Joyce Smith has a field trip in mind for a group of young mothers in southwest Baltimore.
First, they’ll travel 20 miles to Wegman’s, the upscale grocery store that boasts a sushi bar, salad, sandwich and cheese stations and a produce department with some 700 varieties. Next, they’ll head to a typical city supermarket, whose limited fare consists heavily of packaged, frozen, canned and starchy foods.
The goal is not to point fingers, but to motivate the young women to do something about the disparity.
“I hope they will start comparing the number of carry-outs and the lack of grocery stores in many low-income communities, especially in my community,” said Smith, of southwest Baltimore. “Then, I want them to look at policies. Go to the zoning hearing when people want to open up a business. Find out what they are planning to sell. I’m hoping people will realize they have a voice to change things, especially for the younger generation.”
As a 2008 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow, Smith used her fellowship to try to influence the eating and living habits of those in her community.
As executive director of a coalition of neighborhood associations called Operation ReachOut Southwest, Smith already had been working on health and nutrition issues for several years with the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University and the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation.
Since embarking on her project, Smith has met with several groups, including senior citizens, parents and grandparents, and has begun exposing them to healthier lifestyles and introducing them to new ways to shop, cook and eat.
“I’m finding that people have really accepted that diseases and health problems are solely a genetic thing: ‘Oh, it happens in my family.’ But they haven’t connected diabetes with how they cook and the foods they eat, or that you just have to get up and move,” she said. “What’s happened in these communities is that McDonald’s is making money because everybody feels like they deserve a break today.”