community Lettuces

Published on September 22nd, 2011 | by Michael Hansen

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Shaping the future of Birmingham’s food system


First things first: Alabama is fat; Alabama is lazy; Alabama’s roads and sidewalks are incomplete and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists; Alabama is generally unhealthy on countless measures. Everybody knows the facts and figures. We read about the problems everyday in local media.

But what about the solutions? Are there any? If so, what are they and why aren’t we talking about them?

I am the first person to say, “If you’re going to talk about a problem, you’d better be ready to offer a solution.” And when it comes to health, solutions are that much more important. So, Alabama is fat and lazy, but what do we do about it? Thanks to my professional and personal circles, I’ve learned about a potentially transformative movement in Jefferson County: the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council.

The council is a product of public private partnerships, like Greater Birmingham Community Food Partners and the Health Action Partnership. They adopted a food charter last year that lays out the vision for what the council will do. The charter asks the future council to work with community leaders — elected officials, policy makers, business owners and interested people — to discuss a number of issues in our food system and make recommendations for how to improve it. The council will take on economic development, food culture, public health, farm practices, social justice and education.

For foodies like me, the Birmingham-Jefferson Food Policy Council is an obvious step in the right direction for a region suffering from the highest rate of diabetes in the nation (not to mention that we’re on track to take over the top spot from the perennially pudgy Mississippi). Plus, imagine the connections you’ll make from working with elected officials to food magnates to local farmers. This is a win-win for all of us in the area.

Now’s your chance to make a real change in your community. Applications are due by Friday, Sept. 30. Click here for more details.

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About the Author

My name is Michael Hansen. Born and raised in the South — Memphis, Tenn., to be precise — I am a firm believer that food and drink bring family, friends, lovers, colleagues, and enemies together like nothing else on the planet. I live and play in Birmingham, Ala., where I own a small marketing and website design firm called Mud Pie Creative Lab with my siblings. I am an avid foodie, wannabe writer, so-so music critic, aspiring gardener, day dreamer, college sports fanatic, animal lover, news junkie, problem solver and all-around nice guy. Google



8 Responses to Shaping the future of Birmingham’s food system

  1. Amanda H says:

    Great post about working towards change with the food policy council. I hope great things come out of the Food Policy Council. Most of your statement ,” Alabama is fat; Alabama is lazy; Alabama’s roads and sidewalks are incomplete and unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists; Alabama is generally unhealthy on countless measures,” I agree with. If you look at other geographic maps referencing Education levels and Poverty levels, you will see a map very similar to the one you used above. I would not say Alabama is lazy, but perhaps Alabama is largely uneducated resulting in high levels of poverty and income inequality. Out of those societal factors come high levels of overweight/obese individuals, infrastructure not conducive to physical activity, and an overall lack of emphasis on health.

    • Hansen says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Amanda! But I will have to disagree with you. I do believe Alabama is a lazy state; I see, hear and read about it daily in anecdotal ways. But furthermore, data prove that Alabama is at the top of that list, too. (Here’s some CDC data on the subject.) Infrastructure is a problem (as mentioned). Poverty is a problem. Lack of access to healthful foods is a big problem. Overeating is a problem. An uneducated public regarding nutrition and physical activity is a major problem. But laziness is, factually, a problem, too. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back for the sake of feeling okay with effort.

      • Amanda H says:

        Followed your link back to the original report. Ok, you are right in that Alabama does have lowest levels of leisure physical activity, aka “laziness.” But perhaps that point might spur your readers to do the opposite of being lazy, and fill some of their leisure time advocating for better food policies around the county.

        • Hansen says:

          Change is the key here. The stats are overwhelmingly negative in our neck of the woods. But if the right people are in the right place at the right time (e.g., at this council), real change can happen. And this isn’t just about obesity. There’s also the ironic problem of hunger in those same neighborhoods. (Oy! And don’t get me started on car culture and pop culture and the politics of both.) But I’m confident good stuff can happen with the right leadership.

  2. Alli Robinson says:

    Awesome post my dear!!! I want to know what CO is doing to be so stellar!? AND why, if they are so successful at such a venture, is every other state so behind!!? I’m down for making a difference, let’s do this.

    • Hansen says:

      I’m honestly not sure that Colorado is doing anything right, per se. They’re slipping too. They’re just the last one to do so. But there are definitely things that any community can do to be so stellar. Farmers and organizations can expand access to fresh foods with fresh markets (farmer’s markets) in areas that only have a convenience store, for instance. Parents, teachers, boards of education and school staff need to work to improve school meals with fresh, local procurement practices (not to mention getting rid of cooking methods like frying). Cities need to make sure neighborhoods are walkable with sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and adequate lighting for safety. Day cares need to snap out of it and get rid of TVs and sedentary habits; get kids back outside and feed them fruits and veggies for snacks rather than processed cookies and frozen meat “products.” Civil engineers need to make sure they are doing their job when it comes to planning and zoning. Ample parks and walking trails — and access to them — gives those without money for fancy gym memberships a place to walk, run and exercise in a beautiful, safe environment. The best part is that these aren’t socialist, government spending programs that one side or the other can hate on. They’re proven, obvious solutions to problems we’ve — and frankly, by we I mean our parents’ generation — made for ourselves over the past half century due to selfishness, greed and lack of vision.

  3. Alli Robinson says:

    I second all comments!!! Btdubs are you going to run for President? :) I mostly agree with the statement that all of this is “due to selfishness, greed and lack of vision.” <— and just pure laziness!!! In turn, I think the FDA should be fully investigated for all of the poop that they deem edible and healthy and allow in our food. At the same time, we have a choice – choosing what we put in our mouth and what we do with our bodies. It is up to us to fight for everything you listed above and for people like you and I to show, tell and encourage others to do so!

    • Hansen says:

      I just may. Want to be an adviser or something? I think laziness is a product of selfishness and greed. I don’t know about investigating the FDA, but I like where you’re going with that thought in general. Watch the movies Food, Inc., Botany of Desire, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead or any of those other food documentaries and you’ll never want to eat store-bought food again! We do have choices to make, and we should all take responsibility for them, but there are also those other (previously mentioned) solutions that contribute to a healthier environment. We need to band together to advocate for policies (note: that is not a synonym for government intervention) that facilitate those things.

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