Just because the voters defeated Santa Fe’s proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages on May 2 doesn’t mean that the city’s dietary health problems have gone away. While the price of soda will remain the same, the ballot initiative did heighten awareness of problems associated with unhealthy eating.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in particular and unhealthy foods in general is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States. According to Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, one in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, with the trend disproportionately affecting Hispanic and Native American students. The USDA reports that sugary beverages are the third-highest source of calories for Americans under the age of 18.
The ballot issue also helped provide a much greater understanding of the need to further invest in early childhood education. During the battle over the state budget, funding for all levels of education has been in jeopardy, at a time when New Mexico’s education system continues to rank 49th in the nation.
In a letter submitted by the Santa Fe Food Policy Council to Mayor Gonzales, the council encouraged aggressive and thoughtful measures to focus on the health of our community while embracing innovation in schools to elevate creative learning environments.
The council, an appointed body of individuals representing food, agriculture and education, released the Santa Fe Food Plan, “Planning for Santa Fe’s Food Future: Querencia, a story of food, farming and friends,” in October 2014. The plan proposed goals to make it easier for residents in the city and county to get food, grow food and learn about food. As part of this plan, the council suggested various interventions that show promise of positively changing eating behaviors and averting the looming health problems that will trap Santa Fe’s children and families in unhealthy and unproductive lives.
Changing diets requires multiple interventions that can provide ongoing information, change environments to make the healthy food choice the easy choice, and use public institutions such as our schools to promote healthy eating and active living.
Santa Fe already has programs such as Cooking with Kids and farm-to-school activities offered in various schools that link math, science and reading to food production and preparation. These educational experiences help students of all ages—pre-K through high school—develop an awareness of food options and healthy lifestyle. The evidence demonstrates that healthier eating behavior does occur over time. Sue Perry, wellness director for the City of Santa Fe and co-chair of the council says, “This is a perfect opportunity to expand initiatives we have in place such as our partnership with the MoGro (Mobile Grocery) fresh food program, which provides an opportunity for city employees to easily purchase organic fruit and vegetables at a reasonable price.”
Mark Winne, co-chair of the council said, “Over the past several years, the Food Plan has been a guide for the community to take steps towards increasing access to healthy and affordable foods. One such program is “Double Up Bucks” at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, which links families and individuals on the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to fresh fruit and vegetables being sold by local farmers. I see programs like these as a ‘win-win.’”
The Santa Fe Food Policy Council looks forward to working with Mayor Gonazales, the City Council and the county to develop comprehensive strategies focused on healthy eating and active living. The issues raised by the soda tax will not go away because the voters said “no.” Now is the time to build on that debate and create a healthier Santa Fe.
CITY STAFF WELCOME INNOVATIVE PURCHASING PROGRAM
Every Wednesday, City Hall staff wait in anticipation for the MoGro truck to deliver boxes of organic fresh fruit and vegetables that they purchased through MoGro’s website. Sue Perry, City of Santa Fe wellness coordinator, supported the city’s partnership with the program. She saw it as a way to heighten people’s awareness of healthy food choices. In addition, she engages staff with cooking contests and recipes that they can take home to share with family and friends. Because of its popularity, the program is expanding to the city’s Market Station office in the railyard.
MoGro, an initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, is a nonprofit mobile grocery working to support sustainable local food systems and eliminate barriers to affordable healthy food. The initiative began its work in rural and tribal lands, partnering with Pueblo communities, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, Skarsgard Farms and La Montañita Co-op to address healthy food access in low-income and underserved regions of New Mexico. MoGro’s first partnership in Santa Fe was with La Familia Clinic. The program there offers clients and their families a weekly, subsidized box of produce, as well as a double value opportunity for families purchasing with food stamps. MoGro continues to expand. Partnering with the City of Santa Fe is a new way to pilot innovative programs in an urban area. Rebecca Baran-Rees, MoGro’s director, wants to get more local produce into the program.
The Santa Fe Food Policy Council is working closely with MoGro and the city to explore additional ways to expand the program for individuals and families throughout the community.