October 17, 2019
September was “National Fruits & Veggies Month,” an initiative to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables by providing fun, realistic ways to incorporate them into one’s diet and encouraging people to enjoy fruits and vegetables on their own terms.
Many studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables lead to a variety of positive health outcomes for people of all ages. Yet, few Americans meet the federal daily intake recommendations for fruits and vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) California Action Guide on Fruits and Vegetables, reports that in California, only 13.6% of adults meet the daily fruit intake recommendations and 11.2% of adults meet the daily vegetable intake recommendations. According to the Hellman Foundation, these numbers may be even lower among low-income communities, noting that about 20 percent of low-income households report no weekly purchases of fruits and vegetables.
Eating more fruits and vegetables is especially important for seniors. The World Health Organization states the most common chronic diseases affecting seniors (such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer) are a result of dietary factors. In addition, age-related changes throughout the body can affect eating habits, potentially causing nutrient deficiencies, exacerbating current chronic conditions, and bringing forth new ones.
However, a 2016 San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services report noted that many seniors in San Francisco tend to be low income or have inadequate income to meet their needs outside of rent and basic necessities. While there are many factors that influence a person’s ability to obtain and consume fresh fruits and vegetables, lack of affordability is often the primary factor affecting low-income households. In most cases, fruits and vegetables may be more expensive compared to less healthy alternatives. For many residents in the Tenderloin neighborhood, having access to fresh fruits and vegetables is another large issue. The Tenderloin is classified as a food desert, an area (usually low-income) with limited access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Food deserts mainly occur due to the lack of grocery stores and healthy food providers in the area.
At Curry Senior Center, we offer the EatSF program to not only increase access and affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables, but also promote healthy habits and improve nutrition amongst our seniors. EatSF (also known as “Vouchers 4 Veggies”) is a free fruits and vegetables voucher program for low-income residents in San Francisco that aims to help people afford fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood. Participants receive four vouchers a month (each worth five dollars) which they may use at specific locations throughout San Francisco to buy only fresh fruits and vegetables. One popular location near Curry is the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market, located weekly at the United Nations Plaza on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. At the City Farmer’s Market, participants exchange their vouchers for tokens to purchase a variety of fruits and vegetables at the market.
Curry was one of the pilot program senior centers that the EatSF program started with almost five years ago, when the program was only for low-income seniors in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Since then, the EatSF program has expanded to Los Angeles and now includes low-income families and pregnant women. From Curry Senior Center Program Manager, Judy Siu’s perspective, the program has made big changes and big impacts in the lives of seniors who have joined the program. She said, “Most seniors are on fixed income, which mainly goes to rent and necessities. Seniors are grateful to receive the vouchers and go to the farmer’s market.”
Linda R., a program participant, heard about EatSF through Curry Senior Center after it was announced at a group she attended. Reflecting on her experience, she commented, “It’s a great program. I like how you can redeem vouchers for tokens at the farmer’s market. I can buy small things because I live alone.” After participating in the program, she noticed her eating habits had changed. “I needed to eat more fruits and veggies and was encouraged to buy more with EatSF vouchers,” she said, “ [Now] I eat more fruits and have tried different types of veggies.”
Besides feeling better physically, Linda added that EatSF has impacted other parts of her life as well. “It’s a new outing and another place to shop. The farmer’s market has music and people can get samples. Sometimes I go with friends. It’s nice to support local markets.” She encourages people who have never heard of the program or are considering joining to try it out.
Judy Siu, Senior Center Program Manager, commented on the importance of having programs such as EatSF for seniors. “The food bank may give out food that is not culturally appropriate or food that people are uncomfortable or not familiar with,” she said, “[EatSF] allows seniors to have access to fruits and vegetables they like. They have the power to enjoy the fruits and vegetables they are comfortable with, without having to use their own money.”