In my previous blog I talked about the concept and impact of food deserts, but now I feel the need to affirm that there is hope that this problem can be solved. And even better, I can report that several sustainable and innovative solutions are now being explored. Communities all over America that can be classified as food deserts are taking a proactive attitude toward this problem and are currently experimenting with possible solutions to ensure that everyone gets the needed nutrients. This can take many forms, from community gardens to grocery stands outside of McDonald’s. Let me describe a few of these efforts before I discuss the survey that I conducted about food deserts.
New Orleans had the problem of getting good, nutritious food to its poorer citizens for such a long time that some were ready to give up on solving it. Hurricane Katrina wrecked the fabric of the city so badly that New Orleans was considered a hopeless case, but they haven’t given up and are coming up with their own unique response to the problem. Their solution is pretty simple and sustainable for their community. They are growing vegetables in urban gardens, or as they call them, “urban farms”. In many ways this is even more convenient than the common grocery store, because everything that is being grown in these urban farms is there because of a real need. Another positive thing about this system is that it is not just about growing food, but it is also about educating others about horticulture so that people could grow their own food. It is not easy for the people to adjust to cooking from scratch. It is much simpler sticking to the fast food even though it may be unhealthful, because it fills them up quickly and is cheap. What this misses is the whole purpose of eating food - to retrieve nutrients. This truly is an essential skill that is in danger of being lost in our society and yet is one of the simplest solutions to a tiresome problem.
New York and Philadelphia have also come up with creative ideas about how to get inexpensive, nutritious food to its poorer citizens. In New York they have something called “green carts,” which are just a large food stands that sells the food that the neighborhood is lacking. This works well because the food is cheaper, the lines are shorter, and they have more variety than many of grocery stores in these areas. Many people prefer these green carts to the average inner city grocery store because they are more convenient in addition to being less expensive. It is a good system because it brings attention to the low-income local farmers who benefit from reaching more nearby costumers. And the system also provides a health benefit to the community as it motivates everyone to eat fresh. In Philadelphia we have a lot of small grocery stores in these neighborhoods that provide the community of what they are lacking and adapt to their needs.
Earlier this month I conducted a survey on my topic of research to get data I could use for my blogs. I asked five questions: would you consider food deserts to be a pressing issue in America, do you know anyone with low access to nutritious food, how do you obtain your food on a daily basis, do you live in an urban or rural setting, and what can we do to help our community with this issue. It was instructive to learn that, while over 3 out of 4 people surveyed thought of food deserts to be a prominent issue, most didn’t know anyone who had low access to nutritious food and that most in this survey group could get their food at grocery stores. Clearly, my survey group is not the group most affected by an ability get good food whether because of where they live or income status, and they, like most Americans, view this problems second hand. Now that I know that our first step must be to educate the American public as a whole and that we cannot take action before we do so.