are still other factors that come into play that lead to food insecurity. Director of La Salle’s nutrition program, Professor Jule Ann Henstenburg, cites that economic and even lack of time can all play a role in keeping people from eating right.

In response to that, Henstenburg states “The first step we think is to give consumers access to better food, beyond what you can get at convenience stores.” Not everybody can afford the often higher prices of organic or higher-quality fresh foods. Even with more access, Henstenburg cites money as another one of the major factors for malnutrition. For those instances, students of the Leadership and Global Understanding program stepped in.

According to Wingert, LGU students “Raised over five-thousand dollars” and “bought thirty-six hundred pounds of produce” which they then helped distribute to local food pantries.

Catherine Buck, one of LGU’s students, says “We sat down with the leaders there and we talked to them about their needs and what kind of food they were interested in; how much they’ve had in the past, how much they want this year.” In the past few months, these efforts alongside support with the Fresh Grocer, allowed students to organize and distribute good produce to a variety of different local food drives and organizations.

Bill Williams, one of the volunteers working behind the scenes, talked a bit about the distribution efforts. “We’ve got twelve neighborhood partners,we have eleven churches and one mosque; each of them has sort of their own feeding or their own food bank program.” Students involved with either La Salle’s LGU and Pheed Philadelphia students handled repackaging donated crates and bags of fresh produce that had been donated. Bill explained that “some churches prefer the things just in bulk and some prefer them to be individually bagged.”

Students involved in these programs dedicated a considerable amount of their time and effort to help ensure that nobody needs to go without food.

“I think hunger is like the biggest issue in Philadelphia,” begins Vince Balestrino, “you don’t realize how widespread it is and how it affects each and every neighborhood.” Vince is a member of Pheed Philadelphia, a soup kitchen program sponsored by La Salle that serves food at places like the St. Francis Soup Kitchen and Blessed Sarnelli Community.

Maureen Fanning, a member of Pheed Philadelphia further explained that “Our mission is to advocate for hunger awareness.” The group, which Maureen claims to be entirely student-run, spends six days a week operating, visiting different neighborhoods in Philly.

“I would say the best part is the variety of soup kitchens that we’re exposed to,” Molly Mahon enthusiastically proclaims. “You have like the cafeteria-style soup kitchen and then we also have some of them like Face-to-Face that’s very much like a dining room style so it’s really cool to be able to interact with the people who come on a face-to-face level.”

Other factors besides lack-of-access and financial insecurity also play a role in shaping the area around Germantown. Edie Goldbacher, a Health Psychology Professor at La Salle, focuses much of her attention on helping those who simply don’t have the time to eat right. In these cases, Goldbacher claims it’s not a matter of will but a matter of environment that hinders healthy decision making.

According to Catherine Buck, LGU students “partnered with Philabundance a little bit.” Buck says the organization was able to provide “different educational materials that we’re able to hand out to people.” These included papers and pamphlets that give residents tips on how to get the most out of their fresh produce through storage tips and nutritional facts to help encourage eating healthy food over junk food.

La Salle’s Exploring Nutrition has done a lot to help out the Germantown area, with faculty and students coming together to do the best they can in making the food situation better. Looking forward there’s still a lot to do, but so far the dedication from these members and many others partners are an active step in the right direction.

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Distribution Resolution

In ongoing efforts to improve the availability of healthy foods to the Germantown area, small independent food drives and distribution projects have arisen. Here, LaSalle students, locals and employees do their part in helping create and provide nutrition packages to local groups and organizations.

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Fighting the Nutrition Attrition

We all know that not everybody has a “green-thumb”, and that it’s much easier to just order a pizza or a cheesesteak from a store down the block, but what can a little bit of determination and the right resources do to make dinner a little less greasy and a lot more beneficial to your body.

“We have a lot of data in our field that shows, people who that eat more fruits and vegetables are healthier” states Professor Julie Anne Henstenburg, director of La Salle’s Nutrition Program. According to Henstenburg, however, the real issue with eating healthy here isn’t just knowing what to start eating, but where and how to get that fresh produce?.

That’s precisely where La Salle’s Nutrition Program comes in.

