Reducing Obesity: Yes We Can
By Ken Walker-
I used to hate the cliché, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” However, after watching Huntington making lemonade in recent years, I am a bit fonder of this saying.
The lemon came in the form of national headlines labeling us the “nation’s fattest city,” based on a Centers for Disease Control report. Yet, without the story that made national headlines, Jamie Oliver never would have ended up coming here to film his award-winning series.
I never would have gone to First Baptist Church of Kenova to write a news story about filming of the final episode. Nor would I have helped Steve Willis write Winning the Food Fight.
More Than a Book
However, far more has taken place nationwide distribution of a book. Huntington picked up the gauntlet to challenge the obesity affecting the area and the entire state of West Virginia.
About six months after Food Fight’s release, a Kickstarter campaign raised nearly $12,000 to open the Wild Ramp, a healthy foods market.
Though temporarily sidelined by back pain that sent me to a physical therapist, I have volunteered there periodically; the market largely operates on volunteer labor.
As a sign of its vitality, the Ramp’s proposal to operate a 2,500 square foot market in the city’s west end has been selected as the leading contender as part of a revitalization project.
Although it still has to be approved by city council, the store may soon move from its cramped quarters in a downtown location to a larger space, and wind up working with a farmer’s market in warmer weather.
The Wild Ramp has created an additional outlet for local food producers, who stock the shelves on a consignment basis. This means a year-round source to place products. Fresh is fantastic—once we bought eggs at the Wild Ramp, we stopped getting them anywhere else.
Other things are happening as well. Earlier this year, a business incubator named Unlimited Future received a $12,000 foundation grant to support micro-enterprise development.
In addition to holding a monthly Entrepreneurs Café where businesses pitch their ideas to the audience, Unlimited Future is partnering with the Wild Ramp to provide business training and technical assistance to farmers.
Also, this year the Wild Ramp has started offering a series of cooking classes, which complement the healthy cooking classes taught at Huntington’s Kitchen.
Keeping the Ball Rolling
Originally named Jamie’s Kitchen, Huntington’s Kitchen served as Oliver’s cooking studio during filming of the mini-series. In one episode, community leaders gathered at a restaurant where—unknown to them—Huntington High students prepared their meals.
Before the evening ended, impromptu discussions led to the decision that the community needed to do something to keep the ball rolling. Ebenezer Medical Outreach, which serves uninsured and underinsured residents, stepped up to the plate and agreed to operate the since-renamed kitchen.
Recently, Cabell Huntington Hospital, which had defrayed the cost of rent and utilities for nearly three years, took over operations.
With more resources at its disposal, Huntington’s Kitchen has increased the options available for those interested in healthy cooking and nutrition. In mid-October it held its first “Family Nutrition & Well-Being” seminar.
The event included presentations by a trio of dieticians and nutritionists, cooking demonstration and an opportunity to sample the healthy dishes they prepared.
Big news? No network or cable outlets showed up to chronicle the event. Yet such seemingly insignificant happenings are where the efforts to overturn our nation’s staggering obesity problems start.
Two other recent examples of grassroots activity ought to excite health activists hoping to initiate similar activities where they live:
- The recent Local Food Expo at Huntington’s civic arena, which brought together farmers, restaurants, grocers and other institutions that buy food in bulk.
- West Virginia State University’s SCRATCH (Sustainable Community Revitalization in Appalachia Through Children’s Hands) project, which is helping more children learn about gardening.
While Jamie Oliver certainly helped focus more attention on reducing obesity problems, it is the community that has made a long-term difference. There is every reason to think that such success can be duplicated nationwide.