This is what it’s like shopping for groceries in a food desert
A panel of experts meeting with community members and others about food access Thursday told those gathered at east Macon’s Rosa Jackson Community Center that transportation and limited knowledge about resources are major challenges to eating healthy in Middle Georgia.
The four panelists were part of the ”Improving Food Access and Health: What We All Can Do” panel presented by the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Macon Food Project.
Part of the discussion focused on food deserts —a place devoid of fresh and nutritious foods within a one-mile radius— and the difficulty some Macon residents have with getting to grocery stores.
Some community members might have to travel two hours by bus to get to a grocery store in Macon.
Smart shopping can be a key to making the most out of those trips, said panelist Ryan Smith, a dietician for the North Central Health District.
“Again, we are looking at (getting the) most bang for your buck. Talking about items that you can get that are nutritional that you can take back and get a lot out of,” Smith said. “Really it comes down to strategizing... you have to put in that extra work because at the end of the day you are investing in your health.”
Other panel members shared information about available resources including cooking classes and to how to shop and prepare vegan meals.
Alesia Mays, a program assistant for Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) teaches cooking classes. The classes include meal preparation and also provide recipes using the items that consumers can get through shopping smart.
“We teach healthy eating on a budget,” Mays said. “When they complete the program they get a nice cookbook, like this, called Meals in Minutes. I am giving them the tools that they need to succeed.”
Mayes said she can speak from personal experience as a single mother who worked hard to make sure she was able to prepare good meals for her child.
Two of the panel members — community activist George Fadil Muhammad and GiGi Weaver, creator of Macon Vegans — shared that they had chosen to become vegan or vegetarian mainly for health benefits.
Weaver said eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive, but she said it does take some planning.
Weaver reviews grocery store ads each week to find deals on produce, as well as other healthy foods, and shares the information with community members. She said doing the extra work beats eating out.
“Eating out can be expensive at a lot of these places. It can put a dent in your wallet,” she said. “You can go to (this) one page and find all deals on produce at all the grocery stores in the area… You can plan a meal plan around these deals.”
After the discussion, some of those who attended said they appreciated the discussion and the efforts of the Macon Food Project.
“I think it has been very important and I really admire a lot of the stories,” Muhammad said. “A lot of these things are not well known. So I think that is very valuable, the food stories.”
Kristina Hyland, an employee of the non-profit HealthMPowers, said events like the food panel are important for increasing understanding about healthier food options in Middle Georgia.
“One of the things that they talked about on the panel is just a lot of people don’t know things that are going on,” Hyland said. “I think this a great opportunity for people to come together whose goal is the same thing, who want to increase access to healthier food.”
Smith said the gathering gave organizations the opportunity to hear about the specific problems plaguing the Middle Georgia community.
“It hits closer to home when you are talking to people in our community who live around us who are dealing with these issues,” he said.
“It is devastating and unfair that they don’t have the same access so I think the work that we are doing, the work that these other organizations are doing is so important.”
The panel event served as a wrap up for the Macon Food Story project that started last fall. Since then the partners from the CCJ, which include The Telegraph, 13WMAZ, GPB and the Knight Foundation, have put together a series of events and articles on different topics involving food in Middle Georgia.