MCH Bridges: The Official AMCHP Podcast

Episode #18: What the Health is Food Insecurity?!

May 06, 2024 AMCHP Episode 18
Episode #18: What the Health is Food Insecurity?!
MCH Bridges: The Official AMCHP Podcast
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MCH Bridges: The Official AMCHP Podcast
Episode #18: What the Health is Food Insecurity?!
May 06, 2024 Episode 18

Our newest MCH Bridges and What the Health?! crossover episode, led by AMCHP’s Youth Voice Amplified (YVA) committee, talks about the food insecurity crisis in the United States from a systems and lived experience point of view, and how these perspectives impact each other. This episode shares an overview of the state of food insecurity in this country, a background of different terms in the food justice space, and the inequities that present challenges for many in our communities. You will also hear about the importance of empowering communities and understanding solutions to accessing nourishing foods they connect with to create positive health outcomes.  

Tune in now to listen and learn from guest host Amber Woodside and speakers Serena Sakkal and Bennett K., who share their experiences and insights on how to restore the connection between food and joy.

Disclaimer: This episode deals with topics of food insecurity, food banks, poverty, childhood trauma, nutrition, and systems of discrimination. Please prioritize your mental health and consider if you're ready to listen to this episode. If you or your family are experiencing acute food insecurity, you can dial 211 to be connected to a local confidential referral service in order to find assistance. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or food-related trauma responses, you can contact the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness Helpline at 1-866-662-1235.


Show Notes Transcript

Our newest MCH Bridges and What the Health?! crossover episode, led by AMCHP’s Youth Voice Amplified (YVA) committee, talks about the food insecurity crisis in the United States from a systems and lived experience point of view, and how these perspectives impact each other. This episode shares an overview of the state of food insecurity in this country, a background of different terms in the food justice space, and the inequities that present challenges for many in our communities. You will also hear about the importance of empowering communities and understanding solutions to accessing nourishing foods they connect with to create positive health outcomes.  

Tune in now to listen and learn from guest host Amber Woodside and speakers Serena Sakkal and Bennett K., who share their experiences and insights on how to restore the connection between food and joy.

Disclaimer: This episode deals with topics of food insecurity, food banks, poverty, childhood trauma, nutrition, and systems of discrimination. Please prioritize your mental health and consider if you're ready to listen to this episode. If you or your family are experiencing acute food insecurity, you can dial 211 to be connected to a local confidential referral service in order to find assistance. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or food-related trauma responses, you can contact the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness Helpline at 1-866-662-1235.


Amber Woodside: [00:00:00] Welcome to MCH Bridges, where we lift up innovative ideas and inspiring stories from people in the maternal and child health field. [00:00:15] Today's episode is a quarterly feature produced in collaboration with AMCHP's Youth Voice Amplified Subcommittee, or YVA. Today's episode, “What the Health is Food Insecurity?!”, is hosted by YVA co-chair Amber Woodside.

Resources for further learning can be found in the episode's description. [00:00:30] Before we get started, I'd like to mention that this episode deals with topics of food insecurity, food banks, poverty, childhood trauma, nutrition, and systems of discrimination. Please prioritize your mental health and consider if you're ready to listen to this episode.

If you or your family are [00:00:45] experiencing acute food insecurity, you can dial 211 to be connected to a local confidential referral service in order to find assistance. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or food-related trauma responses, you can contact the Alliance for Eating Disorders [00:01:00] Awareness Helpline at 1-866-662-1235. More information about these resources can be found in the show notes.

Food can mean so many things. [00:01:15] To some, it can mean connection, culture, family, or comfort. To others, it can mean struggle, trauma, uncertainty, or it may even feel like it's not allowed to mean anything at all. For many, food might represent all these things at once. [00:01:30] Whatever food represents to each of us, it remains a core fact that people need to eat in order to survive.

This has been true for every nation and every culture across all of human history. And yet, in the modern era, even in a country as developed as the United [00:01:45] States, there are hundreds of thousands of people every day who have no idea when or from where their next meal will come from. This state of being is referred to as food insecurity.

According to the USDA, households are considered to be experiencing food insecurity when they [00:02:00] consistently do not have access to meet the nutritional requirements of each person in the household. The Organization Feeding America further specifies that these nutritional requirements need to be met to such an extent that a person can live a healthy and active life.

