Matter Gathering Tackles Food Insecurity in Chicago

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Hope Street Group was recently highlighted in The Chicago Tribune, in an article written by Meg Graham. See below for article text; original version is available here:

For years, the city has waged a losing battle on food deserts. Now, it’s trying a new approach to address food insecurity.

Representatives from city departments, universities, research groups, nonprofits, startups and companies joined with the Department of Public Health at healthtech incubator Matter on Thursday afternoon to discuss data, barriers to change and potential innovations.

The discussion will inform work for Healthy Chicago 2.0, a Department of Public Health project to identify goals and strategies to improve the health of Chicago residents and communities.

“We’re working to engage the perspective of stakeholders, both communities across sectors as well as looking at data across sectors,” said Jay Bhatt, deputy managing commissioner and chief innovation officer for the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“Not just health, [but] non-traditional data like social media data, or data like the amount of block party permits people in communities ask for as a measure of social cohesion. How do we start thinking in that way differently around this issue of food security?”

The afternoon kicked off with presentations and talks by Honest Tea’s co-founder Seth Goldman and Chicago State University professor Daniel Block. Goldman discussed the beverage company’s growth since 1998, and the role of Coca-Cola’s acquisition in expanding distribution of the product beyond high-income area grocery stores.

Block spoke about the landscape for data regarding grocery access and the kinds of impacts that may correlate to food insecurity. He said data points to strong correlations between food insecurity and diet-related mortality in the city. Communities with high rates of both are predominantly found on the South and West sides, he said.

“I’ve talked to people who have gone all the way from Englewood—taken the train all the way up to the Jewel up at Roosevelt and State—because it happens that both of these are on an L line,” Block said to the group. “To do that kind of travel, it puts a strain on your life.”

Attendees spent the next two hours in breakout groups to discuss potential solutions in the areas of access, education and affordability. Ideas included sharing findings and research between groups on an online interface, tapping into economies of scale for healthy food and working with existing community infrastructures.

One group discussed the possibility of an app that used CTA information to point out healthy food chains along a given route.

Other outcomes included plans to construct a sustainable funding model and engaging with individual communities consistently—in other words, not helping for a year then dropping off.

The event, which had 60 attendees, was part of a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Hope Street Group, which gathers leaders across disciplines to drive social impact.

At day’s end, Bhatt told the group a committee would continue to work on the ideas. The organizations will also create an online space to view and track brainstormed ideas.

“A lot of great themes and ideas came out of this,” Bhatt said. “This concept of sustainability is not just about food. It’s about this conversation, and what we’re doing and how we’re moving it forward.”

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