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Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community-Puerto Rico

Create a systems change approach to social determinants of health, food, social justice and develop a disaster relief plan in Puerto Rico.

Photo of Alex Askew
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

BCAGlobal

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Puerto Rico Dept of Health-Focused on Nutritional Programming Pikayo Restaurant Group- Culinary Advisors Somos Arte- Visual Social Impact Collaborators

Website of Legally Registered Entity

Bcaglobal.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New York City

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Puerto Rico located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic 100 miles long by 35 miles wide.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Puerto Rico

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Puerto Rico has been a long standing alternate home for over 15 years. I married into a Puerto Rican family and have now a child who is half Black and Puerto Rican. Over the last five years I have seen true suffering and tragedy with little support or aid. I have seen social programs wiped out that impact health, education as well as a country with four micro climates to grow food almost eliminated. Stresses and trauma have led to wide spread upticks in suicide and unemployment is at an all time high. Most recently Puerto Rico has been plagued with Earthquakes that have to this day have families sleeping in cars with lack of access to good water, electricity and food. What is absolutely clear is that there needs to be a sense of urgency to build a powerful collective that not only stops but reverse the erosion of social-cultural and environmental conditions on the Island or risk the future of the young people there as well as aging and senior population. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The culture of Puerto Rico has been greatly influenced by its history. With the blend of Taino Indians, Spanish and African cultures, comes a melting pot of people and traditions, as well as the impact of the United States political and social exchange into every aspect of life. Puerto Ricans are known for their warm hospitality, often considered very friendly and expressive to strangers. Puerto Rican cuisine is a unique tasty blend of Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences. We call it "cocina criolla", a delicious mingling of flavors and ingredients passed from generation to generation. The island of Puerto Rico is a very popular tourist destination because of its location, rich history and warm atmosphere. The island is located in the Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) southeast of Miami, Florida.

Its coasts measures approximately 580 km, and if the adjacent islands Vieques and Culebra are included the coast measures approximately 700 km. With an area of 3,425 square miles (9,104 sq km), Puerto Rico is the third largest island in the United States and the 82nd largest island in the world.

Puerto Rico has been one of the most dynamic and competitive economies in Latin America and the Caribbean region until recent years, Puerto Rico's economy relies mainly on federal aid from the United States government.

The leading industries include pharmaceuticals, electronics, textiles, petrochemicals, processed foods, clothing and textiles. Followed by the service industry: finance, insurance, real estate, and tourism.

Since 2006, Puerto Rico's growth has been negative since. The dip coincides with the elimination of tax preferences that had led US companies to invest in the island since the 1950s. Until 1955, agriculture constituted Puerto Rico's main economic sector. Sugar cane, mostly for export to the American market, was the main crop, followed by coffee and tobacco. Sugar cane production declined as prices remained low, agricultural labor migrated to the United States, and urban expansion took over much sugar cane land. Coffee production, taking place mostly in the mountainous areas away from the pressures of urban expansion and supported by guaranteed minimum prices, has remained stable. Tobacco production has virtually disappeared. Considerable expansion has occurred in the production of dairy products, beef, pork, eggs, and poultry, although significant amounts of these products are still imported, primarily from the United States. There is also production of fruits and garden vegetables as well as of starchy vegetables, such as bananas and plantains. Today, agriculture accounts for only 3% of labor force and less than 1% of GDP

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Bad eating habits in Puerto Rico are to blame for 67 percent of the obesity cases in the U.S. commonwealth. The Caribbean island has reached epidemic proportions and is affecting people in virtually all age groups, from young children to the elderly. Young people are suffering from high blood pressure and with elevated cholesterol levels.

According to the study, poor and developing countries are most vulnerable to climate risks and are often hit the hardest, seeing higher rates of deaths and hardships. Despite this, researchers also found that high-income countries are also feeling climate impacts more than ever before. Being overweight also results in higher medical costs and reduces a person’s quality of life. The typical diet that Puerto Rican children eat every day is based on fast food and soda.

Many children don’t know what fruits or fresh vegetables are because “they’re not part of their daily food plan.” Some of the consequences to which obese people are exposed are cardiac, visual, kidney and circulation problems, as well as breast, uterine and colon cancer.
The island languished for months after the Hurricane Maria as an insufficient emergency response campaign attempted to restore basic services like water and power. After a recent independent study, the official death toll was raised from the initial 64 to 2,975; analysis done by The New York Times, citing malnutrition and other food-based ailments as possible culprits for surging mortality in the storm’s aftermath, estimated that number could be over 4,000.