The USDA conducts an [00:02:15] annual survey asking households how often they have to skip meals or choose less nutritious food in order to make their food budget stretch longer. By these standards, in 2022, 17 million households were food insecure at some point during the year. This figure was almost 4 million [00:02:30] more households than had been identified in 2021.

Food insecurity is so prevalent in the U. S. that the geographic regions where it's most common have been given names; Food deserts and food swamps. According to the Food Empowerment Project, a [00:02:45] food desert is an area where residents have extremely restricted access to affordable and nutritious food options, particularly fresh produce, due to a lack of grocery stores or food suppliers within, quote, convenient traveling distance.

What this phrase means [00:03:00] varies based on the transportation availability within the area, but even in urban areas with robust public transportation systems, affordable and accessible grocery locations are being pushed fewer and farther between. A food swamp is very similar to a food desert. The primary [00:03:15] difference is that in addition to the lack of accessible nutritious options, there is an overabundance of nutrient poor food available, and often for much cheaper than the limited nutrient dense options.

According to the medical information magazine Healthline, food swamps are rapidly becoming more prevalent than food [00:03:30] deserts in North America and tend to present even worse health outcomes than food deserts. I wanted to talk to a couple of folks about the details of the food insecurity crisis in America, both from the systems and solutions perspective and from the lived experience point of view.

I first sat down with Serena Sakkal, [00:03:45] who works in food justice near my own hometown, and we talked a lot about the state of food insecurity today. 

Serena Sakkal: My name is Serena Sakkal and I am a program manager at the Pueblo Food Project. At the heart of the Pueblo [00:04:00] Food Project is our community coalition. We're based in Pueblo, Colorado.

Pueblo is about two hours just south of Denver, not too far from the New Mexico border. And Pueblo has a really beautiful and rich [00:04:15] history in agriculture and food. The coalition kind of has representation from all across the board, different organizations, different individual community members, folks with different lived experiences.

The Pueblo Food Project [00:04:30] was established in 2019. We came to be because the east side of Pueblo, which you would call a food desert, it's an area that's experienced historic socioeconomic disadvantages, to put it [00:04:45] gently. Their grocery store, I think it was in Albertsons, closed, creating a really big gap for food access in that part of town.

In 2020, the Pueblo Food Project received a start-up grant from the Colorado [00:05:00] Health Foundation. And then COVID-19 happened, and the food project had to pivot pretty quickly to address the immediate food insecurity needs that were happening as a result of the pandemic. So the five [00:05:15] focus areas of the Pueblo Food Project came to be as an answer to the community needs from the pandemic.

And they were local food economy, Um, healthy food access, environment, um, advocacy, and food and farm literacy and [00:05:30] education. Our farm-to-school initiatives kind of fell under that as well. 

Amber Woodside: I asked Serena first about the term food desert because it's simultaneously a relatively vague term, especially based on the official criteria for food insecurity in the first place, while also being a [00:05:45] relatively controversial term within food justice advocacy spaces.

Serena Sakkal: I will say in my organization and in a lot of similar organizations in the food justice space, a term that we've been using more recently is food apartheid. [00:06:00] So this is kind of similar to a food desert and it just points out to the fact that this didn't happen on accident. The term food apartheid was first coined by Karen Washington.

She was a food justice advocate, organizer, and author. This definition [00:06:15] draws attention to the root causes of inequity in our food system based on race, class, and geography. Emphasizing that healthy, fresh food is accessible in wealthy neighborhoods while unhealthy food abounds in poor neighborhoods. It underscores that this results from [00:06:30] decades of discriminatory planning and policy decisions.

And by naming that, we're able to, you know, look into where these systems came from, how they look today, and we can dig deeper into how to change it. 

Amber Woodside: This [00:06:45] specific emphasis that nutritious food is easier to access in wealthy areas really rang true to me, especially being from Colorado. You can go six blocks east from where I live in the city and find better, cheaper produce than you can within walking distance.

Serena Sakkal: I want to share just a quick story with a woman who [00:07:00] I got to learn from a few months ago who lives in a less wealthy, you know, area of Denver, and she lives a couple of minutes drive away from a supermarket, but she actually drives further out to the same exact supermarket chain [00:07:15] in a wealthier neighborhood of Denver because the produce is cheaper.

