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Hood River's bounty is delicious and healthy

September 17, 2011

Today's cartoon suggests the long shadow of poverty extends into the lives of America's middle class.

Few citizens, no matter their economic status, can avoid the reality of rising food prices, either at the grocery or in restaurants.

We in Hood River County are lucky to live close to the source of so much agricultural goodness, from fruits and vegetables to wine and other value-added products.

For many Americans, in urban and rural settings, "food deserts" are a growing problem. USDA and the Centers for Disease Control note that variables in transportation options, costs, consumer choices and other factors make it hard to specifically define "food deserts," but the term generally refers to places that lack convenient access to reasonably priced commodities such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy and whole grain.

Food deserts force many low-income citizens to spend inordinately high amounts of their income on quality food, or to depend on less healthy fast-food options.

According to a USDA report, "A primary concern is that some poor or rural areas do not have access to supermarkets, grocery stores, or other food retailers that offer the large variety of foods needed for a healthy diet …

"It is hypothesized that the relative lack of access to full-service grocery stores and the easier access to fast and convenience foods may be linked to poor diets and, ultimately, to obesity and other diet-related diseases."

Fortunately, in every community in Hood River, there are large-scale, medium-sized or small groceries aplenty, along with smaller specialized stores with ample food choices at varied prices. In addition, organizations including Gorge Grown Food Network offer a steadily expanding menu of products that are grown or raised in our community

When it comes to fruit, this county is not a desert but an oasis, and this weekend is a great time to enjoy the abundance. Turn to page A1 for details on the Pear Celebration this week. The event is about pears as well as other fruit of the valley. We also provide readers with a guide (page A10) to where to pick your own fruit, vegetables and flowers. (Ask first about eating the flowers, though!)

Pears are the leading crop of Hood River Valley, and the county is the top producer of the Oregon state fruit.

Pears are not just sweet to eat and pretty to look at. They are also a great source of nutrition.

The Pear Bureau Northwest has recently been accepted as a National Strategic Partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion's Nutrition Communicators Network, introduced in June 2011 at the same time that the USDA's new MyPlate icon was unveiled as a simple visual reminder for consumers to make healthy food choices. The MyPlate icon replaces the USDA's previously used Food Pyramid.

The Pear Bureau plans to provide resources like healthy pear recipes and pear nutrition facts to help ensure fresh pears have a place on Americans' healthy plates for their nutritional benefit.

Reasonably priced pears are available most of the year at area groceries, but late September and October are the prime times to buy Anjous, Barletts and Comice (simple as ABC) directly from our neighbors who grow them.

Those that are ready to eat are a simple delight, and those that are still firm need just a few days sealed in a paper bag to bring them to preferred ripeness.

Good things come for those who wait.

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