Updated: Sep 6, 2020
Today we are going to be talking about food deserts and why everyone doesn’t have the option to eat healthy, particularly minority groups.
This was first brought to my attention just a few months ago, and I’m ashamed I didn’t know earlier. I will leave the original video I saw linked below by Tianna Empowers. I wanted to make a similar video because I know a lot of people in my demographic of white people who have a steady income don’t think about this. We have the money to CHOSE what we eat while others do not. They eat to survive, whatever that may be.
I want to shed light that not everyone can eat low waste, not everyone can eat vegan or vegetarian. They do what they can and that is okay. What is not okay is that some areas don’t even have access to produce whether they could afford it or not. This is what is known as a food desert. They are usually considered to be places where those living in that area do not have access to affordable and nutritious foods. Mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These areas have very few, if any, grocery stores and farmer’s markets and instead have convenience stores and gas stations where there are limited healthy options. This makes nutritious eating, low waste eating, and plant-based eating nearly impossible and inaccessible to most families in these areas.
Not only this, but other factors might be no access to transportation to get to a grocery store or low income to afford healthy options as well. Not to mention, it is easier to make money stretch with boxed meals and frozen dinners than it is with fresh fruits and vegetables. It is cheaper and quicker to do so which is a big factor especially for working parents or single parents, too.
This all contributes to what might be considered a food desert and all these factors go into why a good portion of the US and the world might not be able to eat healthfully. Though, one factor remains constant and that is most experts consider food deserts to be in urban areas. Property costs are higher here which might inhibit grocers from moving in. They are most common in the southern and midwestern US with states like Louisiana and Mississippi seeing the largest percentage of food deserts. According to a USDA study, higher-income areas see around 24,000 large grocery stores and markets while lower-income areas see only 19,700. Low-income here is were the median income is less than $25,000 per year and nearly half of these low-income neighborhoods are considered a food desert.
Therefore, low-income individuals are most likely to face food deserts, especially those without access to a car. More than 2 million homes within food deserts do not have access to a vehicle and must rely on public transportation. Because of higher operating and shipping costs into urban areas, groceries here cost on average 37% more than groceries in the suburbs meaning their paycheck can stretch nearly as far as it would be able to elsewhere. Therefore, it is very common to see families opt for more affordable options even if that means they are less healthy. Food deserts also commonly have smaller populations, lower levels of education, unemployment rates are higher, more vacant homes, and more minority residents. A USDA report in 2012 noted that food deserts are mostly made up of low income minority/ethnic groups in comparison to wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods.
There are a lot of impacts when it comes to food deserts and the first is clearly health. When someone doesn’t have access to fruit and vegetables, their bodies miss out on vital nutrients. Not to mention, the processed foods often lead to weight gain. Weight gain can of course lead to other issues like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more. Unhealthy eating can also affect the rate in which children develop. It can lead to weaker immune systems, stunted growth, and even cognitive issues. And it begins before children are even born, too. If a pregnant woman does not get vital nutrients, neither does the baby.
Another thing that exists is food swamps. These are food deserts in respect to there are few to no grocery stores. The difference is that swamps are packed with fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Something else to be cognizant of is that some food deserts might not be reported because of small corner grocery stores that sell primarily packaged food. These small grocery stores are often placed into the same category of places like whole foods, so the numbers are likely skewed.
There are also food mirages which would be like placing a Whole Foods in a low income neighborhood. Sure, theoretically they have access to the healthy options, but most low income families wouldn’t be able to afford it. Food insecurity is another factor which refers to limited or insecure access to food because of finances.
What can we do about this though?
First, educate yourself. Read up on food deserts and try to place yourself in that situation. If you live in or near one, see if you can help. Start a community garden or a local farmers market. Offer rides to people without cars. Sign petitions to get more grocery stores or improve public transportation, too. Voting is another important step and trying to help enact the right laws and tax codes to ensure stores are selling healthy options.
You can also run a food drive to support a local food bank, but stick to whole foods and not so much kraft mac n cheese and chef boyardee.
But, even if grocery stores pop up in food deserts, that doesn’t mean it will still be affordable and people will change their habits. It’s hard to break a routine, even if it is unhealthy, especially for children. Nutrition information is another vital step, too, once healthy options are available of course.
The community food projects competitive grant program funds sustainable food projects to help low income communities gain access to more nutritious food as well as making sure they are culturally acceptable dishes. Things they help with are increasing the availability of healthy foods with grocery stores, markets, community gardens, food assistance programs, and food buying clubs, all while making it affordable. They also provide nutrition education and encourage healthy behaviors plus food production and preparation education. They want to increase access to local farmers markets, promote safe and fair farm working conditions, as well as even support sustainable agriculture and prevent pollution. They do more than just pop up grocery stores by also aiding food industry entrepreneurs, celebrating diverse foods, and helping residents have a say in what food-related governmental decisions are being made.
You can find a food desert locator here so see if you live in or near a food desert. Maybe you do and you have the ability to help out those struggling in your area.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you learned something valuable today. If you'd like to check out the video version, don't forget to see that here.