According to Henstenburg, the area around La Salle University was considered a food desert until the Fresh Grocer was established. Fresh food however, doesn’t come cheap, and there lies the second problem.When people are dealing with financial hardships and daily stress, they don’t have the money or time to be more conscious dietary consumers.

Henstenburg determinedly declares, “In the areas where we have poverty, low economic status and SNAP benefits… I wanna go in there and make people eat better, help people eat better.” She says it’s not that other organizations don’t already try, but there are limits to what a single person can do. Going person-by-person to try and remedy an issue of malnutrition that pertains to an entire community is effective but not all that can be done.

One possible solution Henstenburg proposes is that a possible shift in income for minimum wage jobs would allow more consumers with more cash to buy better produce. Other solutions that students can get more involved in are helping community gardens, which could also possibly cut down on the cost of transportation. Finally, residents of the area are being encouraged to invest into turning their land into a modern-day victory garden. Despite the high density residency of the area the idea is nothing to scoff at asĀ  Henstenburg eagerly reminds us that “You can do quite a lot with a small plot.”

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Dr. Goldbacher on Obesity

“There are lots of different things that contribute to weight difficulties”, stated Dr. Edie Goldbacher, assistant professor for LaSalle’s Psychology department. Dr. Goldbacher’s dedicated herself to helping others understand what causes obesity and how to handle weight-related issues. ”

“Unfortunately I think a lot of times people blame the individual,” Dr. Goldbacher prefaced, before later continuing “The way they put it at the Yale food center is that genetics load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger. According to Goldbacher, low availability of healthy nutritional alternatives is one of the environmental causes of obesity, along with the cost, or simply people being unaware of the healthier options. She emphasizes, “The price of a ‘Hugs’ (sugar-drink) is sometimes cheaper than a bottle of water.”

Dr. Goldbacher helps patients by providing them with self-monitoring techniques that she says are meant to “empower” them wit the confidence to keep to a program to lose weight. Despite seeing positive outcomes with helping people shed the pounds, Goldbacher warns people to keep in mind that it’s not always over after the initial programs, and that each person needs to use what works best and healthiest for them.

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The Nutrition (Label) Condition

In the ongoing effort to better help fight malnutrition the FDA is proposing to update our current nutrition labels. Recently made public thanks to Michelle Obama, the FDA’s website further outlines what the changes wish to achieve.

Old design [Left] in comparison to proposed redesign [Right]

Old design [Left] in comparison to proposed redesign [Right]

The most notable change in place is the increased font size on the calorie count. Another significant difference is the increased emphasis on serving size, placing the suggested amount above the cup measurements to make it easier for most consumers to measure.

According to the FDA, “The proposed updates reflect new dietary recommendations, consensus reports, and national survey data, such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nutrient intake recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, and intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)”

Michelle Obama herself put it best at a recent press conference, “Our guiding principle here is simple, that you as a parent or a consumer should be able to walk into a grocery store, pick an item off the shelf and tell whether it’s good for your family.”

More info on the proposed changes can be found here .

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Germantown Speaks

Went out and got some interviews with locals.

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Farm Bill Woes

“I did not come to Congress to kick the most vulnerable Americans off of food assistance” posted Democratic Lehigh Valley congressman Matt Cartwright. His statement follows the radical changes that seek to cut funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The cuts will have a direct impact on the money going into food stamp support for Pennsylvanians that qualify for heating assistance. These food stamps have been a crucial last-resort benefit for low-income families.

Eugenia Emert of the Catasauqua Food Bank said that “we are seeing more people coming earlier and trying to get food because their food money doesn’t last.” Other organizations and food banks echoed similar statements. “We’re definitely running low on the food,” said Carolyn Engle, program manager at ProJeCT Easton.

Conservatives have been advocating for cutting SNAP’s funding by as much as $40 billion, however only recently has a House approved plan to trim $8 billion from the plan made it’s way through.

Advocates of cutting SNAP suggest that charities may be able to fill the gap, however the Coalition Against Hunger imply the solution isn’t that simple. According to them “food banks and other charities in our state already can’t keep up wit the skyrocketing need, and they certainly can’t fill the $136 million gap.”

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