Food Deserts: For Some, Access to Quality Food is a Luxury
I recently read an article on the plight of families living in food deserts. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, a food desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. You don't necessarily think having access to quality food would be a problem in the United States. And yet, it happens every day.
As a child growing up in New York, one of the most enduring memories I have is going shopping with my mother on Saturday mornings. The time it took to do the shopping varied wildly, depending on what my mom needed to purchase, the cost, and the mode of transportation.
She could buy everything from the supermarket just up the street, a short 15-minute walk from home, depending on how far money needed to stretch. Financially, some weeks were better than others. When money was tight, we would walk to the A&P supermarket. The store wasn't exactly 'in our neighborhood,' but the prices were better there, and mom got more bang for her buck. On rare occasions, a friend of the family would give us a ride. But, for the most part, we either walked 2 miles each way or took the bus there and walked back. My mom, my sister and me, and our shopping cart full of groceries; about 3 hours or so later we were back home.
In urban areas, access to public transportation may help residents overcome the difficulties posed by distance, but economic forces have driven grocery stores out of many cities in recent years, making them so few and far between that an individual’s food shopping trip may require taking several buses or trains.
Fighting Food Deserts
Another defining characteristic of food deserts is socio-economic: that is, they are most commonly found in communities of color and low-income areas (where many people don’t have cars).
Transportation challenges? Yup, we had them. Did finances drive my mother's choices? Absolutely. I can identify with those living in food deserts. Although I didn't know it as a child, not the terminology nor did it occur to me that we spent an exorbitant amount of time getting food each week. It was just what we did and my mother never let-on as to the herculean effort food shopping took. But it must have bothered her because she started a community garden on a small piece of land in our neighborhood.
The variety was limited, but because of her, there were fresh leafy greens and fruits easily accessible to families in our community. I'm thankful for folks like my mother who experienced it first hand and got busy making positive changes. Also to social workers, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, and government initiatives that recognize a need to do things differently and then actually do it.
Fast forward to my life as an adult. There aren't any impediments to my food choices, and shopping is convenient. I can order groceries online or choose to go to Publix, Whole Foods or Fresh Market, all within 1 mile of home. That's not the case for children living in major cities and rural areas. Many of them experience food insecurity, and we can help them. It doesn't necessarily require a monumental change in your day-to-day activities to make a difference in someone else's life. More often than not, it starts with an awareness of the condition and needs of others, and the desire to help. I invite you to click the link to learn more - donate, volunteer, utilize technology to help. Participate in addressing the real concerns posed by food deserts.