The Latino Urban Forum met Monday evening at the Vista Hermosa Natural Park to discuss the issues and progress concerning Latinos and access to quality foods. The group of about 15 activists, community members, and professionals in the areas of public health and community land use, came together to discuss the role neighborhood development and interaction can play in healthy lifestyle choices.
Group member Mia Lehrer designed Vista Hermosa Park, which proved to be an ideal place for a summer meeting.
According to information provided by forum chairperson Marybeth Vergara, the Latino Urban Forum, founded in 1999 and designated an official non-profit in 2008, was originally formed by a group of architects and urban planners who recognized the need for a venue “to address urban issues affecting Latino communities.” Meetings focus on land use, housing, transportation, and cultural planning agendas.
Monday’s discussion focused on community access to and use of healthy foods in daily living. Street vendors, supermarkets, children’s nutrition, community gardens, and the lost art of cooking in today’s busy world rounded out the list of topics debated and considered.
The idea of access to supermarkets with good selections of fresh produce in low-income and Latino communities was discussed, noting issues and outcomes similar to those highlighted in a recent Los Angeles Times article. But forum members also discussed barriers to healthy choices due to other access issues, including long trips by bus, large checkout lines at stores, and the fatigue of workers lacking time and ability to cook home made meals.
All in attendance agreed on the need and benefit of community gardens in helping to create healthier nutrition choices and healthy eating patterns in urban neighborhoods.
“There’s a correlation between gardening families and cooking,” noted Alina Bokde of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. “People are cooking what they’re growing. “
Bodke also explained that people and families who grow their own produce and herbs in community gardens very often share with one another. “A lot of cross sharing happens on how to grow and cook.”
Erick Sanchez, a community garden activist who has helped create gardens and orchards at Morningside High School in Inglewood, noted that people are already “planting stuff” even “taking over sidewalks in Hollwyood.”
Community empowerment, with a commitment to cultural sensitivity, education, and better understanding of the codes and rules and that governs land use and the processes needed to successfully navigate city and county procedures was also noted.
“We changed our habits with smoking, it took a while, but I think we can do the same thing with food,” Monica Benitez with First 5 LA said. “Communities can change lifestyles once they have all the knowledge.”
Illustrative of the discussion, despite the choice of donut holes at the gathering, most participants instead helped themselves to the grapes and watermelon slices offered.
More information about the Latino Urban Forum and upcoming activities and events can be found at the organization’s website or Facebook page. In October, the forum will hold a community discussion focused on Latinos and the impact of transportation and health.