From GROSSeries to Groceryships

This past weekend, my class and I went to a homeless shelter and built a small urban garden for the people there to look after. Our intention was not only to give them something they could potentially enjoy through gardening, but it was also centered around a greater issue of trying to provide more options of healthier food for them to cook with in a food desert such as South Los Angeles (shameless plug: read more about this urban garden revolution in one of my last articles here).

One thing I realize as I continue to learn about health disparities through my classes and experiences is that it goes hand in hand with the food we eat. In a place like South Los Angeles, the unavailability of nutritious food is only half of the problem once food is made available. The other part is being able to teach people to develop and sustain healthy habits- something I view as the hardest part of this all. After all, you’re talking about changing someone’s lifestyle. I was not a happy camper when I tried to not eat carbs for a while (my favorite food is anything with bread), I can only imagine what doing a complete 180 in a person’s entire diet would do.

Groceryships, a non profit based in South Los Angeles, recognized this issue and developed a program that tackles exactly this. This company gives out what they call “Groceryships”, which is basically a scholarship for groceries. The participants in this program receive money to buy healthy groceries for six months, along with required educational programs and weekly support groups. The program consists of weekly 2 hour meetings for the 6 months. During the first hour, the participants learn how to cook and prepare different foods and meals and how to properly pick out the right ingredients. The second hour (which I think is so different and important), is a support group. During this time, they discuss the struggles and challenges of changing a diet and lifestyle, and in turn this creates a community of people who support each other through this journey.

“Eating healthy” has become a phrase that has been so commonly thrown around (especially here in LA), that it almost seems cliché at times. (“OMG NO I can’t have that cookie, I’m trying to be healthy”, yet a few hours later I have indulged in drunchies of all sorts, because that’s all that was around.) As a result, we tend to forget what a lifestyle change it can be for people, and how mentally challenging it is. Throw in the fact that these healthy foods are more difficult to access in some areas, and you have what seems like a situation where you are set up to fail. Groceryships does a really good job addressing this fundamental issue and the success has been incredible.