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Equal Access to Fresh Foods

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It’s widely known these days that there are huge swaths of the United States, especially in urban areas, where it’s not easy to get access to fresh, whole foods. Convenience stores stocked with nonperishables like mac-n-cheese, cup-o-noodles and premade frozen entrees are everywhere, but in some communities, true grocery stores with wide aisles stocked with fresh produce, meats, dairy and whole-grain products are scarce – you need to take a car or a bus just to get a head of lettuce or an onion, not to mention any kind of meat that isn’t in frozen nugget or patty form.

In Central Florida, we almost 225,000 people live with severely limited food choices in their neighborhoods. The consequence is that people living in these areas tend to suffer from a higher incidences of heart disease, diabetes and obesity – all health conditions that are treatable, especially with better diet.

And that’s why Roneice Weaver, Fabiola Gaines and Ellareetha Carson founded Hebni Nutrition Consultants nearly 20 years ago. Weaver, a dietitian, says the organization started out by offering classes to help people learn to manage their health and diets. In 2006, it opened a “culinary laboratory” to teach people to cook, read food labels and learn more about where our food comes from.

Hebni’s programs have been so successful that the organization reached out to a small store in Parramore called SunLife Grocery to help it stock fresh, healthy foods in its once empty produce aisles and coolers, and this month it also launched a mobile grocery bus that will travel through 16 different neighborhoods twice per month, selling fresh fruits and veggies, juices and more.

“I will have done my job when the food industry realizes it needs to put grocery stores into our inner-city neighborhoods,” Weaver says. “I challenge all of our grocers to bring their products back into our communities. Until they decide to come, I’m going to fill the gap.”

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