Everyone should go to bed well-fed

Efforts to increase access to produce and teach nutrition and cooking skills are necessary, but not sufficient to the urgency of the need.
Efforts to increase access to produce and teach nutrition and cooking skills are necessary, but not sufficient to the urgency of the need. Sacramento Bee file

To take our rightful place as America’s Farm-to-Every-Fork Capital, we need to make food justice the centerpiece of our tables. That means accelerating the transition to better eating by improving access not just to fruits and vegetables, but to delicious and nutritious, affordable and convenient prepared food.

By establishing “community meal plans” in our underserved communities, we can break the vicious cycle of poverty and poor diet, replacing it with a nutritious cycle of health, wealth and skills for life.

Freedom from hunger ought to be one of those self-evident, inalienable rights with which everyone has been endowed, and yet the pursuit of happiness through good eating persists as a real challenge in many neighborhoods.

Healthy food isn’t a luxury. What is evident by now is that eating well is a necessity and makes smart economic sense, because keeping people healthy contains health care costs. Skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease quickly become everyone’s problem.

The challenges we face, however, are structural in nature. We cannot wait for everyone to adopt fresher ways of cooking, or for every neighborhood to get a farmers’ market. We can’t make the necessary changes by relying on individuals and households to pick up new and lasting habits without more than a little assistance.

Our efforts to increase access to produce and teach nutrition and cooking skills are necessary, but not sufficient to the urgency of the need. The next phase of our efforts requires a framework that enables the few to help the many in eating better now.

Our goal is to empower those who can cook to make ready to (h)eat meals for those who can’t, whether due to time, resources or other limitations. Just like college students on a meal plan, we aim to enable residents in underserved neighborhoods to benefit from a Fresher Sacramento system. It would find ways to bring good food into the community and make it easier to eat better.

We’ve already begun to organize our first site in Phoenix Park, an affordable housing community in South Sacramento. Esteemed chefs such as Randall Selland, Patrick Mulvaney and Oliver Ridgeway have begun to work with teams of youths who can serve as Top Community Chefs. The Sacramento chapter of the California Restaurant Association endorsed this pilot program, and we will count on those in the food and restaurant industry to share their expertise in feeding many people in diverse locations on varying budgets.

We will also use the chefs’ experience in training apprentices to provide skills development for youths that can help them get jobs. Collectively, we will seek strategies to streamline prep and delivery to those who need it most.

Perhaps most important, engaging the community at this level will give them a sense of ownership in their own food system. Owners of the food system we call a restaurant know that with ownership comes a sense of hope, dedication and an investment in one’s future. We hope to harness that same sort of commitment in communities to bring about similar positive results for individuals and families.

Just as raw ingredients combine to create amazing dishes, with this effort we hope to combine – and most importantly – synergize the commitment and passion of so many innovative farmers, chefs and dedicated activists in our region already working hard in the farm-to-fork realm. We hope to integrate everyone’s efforts into an ever more cohesive and coherent working structure.

In so doing, we can collectively achieve a sustainable solution that will go a long way toward providing more nutritious eating options while creating wealth from health for generations to come.

We invite you to join us in a passionate commitment to creating a Fresher Sacramento where we ensure the right of everyone to #gotobedwellfed.

Rabbi David Wechsler-Azen serves Congregation Beth Shalom in Carmichael with his wife, Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen, and is the founder of Fresh Producers, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a Fresher Sacramento.