We are living in a food desert.
Despite the abundance of restaurants and chains saturating Knoxville, De’Ossie Dingus, Sr., founder of the Coalition on America’s Poor Health and Poverty, sees only an absence of readily accessible, healthy foods in this region.
In fact, Dingus classifies Knoxville as a food swamp.
Established in 2012, CAPP is an organization striving to spread health literacy in Knoxville and revolutionize the way residents regard food.
“There is nothing in this area healthy for you to eat on a day-to-day basis,” Dingus said. “You go down Magnolia (Avenue) and you have McDonald's, Long John Silvers, Arby’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Inn or something, then you have six or seven convenience stores that sell processed food that they fry up. Then, you start getting close to a supermarket. ... That’s a food swamp.”
During the entire month of February, CAPP's iPledge campaign will seek to stimulate a health revolution in the local community.
For 28 days, CAPP will accept ideas from organizations, businesses, institutions and community members detailing ways to eliminate food insecurity.
The creator of the winning strategy will win a plaque of recognition, a $250 cash reward and a network of support to implement the plan.
“Good effort with no support goes nowhere,” Dingus said. “We are hoping to come together and say no more individualism in this. We want to take all of these networking people that say they want to work together and dump them all in your lap and say, 'This is your network; these are the people we want you to work with and they have come on board to support your effort and what you came up with in the 28 days.'"
On March 1, CAPP will commemorate the campaign with a walk-a-thon at Morningside Park in Alex Hayley Square from 9 a.m. to noon. The funds raised will support CAPP's growth, as well as the Community Garden Programs and the Healthy Kids Community School Program.
Ultimately, CAPP hopes to educate the community on growing fruits and vegetables, an effort which will also render produce more accessible to poverty-stricken families.
Elaine Streno, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, said the biggest challenge lies in overcoming fast food deals that attract low income families.
"There is tons and tons of information that tells you that a fast food meal is so much cheaper than a healthy meal," Streno said. "If you buy a few apples, that's $7, but you can get a full meal for $3.
"It's just a real challenge in trying to educate our clients on eating healthy."
Second Harvest campaigns for similar goals.
Supplying over 1 million meals per month to 18 regions in Tennessee, Second Harvest continues to develop new ways to distribute nutritious food and health education.
"We are all focused on not just providing food to the needy, but providing nutritious food to the needy," Streno said.
The heart of the issue lies in awareness, Dingus affirmed.
"The root cause is health illiteracy," Dingus said. "If you really, truly understood it, you would not do it.
"... These families, they have eaten, but what they have eaten on a daily basis is killing them from the inside out."
Amanda Plante, a graduate student in the UT Department of Plant Sciences, began volunteering at CAPP a year ago.
Plante said one of CAPP's primary visions is to establish a farmer's market.
"(A farmer's market) would place the power in the hands of the people," Plante said, "so they can grow their own fruits and vegetables and they don't have to rely on someone else."
CAPP welcomes volunteer support for the campaign and all CAPP projects.
"They're trying to build a really good service," Plante said. "I hope that a lot of people will contribute and see the value in what he's doing."