Food Deserts

food-desert-1(courtesy of Getty Images)

Food deserts are a growing problem all around the world. Food deserts are geographic areas where access to affordable and healthy food is restricted or limited due to lack of grocery stores being in a close proximity.Food desert is almost a misleading name, there is plenty of food available, but it is all fast food restaurants and small corner grocery stores that mainly sell packaged foods and little to no fruit or vegetables. Food deserts often go hand in hand with food insecurity, these food deserts are usually located in poor socio-economic neighborhoods and many people can’t afford nutritious food or aren’t able to physically get to a grocery store that is far away. The people’s choices about what to eat are severely limited and what they mainly can afford is food with high fat, sugar, and salt content, being mostly processed foods.

When fast food is more easily available than taking several buses or trains to get to a grocery store, one will most likely choose the first option due to convenience and price. This is taking its toll on people living in food deserts; studies show that these populations suffer from higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related problems. This is a concern because this style of living is not sustainable and has negative impacts on communities that don’t necessarily have a choice of where they can live, which is usually in low-income, rural areas.

food-desert-2 (courtesy of New York Times)

You might be wondering how food deserts have been created and it has to do with economics. Small neighborhood markets became very popular in urban towns about 50 years ago, and superstores are often too big for rural communities and they are not able to make a profit. USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts and more than half of those people are low income. Many American households are food insecure, meaning they lack enough food for a healthy lifestyle. The government overlooks communities impacted by food deserts due to the North American Industry Classification System, which will categorize small corner grocery stores as being the equivalent of Safeway or Whole Foods.

Food deserts are gaining more attention because it is an unsustainable way to live and there are more efforts to help people gain better access to healthy foods which, in turn, will help the environment and their lifestyle. There are multiple solutions that are in the works to resolve the issues regarding food deserts. A key person in eradicating food deserts is Michelle Obama. According to the White House Blog, she has created a program that will try to end food deserts with a $400 million dollar investment that focuses on providing tax breaks to supermarkets that open in food deserts. Some additional initiatives are community garden initiatives that provide access to inexpensive, fresh produce; another one is requiring all convenience stores to offer a certain amount of fruit. Produce trucks have become more popular and they travel to different communities and deliver fruits and vegetables for easier access to healthier food. If you want to help out or get involved, the USDA created a food map for the U.S. that points out where the closest food deserts are to you.

mobile-food-market-toronto-2-800x531  urban-garden (courtesy of popupcity.net)                             (courtesy of container gardening)

Food deserts have proven to be a health concern for people, and cannot be sustained for very long, more affordable and accessible grocery stores are needed in urban neighborhoods that are suffering. Producing fast food and exporting it has a bigger impact on the planet compared to having a more balanced diet filled with natural, local produce such a fruits and vegetables. It is also an economical problem because people who are living in food deserts don’t have the resources or money to move and it’s going to be expensive to implement solutions. There are many solutions to eradicate food deserts for future generations and implementing more sustainable food systems is crucial to helping people get the nutrition they need.

00infrographic_fooddesert (courtesy of everseat.com)

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Food Deserts

  1. It’s pretty self-explanatory that supermarkets choose not to open in rural areas, but has more research been conducted into why urban areas often lack supermarkets? It seems strange that with so many people living in the same area, there is not a superstore that provides larger varieties of grocery items. Also, do you know of any other initiatives that reallocate food and supplies to those living in food deserts?

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    • elsedodge

      Thank you for your comment! After doing some more research into why urban areas often lack supermarkets, is due to a couple reasons. The first one is that while supermarkets can greatly increase the food available, a lot of the time these communities are low-income and people simply cannot afford to buy healthier food. Also, I found out that building supermarkets can improve perception of food access, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into behavioral change. These reasons might be why more supermarkets aren’t opening in urban areas. There are many other initiatives that can help reallocate food and supplies, one example is the USDA created an initiative called the Farm Bill that authorizes $125 million for the Health Food Financing Initiative, and they provide financial and technical assistance to healthy food retailers to increase the availability and accessibility of healthier foods in underserved areas. If you want to find out more about initiatives and what is being done, a good website you can check out is healthyfoodaccess.org.

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  2. amyquandt

    Did you find anything about what keeps grocery stores from opening in some urban areas?

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    • elsedodge

      Thank you for your feedback! After doing some research I found out a little bit more information as to what keeps grocery stores from opening in some urban areas. Some of the reasons are due to food deserts being in poor urban areas and people simply cannot afford to buy healthy food from supermarkets. Also building supermarkets can improve perception of food access, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into behavioral change. There can also be lack of economic development, security issues, and urban decay. Deed restrictions can also be a cause of why more grocery stores can’t afford to open in urban food deserts. The solutions are not just for one supermarket to open, but to also have farmers markets, community food initiatives, and support for more diverse convenience stores.

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  3. sszabian

    This is a discouraging yet informative topic that I feel needs more attention. I have recently learned more about food deserts but was unaware of the economics tied to the problem. I am curious whether or not you found any information on improvements to areas that are considered to be food deserts and whether those improvements have led to more widespread change? Great post!

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    • elsedodge

      Thank you for your feedback! There have been many improvements to food deserts, some of the results from different areas surveyed shows that when a supermarket gets built, residents ate healthier and were overall more satisfied with their neighborhood after. There is still a lot of research that needs to be conducted, there are surprisingly few studies related to the long-term impact of improving food deserts and if it leads to widespread change. This is due to the fact that initiatives and funding to help improve food deserts are relatively new, but new improvements to communities will most likely lead to more widespread change.

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  4. miltonlockett

    This is a very interesting topic! I have always been concerned about the environmental and health impacts of urban neighborhoods, and it seems that a large factor in the lack of nutritious foods in these areas, comes from a general lack of income. Whether it be schools, or ill-placed high polluting factories, it seems that the lack of income in these neighborhoods forces the residents to accept the circumstances they are given. I think Michelle Obama’s method for dealing with food deserts is great, because it doesn’t punish supermarkets for bringing healthy food to food desert areas, but rather provides a positive incentive to start the business there. I think in order to get rid of food deserts and other problems related to nutrition in these areas, a positive incentive and additional financial support is necessary.

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    • elsedodge

      Thank you for your feedback! I completely agree with you, there needs to be more attention, initiatives and funding for these communites that are underserved and provide resources and options so they can have access to healthier foods.

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