kayla foster

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 15:38

The colorful harvest season is here! Neighbors are sharing their extra tomatoes and crunchy banana peppers. Pumpkins and mums are piled high at roadside stands.

Adding to October’s bounty, the Veggie Van made a recent stop at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA. Before the event, I asked my Facebook friends, “What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say ‘Veggie Van’?”

Some people wondered if it was a vegan food truck. Others expressed excitement to pick up new recipes and fresh vegetables. One imaginative friend asked if there would be “a cage match with the Oscar Meyer Weiner wagon”!

Actually, he was completely right: the Veggie Van is indeed fighting against the convenience food world that hot dogs represent. First launched in Grand Rapids by the YMCA and fueled by the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), the Veggie Van helps people make healthier food choices, one broccoli at a time.

The original strategy was simple: purchase produce from local urban farms and deliver it directly to Grand Rapids neighborhoods suffering from limited access to fresh food. Now, this mobile farmer’s market is widening its impact with featured appearances in Southwest Michigan, courtesy of Spectrum Health Lakeland.

A key element of the Veggie Van experience is what I fondly call the “Julia Child effect”: cooking demonstrations and free samples that increase the likelihood of participants actually trying the recipe at home. Add a free bag of locally grown produce, and they have the Food Network beat by a country mile.

One person I surveyed replied skeptically, saying that the Veggie Van sounds expensive. Why spend all that money on gasoline and leafy greens?

Why indeed? Because developing healthy eating habits is at the heart of establishing and maintaining healthy body weight. Health insurance providers such as BCBS know the data: being overweight and related chronic conditions are largely caused by unhealthy habits and behaviors.

The good news is, we can change our habits and behaviors if given the tools and the knowledge to do so.

This is why the Veggie Van is worth the money according to our area health heavyweights. Teach a man to cook a vegetable, and you feed him (and his family) for a healthier life. The wrestling match against the Weiner Wagon is fought daily in each of our kitchens.

So let’s bring this home to my kitchen. My cholesterol levels were borderline high for several years, even though I exercise often and have healthy body weight. I tried eating more fish and oatmeal, but the numbers didn’t budge.

Guess what finally made the difference? Learning several new, delicious ways to cook leafy greens and legumes, and also discovering affordable places to buy them. I credit my more plant-based diet with lowering my cholesterol levels to a normal range.

Let’s help the Veggie Van win the battle by eating more vegetables this harvest season!

By Chrissie Kaufmann, YMCA of Southwest Michigan