Food For Thought: Food Deserts
If you’re like me, and constantly have food on the brain, you may have read that title as “Food Desserts” (wishful thinking) and not “Food Deserts.” But no, this is actually a very serious and interesting topic that I have touched on before but there’s some new research collected at Mother Jones (thanks for sending me this, dear reader Meggie!) that is truly fascinating.
You all know what a food desert is, right? It’s a place where there aren’t very many supermarkets. In fact, most often it’s a place with no supermarkets, and almost always it’s a poor neighborhood. But why do food deserts exist? Perhaps poor neighborhoods just aren’t very profitable places to open supermarkets. But poor neighborhoods usually have plenty of bodegas and little corner shops, and if those places can make money why can’t a supermarket? What’s more, supermarket executives have always been very cagey when they’re asked about the phenomenon, which suggests there’s more to it than mere profitability. It’s a bit of a mystery.
But now there’s another question about food deserts: Should we even care about them in the first place? For a long time, they’ve been a source of concern because supermarkets generally provide better access to fresh fruits and vegetables than little corner stores. Eating well is hard enough for the poor as it is, but it becomes all but impossible if they don’t have convenient access to good food in the first place.
Basically, new research is finding that it is not the access to “different kinds of stores” that impacts weight gain in children, but there is a direct correlation between income and obesity rates. Shoppers at Whole Foods versus low-cost chain Albertsons both had access to plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, but the shoppers at Whole Foods (which we all know is ridiculously expensive) were far less obese.
In some ways, I am surprised by this. I mean, if you don’t have access to healthier options, then you definitely can’t take them, right? But basically what we’re being shown here is that even when people do have those options, they still don’t take advantage of them. Which, the article doesn’t mention but I will, is very indicative of education or lack thereof. If you have never been taught about health and nutrition or your family promotes and maintains unhealthy lifestyles, then no matter how much access you have to healthy alternatives, you are not going to incorporate them into your life.
Recently, I was doing a performance at a middle school here in West Virginia, and was setting up in the cafeteria when I noticed these signs:
And, while not surprised (I’m rarely surprised anymore but the incompetence of people), I was pretty appalled. I mean, the “combination” list, of foods you can eat that incorporate elements from many of the different food pyramid building blocks? Pizza, cheeseburgers, chili, spaghetti and meatballs…seriously, not at all the healthiest foods to be promoting to small children. And, as we well know, West Virginia is home to some of the highest (if not THE highest) numbers of obese people in the country. Yet, I find myself eating more healthily here than I have in most other places that I’ve lived. There’s fresh fruits and vegetables aplenty at every grocery store I’ve been to, farm stands all over the place, organic and locally conscious restaurants and movements. And, once again, education is key. When you have Jamie Oliver going into a West Virginia school and asking kids to identify what certain fruits and vegetables are and they have NO IDEA,we have a major problem. And how could this problem be tackled, possibly even solved? E-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n.
Again, thank you Michelle Obama for making this your cause. And thank you FoodCorps for working to educate our nations youth to form a lifelong commitment to healthy eating and lifestyle from a young age. But this country has a major problem with education and health in regards to nutrition especially. And it’s up to each one of us to work to fight this.