Poverty in America looks very different from poverty in other parts of the world. While being poor in my home nation of Ethiopia means not having access to water but eating incredibly delicious and healthy foods everyday, being poor in the United States can mean clean water but not necessarily nutritious things to eat. Poverty is a problem that affects all parts of the globe, so it can be hard to visualize what you can do here at home to.
As a chef running a busy kitchen, I’ve learned a lot about about saving, planning and projecting and I truly believe that making even a small change to an individual’s daily routine can make an impact on a larger scale. The mentality in American culture is often “the bigger the better,” but we are all smart enough to know that’s not exactly the case. Just like at a restaurant, planning out your meals in advance means you are only buying exactly what you need and not spending in excess. Saving room in the plan for leftovers means wasting less and that planning will become easier as “needs” adjust away from “wants.”
You’ll be saving money, but how does this affect the global idea of poverty? Simple economics tells us that demand is directly related to price. When demand drops because more people are buying only what they need, the price drops making commodities more affordable for everyone, especially those who have smaller budgets and income. While it may seem like a far-fetched solution, a more global consciousness of need versus want could have big implications.
Another way that I, as a chef, have thought about this issue in regard to food has been through education. After the financial crisis of 2008, many Americans were facing financial insecurity, especially in neighborhoods like mine. Unemployment in Harlem was more than twice the national average and in a neighborhood where amenities are already scarce this meant different kinds of sacrifices were made, especially when it came to nutrition. American families in general began spending less of their incomes on food and the category that took the biggest hit: fresh produce. People instead began turning more and more to quick and cheap calories at fast food places, where a few dollars can buy you fries, a burger and a soda. While shopping and cooking does take more time than drive-thru, a commitment to healthy eating can be delicious and cost-effective.
I’ve been doing cooking classes in Harlem since Red Rooster opened in 2010 and it has been an indescribable experience showing kids from the YMCA or a local charter school that vegetables don’t have to be soggy and over-steamed but delicious! They’ve learned about food they’ve never had before that can pack in protein and nutrients and still taste good, including alternative grains like teff, quinoa and couscous. I believe you can eat wonderful meals and feel satisfied after eating less when you infuse rich flavors into your cooking. Simply put, nourishing foods can be budget friendly – and chefs share the responsibility of broadcasting that message!
Let’s not forget that healthy eating leads to a healthier society overall, which means a cheaper cost of living for everyone! Our country is in the midst of a cataclysmic health crisis, much of it caused by how we eat. More than one-third of American adults are currently obese (another one-third are overweight), and according to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. It becomes an even more alarming number when you read that obesity is already causing $150 billion annually in medical costs. Imagine where that money could be spent if we reduced American obesity rates by even half! There would be more funding for programs that helped feed the homeless, educate the underserved and increase the employability of those in poverty through job training.
This article was originally posted as part of LinkedIN's Take Action series in which Influencers and members discuss how to drive change that matters. Read the original post here.