We are halfway through our pilot program, and what is happening at our weekly Groceryships meeting in South LA is incredible.
We designed the Groceryships program to be sort of like Food Inc. meets Native American healing circles. That is, we wanted to educate families on the reality of our toxic food environment, and the power of real food, and we also wanted to create a sacred space for healing, because we believe that health is not just physical, but also mental, emotional, and spiritual. Because of this, we eschewed a "lecture" format for a sharing circle format, where everyone is equal. Each meeting follows the same structure--a series of readings, a check-in, a nutrition/cooking topic discussion, eating break, and then a circle share about an emotional/spiritual topic. To my understanding, this is a first-of-its-kind program.
In our first meeting, there was some skepticism, especially when I told the group that we'd never done this before, and I didn’t know if it would work. But, I said, I have a vision for a Groceryships group in every community, so that people everywhere who wanted to get healthy amidst a toxic food culture, can. I invited our pilot families to co-create this program with me, so that together we might help a world in desperate need.
In our second meeting, we distributed Vitamix's (thank you Vitamix Corp!), and Angela Carrasco our lead health coach made several green shakes. Let me tell you, I was not sure how kale smoothies would go over in South LA. They loved it. Our families now report that in their homes the Vitamix runs constantly. Each kid has a favorite shake, and they're eating more fruits/vegetables than ever before.
But it was in our third meeting that things really broke open. Helen, a South LA native who cares for 5 young nieces & nephews and who perhaps had the starkest skepticism the first day, said during check-in that she'd realized what this group was. And then she went on to describe more eloquently than I ever could, my deepest hopes for what Groceryships could become. She said that it was about food, but it was more than that. it was about people remembering they are important, rediscovering their value. Food was just the first step towards a more empowered life. (You don't need to take my word for it--take Helen's. I've appended a poem Helen wrote to the end of this message).
Since that time, the group has bonded on a deep level. Many refer to Groceryships as their "safe space" and to each other as "my family." We began placing a box of Kleenex in the center of the circle, because so many kept crying during their shares.
It's not just emotional/spiritual progress that has been made. The real, measurable health results have been impressive. Our participants have dropped an average of 6 pounds, and the attendance rate for the weekly meetings is 97%. Consumption of fruits and vegetables is up, while consumption of processed food and meat is down. Our families are reporting more sleep and exercise, lower stress, higher energy levels, and a marked decrease in eating out at restaurants or fast food.
I'm also thrilled to say that our families are galvanized to spread the message They want to share with their community what they’ve learned about the power of real food, and the nature of the toxic food trap we all live in. They've agreed that, after graduation, they'll continue attending Wednesday night meetings as mentors to the next group.
I don't mean to suggest that everything has been roses. We are a young organization, and are making our fair share of mistakes. Our clinic partner didn't work out, so we were only able to collect the barest medical data for our participants. We had to change locations mid-way through because of an issue with our meeting space. Our curriculum, which we designed ourself because we wanted to avoid the standard blame-the-victim, smaller-portion-size, five-food groups bullshit, has sometimes looked amateurish. And I've said some incredibly stupid things during meetings, one of which prompted Helen to reprimand me, saying, "you don't need to tell black people in South LA about beans, Sam; we know about beans."
But, all in all, I believe we are really onto something here. We are offering a deep, comprehensive program to treat obesity that is educational and also consciously spiritual and emotional. As we say in group, health is not just physical; it's also emotional, mental, and spiritual, and our program is designed to address obesity from all those perspectives. And it's not just me who thinks something notable is happening here--The Los Angeles Times now has a health reporter attending every meeting.
Now we've come to the part of the letter where I ask for contributions. And let me say upfront, this is really important. Let me tell you why. Many non-profits offer a technical solution to a problem. Think about Charity: Water -- there is dirty water, if they can install a well in a village, the problem is solved. Technical solutions are easy to understand; the only issues are execution and cost.
Addressing obesity is different. There are so many factors behind the obesity crisis--a broken food system, a broken economy, emotional eating, stress, depression, and food addiction--and each person is so complex and unique, that there is no simple solution. The biggest impact would come from changing the food system--eradicating food desserts, making vegetables/fruit cheaper than processed food, banning junk food marketing, especially to children. But given the political and economic realities of our time, it's hard to imagine that 10 years from now, there won't still be McDonalds, KFC, and Taco Bell at almost every corner in South LA.
Groceryships is offering not a technical solution, but an adaptive one, helping people transform their lives from the inside. As anyone who has experience with obesity knows, change is hard, and it happens slowly. I know from experience--food and eating has been, and will continue to be, a lifelong struggle for me.
Because of this, our data won't be as neat, and our solution won't be as pat. Our program will take longer to develop and refine. But I believe we are on to something big here, something that could revolutionize the treatment of obesity (which just became the #1 global health threat, according to the U.N.), in the same way Alcoholics Anonymous revolutionized the treatment of addiction.
So I ask that you contribute whatever you can, so that we can provide healthy food to our families while they learn new habits/skills, so that we can grow our organization and continue improving our curriculum, so that we have the luxury of time to iteratively develop this program to be as effective as it possibly can be. You can help by giving what's in your wallet, or also by introducing Groceryships to your network. Send this letter around to your friends. Ask that, instead of a birthday present people donate to Groceryships. One of our supporters, a young man also named Sam, asked that people donate to Groceryships for his Bar Mitzvah--thank you Sam! Great name!
Thank you for the time you've taken to read this. Thank you for your support. And thank you for any contribution you can make.
And now, here are excerpts from Helen's poem:
Gratitude For Knowledge -- A New Way To Smile
It has been several weeks now, attending our
Groceryship program, and I have a whole new way of
thinking. Today, I have been given the knowledge of
how to cook, eat, shop, exercise and live healthy,
one day at a time. I have a newfound
gratitude for Sam, Angela, and Kurt today. No, they
didn't fall from Mars, but they were angels sent down
to earth, in the middle of South Central.
They not only
gave us knowledge in how to...live...
...exercise...communicate...stop eating-up our emotions.
They gave us a safe place to bond, to
belong. They taught
us how to connect in a beautiful way to one another.
They gave us hope for a better tomorrow. Because
with the knowledge of healthy living, we can plan for
A brighter future. As we learn to eat healthier, our
Minds and body gets healthy also, and we
can plan on
living longer. I learned that getting
healthy is a process. It will not happen over night.
One day at a time.
Because it took awhile to become healthy, it
will take some time to change. I must take this time to thank Sam
and Angela for going
that extra-mile and making the cooking and eating
parts easy...smile...because I was that
person who didn't cook everyday. When I
did cook, I
made big pots of unhealthy, greasy foods.
For coming down to our level of understanding
without judging or pointing fingers.
keeping our circle safe. Safety was such a big part of me
Coming back every Wednesday....and giving us the space to
Heal the void in our hearts in which, we were filling-up
with junked-up unhealthy food. Groceryships brought us a
New way of living and breathing healthy. For that we are so grateful.