Amber Woodside: Someone else that understands this stark contrast that can exist in one place is my second guest, Bennett. Bennett. I invited them to talk about their lived experiences surrounding food insecurity throughout childhood and [00:07:30] adolescence, as well as how those experiences impact their life today. 

Bennett K.: My name is Ben. I am a trans guy in my 20s, and I grew up in Appalachia. I'm now living in Southern Colorado. Appalachia has always had [00:07:45] a poverty crisis and only continues to get worse as the economy of this country gets worse everywhere else. I was in elementary school in the early 2000s. I was living with a single parent in 2008 when the bubble popped [00:08:00] and we became homeless.

My peers were primarily farmers, kids, and immigrants, often undocumented, who worked for below minimum wage. I always felt more connected to those [00:08:15] communities because my family, different points, um, growing up was at a more similar level of wealth to those families than to my white peers. I experienced a lot of different [00:08:30] types of poverty and food insecurity throughout my life, just primarily as a byproduct of moving around and being a child of a divorce.

I think that that is a lot more common than most people would expect [00:08:45] for someone to have experienced a bunch of different kinds of hardships in a very short time frame. And I think especially for kids that can be a lot more complicated and a lot more damaging than anyone [00:09:00] ever expects it to be. I had a lot less access to food and to other basic necessities when I lived with my mom than I did when I lived with my dad.

And I can remember, even as a teenager, hearing my dad [00:09:15] say pretty disparaging stuff about behaviors of other kids who had had experiences I had, I remember him talking about a teenage boy who was the son of a friend of his and saying, yeah, he had a hard upbringing with his other parent, [00:09:30] but and now he like hides food in his bedroom and I was doing the exact same thing.

I had trauma responses to that he just wasn't aware of. He didn't know that having bad experiences. approximately half the time was just as [00:09:45] harmful as having bad experiences 100 percent of the time. And it was harmful in ways that made recovery a lot more complicated. Because if you have always lived at a level of poverty where you didn't know where your next meal would come [00:10:00] from, you become used to that.

But if one weekend, you might get one meal. And then the next week you go to a different house and you're offered three meals a day. Your body and your mind can't really process that. [00:10:15] And so you feel sick and you feel like you're failing or like you're being wasteful when you can't consume the three meals a day.

And I think that that's something that I just want to say because there might be another young [00:10:30] adult out there somewhere who had a similar experience to me and felt all the same ways and has never heard anyone else talk about it. 

Amber Woodside: Ben and I also talked about how location can change the way food insecurity is experienced, but more importantly how that experience changes the way people live [00:10:45] out the other parts of their lives.

Bennett K.: I think that in urban areas there are more places you can go for help. But there are also a lot more people who need help and the extra supply does not meet the requirements of the [00:11:00] extra demand in any way. But I will say, I still think it's much, much more difficult to get the support you need when living outside of a city.

Even if there is a food bank in your area who is supposed to cover you, they generally don't [00:11:15] have the funding or the personnel power to deliver food to every family. As humans, food is one of the number one priorities on your survival list. If we didn't have enough [00:11:30] money for food, we also hadn't paid the electric bill.

We hadn't paid the water bill. Then when we finally got a little money to buy food, we didn't have running water or electricity to cook the food with. And I just think that [00:11:45] people need to be aware of the fact that food insecurity is the bottom layer of a pyramid of personal disasters that every impoverished family is experiencing [00:12:00] constantly every day of their lives.

Amber Woodside: So how did we get here? There's an intricate web of events that have led any individual community to being a food desert or a food swamp, and even more intricacy that leads to any [00:12:15] individual household experiencing food insecurity. But there are a few critical factors and historical trends we can begin by pointing to.

Serena Sakkal: Our agricultural system, which is at the center of our food system, it prioritizes the production of [00:12:30] corn, wheat, soy, rice, and our government incentivizes that type of cultivation on a big scale. The top crops that we're producing aren't nutrient rich. We're not designing them to be. We're not growing them to [00:12:45] be.

