There are times in which words cannot recreate the emotions we felt and experiences we’ve had. Such was our first day in Texas, complemented with 90-degree weather and a cool breeze that made Michigan seem like a world away.
My group, which will work at various food banks around McAllen, Texas, started our work week by meeting with our project lead, Dr. Catherine Faver, and other students from the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA). Our orientation began with Dr. Faver outlining our project objectives and how we would complete our survey. Luckily, my group was prepared after working extensively over the past few weeks to become familiar with our project, so the training went by quickly and smoothly.
At this point in our project, I would say that although I thought that I understood the health issues that plague the Hidalgo county/colonia community, it was the personal story of a faculty member that somehow tugged at my heartstrings and allowed me to actually feel the struggles that community members face in this area.
The person’s story focused on the dietary habits of her family throughout her lifetime, and also the challenge of diabetes experienced by other brothers and sisters. The individual recalled how fresh produce is nearly inaccessible to many community members, and if produce is available in supermarkets, it’s often too expensive to purchase, especially with larger families. In order to feed a large family, it’s easier to feed a family with smaller budgets by purchasing rice/beans/tortillas. However, this diet, without being complemented with fruits and vegetables, is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. The individual detailed how the family wished they could afford fresh produce, but they couldn’t afford it, and not surprising each child developed diabetes at an early age.
The diabetes significantly affected the siblings of the speaker’s family. With a non-nonchalant expression, the speaker detailed an extremely moving and profound story of how diabetes changed the speaker’s family. I think that as public health professionals, we often see factors such as fresh produce as insignificant, since we often come from areas where fresh produce is readily available. It isn’t until we listen to stories such as the one we heard today where we truly can see the impact of something as “simple” as fresh produce.
It wasn’t until this story where I finally felt like I understood the magnitude of our project. Through our project, we are trying to assess how many fruits and vegetables are included in participants’ diets and the prevalence of diabetes and heart disease in each family. With this information, future projects will be aimed at introducing community gardens or other initiatives to increase access to fresh produce. Hopefully, this will mitigate the complications due to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, so that stories like I heard, felt, and experienced today will not have to be commonplace among families in Hidalgo county and the colonias.