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Originally published Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 3:45 PM

Survey: Affordability key hurdle to healthier diet

Low-income women of color know how to cook healthy food, but they often can't afford it, according to a report released Saturday by a Southeast Seattle nonprofit.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Report: Women in the Green Economy

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Low-income women of color know how to cook healthy food, but they often can't afford it, according to a report released Saturday by a Southeast Seattle nonprofit.

The group, Got Green, surveyed 212 women about their access to the "green economy" touted by government leaders as a ticket to future health and prosperity. Got Green thought the women they surveyed had been left out of the discussion about health and the environment, and likely left out of the tax breaks and stimulus money available through "green jobs" and energy-efficiency programs.

Got Green's report found that being more "green" was on the minds of the women they surveyed. It also found that some conventional solutions — like teaching women to cook healthier food and improving benefits at green jobs — fall short.

Surveyors asked women to prioritize public transportation; a healthy, energy-efficient home; green jobs; and access to healthy foods.

By a 2-to-1 margin, the women said their top priority was healthy food. They said the high cost of fresh and organic fruit and vegetables and the lack of grocery stores made feeding their family a healthier diet too hard.

"What we learned from women is that, despite the press that we're seeing, their barrier to switching themselves and their children (to a healthier diet) is not education," said Kristyn Joy, operations director for Got Green.

But while Got Green supports gardening programs, and the communities showed some interest, Joy said they don't believe gardening is the solution. That's because low-income families are often short on time.

At a presentation Saturday in the Rainier Beach neighborhood, volunteers and participants ate a healthy lunch together and heard the report's recommendations.

Jacquel Redmond, 32, said people such as her care about the environmental movement — they just need to hear about it without all the "nonprofit lingo."

"I feel we've been completely left out," she said. She's passionate about fighting for a healthier home after mold in her apartment caused respiratory problems for her son.

Violet Lavatai said her neighborhood, Skyway, needs a grocery store.

"So many of us in our communities know we gotta eat better, but for many of us, it's not that easy," she said in a short presentation at the Saturday luncheon. "Good food is expensive. It's really expensive. Bad food is not."

City Councilmember Mike O'Brien said it's hard to know the needs of families in South Seattle from his office at City Hall. "I live in my own reality, and the folks that live in these communities don't have a lot of time to testify at City Hall."

Got Green's survey found that women in low-income communities have the same concerns about food that O'Brien's own wife in Fremont does. While Seattle has done a great job adding farmers markets, there's more work to do to make that food more accessible, he said.

Got Green expected women to show more interest in so-called green jobs, but they found the women didn't conceive of themselves working in industries that green-jobs programs promote.

Many of those jobs — in construction, weatherization, electric cars — are traditionally dominated by men.

The report made several recommendations:

• The definition of green jobs should be broadened to include data-entry and support jobs on big green-construction projects.

• The group supports any policy shift that would provide more money for people who use food stamps to buy healthy food. Some examples being tested in other places include rewarding people for buying healthy food with more money the next month, or matching food-stamp money they spend at the farmers market.

• The city should support a full-service grocery store or produce stand in Skyway, one of the city's main "food deserts."

• Start talking about families' health instead of exclusively the health of the planet when talking about pro-environment policies.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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