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Article by: By Shana Alford
CHICAGO | April 14, 2020 – COVID-19 is now a historic pandemic. Thousands of new cases a day, record unemployment and most states with regulations in place to practice sheltering at home.
Millions of Americans are dealing with scarcity of some necessities and food items during this public health crisis. However, for some households, especially those facing economic hardship, a harsh reality may be a daily or weekly concern about whether or not they will obtain enough food to eat.
Many nutrition educators will correctly share that eating nutritious food is not expensive and oftentimes involves pantry items such as beans, brown rice, and canned vegetables. However, how do we, as passionate nutrition and health advocates, take a step back and consider that households most impacted by this crisis need to focus on the short-term, which may mean making trade-offs about quantity over quality of food? Their way of life, priorities and resources have been upended. How can we incorporate a different level of sensitivity into the messages we send about nutritious food consumption during this time?
Here are some considerations:
First, attempt to identify who you are reaching. During a time of rapid acceleration of digital resources, information is outbound. However, taking the time to learn about who you are reaching with basic tools like Google Analytics, can help you refine messages about food consumption and nutrition. If you don’t have access to data, then think about where you are posting information and who may visit those websites. For instance, it may be a safe assumption that if you are hosting virtual classes then households need a computer, tablet or smartphone with access to consistent, and reliable internet, with a speed capable of streaming. This assumption may lend itself to a reality that you may not be reaching households hardest hit by economic hardship.
Secondly, consider the effect of pushing out an all inclusive message about nutrition when some people may not have many food choices. When someone loses their ability to choose, to select their own food and decide on their meals, then this may affect their dignity. Some may feel a sense of guilt about what they are eating or how they are eating, especially if their habits have changed due to hardship. Whether we realize it or not, we may be unintentionally shaming people for food choices they are making when they don't have much choice. During a crisis, having choices is a privilege in itself.
Lastly, incorporate mental well-being information into your messages about nutrition education. During this time, many people are dealing with stress and stress is a major contributor for unhealthy eating. It is easy to turn to food to soothe emotions. Offer a kind word and resources such as the USDA National Hunger Hotline or the Crisis Text Line to those who may need it. The great thing about digitization is its anonymity.
These are just a few considerations for organizations committed to advocating for healthier food and nutrition education in partnership with communities aiming to achieve better health.
Please visit Common Threads for more COVID-19 Resources .
Common Threads was founded in Chicago in 2003 by CEO Linda Novick O’Keefe, celebrity chef Art Smith and his husband, artist Jesus Salgueiro, as a way to bring under-resourced children together, help them celebrate different cultures and teach them about healthy nutrition. From its humble beginnings in a church basement, Common Threads now services children and families in 12 markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Pittsburgh, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, El Paso and Erie. For more information, visit commonthreads.org or search #CookingForLife on social media.