We're producing these foods that many of them aren't even being eaten in their whole form, they're being produced into other things. Like a lot of the big foods that you'll find on our grocery shelves today can trace their roots back to World War II, times where we were, [00:13:00] innovation came out of a real need to produce food at a large quantity and keep it good for a long time.

From that came all these industries, many of them are the large companies that you would still probably recognize the names of today. who are creating these ultra processed [00:13:15] foods. And that's become the norm for the American diet through decades of advertising campaigns, through people who grow up like their entire childhoods and lives, their diet centering around these foods.

That's [00:13:30] become our cultural food as, as America. And I don't want to place blame on people who are consuming these foods because it's, it's our culture. Like we're not, we're not told of any alternative. So it's not any one [00:13:45] person's fault or any one consumer's fault. It's really like this larger system that makes this the default diet.

Amber Woodside: It wasn't just wars and the great depression that influenced American food culture. It was major industries too. 

Bennett K.: So growing up in Appalachia, I [00:14:00] developed a special interest in Appalachian food history and to some extent, American food history. One thing that I really want to talk about is peanuts and Coke and how for a [00:14:15] very long time in Appalachia that was considered a miner's meal.

You can to this day in some places in Kentucky and Tennessee, probably also West Virginia, go to a drive through gas station, ask for a miner's [00:14:30] meal, and they will give you a plain coke and a pack of peanuts, for like a dollar. And what a miner's meal is, is you open a pack of peanuts mostly with your teeth and you pour them into your [00:14:45] CocaCola.

It'll fizz up and so you have to drink like a third of the Coke really fast. But then you get these like bubbly, salty, a little bit softened peanuts that are still like really crunchy in the core. And you [00:15:00] drink them out of the bottle with a swig of Coke. And that became a very popular miners meal because it has all of the basics that you need to survive a shift, essentially.

It's got protein from the nuts, a lot of good [00:15:15] fats from the nuts too, caffeine, and a whole lot of sugar, as well as some salt. And this became really popular too because miners normally didn't have time to find somewhere to wash their hands to eat lunch. And I think it's a very [00:15:30] fitting representation of how people where I grew up thought about food.

Food was very rarely a vessel for enjoyment. It was always, always [00:15:45] about getting the most out of the least amount of money possible, the least amount of effort possible, in the most accessible package possible.

Amber Woodside: Serena highlighted how this disconnection from food as joy has been one of the [00:16:00] biggest influences in creating American food culture as it is today.

Serena Sakkal: Convenience is like at the heart of our lives. We live in a society that's centered around work. Seeking out nourishing foods is a luxury, to be frank, for most people. It is a luxury [00:16:15] of time, of skill, of space, of equipment. So, it's this convenience mentality that many of us need to adhere to to survive in this country that I believe that these [00:16:30] larger corporations kind of prey upon.

It is built into our urban spaces to be convenient for us to go to and get full from. You know, these foods are designed to satisfy us, to make [00:16:45] us crave it again. And then that's also, we're also like. Continuing to feed these institutions, you know, with power.

Amber Woodside: She then highlighted how the aggressiveness of corporatized, distantly sourced food options really [00:17:00] impacts the way that people nourish themselves on a daily basis.

Serena Sakkal: Something we complain about all the time in Pueblo is during peak Pueblo chili season, you are walking into the grocery store and they're still selling hatch chilies [00:17:15] and not everyone understands the chili culture that exists in Pueblo, but we are so proud of the Pueblo chili. It really, it's in every single person's freezer in the city.

It's really like a connecting glue to so many [00:17:30] people in our community to food, is this deep pride and deep love for the Pueblo chili. So the fact that our own darn grocery chains can't figure out a way to carry it is appalling to me. It's part of having [00:17:45] meaningful, dignified access to fresh food. If the tomato was harvested, thousands of miles away and then brought to this grocery store and I buy it, I am not getting the same nutritional benefits of that [00:18:00] tomato than I would be if I was eating a tomato that was grown in my community.

Produce loses its nutrient quality as it ages. time goes by after harvesting. So that's a whole other like kind of invisible force that we didn't talk about. Access to the food that is [00:18:15] being grown in your bioregion is such a critical part of food justice because it's not just the fact that it's a piece of produce itself.

