For the Comer Bien blog series, National Council of La Raza asked several of partners and affiliates to reflect on the issues raised by families in the video vignettes. Views and opinions expressed are those of the author and Prevention Institute.
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When NCLR asked José, age 20, to describe how his family, friends and neighbors shop for food in Washington, DC, the primary challenges he noted had to do with neighborhood safety and transportation. What does safety have to do with healthy eating? Everything, as José notes. When people do not feel safe in their communities, they are less likely to use local parks, access public transportation, walk to the grocery store, or let their children play outside. Communities perceived as being unsafe are less likely to benefit from investments such as healthy food retail and recreation centers. Links between violence (and the fear of violence) and healthy eating are disproportionately prominent in communities of color and low-income populations, which contributes to the widening gap in health and safety outcomes. Preventing violence is critical to reducing inequities in health for Latinos and other communities of color and to promoting healthy eating for all Americans.
Community leaders are calling for a better understanding of the impact that violence has on healthy eating and activity. Prevention Institute's paper on violence and healthy eating and activity, Addressing the Intersection: Preventing Violence and Promoting Healthy Eating and Active Living, provides an explanation of the intersection between violence and healthy eating and activity, and highlights the key ways that these issues intersect.
Prevention Institute also coordinates an innovative pilot effort highlighting approaches that support safe, healthy, and thriving communities for all. The Convergence Partnership Violence Prevention - Healthy Eating, Active Living pilot project, launched in January 2010, explores the effectiveness of community-based strategies for violence prevention and the promotion of healthy eating and active living. The initiative is funding six communities across the country to establish a community partnership comprised of an organization engaged in active living and/or healthy eating; an organization focused on preventing violence; a public health department; and one youth or young professional.
In the primarily Latino Westwood neighborhood of Denver, CO, a team of community organizations, youth, the city council, public health department, and many others began work to develop a healthy, local food system that also supports safety in the community. The Denver community is developing a large-scale, organic urban farm and a weekly farmers' market, as well as implementing the Kepner Urban Training Farm Program. This program trains at-risk youth in urban farming, community outreach, and small business development, which will ultimately expand employment opportunities for the neighborhood. This emphasis on employment and training will address underlying inequities-such as access to education and job opportunities-that contribute to violence. To amplify the positive effect of increased job skills and availability, the Program is incorporating teamwork and problem solving support into their program. The Westwood team is also working with the juvenile justice system to refer youth to gardening, urban agriculture, and healthy food and activity programs. As young people gain skills by working and volunteering on the urban farm, the food they harvest will provide their community with access to healthy foods.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, visited the Westwood neighborhood in 2010 to kick off a Day of Action at The Garden de Esperanza. True to its name, The Garden de Esperanza is a space where hope and community are cultivated in a neighborhood struggling with gangs, drugs and lack of access to affordable and healthy food. Over 100 people attended the Day of Action to hear Rigoberta's inspiring words. Rigoberta's message was clear: Preventing violence in concert with promoting healthy eating and activity is no easy task, but we must work together to bring peace and build healthy, sustainable communities.