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Wholesome Wave (USA)

By Shawn Ingraham, 27th of July 2010

Inspired by his son who developed type 1 Diabetes as a child, Connecticut restaurant owner and chef Michel Nischan began to think of the impoverished class Americans who do not have the proper access to affordable health food.  Nischan was bothered by the unhealthy relationship between food, health and social class.

In the United States, farmers markets and supermarkets, where fresh food is easily found, tend to be located in middle and upper class communities.  Lower income neighborhoods rely on small grocery stores commonly know as bodegas.  Bodegas generally offer a small selection of processed foods.  Access to affordable fresh food requires mobility from either a car or a bus; therefore for a family already stretching every dollar as far as possible, fresh food is an out of reach luxury.  Forty million Americans rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) more commonly referred to as food stamps.  Recipients of the program receive a card, which works like a debit card, and receive a set amount of money, which can only be spent, on food.

Chef Michel Nischan saw the food stamp program and saw an opportunity.  Nischan along with Gus Schumacher and Michael Batterbery founded Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing the much-needed access to fresh food to low income communities.  Wholesome Wave brings the farmers markets to the communities and allows families to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and various other foods.  However, it is difficult to simply bring the markets into the low-income neighborhoods because prices are still too high and there is a common belief in America that low income families don’t know what to do with vegetables.  These neighborhoods were not seen as profitable locations.  This is the team at Wholesome Wave created the Double Value Coupon Program.  When someone uses food stamps at the Wholesome Wave markets their money doubles.  One dollar becomes two.  This is possible through federal grants and private funding.  Now recipients are able to make positive decisions when buying food for their family.  When someone is presented with the option of receiving five dollars worth of food from a bodega or ten dollars worth of food from local farmers market the answer is obvious.

Beginning in Connecticut, in two years time Wholesome Wave is present in eighteen states and have one hundred and sixty markets.  A market in Chicago has watched the purchases made from food stamps double since adopting the program.

Currently sixty to eighty billion dollars a year is spent on food stamps.  When the food stamps program in implemented in the traditional way the program merely puts something to eat on the table, the food is often unhealthy and the only benefit is that people don’t feel as hungry but they are just as unhealthy.  With the Wholesome Wave program the benefits are far greater.  As mentioned earlier people can eat healthier and live healthier lives.  There is a well-known connection with poverty and medical conditions such as diabetes in which the dangers are drastically reduced by eating healthy.  For the farmer there is now a wider market to sell crops making local farming more profitable.  There is also a hidden benefit in healthcare spending.  Most families who are in need of the food stamp program are also in need of government assistance in health care also.  When people live healthier they do not need to go to the doctor as often.  Wholesome Wave also improves the self-esteem for the children growing up in these neighborhoods and improves their chances in life.

Programs like Wholesome Wave do not have to be unique to America.  The same needs and potential is present through out the European Union.  The need to feed the impoverished class, the need for healthier living, the need for economic stimulus, and the need to place a higher importance on local business can be found across the globe.


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