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Lost in a Food Desert: How Can We Increase Access to Healthy and Affordable Foods?

(Cannon, Shirley)

Overview: 

        Food deserts are just one example of how people are beginning to realize the difference in food prices and accessibility. Food inequalities have been a big issue for a long time but most people haven’t been aware of it. 

        Food deserts are generally low-income areas that lack grocery stores that sell fresh produce and nutritious foods.  If they do, the food is often too expensive for low-income families to afford. Today, food deserts can best be described as “geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or non-existent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance” (“Food Deserts”). Food deserts were first recognized in the 1960s and 1970s, when people noticed that grocery stores were moving, along with white middle-class families, to suburban areas. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the name food deserts was given to these grocery-less areas.

 

 

My interest: 

        I first became interested in food deserts when I went to Children’s Hospital, located in a low income area to meet with their nutritionist. While I was there, I got information about nutrition that differed from what I had learned from a specialty doctor. This independant doctor has dedicated her life to studying ways to cure illnesses with nutrition. I am not saying that the nutritionist at Children’s Hospital is wrong, but the information I was given by the hospital’s nutritionist and the specialty nutritionist was differing. This lead me to ask the question “Is the information about nutrition that is given to people in a lower socioeconomic class different than the information given to those in a higher socioeconomic class?”

See my full personal interest essay: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Jn4xPPGHksBam2Z-NgIxmym9d1sgkyCk342eKNeTUUM/edit 

What you need to know: 

The history behind food deserts: 

        During the 1960s and 1970s, many white middle class families moved from urban centers to the suburbs, and the supermarkets went with them. The grocery stores that moved to the suburbs modified to the new environment that they were put in by expanding. Essentially, the grocers built larger stores and created more connections with larger suppliers/distributors in order to help stock the stores with foods that were in demand by that particular suburban population. However, over the past several decades the foundation of the grocery industry has changed drastically, with significant consolidation, growth in discount stores, supercenters and specialty/natural food retailers (Treuhaft and Karpyn). Also, during the 1990s, many researchers and policymakers in the United States focused on the ability of individuals to be able to purchase food via conventional distribution.

See my full paper on the history of food deserts: 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/13ahEOHIaLLLgMOxOQ8ho3_IBIWp2XLyiSNcWbelDpvs/edit

 

(Tourney, Kathryn)

 

The present day problem: 

        Food deserts have become more prevalent and people have become more aware of them over the last couple of years because of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Many people have recognized the inconsistencies in the affordability and accessibility of healthy foods and markets. Currently “food prices pose a significant barrier for many consumers who are trying to balance good nutrition with affordability”(Drewnowski and Eichelsdoerfer). Since the prices of food have increased, it has made it harder for people with lower incomes to purchase foods that benefit their health. Recently, the Trump Administration “took further steps… towards rolling back healthier standards for school lunches in America championed by Michelle Obama, proposing rules to allow more pizza, meat and potatoes over fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains” (“Trump Administration to Roll Back School Lunch Rules”). The Trump Administration’s attempt to cut back on health standards has set back Michelle Obama’s mission to help beat childhood obesity, chronic disease and to help promote a healthy lifestyle. 

 

See my full paper on food deserts in the present day:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1KvXDQ0WdDA7xpCM6v8-MUnPAP4QS31P1SHY8pc6Zyq4/edit

 

(“Eliminating Food Deserts in America.”)

 

The Obamas’ Efforts to Combat Food Deserts: 

        In more recent years, former president Barack Obama stated, “The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity [which] has identified [with] this challenge of bringing more nutritious, affordable foods to so-called food deserts as one of the key pillars to solving the epidemic” (Aubrey, Allison). Barack Obama’s task force was also focused on helping continue to combat food deserts and childhood obesity.  

        Additionally, Michelle Obama started the “Let’s Move” campaign that encourages exercise and fights childhood obesity and chronic diseases with the stated goal of eradicating food deserts. She also advocated for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010. This law gave funding to the USDA’s core child nutrition programs and set higher nutrition standards that helped encourage the consumption of more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sodium, less saturated fat and less trans fat (Gray, Sarah). The ultimate goal of the law was to help feed children foods that would reduce their risk of chronic disease and obesity. 

        As well as attempting to eradicate food deserts, Michelle Obama partnered with Darden Restaurants and Partnership for a Healthier America. One of her main goals was to stop the spread of childhood obesity, and partnering with Darden Restaurants and Partnership for a Healthier America helped her get one step closer to her goal. Darden’s brands include Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze. Darden owns and operates 1,900 restaurants in 49 different states and they serve at least 400 million meals per year (“First Lady Michelle Obama Announces ‘Breakthrough’”). Together, Michelle Obama, Darden Restaurants and Partnership for a Healthier America worked together to make kids menus healthier by reducing the sodium footprint as well as offering healthier food options on their menus. In partnering with Darden Restaurants, Michelle Obama helped make their meals for children fun and delicious. They also wanted to made it easier for kids and their families to make healthy food choices.        