By taking out the island’s infrastructure like highways, trucks, gas stations, and more, the storm also wiped out its agricultural supply lines. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of all its food, producing just 15 percent of what’s consumed on the island. In the wake of the storm, people stood in lines for hours and walked barely-stocked aisles looking for canned, non-perishable foods. Many relied on emergency responders and Federal Emergency Management. In harder-to-service rural areas on the island, the threat of starvation loomed large.

“They say that during Maria, Puerto Rico only had enough food for one week,” says Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan. What the hurricane did was force us to look at the realities of life here and how our dependency on the outside weakens our ability to ensure our people are taken care of. Maria made it evident that we need agricultural sovereignty.”

 “Puerto Rico’s economy has always been categorized by being an import economy: we produce things we do not consume but then we have to import things we do consume, especially in agriculture,” notes Gladys González-Martínez, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Puerto Rico.

That progress was short-lived: 80 percent of the island’s crops were destroyed in the storm. But, despite those losses, the seeds of a local agricultural had taken root. Some took the storm as inspiration.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Using the principles of Agro-Ecology and Mindful Eating for Community building can help establish a powerful collective that promotes diversity through crop rotation, polycultures, or livestock integration, and uses natural systems and local knowledge like planting flowers to attract insects that keep pest levels under control. Using agroecology will allow Puerto Rican farmers to envisage an agriculture system not reliant on external inputs from chemical companies and fossil fuels. This approach is crtical for the island’s food security, but also for its protection from storms that are likely to grow in intensity and frequency due to climate change. New report looking at weather-related calamities across the globe found that Puerto Rico is affected by climate change more than anywhere else in the world. According to think tank Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2020, the Caribbean archipelago is the “most affected country” from 1999 to 2018, followed by Myanmar at No. 2 and Haiti at No. 3. The two Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and Haiti, are the only Latin American entities to make the list.

From a community perspective using Mindful Eating can bridge the gap of food educational awareness that provides the framework to change behaviors and relationships with food. Economic and social justices are the twin pillars supporting the Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community concept. These twin pillars are also necessary for a healthy society. Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community is a new approach to disrupting the current lack of awareness, cultivate a healthy focus on food and create the platform for systems change in food and social justice in community. This is an approach to health equity as an expression of dignity, self-respect and self-actualization. The goal is to remind people that our own health investment is a way to care for ourselves, increase our productivity and show we care about everyone around us and the people we love and respect. We are working to re-connect food to family, community, culture and faith.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Using the principles of Agro-Ecology and Mindful Eating for Community building would help establish a powerful collective that promotes diversity through crop rotation, polycultures, livestock integration, and use of current natural systems will allow Puerto Rican farmers to envisage an agriculture system not reliant on external inputs from chemical companies and fossil fuels. This approach is critical for the island’s food security, but also for its protection from storms that are likely to grow in intensity and frequency due to climate change. A new report looking at weather-related calamities across the globe found that Puerto Rico is affected by climate change more than anywhere else in the world. According to think tank Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2020, the Caribbean archipelago is the “most affected country” from 1999 to 2018, followed by Myanmar at No. 2 and Haiti at No. 3. The two Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico and Haiti, are the only Latin American entities to make the list.

From a community perspective using Mindful Eating can bridge the gap of food educational awareness that provides the framework to change behaviors and relationships with food. Economic and social justices are the twin pillars supporting the Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community concept. These twin pillars are also necessary for a healthy society. Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community is a new approach to disrupting the current lack of awareness, cultivate a healthy focus on food and create the platform for systems change in food and social justice in community. This is an approach to health equity as an expression of dignity, self-respect and self-actualization. The outcomes of program investment to remind people that our their own health investment is a way to care for ourselves and communities also increases productivity and not only extend lives but builds food to family, community, culture, faith but also the Soil to the Soul.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Over the last few years Puerto Rico has experienced extreme disasters which have impacted millions of lives. In good part to the complexity of the food system crisis is the limited capacity of the local government to tend to the needs of its constituents as well as the long-standing federal neglect of the affairs of the territory. As the scope of the crisis and unmet needs emerged, local residents and community organizers stepped up to fill this institutional vacuum. Food sovereignty advocates and organizations were key factors in these grassroots relief and reconstruction efforts. But this will not be enough, only by building a powerful collective for systems change will be there a chance for recovery in the urgent time required. In addition, Nutrition, Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and the use of technology to collect and analyze data like efforts to reconnect food consumption and agricultural production and to promote community participation in the food policy process as well as Educational Awareness Training.

