Monday, March 30, 2009

At the Table: A Dining Oasis in a Food Desert

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2009 at 6:39 AM

click to enlarge atthetable.jpg

When I joined Cassi Johnson of the Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee and Marne Duke of the Nashville Farmers' Market (both pictured above) to discuss efforts to improve access to local, healthy food, you would never have known we were dining in the heart of one of Nashville's most egregious food deserts.

In our booth at At the Table restaurant, Cassi, Marne and I tucked into heaping servings of decadent home-cooked veggies, including mashed sweet potatoes, green beans and cabbage, as well as plump hot-water corn cakes. Robert Hudson's meat-and-three, which opened last year, seems to get better and better, and the lunch crowd is catching on. The clean, sunny room, adorned sparely with a steam table and a handful of booths and tables, was buzzing with a diverse crowd of folks who know how to find good Southern cooking.

But just outside the big plate-glass windows, the gritty strip of 12th Avenue between Wedgewood and The Gulch is a notoriously barren strip--nutritionally speaking--where it's easier to find a pack of cigarettes and a forty than a head of broccoli and an apple.

That's one of the problems the Food Security Partners are working to solve with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As Johnson and the other members of the organization embark on the ReStoring Nashville campaign, one of the first steps is to raise awareness of so-called food deserts and to elevate the issue to a matter of social justice.

If you've never thought about it before, consider this: If you're standing at the corner of Edgehill and 12th and you have no access to a car, where would you find ingredients for a healthy dinner? Harris Teeter on 21st Avenue? Kroger in Melrose? Either one is a long way away, and what if you have kids in tow? That's the dire situation for a lot of people in the neighborhood, where it's hard to make healthy choices when you can't get to them.

Over the next few months, Food Security Partners will roll out some initiatives related to ReStoring Nashville--which also focuses on neighborhoods in East and North Nashville--and we'll keep you posted. In the meantime, if you've got any ideas for improving access to nutritional food across Nashville, please share them here.

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