Around 2000 years ago, a celebrated Roman poet by the name Publius Vergilius Mavo (Virgil to his friends) uttered the phrase “the greatest wealth is health”. Although it's highly debated whether or not this phrase can actually be attributed to Virgil himself, the phrase hints at a common idea in modern America: That as long as we have good health, the rest of life will fall into place.
But the cost of health is high: medical care, exercise, and quality food are all expensive commodities. What happens if you don't have the wealth, to pay for the health?
In core-city Muskegon, this is a real issue. The city of Muskegon possesses one of the highest levels of poverty in the county and faces a significant lack of access to healthy foods within the city limits. According to the USDA sponsored website, "Food Desert Locator," nearly all of the City of Muskegon qualifies as a food desert. The closest grocery store is in Norton Shores, a 10-minute drive away, but if you lack transportation (as many in core city Muskegon do) that's a one hour hike, each way. And even if you’re able to navigate the transportation issues and get out of town to do your groceries, if your family has a low income, you are not going to have the resources to provide fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Instead, you get what you can afford which is often the unhealthy option---the “ready meals”.
For many of our neighbors, “doing the groceries” means a visit to one of the many party stores or dollar stores in the area, stores not geared towards providing healthy affordable groceries. Due to this lack of affordable grocery stores, prevalent low incomes and high housing costs, diet-related health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are common.
Enter Muskegon Prescribes Food for Health (MPFH). Now in its second year, MPFH works with local health care providers to connect neighbors with diet-related health issues directly to the one thing they need the most--healthy food. MPFH participants attend a 12-week course that partners with the YMCA to deliver Cooking Matters, a cooking curriculum designed to increase fruit and vegetable intake. MPFH students also receive biometric measuring to monitor their progress, low impact group exercise, and ‘veggie vouchers’ to spend at the YMCA Veggie Van.
Benita is a life long Muskegonite and "stay at home" mom and grand-mom who recently graduated from the MPFH program. Benita also suffers from fibromyalgia. “MPFH was a way for me to get out of the house and be sociable and learn some healthy tips with my eating because sometimes due to the pain I don't eat at all.” Benita was introduced to the program by her Aunt Jeannine, an “empty nester” and retiree from both special education and public health industries. Jeannine learned about MPFH from a presentation at the Reeths Puffer neighborhood association, which she is an active member of. “This program has helped me lose a few pounds and my blood pressure has gone down too!”
Jeannine wants to take what she has learned back to her neighbors and start encouraging others to join the program “I think people would connect to the cooking classes, and start sharing recipes! And the social aspect: Meeting people and connecting to people and being social has really helped me, and I think it will help other retirees struggling to get out of the house too.”
MPFH aims to equip and encourage neighbors in making lifestyle changes to help them reach their health goals, from diet and portion control to exercise and social activities, and the program provides many of the resources needed to start them on their way. Juanita, who graduated from MPFH in March and suffers from fibromyalgia and spondylosis, really benefited from such resources, especially the healthy eating cookbook provided. “I'm cooking more veggies now and cooking things like tacos and wraps. By using the cookbook it has been encouraging me to prepare meals for myself. It's more appetizing. The class was very helpful and I enjoyed being part of this group!”
Connecting neighbors to fresh fruits and vegetables, and the education needed to prepare these foods and make healthy choices instead of handing out medications seems like a revolutionary idea, but it's one that's taking hold across the USA and Muskegon is on the cusp of that revolution.
“The greatest wealth is health”. Here in Muskegon, neighbors and local organizations are working together to break down the barriers to health through education, resources, and access. Programs like Muskegon Prescribes Food for Health are working to make sure our neighbors have access to an affordable healthy lifestyle.
JOIN MPFH! If you would like more information about Muskegon Prescribes Food for Health, or if you or a family member would like to sign up for the next class, please contact Katherine: firstname.lastname@example.org (231) 728-3117 EXT.22.