Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is a common challenge for many Americans who struggle with obesity and diet-related illnesses like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. However, that challenge is being made even more difficult in the wake of a greatly weakened economy.
In New Jersey alone, food banks have experienced a 25 percent increase in clients, just as food supplies and donations have declined by 20 percent in the last year. Those numbers are only expected to worsen as unemployment rates and the number of individuals and families seeking state assistance increase.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is dedicated to increasing hunger awareness and encouraging outreach to help those in need. Through Rutgers Against Hunger (RAH), students, faculty, and staff are joining together to seek solutions and strategies to combat hunger. Representatives from departments, programs, clubs, and centers throughout the university are being asked to develop programs in teaching, research, and outreach that address the issue of food security, as well as the related issues of food systems, nutrition, and health.
Within the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES), a number of programs are already in place to help New Jersey residents of all ages to access and recognize nutritious foods. For example,
Rutgers Against Hunger is already seeing results. Recently, faculty, students and staff from NJAES and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences joined with Farmers Against Hunger, a program of the New Jersey Agricultural Society, on two gleanings at Giamarese Farm in East Brunswick. The volunteers gathered approximately 2,000 pounds of collard greens, mustard greens, and turnips. Gleanings help to get fresh produce to the hungry, who often have only processed or pre-packaged choices available to them.
"Rutgers Against Hunger is a long-term, sustainable program," explained Larry Katz, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. "This initiative aims to explore the interrelated issues of food, nutrition, and health as they relate to food systems. This is not a program that will simply collect food during the holiday season, but rather, it will look at food systems from a policy standpoint, a psychology standpoint-from economic, youth development, social work, and communication standpoints.
"This is a complicated issue and it requires the sort of comprehensive, coordinated, long-term effort that a major research university like Rutgers is able to provide," Katz said.
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