Baker News March 19, 2019

Policy Challenge Finalist Spotlight: Banana Snap

by Jose Altamirano

An App Targeting Food Deserts

Low-income households living in food deserts in D.C. face limited access to healthy food options and a heightened risk of food insecurity. This condition disproportionately hurts
single mothers, the elderly, the disabled, and children under 12. To tackle this issue, Eric Chu, Margret Chu, Parker Essick, and Olawunmi Ola-Busari, students in the Global Human Development Program at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, aim to implement Banana Snap, a mobile application intended to allow users living in food deserts to order produce, receive nutrition information, and have the produce delivered to lockers near them. Read more about Banana Snap and their urge to address this issue below:

Describe your proposal in 140 characters or less.
Banana Snap is a mobile application that offers health and nutritional information and healthy food delivery to self-service lockers in DC’s food deserts.

How has your proposal changed between the start of the Challenge to now?
The process began with brainstorming issues that people in low-income parts of DC are facing. The first idea was a fresh produce delivery truck à la ice cream truck that comes around the block every day. Given that running multiple fresh produce delivery trucks would be logistically and financially difficult, our idea evolved into taking the delivery truck and using it to pick up produce and deliver them to places of convenience for our target users. Having a user friendly and convenient mobile app sealed the convenience factor. It also allowed us to recommend foods for certain dietary needs and provide nutritional information about healthy foods and how users could integrate those foods into their daily lives. This was especially crucial to our idea, given that the food desert problem is not just one of price and convenience but lack of information as well.

What is the biggest challenge you face in addressing the problem you seek to solve?
The biggest challenge we face in addressing this problem is that it is rooted very deeply in systematic issues. The segregation of neighborhoods by race and the institutions—and a particular sentiment that demand does not exist for healthy access—that have developed to tie low-income families down to poor quality food are not easy problems to solve. While this solution does not hope to solve the complex interweavings of income inequality, race, and commercial supply, it attempts to intervene and provide opportunities for underserved communities to access healthier food that could help even the playing field.

Is there anything new you have learned about crafting policy through participating in the Challenge?
Though it is daunting to face such a large system of policy and corporations, small solutions can be successful. There are so many stakeholders we have to consider that sometimes crafting what appears to be a simple solution can take more time than expected. The most important thing policy- and solution-makers can do, we’ve found, is continually check ideas against the needs of the target population, being constantly flexible to what will make the product work for them.

What inspired your proposal?
We were inspired by what we saw as a totally unnecessary and pressing problem in food deserts. Why is is that residents in Ward 3 can find healthy food options on every street corner, but those in Wards 7 and 8 have a total of three (sometimes poorly stocked and overpriced) traditional grocery options to choose from? The four of us work on issues related to international poverty and inequalities of income and access. We hoped that our experiences and knowledge in food security for communities in other parts of the world could inform innovative solutions to this problem right here at home.

Say your solution is implemented/funded/approved. How would you define success after 5 years?
Success to us would be if residents of Wards 7 and 8 had increased access to and use of healthy and affordable food options. Ideally, awareness would increase about this issue and grocery stores would respond to this need. While we would be perfectly satisfied if more grocery stores open in the area and more residents utilize Banana Snap, we would also be equally happy if access improved to a point that our app is no longer needed.

In which ways did your involvements in the GHD program influence the path towards your solution?
In GHD we are in the field of alleviating poverty so we naturally gravitated towards issues related to poverty relief. We also recognize and focus heavily on the importance of human-centered design and sustainability, both of which are intertwined. We believe that people know how to help themselves best and should be the center of the solution—and that by understanding their situations, perspectives, and needs, the solution will be the most successful and suitable to the issue at hand. By incorporating people into the process, ownership and buy-in are increased, and the solution is self-sustained.