 

For now: 

        A micro solution is something that you can do within your community, town- on a local spectrum.

  • One micro solution is to donate and volunteer at food bank programs. While many food bank programs help feed people with little to no money, they also help provide people in low income areas with accessible foods. Donating to a food bank program helps them provide people with food. Besides donating, volunteering is a great way to help fight food deserts. Feeding America is a great organization that makes it easy for someone to help out. They work closely with other organizations to fight hunger and to advocate for the end to hunger. Feeding America also encourages people to start the conversation about hunger, start a fundraiser and much more.  Here is a link to Feeding America (take action):  https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action
  • Education: Another micro solution is education. Learning about food deserts is the most important way to help fight them. Once you have knowledge about food deserts, you can help teach other people. The more that people know about food deserts, the more awareness that is spread. Also, the more people that know about food deserts, the more people can help. Here is a link to “Do Something”, facts about food deserts: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-food-deserts and here is a link to “Let’s Move”, things you can do to take action: https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/action

 

 

        A macro solution is something that can be done to solve the problem at the Federal, State or Nation wide level.

  • Give tax breaks: One macro solution that could be made at the (FEDERAL) level is to give tax breaks to grocery stores that open in food deserts. This idea was created by the “First Lady Michelle Obama [who] has spearheaded the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign to combat childhood obesity, which includes a goal of eradicating food deserts by 2017 with a $400 million investment from the government focused on providing tax breaks to supermarkets that open in food deserts” (“Food Deserts”). Giving stores that open in food deserts a tax break would hopefully give them incentive to open in food deserts. Which would then hopefully help with the eradication of food deserts.  
  • Continuing to working with companies like Darden Restaurants: Another macro solution is to continue working with companies like Darden Restaurants, or chain restaurants. Michelle Obama also started partnering with big chain companies to improve the quality of their food and to have them commit “to reduce[ing] its calorie and sodium footprints, and to provide greater choice and variety to families through changes to its kids’ menus”(“First Lady Michelle Obama Announces ‘Breakthrough’”). Also partnering with chain companies to help them review their kids’ menus to make them healthier while still making it fun and delicious. Also collaborating, with companies like Darden, it would hopefully help them to “continue to be creative and innovative and keep kids’ best interests at heart then we will solve the challenge of childhood obesity and give all our kids the healthy futures they deserve”(“First Lady Michelle Obama Announces ‘Breakthrough’”). Working  with chain fast food companies that are already located in food deserts would hopefully make it easier for people living in food deserts to have access to healthier and less expensive food. 

Works cited: 

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WdFovL_hiZR_TcKT_–pYvNb1092bvFuzcBs3ruDSjg/edit

 

 

In the comments feel free to answer these questions: 

Have you ever noticed a food desert in your area or when you were traveling?  

Why do you think food deserts are a problem? 

Do you have any ideas on how to eliminate food deserts? 

 

 

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COMMENTS: 3
  1. April 23, 2020 by Barbara Dunne

    Substantial research, inclusion, fact based writing, sourced materials, varied communication mediums and personal touch. Congratulations on getting this accomplished and thank you for doing this work! Kira, you are making a difference in my life and will also make a difference in adjusting people’s mindset if they so choose to accept this reality. You also provided people with options to help make a difference themselves! Wonderful! Barb

  2. April 23, 2020 by Joan Martin

    Thank you, Kira. I have lived in big cities & noticed that access to chips and candy is universal but not healthy food options! It certainly makes smart food choices harder to make when they are not available! I like the tax break incentive idea. Also SBA loans for grocers in Enterprise Zones would work, too. I have noticed in NYC that food carts sell fruits & veggies but wonder about pesticides vs organics.
    Thanks again for bringing light to this topic for discussion! Appreciate the actionable items.

  3. April 23, 2020 by Anna

    Thank you Kira, That was such a good presentation I’ve very impressed on how well you tackled such a difficult subject. I personally don’t live in a food dessert, but i have been on a lot of mission trips and have certainly seen some where I have gone. I think food deserts are a huge problem because those people don’t have equal access to healthy foods which everyone deserves. I think this is a massive task to take on and honestly I don’t have a ton of ideas on how to fix it. I think one thing we can do for children is provide a healthy and delicious lunch to all public school students. I think improving school lunches is a step in the right direction. Great job again!

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