It's that it was a piece of produce grown by your community, like nourished from your soils. It's a part of your [00:18:30] bioregion. It's something that you can touch and it's nourishing you in a deeper way. You know, having access to local food shouldn't be a privilege. And right now it is.

Amber Woodside: The [00:18:45] importance of convenience to survival in America was really a key component I picked up on when having conversations with both of my guests. It's not only systemic, it impacts individual experiences.

Bennett K.: For my mom, she was single practically the entire time she was [00:19:00] raising us. She had three kids at home and was working full time, sometimes multiple jobs. 

Our neighbor was kind enough to look after us for a couple hours in the evening, but she almost certainly wouldn't have been willing to look [00:19:15] after us through traditional dinner time while my mom took an extra 45 minutes to drive to the nearest food bank in the hopes that they would still have something left at the end of the day when she finally got there, um, and then drive [00:19:30] 45 minutes back.

That adds a minimum of two hours, including the food bank collection time to her commute home. There was simply no time in the day for her to do it if she still also wanted to [00:19:45] care for her children. 

Serena Sakkal: Something I've noticed in my work with the Pueblo Food Project is many folks want to eat fresh foods. So the issue isn't like telling people that you need [00:20:00] to be eating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Like I think most people intuitively understand that affordability of fruits and vegetables is a big barrier for people. They want to have these foods in their house. They want to be eating them. But [00:20:15] affordability is a barrier. Another barrier that we see is just knowing how to prepare these ingredients.

Many of us have grown up on these ultra-processed foods. Maybe we have parents who have never cooked a meal from scratch. So that's [00:20:30] like a real knowledge and skill gap. And then another kind of thing we see is time to cook from scratch. Like I have kids I'm working. That's where like the default diet of buying the, the pre-frozen meals or, or the, [00:20:45] the process.

food options, like that, that answers to that, that issue of like, I don't have time to cook, but I need to feed my family. Every human being needs to eat every single day. So these are the, these are the barriers. These are [00:21:00] the things that people come up against.

Amber Woodside: One of the primary institutions in the US that seeks to bridge this gap between convenience and nutrition is the Food Bank system.

But this system often falls well short of being a comprehensive solution. I first turned to Serena to find out more [00:21:15] about how the system itself functions.

Serena Sakkal: It's something that I think a lot of people know exists in this country, but not a lot of people really have touched or experienced unless they've experienced food insecurity.

So maybe some folks have heard of the organization Feeding America. Feeding America [00:21:30] is a huge non profit and they are the backbone organization to every food bank in this country. So in order to be called a food bank, you need to be a part of the feeding American network. Every single county [00:21:45] in America is technically covered by a food bank.

Their food can come from a variety of different sources. You know, obviously they'll, they'll accept donations or people can bring in food. That's a pretty small sliver of the pie. They purchase [00:22:00] a lot of food and that purchasing power comes from organizations that they work closely with and they'll also receive support from federal programs.

So the USDA provides [00:22:15] a good deal of funding for Feeding America and for its kind of subsidiary food banks to purchase food. Very recently in Colorado, have we seen programs that specifically prioritize purchasing local produce or local [00:22:30] locally produced goods? So LFPA, the local food purchasing agreement, was a federal grant from the USDA that specifically highlighted that these funds were to be used to buy local, which is great.

My organization used um, received [00:22:45] some of this funding and use it for our pantry. It brings me much joy that the USDA and, you know, large organizations are thinking about it in this way. 

Amber Woodside: While the direction of federal and state attitudes towards what's important in making the food bank system [00:23:00] function seems to be taking a promising turn, there are still significant gaps in the way the system serves the people who use it. One particular area in which food banks tend to struggle is in the kind of foods they provide. 

Bennett K.: My mom could afford boxes of dry mac and cheese [00:23:15] and she could afford like 87 cent canned peas. What she couldn't afford was gallons of milk and pounds of butter to make the macaroni and cheese. She couldn't afford meats and she couldn't afford produce or bread, at least not [00:23:30] nutritious bread.

So when I have, um, visited food banks as an adult, whether to make donations or because it was a particularly hard month, I've seen that primarily what you are able to get from them is the very, [00:23:45] very cheap things that are not household staples that you need to make a meal. I recently have had a couple of experiences with a food bank in Colorado Springs.

