When most people think of saving the environment, fighting for food security is not usually high on their list of actions. Yet, food insecurity is a global environmental issue impacting rural and urban communities alike. Although the issue of food insecurity has been around for a quite a long time, it has only recently become a more mainstream environmental interest. Qasimah Boston, a Boston native and long-time resident of Savannah’s Cuyler-Brownville community, and other community activists like her are major factors for this shift in thinking.
Boston, a health educator and behavior scientist by profession, is part of a research team studying global household and community food security. I had the opportunity to interview Qasimah Boston, who is currently working in Ghana, West Africa helping to eradicate household food insecurity among women.
LP: What is food insecurity?
QB: I define food insecurity as a state in which people at all times do not have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
LP: What is Project FOOD?
QB: Project F.O.O.D. is an acronym that means Project For Our Own Development. It was visioned to address local and global food issues and concerns on the neighborhood and community level. Project F.O.O.D. operates from a framework of partnership, collaboration, empowerment (families, women, youth, men, communities) and community engagement. The goal of Project F.O.O.D. is to engage communities globally in conversations about the community or neighborhood food environment in a way that stimulates development and implementation of strategies that help neighborhood and communities increase their ability to be sustainable and food secure. It is an initiative concerned with the link between food and health. The project targets the neighborhood food environment and fosters collaboration with neighborhood residents to examine the neighborhood food environment and how it may be helping or harming their health.
Project F.O.O.D. recently partnered with two other community based organizations; The Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council and Cultural Arts Natural Design International (CANDI) to engage the Tallahassee Community in conversations about the link between the neighborhood food environment and childhood obesity. Project F.O.O.D. also conducted a study regarding the neighborhood food environment and convenience stores and found that convenience stores are selling what they think they can sell and are open to transforming their offerings to community with help. It is really a global public health initiative and is becoming a model for partnership and problem solving.
LP: Why did you start it?
QB: I am completing my doctorate degree in public health from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, FL. I have been traveling for a while now back and forth from Tallahassee to Savannah where I have been living for the past sixteen (16) years. Project F.O.O.D. was started as a public health initiative to address health disparities occurring in communities [like neighborhoods in certain parts of Savannah and Tallahassee] and in other neighborhoods [around the world] that do not have adequate access to the quantity and quality of food needed to have good health – physically, mentally and spiritually. This is what is described as food insecurity. When a community, neighborhood, household or individual does not have this they are considered, “food insecure.” Project F.O.O.D. also was started purposefully to engage in work with others because this problem will take people working together and cannot be solved individually.
LP: What is its connection to the environment?
QB: The environments that we live, work and play in are important to the health of communities and neighborhoods. I am offering that when we think about environment that it is thought about from a holistic viewpoint that includes layers that are interconnected and equally important to health and wellbeing. So, the total environment is important to health – the individual, social, community and the economic. Our social environment is where our neighborhood food environment begins. It is well known that our social conditions impact our health. Project F.O.O.D. is concerned with social environments and the make-up of the neighborhood food environments because it wants all people to have equal access to the quantity and quality of food needed to be healthy.
LP: Why is food insecurity such a big issue to residents in Savannah?
QB: In Savannah, there is growing interest and action to address the problem of food insecurity. While some communities have sufficient access to quality and the quantity of food they need to be healthy, there are some segments of our community in Savannah that do not. These communities tend to have the higher rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and other conditions that lead to shorter life spans for some and to a lesser quality of health because of the results of living with chronic disease conditions. Project F.O.O.D. is important in Savannah because it will help neighborhoods examine their own food environment. This reflection will help neighborhoods to increase their individual awareness of their food environment and its link to their health. In addition, Project F.O.O.D. helps to stimulate conversation that leads to action. Friere’, a Brazilian educator and community organizer, calls it “Education for Action.”
LP: What is the connection between Project F.O.O.D. and the project in Ghana?
QB: Project F.O.O.D. is a global effort to connect people globally regarding the issues of food insecurity and health. People globally are impacted by this problem and by understanding the nature and makeup of the neighborhood food environment, community residents can better address and strategize the needed actions to shape it in a way that best benefits its residents.
Importantly, Ghana has the potential to become the first nation in sub-Saharan Africa to become a developed nation according to international standards. However, to do this a standard of health of the nation’s population is required. A nation’s development depends on how good the health of the nation is overall. To be developed, means to be productive and to live a quality life. Development is connected to health and wellbeing. Project F.O.O.D. and the project in Ghana are connected because the development of any neighborhood or community depends on good health. Communities or neighborhoods that are unhealthy because of food insecurity are limited in their development because people are not healthy enough to rise to their potential. Women play a role in the development of the nation because of their roles at home.
LP: Why are you traveling to Ghana and for how long?
