Karen Vauk: Idaho Foodbank emphasizes healthy diets

GUEST OPINION: NUTRITION

March 8, 2014 

Idaho is ingrained with a giving spirit. Each week I’m privileged to see my fellow Idahoans volunteering, donating to the Idaho Foodbank and offering support to others in their community.

We’re especially pleased to see an increase in donations of nutrient-rich, wholesome foods. This means that beyond just feeding people in need, we’re able to nourish them, too. That’s especially important because children represent a large percentage of those we serve. We know good nutrition is essential to successful learning, proper physical growth and future health.

The challenge for us is to educate people about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. There is a major misconception in our culture — one that if not corrected, will make the fight against poverty, hunger and obesity nearly impossible. It is essential to understand that these three problems are tightly interwoven.

The number of overweight people in Idaho has expanded rapidly in recent decades, both adults and children. One in 3 Idaho children are overweight or obese, but nearly 100,000 children live in households struggling with hunger.

I often hear people say that those in need of food don’t care what they receive — or worse, I hear judgment cast upon those who receive food assistance because they might appear overweight. But what’s important to remember is that someone who is obese can still be starving for proper nutrition. Malnutrition is a deficiency of nutrients.

This often occurs in low-income families that select highly processed foods to save money. A diet of empty-calorie foods will pack on weight, provide no real sustenance and leave people without any long-term nutrition.

That’s why the Foodbank has adjusted its messaging in the past few years. Generous donors are responding to our requests for foods low in calories, salt, sugar and fat, and focusing more on nutritious items such as fruits canned in juice or extra light syrup, nut butters and whole grain pasta.

Those in poverty face many challenges. Getting basic nutrition is a significant hurdle, and the Idaho Foodbank is working to ease those challenges. A few strategies are showing some promise. Our Cooking Matters classes provide hands-on instruction, food and practical ideas for shopping and preparing healthy meals on a tight budget. Often, limited access in rural areas, or lack of transportation, hinders people from getting good foods. We have school backpack programs, school pantries and a mobile pantry program that brings healthy food to even the most remote parts of Idaho. We also partner with other programs that focus on healthy living, such as the High Five Children’s Health Collaborative.

In all the years I have been feeding hungry Idahoans, I have never yet encountered anyone who felt entitled to free food. In most cases, it’s just the opposite. These are seniors, young families with children and even veterans, many living in rural areas, who are grateful to receive a little assistance to make it through difficult times.

The Idaho Foodbank depends on generous volunteers and donors to keep its services and programs running. I encourage you to learn more about hunger-related health issues affecting our communities and become involved in finding solutions. A list of desired food drive items, volunteer opportunities and online donation options are available at idahofoodbank.org.

As caring Idahoans we need to remove barriers to help our friends and neighbors and ensure that the assistance we do offer promotes a healthy and productive life. We can do it — I know we can.

Vauk is president of the Idaho Foodbank.

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