And I know they are doing very good work and I'm very [00:24:00] grateful for what they are able to provide for the community. But they, for instance, only allow you to get six, um, non-perishable items off of their shelves. They're truly [00:24:15] amazing in that, um, whenever they have a lot of fresh produce, you're allowed to take whatever you can eat.

Um, because they know that it'll spoil and I don't want to, you know, Dismiss that when I talk about the flaws, they are doing some amazing things, but you're allowed two [00:24:30] jars of baby food.

Two jars of baby food is not enough baby food for one day of feeding your child and it's meant to last you a week and that is just not a sustainable level of help for these families. [00:24:45] And if you have 0 to spend on groceries and you are only given two jars of baby food, your baby will [00:25:00] starve to death. 

Serena Sakkal: I want to point to what it means to have dignity in the way that you're accessing food, because I think food banks often overlook this. And our charitable food system in general doesn't really center the dignity of its, of its [00:25:15] users.

So as we've kind of touched on throughout this conversation, most people want to eat healthy. There's barriers that exist. And so these folks come to food pantries. If the feeling of going to a food pantry is that you're getting everyone's [00:25:30] leftovers or the almost spoiled food that supermarket chains and restaurants decided wasn't good enough for their paying customers, that kind of chips away at like your sense of dignity a little [00:25:45] bit.

As a human being who has a biological need to eat food, that doesn't mean that just calories are going to nourish you or that stale breads or only eating canned foods is going to feel like a [00:26:00] nourishing and dignified way to feed yourself and your family. I think it sends a message that these communities aren't deserving of local healthy foods, and it [00:26:15] gives off a message that they're kind of like an afterthought to this whole industry.

So as I mentioned earlier, like meat is a big gap that we see in the charitable food system because meat is expensive. It's hard to, you know, afford even just at the grocery store. And so you [00:26:30] don't, you don't see it in, in the charitable food system, you know, because you can freeze it. I think like grocery stores will ding onto it.

And then culturally relevant foods. This country is made up of an absolute melting pot of people from different cultural [00:26:45] backgrounds and different dietary preferences and the traditional charitable food system kind of eliminates that sense of like choice for people. You know, canned food is, is great for a little bit, you can definitely survive off of it, but [00:27:00] it's not a dignified way of eating, um, and of feeding a family.

Amber Woodside: The topic of dignity came up in my conversation with Ben as well. 

Bennett K.: I have very little experience with the food bank system itself, but where I grew up, [00:27:15] every year, all of the schools did a, like, canned food, non-perishables food drive. And all of my classmates would compete by like classroom to see who could raise the most canned foods for charity.

It was always very [00:27:30] clear who could afford to give and who couldn't. And there was a kind of stigma, even as a child, like other children noticed that you didn't bring in any donations. And in my case, other children especially noticed when on collection [00:27:45] day, the principal set aside food to give to our family before the food went to the food bank.

And I know that it was certainly not done with any malicious intent, and I definitely appreciate it because We would never have had the time or ability to [00:28:00] go to the food bank to collect anything, but I do wish that there had been more of an effort made to allow us to keep our dignity and our privacy about the hardships we were [00:28:15] going through.

I can't imagine how much harder it was for my sister, who was a preteen at the time, or for my mom, who wasn't told that this was going to happen. And just learned [00:28:30] when she got home from work that day that our principal knew we were on dire enough streets that without consulting her, she sent home food.

Amber Woodside: I wanted to make sure that I got to speak with both my guests about the health [00:28:45] implications of food insecurity, because while they are well discussed in most advocacy spaces, they're important enough to touch on again. 

Bennett K.: I think that affording food always comes first, and that's definitely the right thing to do in a terrible situation, [00:29:00] but it does have a lot of effects.

I've spent a lot of years of my life just having enough calories to get through. Normally, that took the form of mostly carbs, a little bit of protein, a lot of caffeine, and that can be really, really [00:29:15] damaging. I, more recently in my adulthood, discovered some medical conditions that I have. that can be treated by diet alone, or mostly managed by diet alone.

And if I had [00:29:30] had access to good nutrition for my entire adolescence, these conditions would not be disabling as an adult, but they are. 

