May 13, 2009

Eat Right Racine to advocate for healthier food supply

New organization holding its first public meeting tonight

Something’s changing.

We saw it last week when 75 people turned out for a meeting on urban gardens. We see it in Milwaukee where a man is honored as a “genius” for growing vegetables that can be distributed in the inner city. And we see it in the increasingly loud warnings that our sugar-based diets are causing irreparable harm in our public health, particularly among children.

We’re growing increasingly aware that our eating habits are out of balance, and a new local group is organizing to do something about it.

Eat Right Racine is holding its first meeting tonight to gather local residents and organizations interested in taking a deep look at our local food supplies and what we’re collectively eating.

“We’re attempting to make cultural change,” said Amanda DeSonia, one of three organizers behind Eat Right Racine.

It sounds outlandish until you hear numbers like one in four children will grow up to have diabetes, or simply walk through a grocery store reading product labels that too often include high-fructose corn syrup or unpronounceable chemicals. Simply watching our children after school unveils increases in childhood obesity and future health problems, including heart disease.

“The food we’re eating is bringing on the diseases,” said Paula Rowland, an Eat Right Racine organizer and a teacher at Park High School, where she sees major problems with diets. Students are “rotting their insides with what they eat.”

And it’s not just children eating Dorito’s or drinking Mountain Dew, said Heidi Fannin, the third organizer of Eat Right Racine. Parents set a poor example.She told one story where a class of students made healthy smoothies, only to have a parent refuse to try one because it included spinach. Another girl pleaded with her mom to buy spinach at the grocery store, but her mother refused.

“Our country is in a health care crisis,” Fannin said “There’s such an urgency to do this work.”

The goal of Eat Right Racine, according to its organizers, is to answer a basic question: Where does our food come from?

From that question come a series of ethical quandaries for the community, like, how can we feed our children unhealthy food in our schools? Or, how much of the food grown in Racine County stays in Racine County?

Too often the answer comes down to money. It’s either cheaper to eat a lousy diet (there’s a reason McDonald’s makes a killing on its value meals) or the corporations are slick at misleading the public into believing sugary products like Cheerios are actually a health food.

Then there’s the disconnect. Quite simply, we don’t produce our own food anymore. Grocery stores and corporations provide a steady supply of calories, so there’s little need to realize the source of our diets. We just eat – and eat – and eat …

“There are 40,000 items in our grocery stores, and most is junk,” Fannin said. “We’re very misled by companies that choose profits over people.”

Eat Right Racine was germinated two months ago at a city meeting. Rowland appeared before the city’s Parks and Recreation Board two months ago seeking permission to start a community garden at Park High School.

Her passion for the garden, which was easily approved, caught the attention of board member Amanda DeSonia. They met after the meeting and discovered they shared an interest in healthy eating as a means for societal change.

Rowland then introduced DeSonia to an equally passionate friend, Fannin, and Eat Right Racine sprouted. The organizers are holding their first public meeting from 5:30-6:30 p.m. tonight at the HOPE Center, 507 Sixth St.

The organizers hope to pull together a gathering of people interested in collectively improving the offerings we have to eat. How can we increase the frequency and availability of farmer’s markets? What can be done to improve school breakfasts and lunches? What policy changes are needed to improve the local food supply?

Organizers of Eat Right Racine hope a coalition of people, groups and businesses will answer those questions and bring about needed solutions. They expect obstacles.

Rowland said she tried to convince Racine Unified to switch iceberg lettuce with the healthier Romaine lettuce. Chartwell’s, the district’s food supplier, refused.

“It’s baby steps,” Fannin said.

The great hope, according to Eat Right Racine’s organizers, is the growing tide of people interested in healthy diets. While many people still think nothing of giving their kids Twinkies and sodas, at least some people are ready to explore alternatives, they said.

Now’s the time to bring people together and work for lasting improvements to how Racine thinks about food and nutrition.

“We want to find out who’s out there so we can learn from each other,” DeSonia said. “We’ll support existing programs and start new ones that are needed.”

Interested in attending tonight’s meeting? Just show up at HOPES Center, 507 Sixth St., at 5:30 p.m. to learn more about Eat Right Racine.


  1. I applaud the goals of this organization. So many people don't know that what they consume affects their mind, body and spirit -- and contrbutes to physicial illness and emotional mood swings. Many other people are beginning to understand this connection but still seeking options.

    Thanks, Racine Post, for highlighting this new organization and its mission.

  2. Good luck.

  3. Green Racine5/14/2009 7:42 AM

    One of the many group that is part of the Renascence of Racine, that I see happening as part of the whole Urban Racine Garden group.
    There is tons of studies that prove the worth of efforts like this.
    From better eating habits (There by better health school grades go up etc) to economic investment and jobs (Leave the West 6th st Farmers Market alone!)

  4. Speaking of Racine Unified.

    You may not be able to get them to change lettuce but it should be an easier issue addressing nutrition and health concerns that are traditionally assciated with "cafeteria food". For example is any of the produce purchase already prepared? If it is it will also be treated with a chemical to keep it from browning. Is there low sodium options available in the canned goods? What type of seafood are they serving? Chemicals? Sustainable? Farmed? If so the quality of that farm? Chicken? There is lots of chemical free chicken on the market these days.

    Cut down on prepared foods in general.

    I assume they're already addressing these things.

  5. Being more restrictive about what items can be purchased w/ food stamps is a start.
    Also, bad foods should have a 'bad food tax', just like cigs.
    And the state AGs should go after the junk food companies like they went after the cig cos.
    What good for the goose is good for...

  6. I am very interested in using food to help the schools. They did it in Appleton and saw a tremendous change.

  7. It is sad though because Unified has food contracts with those sub standard food providers. 2 vegetables in a weeks time. One of them a potato. We have hurdles, Unified needs to get with the program.