Inspiring Community Change

“Aren’t you a little over-qualified to be sampling food in a grocery store?” said a (dare I say…intrusive) customer to me the other day. “Yes,” I said, “Which is why I just used this food to lure you in to discuss how this sample relates to your health and nutrition.” In other words, I was pretty much saying, “You fell for my trap and, given your comment, you are about to get an earful!”

Harvard Food Fest
Harvard Food Fest / Snowpea & Bokchoi / CC BY 2.0

I guess I can see where he was coming from, but guess what? He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask the question if I hadn’t been in the store. The retailer, Hannaford, has been at the fore front in putting registered dietitians (RDs) in their stores. Additionally, it is phenomenal that nutritional navigation programs like Guiding Stars exist. Together they provide a dynamic opportunity for me, as a dietitian, to impact consumer choice. From my point of view, it is uniquely noteworthy when a corporate entity focuses on community nutrition the way Hannaford and Guiding Stars have. Such a focus helps these organizations work their way into their communities to support local efforts and health initiatives.

I remember a few years back when I was in graduate school, learning about the complexities involved in trying to create systemic change in my community nutrition classes. Now that I have been in the field for awhile, I see that change may come slowly but it absolutely is happening. I am a member of a Putnam County, NY health coalition that was developed by the health department and is comprised of members of the community that represent organizations that define today’s definition of health and wellness. Our members include representatives from the hospital, a food service director from a local school district, someone from Cooperative Extension responsible for gardening programs, and a chiropractor/yoga instructor. Representatives from other like-minded organizations have come together and are focused on improving wellness for children.

Communities are coming together, possibly more than they ever have before to focus on nutrition as a way to improve health and thwart disease. Much the same way tobacco was (and still is) tackled, communities are waging a battle against factors that promote obesity and other health issues. This full circle attempt to make our local environment a healthier one is, I believe, the future of how change will happen in communities.

On a larger level, I’m thankful to Michelle Obama for putting childhood obesity in the headlines with her Let’s Move! initiative. I am grateful to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for highlighting discrepancies among communities, including lack of access to and knowledge about healthful foods. I am thrilled that other companies around the country are creating programs to help consumers make better decisions. And when I am around a table with local people who are passionate about trying to make the place they live healthier, we share a truly unique pride. When a community comes together and agrees that change is needed, then it is likely to happen. Even if it happens slowly, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that change is, indeed, happening.

About our Consulting Dietitian

Allison Stowell MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and a working mom of two. Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.

She also runs a successful private practice with offices in Danbury, CT, Bedford Hills, NY and Mahopac, NY. Since 2007, Allison has also worked with the grocer, Hannaford Brothers Corporation, as a Nutrition Coordinator. She provides complementary nutrition classes and tours, community workshops and one-on-one shopping experiences at their Carmel, NY location.

She joins the Guiding Stars team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.

Allison lives in Connecticut with her husband, two small children and her dog, Chase.