Amber Woodside: Ben has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, also called POTS, which is a cardiac condition that causes people who have it to [00:29:45] have extreme changes in their blood pressure and heart rate when they change positions.

For example, when a POTS patient stands up from laying down, their blood pressure may drop while their heart rate spikes. These symptoms often lead to people losing consciousness. One of the ways POTS [00:30:00] symptoms are managed is by increasing salt intake dramatically. 

Bennett K.: When I was a kid and I didn't have access to nourishing, filling, high sodium foods, I experienced much, much worse symptoms.

I frequently stood up [00:30:15] and tried to walk across my living room and fell to the ground, um, normally multiple times a day. And as a side effect of the general poverty we experienced, I didn't, um, have the capability to take the rest that I really needed to recover from [00:30:30] those episodes, um, because I worked two jobs in high school.

I never sat down and thought about, okay, so this is when my symptoms are worse. [00:30:45] This is when I feel worse. Um, this is when I feel better. I did notice like, oh, some days I pass out a lot more, but I didn't connect it to the fact that I hadn't eaten all day. And I certainly didn't connect it to the fact [00:31:00] that my foods that day hadn't been super salty.

Um, it wasn't until I moved away and was living with a family who was more able to fully support me that I was able to actually take time [00:31:15] and figure out what made me feel better and what made me feel worse. I don't know how common of knowledge this is, but if you don't have good nourishment, good nutrition in your body, you feel terrible.[00:31:30] 

You can keep going, but you have a headache every single day, you're nauseous every single day, you stop feeling hunger cues. I didn't feel any hunger cues from my body for years after I had regular access to [00:31:45] food, let alone during the time when I didn't. And it takes a long time to recover from that sort of abuse of your body. It's, it's terrible and it's damaging, and in my case, still has long term effects for me. 

Amber Woodside: When Serena and I were discussing the health [00:32:00] impacts of malnourishment and food insecurity, she highlighted why increasing convenient access to nutrient dense foods is so critical. 

Serena Sakkal: I think we're going to see a lot of positive public health outcomes come from that. We know our bodies are designed to eat whole [00:32:15] foods, minimally processed foods. foods that our ancestors were eating, and Those are the foods that our bodies know how to absorb. Our bodies register that as nourishment. We look around and we see many epidemics [00:32:30] happening. Everyone probably knows somebody who's suffering from some sort of chronic illness.

And I want to, again, say it's a systemic thing. It's, it's no one individual's fault. They're victims of the system that's, that's made these foods [00:32:45] that are harming us the default, convenient, affordable, easy option. So reversing that, I think, is the key to making people healthy again, like bringing in more health into our community's connection with our foods.

Amber Woodside: [00:33:00] True, deep connection to food on both individual and community levels is a theme that resonated throughout these conversations when we were discussing what empowerment and joy look like in the face of widespread food insecurity. 

Serena Sakkal: Pueblo has a really beautiful and rich [00:33:15] history in agriculture and food.

We had a lot of immigrants come to Pueblo as far back as the mid early 1800s. We were the first steel town to be established west of the Mississippi. Steel production [00:33:30] is a big part of our local economy today. But with the steel mill coming up came immigrants from, you know, Sicily, different parts of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

The newspaper in Pueblo was printed in like 20 [00:33:45] something different languages. We have a historic Slavic community and you can still see traditions from their, their foods in Pueblo today. So Pueblo has a really rich history. So I like to acknowledge that because a lot of folks here are really proud of that.

And. [00:34:00] really connect to their food through that history. So our programming today includes the food pantry. Our food pantry works a little differently from how most of them do. So we prioritize purchasing products that are made in [00:34:15] Pueblo, but we focus on filling in gaps for food that is not typically available in the charitable food system.

So that's really like meats. So we, we have ground beef, we carry sausage and chorizo. The sausage being [00:34:30] Italian sausage, which kind of calls back to, to the rich Italian history in Pueblo, um, and the sausage maker, we get it from Gagliano's Sausage Co. and they've been in Pueblo for like over a hundred years.

We carry [00:34:45] cheese, fruit preserves that are made locally, and we don't distribute directly to people. So we are a backbone organization for other food distribution in Pueblo. So any organization can place an order through our pantry [00:35:00] once a week and that they then distribute to a community. 