QB: I am traveling to Ghana for two months starting at the beginning of March 2011 to launch Project F.O.O.D.’s Ghana Initiative. I am going to Ghana to collaborate with leaders in the village of Sanerigu. I will partner with the Chief of the village, leaders of the seven women’s associations, leader of the youth association, the Ghana Ministry of Health and the University of Development Studies. Using a community-based participatory process for my research, women will be engaged in conversations about food and household food insecurity. Culture and social support social networks will also be explored to understand how these may be connected to helping households to overcome household food insecurity. Women will be the experts in this discussion because they are the ones who are responsible for preparing the food for the household; therefore, they are the ones who understand the dynamics of household food better. This work in Ghana will take place in a village in the northern region of Ghana called Sanerigu. The reason for this is that this is the area which is more food insecure than other places in Ghana. It is a predominately rural region.
This project is a partnership and collaboration-building effort that will hopefully open up avenues for partnership across borders and connection of people in neighborhoods and communities – inspiring and moving one another to actions that improves and shapes safe and healthy neighborhood food environments.
Project F.O.O.D. is also working with women in Gambia, West Africa. The women in households of a small village called Toubakalong also experience times when they are food insecure. Connecting these women to the women in Ghana and to women in Savannah and throughout the United States can be empowering for all involved. What we know is that it is mostly the poor and vulnerable populations globally who are experiencing food insecurity. So we are exploring the global reasons why households are food insecure in order to write and share the global realities for the purpose of the implementation of solutions that have been offered by the communities themselves.
Finally, Project F.O.O.D.’s Ghana Initiative is a partnership effort between many organizations, groups and people globally. It is important to note that the process of partnership and collaboration building is not easy. It takes time and a whole lot of patience. I am grateful for the many who have contributed to this effort. Without their involvement this project would not be possible.
Let me mention some of them and offer that I look forward to further development of our partnership and collaboration on these issues of household food insecurity:
The Greater Frenchtown Revitalization Council
Cultural Arts & Natural Design International
Talk With The Women
Yaa Asantewaa Women’s Association
The Man In Overalls
The Tallahassee Sustainability Corporation
The Wiley Sunshine Foundation
The Mayor’s Office of Tallahassee
The Institute of Public Health, FAMU
Brighter Day Natural Foods
The Sentient Bean
The Pharmacy Department, FAMU
Ghana Ministry of Health
Dr. Gyader, University of Development Studies, Ghana
Yusuf Doukougouru, Epidemiologist
Tameka Jones, University of Florida
Sanerigu Women’s Associations
Suglo N Bori Buni
Suhidoo Women’s Group
Tiyumtaba Women’s Group
Wumpini Women’s Association
Suglo N Duridariga
Diboriyom Women’s Group
Mohammad Abdul-Karim, Village Chief
Alhassan Alidu, Youth Chief
LP: What overall impact do you hope Project F.O.O.D. will make?
QB: The health of all people globally is interconnected. We are only as strong as the weakest of us. If there is a village in rural Africa or India who is food insecure it impacts us all. On the flip side, the answers can lie in the exchange of ideas, thoughts and experience. Opening up avenues for partnership and collaboration and empowerment provides us a framework for connecting folks. Project F.O.O.D. hopes to be a part of ensuring this. Remembering my personal experience with food insecurity as a young mother of two children, I got ideas of how to overcome household food insecurity by watching those who had more than me. Through this observation, I tried things. I tried what they were doing; however, I would not have known what others were doing if the avenue was not open for me to see. So, Project F.O.O.D. aims to be part of a process that helps those that need to see to see by opening up avenues for collaboration and partnership and sharing of experiences!
LP: How can people support you?
QB: There are many ways to support Project F.O.O.D. Here are just a few:
- Join the Project F.O.O.D. blog at http://www.projectfoodnow.blogspot.com Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the link to become a follower. The goal is 100 blog partners by March 2011.
- Give your Financial Support. Money is needed now to support our Ghana Initiative. After the conversations with the women about household food insecurity, this data needs to be analyzed and distributed to the village, communities globally (i.e. Savannah, Tallahassee) the University of Development Studies, the Ghana Ministry of Health and to the United Nations. This is important because the ideas and strategies coming from the women of Saniergu need acknowledgement. Contributions are needed for this.
- Donate $25,000 to Project F.O.O.D. for the completion of this project. For more details, contact Qasimah P. Boston, MPH, CHES at [email protected]
- Network your Connections. If you have networks that can be connected to our Ghana Initiative and/or any of our local initiatives in Savannah, GA or Tallahassee, Florida, these could be useful. This means that your financial, information or physical contribution is important.
- Celebrity support. Jay Z supports a project that helps communities have water in Africa. Project F.O.O.D. is looking for celebrity support for a global project that ensures that the participatory process of solving the process of household food insecurity is followed through all the way to policy development while supporting initiatives that support women and empower women to overcome household food insecurity.
- Book Publisher. Project F.O.O.D. is looking for offers from book publishers to fund the writing of text for academic purposes on the topic of household food insecurity and for another text on household food insecurity for community organizers.
To receive “real time” updates regarding Qasimah Boston’s travel in Ghana and her work with Project F.O.O.D., visit http://projectfoodnow.blogspot.com.