Hacker cites the objective of Live Well Allegheny as an umbrella organization where a wide variety of health-related issues can receive attention–issues like mental health, environmental health and decreasing violence.

In researching health indicators throughout the city, Hacker noticed major health inequalities (both geographic and racial) as well as high poverty levels. “It’s got me thinking more and more about economic development, about housing, about transportation, about all of these social determinants of health and how I can work with those organizations, which aren’t the typical organizations that health departments work with, to push the agenda on things which will ultimately make a difference in our residents’ health.”

Hacker’s words of wisdom for a healthier Pittsburgh are a call to action: “There’s only so much that institutions and organizations and government can actually do. We need to do our best, but individuals have to take that responsibility as well, to make the small changes that ultimately make a difference.”

Kelsey Weisgerber of the Frick Environmental Charter School. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Kelsey Weisgerber of the Frick Environmental Charter School. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Making school lunch a healthy feast

Lunch today? Penne pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella accompanied by a fresh spinach salad with chickpeas, along with a whole grain roll and a pear. All for $2.25.

If you’re a student at The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, you’re luckier than most in getting a healthy and delicious lunch like this every school day.

As Food Service Director at The Environmental Charter School at Frick Park, Kelsey Weisgerber credits their partnership with the Community Kitchen of Pittsburgh (CKP) which cooks 80% of the meals from scratch.

But it’s more than that. “We could put beautiful food on their lunch tray, but unless our students understand its purpose and why it is there, we are not serving them to the fullest extent,” she adds.

Weisgerber, who co-founded the Food Revolution Cooking Club in 2012 and now serves as an ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in Pittsburgh, says, “There is a huge opportunity in our city for more entrepreneurs to follow this type of model that provides from scratch, real and affordable meals to schools.”

In other cities, companies such as Revolution Foods have been instrumental in providing better food to students. “I hope that we can see CKP expand across our region, along with the formation of other well-intentioned food service management companies.”

Weisgerber’s words of wisdom for improving the city’s health on a personal level: get your kids actively involved with food. “By making food exciting, celebrated and adventurous for kids you can form positive relationships and connections with kids and that food.”

“If you have kids, volunteer at their school: do a tasting, assist a teacher, run an after-school club once a month, but make food present,” she advises. “If you don’t have school-aged kids find other ways to get involved around food and education, check out Slow Food Pittsburgh, Grow Pittsburgh or any number of outstanding local organizations that are championing better food for our city.”

 

Ken Regal. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Ken Regal. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Advocating for the underserved

Each day Ken Regal climbs the six flights of steps to his house, which is on one of the steepest sections of one of the steepest streets in the city. It’s one of many things he does to stay healthy.

As executive director at Just Harvest, Regal attempts to keep whole communities healthy by addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

“We’re not a healthy city unless everyone’s got the basics and opportunity to succeed. When we leave people behind economically, we are not a healthy city no matter how healthy some of us are.”

Serving on the Board of the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center and on the steering committee of the Southwestern PA Food Security Partnership, Regal has made the mission of Just Harvest his life’s work.

“There are fundamental moral rules about how we should behave as a community. One of those rules is that people should have a right to enough food to eat. It’s not an act of kindness for us to give people enough food to eat. People have a moral claim to enough food to eat.”

One way that Just Harvest helps people get access to food? Food stamps.

“We help about 1,000 households each year apply for Food Stamps (SNAP), and guide them through the rest of the often complex application process. Because Food Stamps are all electronic now, with the benefits on a debit-like card, we run ‘Fresh Access,’ an electronic transaction program at nine area farmers’ markets to enable people to use their food stamps to shop for high-quality, affordable food.”