We also do culinary education specifically for families. So right now that looks like we are monthly cooking classes. For those classes, we also always purchase [00:35:15] locally whenever we can. So we kind of center our classes around what we can get that's in season, what's growing around us. and we tie that, you know, into the, the education. 

We've been doing food preservation classes. That was a big need that we kept [00:35:30] hearing was that people wanted to learn how to can their fruits and can the things that they were growing all around them. So last September we did a Palisade peach canning classes and the, the turnout was like way beyond what we expected. It was really cool to see. [00:35:45] So many people wanting to learn this, the skill, and I think it's really beautiful that, that, you know, regular people are, are kind of yearning to get that knowledge back, um, because it's knowledge that belongs to us.

It's, it's knowledge that, you know, many of our [00:36:00] grandparents or great-grandparents knew, and that was a big part of their food supply. So I think there's something really like inherently just human about it. And that's why I think the local food movement is so powerful is because. [00:36:15] We are bringing that power back into communities, food sovereignty, which is the ability for a place to feed itself with nourishing foods that's relevant to the culture of that community, to the, the [00:36:30] climate, the preferences of that community, then it becomes easier for people to have access to fresh foods, to use it, to eat it, to base their diet off of it.

I think a big question that like I'm trying to answer through this work is like, how do we make it [00:36:45] easy? Because it's way too easy to get a Big Mac. How do I make it just as easy to get a local vegetable, you know, base meal for people? You know, there's a lot of cool ways that people [00:37:00] are, are trying to answer that question, but removing the barriers needs to end in a result where it becomes easy for people to make those choices.

Bennett K.: Yeah. Recently, as I've been making strides toward my medical transitioning, food [00:37:15] has become less of a chore and less of a reminder of trauma. And it has started to morph into a tool of empowerment and of joy. For [00:37:30] me, I am eating a lot of protein in a lot of very delicious and very nourishing ways, including like amazing salmon fillets and, um, [00:37:45] homemade granola with milk eaten like it's cereal.

And I have found it a very beautiful thing because I have been able to start nourishing my body in a way that feels good, in a [00:38:00] way that helps me build musculature that is more like male appearing, which of course makes me feel better on a soul level and emotionally. And it has [00:38:15] started to help facilitate healing from never ever having choices as a kid.

For the beginning of my adulthood, I kind of just stayed eating [00:38:30] a lot of the same foods that I ate growing up as a kid because that's what I knew how to cook. And I, I knew it could be filling. And now that I've been branching out, and finding ways that food can be [00:38:45] joyous. I have been learning how to cook new things and just prepare new foods.

And I have been talking about food more in a way that doesn't feel unhealthy and that doesn't make myself or my partner sad. [00:39:00] I am no longer eating 88-cent mac and cheese over my kitchen sink unless I want to. And that has been really, really great. 

Amber Woodside: It truly is the personal and specific relationship that people [00:39:15] in their communities have with their food supply that holds the most promise for alleviating some of the ways food insecurity manifests in America today.

Serena Sakkal: Something I would kind of suggest to folks is to get engaged with their local food pantry system. [00:39:30] I've seen some really innovative ways that people are getting food out to community, um, in a way that doesn't require a brick and mortar spot. People will buy like those free book libraries and stock it with food.

There's drop off services [00:39:45] where volunteers will just come together and put together bags and deliver it to churches or schools or homes. So I would encourage people to really think about what they're seeing in their community and consider ways that they can support [00:40:00] food access.

Amber Woodside: I'd like to encourage everyone listening to also take a look at the resources available in the show notes. These include lots of resources to help you take direct action to help, much of which doesn't cost a [00:40:15] single cent. Please share media sources you find that uplift support for people experiencing food insecurity and call out systems that contribute to food injustice, both in your personal life and your work.

Thank you all for joining us on this episode. Please check out our next What the Health?! feature episode [00:40:30] coming out in a few months. The transcript of this episode can be found at Be sure to follow AMCHP on social media. We hope this episode created some new connections for you. Stay well, and I hope our paths cross on the next MCH [00:40:45] Bridges.

Maura Leahy: This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS. As part of an [00:41:00] award totaling $1,963,039, with 0% financed with non-governmental sources. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, [00:41:15] nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. government.