New Approach to Community Resilience

The tagline of Healthy Food Mind and Body are core constructs of the Mindful Eating Program. During the past decade, rising unemployment and deteriorating standards of living also led thousands of Puerto Ricans to abandon the island. The crisis forced many of those who stayed to confront the vulnerabilities resulting from Puerto Rico’s political and economic organization. Chief among these is the island’s import-dependent food system. The predominance of food imports has led to a marked increase in the consumption of processed products. Cheaper canned, frozen, or processed foods have taken over decreasing health and impacting healthcare and educational systems.

The concept of food sovereignty and the practices of agroecology provided advocates with models and techniques to promote a more sustainable, healthier, and locally responsive food system. Food sovereignty goes beyond ensuring food availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability (the four dimensions of food security). The 2007 Declaration of Nyéléni, defines food sovereignty as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. Strategies for converting exportable products from Puerto Rico reversing the current import model will create greatly needed economic opportunities which if designed correctly can also take a portion of the net revenue and reinvest into social programs forming a systems loop.

Training workshops to form a collective of Food sovereignty serving Puerto Rico involving food advocates as a framework will lead to analyzing and understanding the security, public health, and development repercussions of food imports dependency as well as to articulate a farmer- and community-centered model of food production. The program concept of Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community addresses nutritional, environmental, and development are key solution approaches to address the food system crisis new urgency post-Maria. In these conditions, community and grassroots organizations need to work with culinary innovation, nutrition, healthcare, behavioral health (to address trauma and promote healing) and the food system enterprise market in order to have a significant health equity impact on families and communities.   

Researchers investigating the experience of agroecological famers in Puerto Rico before and after Maria showed that they are “motivated by a desire to enhance environmental and human health, strengthen social relations,” and advance food sovereignty principles. Working toward food sovereignty means increasing the supply and accessibility of locally produced healthy food “through farmer and community-centered agroecological food production.”

As advocates have emphasized, and given Puerto Rico’s historical challenges in addressing the vulnerabilities of its food system, achieving food sovereignty is not “something you can do alone, it’s about building a collective.

Food security is widely accepted as the desired condition of people within a food system, making it an appropriate normative threshold, or standard of well-being, for evaluating resilience in food systems. Like resilience itself, food security is a concept that has evolved through several iterations in academic and policy circles. Unlike resilience, the concept of food security has resolved into a widely shared understanding. Food security is achieved “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) outlines four pillars of food security: availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability. For a household to be food secure, food must be available and accessible, each individual must be able to utilize the food they obtain, and the food system must be stable over time to guarantee ongoing availability and accessibility. This is the narrow goal and objective of Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community-Puerto Rico

The nature of transitory food insecurity is somewhat unpredictable, making short-term and long-term planning more difficult. In these cases, a cadre of people and interventions is necessary to respond which include:

Nutrition education

Food safety, preparation, and storage education (at individual and institutional levels)

Health education, proper nutrition for chronic conditions

Environmental education (understanding climate change and environmental)

Equitable access to health promoting resources

Equal access to basic nutritious foods

Equal access to storage and cooking technologies at the household level

A large portion of Puerto Ricans rely on nutrition assistance. In fact, more than one-third of Puerto Ricans receive nutrition assistance, compared to 13.5 percent of citizens nationwide. Building programs on the current “Food as Medicine” concepts and “Pharmacy Foods” could provide immediate assistance for those lacking access or choice. Thus, while the farmers market program has been successful in providing fresh food for Puerto Ricans, its viability hinges upon a contingency of food insecure consumers. The relationship between Puerto Rico’s food insecure population and the presence of farmers markets and fresh food in general fuels a self-perpetuating cycle that does not lend itself to building resilient food systems.

Frameworks measuring resilience of national systems, cities, ecosystems or socio-ecological systems focus on building resilience through institutions and policies “rather than . . . the agency of people and the resources available to them.” Authors of the ODI report describe the multi-scalar approach as a way to “help understand the trade-offs in resilience dynamics” and that measuring resilience in isolation at one level prevents an understanding of how certain factors may play a role in determining resilience at another level or scale.

Reference

ODI, Analysis of Resilience Measurement Frameworks and Approaches (6-7)

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Attachments (2)

Logic Model for Mindful Eating for the Beloved- Workshop.docx

Logic Model for educational awareness trainings

MEBC Overview.pdf

Mindful Eating for the Beloved Community Overview

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Photo of Itika Gupta
Team

Hi Alex Askew  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit: http://bit.ly/2X4ZxQk

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.