Food Deserts: Part 1

            The importance of eating well is an issue that resonates with me and is of importance to a big part of the world.  Whether it is because of how food tastes or because of the healthfulness of what we eat, but all of us take seriously what we eat and it concerns us that not everyone in America is able to do so.  This is why for my You and the World project I will focus on the problem of the lack of access to healthy foods experienced by different segments of our society based on socio-economic standing.  These areas of low access to healthy foods are called “food deserts.”  The US government defines food deserts as “a census tract that contains concentrations of low income people in which at least a third of the population lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store.” (Bornstein) Some people blame this lack of availability of good food for the obesity crisis in America especially in poorer urban neighborhoods, while others assert that this lack of accessibility is overstated. I will attempt to make sense of these arguments.

            People have been talking about the problem of “food deserts” in low-income, inner city neighborhoods for over a decade now. They are considered to be the byproduct of the abandonment of these neighborhoods by the major supermarket food stores in the later twentieth century and their replacement in these areas by the proliferation of fast food chains. For many people in these areas, it is simply too much of a burden to have to travel over a mile to the nearest grocery store to by fresh fruits and vegetables.  It is even more difficult considering that most of these people don’t own cars to transport their goods in, or are elderly, or have small children to look after. Instead of eating fruits and vegetables and in general eating well, people living in these “food deserts” are living off of processed foods high is sugar and fat and washing this stuff down with a soft drinks that are mostly sugar.  The problem is that junk food is extremely cheap and readily available, while healthy food is expensive and hard to find.  An additional factor complicating this issue is that while sweet and salty foods clearly taste good, they equally as clearly are destroying the health of people living in these areas.

            A major question, however, is how real is this concept that equates the relative poor health and high rate of obesity in poorer neighborhood due to the lack of accessibility?  Until recently it was accepted by most people that the presence of food deserts was the major contributing factor to the relative poorer health of inner city inhabitants, but recent studies have raised doubts about this correlation. (Bornstein)  Other issues, such as income, education, or culture may be even more important factors, but no study can deny the obvious importance that the scarcity of well-stocked supermarkets and other groceries has on the lack of healthy foods.

people affected by food deserts in chicago(1)
people affected by food deserts in chicago(1)

Graph of citizens affected by food deserts in Chicago here

That is why efforts to offer more food possibilities to these neighborhoods are so worthwhile.  Something has to be done to offer more choices other that expensive, hard to get healthy food and cheap deadly junk food.  One of the suggestions for reducing this problem was having “Mobile pantries”, which is when they open up a stand of boxes of different types of food. These foods are donated for this purpose and they are given out for free to everyone who is there with no proof of need being required.  Mobile pantries, however, have many faults. Since it is expensive to provide free food for so many people it takes a while to gather the amount of required donations, which leads to food distribution being less frequent than people need it to be. There are so many people in need at these mobile pantries that the line is tediously long leaving some wondering if it is even worth the wait.  

The perfect solution to this vexing problem of the limited availability of healthy food in poor neighborhoods is still waiting to be tried.  It will most likely take a combination of both public and private efforts, but what we need right now is the conviction that food deserts are a serious problem needing an immediate solution. 

Map of access to grocery stores here

    Annotated bibliography here

Comments (4)

Ava Olsen (Student 2016)
Ava Olsen

I like the topic you chose, because this is an important issue to me as well. I like the way you provided very helpful graphs and charts. The visuals are easy to spot and colorful. I also like the choice of facts that were provided, they were interesting and intriguing, and therefore quite easy to follow along. I was done reading quickly because I found the topic so riveting. Good job!