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Healthy Living Through Toxic-Free Food in Columbia, South Carolina

"When is the next event going to be held!?" We answered this question numerous times during Columbia, South Carolina's, Bright Cities-sponsored community events.

The Columbia Food Policy Committee partnered with the City of Columbia's Sustainability Office to host two cooking demonstrations designed to teach parents how to cook nutritious, affordable and non-toxic meals.

Our events took place in low food access areas—Richland Library Northeast and Gable Oaks Apartments. Our goal was to share information with families about how to eat healthy while avoiding harmful toxins in food. Participating families learned from an expert panel, participated in cooking demonstrations, shared a healthy meal and received a box of locally grown organic produce. Over 35 families with young children participated in our events.

When a local grocery store suddenly closed during this time, the residents of the Gable Oaks Apartments and others in low food access areas were significantly impacted. Community agencies collectively provided an immediate response by organizing and funding a pop-up grocery store. Over 230 families received fresh produce boxes, essential grocery store staples and nutrition education about cooking healthy and avoiding neurotoxicant chemicals in their food through education about pesticides in produce and toxic heavy metals in baby food.

The Dirty Dozen is an annual list, published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), of 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides. EWG also publishes the Clean 15 which is an annual list of the top 15 fruits and vegetables with the least amount of pesticides. The guides were developed after analyzing over 35,200 samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Both lists are helpful to take to the grocery store to know when to buy organic and when it’s ok to buy conventional.

HBBF’s recent study on heavy metals in baby food found that 95% of foods tested contain one or more toxic chemical including lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. Parents were provided with HBBF’s fact sheet on safer alternatives which proved to be a helpful guide.

The City of Columbia Food Policy Committee will continue to advocate for access to healthier foods for families. It will present policy recommendations to the City Council in December 2019. Recommendations promote more opportunities for families to grow their own food and nutrition education to ensure all communities in the city have access to healthy and affordable food. They will be posted on Columbia’s website when approved.

Would your City benefit from similar actions? Or, is your City interested in being part of the Bright Cities program? To discuss this and anything else, please contact Bright Cities Program Director, Kyra Naumoff Shields at knaumoff@hbbf.org.

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