Just recently, I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Amy Yaroch, the Executive Director at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, about her role as Executive Director and the role The Center of Nutrition plays in the Omaha food system and how the Center of Nutrition is connected to Food Day Omaha.
As an independent non-profit nutrition center, which began in 1973, The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition has been taking a new direction ever since Dr. Amy Yaroch began in March of 2009. She was offered the task of refocusing the Center of Nutrition to specific areas that fit within her own passion wheelhouse such as farm-to-school programs, childhood obesity, and safer food systems on the local and national level. The Center for Nutrition’s purpose is to conduct a series of research studies and assessments of state and environmental policies to prove and make connections about our health systems. With a goal that we can look at what is really happening and start new programs and policies as a result. “For many times what we see happening in our own neighborhoods is exactly what is happening nationally, on a larger scale,” says Dr. Yaroch. Dr. Yaroch along with her team, are working to provide connections to improve and understand our challenging food systems.
For example, The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition worked with the Omaha school systems’ nutrition centers on a two-year project to procure safer and fresher food in school cafeterias. As a result, each school system was able to provide healthier options to their students by providing better and safer foods from wholesalers or farmers directly. “The data collected from the farm-to-school program has increased healthier food consumption to students which provides evidence that similar programs could help in the fight against childhood obesity,” as stated in www.grownebraska.org/news/article.
Another area of passion for Dr. Yaroch and her team, is to show the connection between hunger and obesity; that there are obese people who are actually going hungry as a result of bad food choices and lack of options available to them. Making the research piece being about why consumers purchase what they do and how to support and fight for the Healthy Food Initiative in the middle of “food deserts.”
Omaha sits in 21st place in America’s obesity rate with 28.4 % of Nebraskans officially obese. “Its scary to think that our kids generation will not live as long as our generation because of obesity,” comments Dr. Yaroch, “even with all the advancements in modern medicine.”
With such great direction for which the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition is headed, being a part of Food Day Omaha is another way to reach out to consumers. It is important for Omaha to see what the Center of Nutrition supports and how the Center of Nutrition is helping and connected to the city. “We are thrilled to participate in the second annual Food Day Omaha as it is so well-aligned with our mission of promoting healthy foods, helping to alleviate hunger and supporting sustainable agriculture, “ says Dr. Yaroch.
National Food Day is October 24th with an emphasis on ‘Real Food”. Omaha is doing their part to share in that movement; towards healthy, affordable and sustainable food. Food Day Omaha is this Sunday October 21st from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Aksarben Village. In partnership with the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and the Omaha Farmers Market, Local Food Day is an Earth Day for food.
Foodday.org states that in addition to the Omaha Farmers Market and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, a collection of more than 30 local and health-related organizations will be present at Food Day Omaha and will provide activities, information, demonstrations and awareness about their respective focuses. Attendees will be able to interact with experts to discuss a variety of topics including balanced diet, local growing, cooking, agriculture, food policy issues and hunger.
When I asked Dr. Yaroch to finish the statement “I want Real Food because…” she said, “because I know it is safer, I know where my food comes from, ultimately it is healthier and its taste better.” Thanks Dr. Yaroch. I couldn’t agree more.